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Horse stealing and cattle rustling...
Outlaws reigned in 'horse-running days'

Lewistown News-Argus **
Sunday, December 13, 1992
Christmas Edition
by Margaret Hedman- Grass Range correspondent

In an attempt to recapture the flare, the hardships and the reality of horse-running days, it would be utterly unfair and incomplete to omit the life experiences of the late Sam Sherman.

    On January 10, 1893, Sam Sherman was born in a little settlement called Sun River Crossing a few miles west of Great Falls.

    In the summer of 1893, his parents, with five children, moved to the newly-opened gold mining town of Gilt Edge, located 14 miles east of Lewistown on the east slope of the Judith Mountains.

    There the family lived in a log cabin that had a dirt floor and dirt roof. The outside buildings were a barn and two corrals, one for hay and one to hold horses.

    With the discovery of gold at the head of Spotted Horse Canyon, Gilt Edge, six miles way, grew fast. By 1900, there were two livery barns, a blacksmith shop with two blacksmiths, four stores and 13 saloons.

    Sam attended his first two or three years of school in a converted dance hall with miners' kids, rancher's kids and Indian kids. There were no desks, but benches to sit on along rows of tables that were made by the local carpenter. In 1901, a four-room school house was built.

    One day, a man was mowing hay in a meadow when a part broke on his mower. He tied his team to a tree and went home for repairs, he returned to find his team had been stolen. The horses were never found. This ranch later was the Tom Peppard Ranch.

    Another example of the lawless action of this era was (a quote from Sam Sherman's notes):

    "There was a livery stable next to the school hall run by a man named Rice Dougherty. A freighter by the name of Anderson kept his horses there. The school kids liked him. One morning he went to feed his horses, five of them were gone. G. P. Burnett, a cattleman found them the next day about 10 miles east of the old D. H. S. Ranch which Mr. Burnett had acquired.

    "The five horses had been shot and their brands cut out. Mr. Anderson had bought the horses from some of the local horse thieves. The owners were probably getting close to their horses. Nothing was ever done about it."

    The many incidents of horse stealing and cattle rustling before and after the turn of the century were blamed on the Cassidy and Curry Gang, who had a camp about 100 miles north of Gilt Edge near the town of Landusky.

    Kid Curry had killed Pike Landusky, who had started the town which had a store and a saloon.

    At Christmas time, 1894, the Cassidy and Curry Gang had split up and were hiding out in Montana, Utah and Wyoming. They would steal horses and sell them in Canada for high prices.

    Some ranches near Gilt Edge were the Spud Stephens Ranch, the D. H. S. Ranch and the Fergus Ranch to name a few.

    With horse stealing and cattle rustling so frequent, the stockmen organized a vigilante committee.

    Granville Stewart of the D. H. S. Ranch was one of the vigilante committee leaders.

    A man named Ford was hanged about six miles east of Gilt Edge on a limb of a cottonwood tree.

    The creek nearby was named Ford's Creek - the name it has today.

    The vigilantes also went east to the Musselshell River and hung some men near the mouth of the river.

    These men were living in nearby cabins and were supposed to be woodcutters for the steam boats that freighted up the river from St. Louis. It was assumed that the men did more horse stealing than wood-cutting.

    When the vigilantes crawled up on them, they found a bunch of stolen horses in a corral in back of the cabin.

    The vigilantes took the wood-cutters by surprise. Four men were hung and they tied a grindstone around one man's neck and threw him into the river.

    Then the vigilantes went down the south side of the Missouri River to Round Butte and found a bunch of horse thieves camped in a log cabin.

    These men saw the vigilantes coming and opened fire on them from the cabin. The held the vigilantes off until dark. The vigilantes then circled the cabin and set fire to it. When the men came out they were killed. According to the reports brought back to Gilt Edge, there were seven.

    When Sam went to the Musselshell River in 1912, the ropes two men were hanged with were still knotted around a cottonwood limb. They were well-preserved when Kenny Thomas a rancher, later cut the rope down. It was at his house that Sam saw them.

    An acquaintance of Sam's a character named Tex Alfred who had three times trailed herds of longhorns from Texas, started a saloon on the north side of the Missouri River above Rocky Point.

    Tex kept a couple of saddle horses in a little pasture in which he used to watch the cattle for the northside cattlemen. In return, they allowed him a beef when he needed it.

    One day a stock inspector rode up to his cabin. Tex asked the inspector to get down, then put his horse in the pasture and asked him to stay the night. Tex cooked him steak and hot cakes for breakfast.

    The inspector got his horse from the pasture next day and was ready to go when he asked Tex to show him the hide of the beef from which he'd been eating steaks.

    Tex took the inspector down to the river to a deep spot and said, "the hide is down thare, kin you dive?"

    The next story doesn't involve horses, but has a tinge of history as well as a little humor.

    "Panhandle Bob' was a cowboy who came from texas with a trail herd and worked for the spud Stephens horse and cattle outfit. A wolfer and trapper, in the fall he would set traps for wolves in their dens.

    He was camped at the Red Barn Ranch a few miles south of Roy, when he saw a grizzly bear at the head of the creek that runs past the ranch. The bear was in some timber eating berries as Bob tied his horse to a tree and slipped up close to get a good shot.

    He hid behind a large tree that had blown over and with his 44-40 saddle Winchester rifle shot the bear.

    The wounded bear came at him with his hind legs. Bob quickly fired five more shots at the bear's heart--and his saddle rifle was empty.

    The bear clawed him on the left arm from the shoulder down, them came over the log. Bob pulled his .45 colt pistol and stuck it in the bear's mouth and fired one shot which broke the bear's jaw. The bear dragged Bob over the log and stood over him but he managed to crawl from under it, get to his horse and ride to Gilt Edge where a 'red-light' woman bandaged and cared for him, since there were no doctors or nurses nearby.

    When Bob told people what happened, no one believed him. They thought he had a fight with some Indians. the creek was later named Bear Creek for Bob's story.

    Another time Bob came to Gilt Edge, put his horse in the livery stable and went to the saloon that was run by Patsy Dwyer. Bob gave him his .45 pistol, which Dwyer put behind the bar.

    Bob was fairly drunk when he decided to go back to his camp. He asked Dwyer for his pistol, which Dwyer refused to give him. Bob went to the livery stable and came back with his saddle rifle. As he entered the saloon, holding the rifle barrel down, Dwyer shot him with his own pistol.

    There was a small wooden jail on the next street. Bob's body was laid out in the jail until a grave could be dug in the cemetery north of town.

    They put the dead man in jail and let the man who killed him go free. Dwyer later killed a man in Butte. In the spring of 1910, San and a cowboy named George McCune left Gilt Edge to look for work, riding south.

    In Sam's and George's travels they got a job from Mr. C. W. McLane on the Musselshell River, where Sam had his first lesson about the horse business. They saddle broke 20 head of young horses at $7.50 per head. They finished in a little over a month and moved on.

    The next job was near Miles City breaking horses for the government remount station at Ft. Keough until the fall of 1910, and here George and Sam parted.

    Sam's next job was 50 miles north of Miles City with the Vessey and McCrea Sheep Co. where he drove a freight team that hauled wood, grain and wool for the ranch. It was 40 miles to the Yellowstone River for dry logs, which they used to build buildings and burn for firewood.

    In 1914 Sam married Pearl Davies Dundom, Willie Dundom's widow, who owned a ranch with a sizable herd of horses of the Musselshell River. Today there is a Sherman Coulee that runs into the Musselshell.

    By 1919-1920, many ranchers had gone broke and a number of the homesteaders had moved away, leaving horses and other belongings. It is reported the wheat farmers from Judith Basin wheat country bought all the horses available and turned them loose in the Missouri River breaks.

    It is estimated 1,000 head grazed on government owned land before the Tayler Grange Law was enacted.

    In the spring of 1920, a representative for the farmers, contacted John Matheson who had a horse camp on Crooked Creek, located about 15 miles each from the Missouri and the Musselshell and 75 miles to a town of any size.

    From Sam Sherman's journal:

    "The representant made a deal with John Matheson to hold the farmers' horses that was gathered and they would pay $5 per head. The horse runners, as they called themselves, were John Matheson, Jake Atherton, Joe Y. Doney, Harry Dundom, Tom and John Link, Sam Farrell, Roy Hanson, Lynn Phillips, and Sam Sherman, who were considered some of the best horse runners in Montana.

    "They started gathering where the Judith River joins the Missouri River about 100 miles west of the horse camp and worked east on the south side of the Missouri River. Every couple of days, Joe Y would hunt for meat, deer or antelope and everything worked fine. They were seven or eight days gathering the west country. They worked fast as they could as John had given a date when they would be at the horse camp-June 15th.

    "They had gathered about 1,500 horses and the last day it started to rain. When they got to the horse camp, a dozen farmers were there waiting, not one of them brought any grub, and no way to get out and get supplies. There were corrals at the horse camp to hold the horses at night but they had to herd them in the day time. The riders didn't carry amy slickers because the couldn't get on a horse wearing one. The boys would take turns herding the horses and going to the cabin to change clothes and hang the wet ones on wire across the room. some of the Boys had no change of clothes with them and soon no one was wearing his own clothes, making for some pretty bad misfits.

    "To cook wasn't much of a job at there was little to cook and 75 miles to a store, all heavy gumbo with every creek and coulee swimming. The had a little tea and flour. Joe Y could not hunt so they decided to butcher a colt (yearling) Lynn Phillips and the rest of the boys butchered and hung the meat on the cross-pole over the gate. Next morning they had steak, hot cakes and tea.

    "Next day the rain had stopped with the sun out bright and warm. A homesteader stopped by and saw the meat hanging and asked, "where did you get the beef?" He was told that a yearling was butchered because they were out of grub. The homesteader then traded some beans, potatoes and coffee for some meat, he was given a big piece.

    "Lynn Phillips went to get the beans, etc. and everything was fine until someone told the homesteader that the meat was horse meat. He was furious and said he would as soon eat a piece of a man. They all stayed away from the homesteader after that.
"They gave the farmers the horses they had gathered and finished their job. The bottom dropped out of the stock business, an unbroken range horse's price was so low they were not worth branding. There was some market in the southern cotton fields where a few loads of horses were sold at St. Louis, Kansas City, and Ft. Smith, Ark,"

    In 1927, the Hanson Packing Company started a packing plant at Butte, Schusler Bros. at Portland Ore, and later Capple Bros. Cannery at Rockford, Ill.

    Sam sold 1166 horses fro .01 a pound to a cannery owned by Schusler Bros. They were a mixed bunch of colts, mares and geldings that averaged 906 pounds per head.

    The next horses that Sam sold went to the Hanson Packing Company at Butte. There were 1,000 head at $9 each. Sam and his partner, Buck Grimsley, bought all the horses east of the Little Rocky Mountains north of the Missouri River and south of the Milk River. To move a herd of horses, one rider would take the lead with about 150 head, them another rider would follow with the same number until they were all traveling fairly fast in loose formation. Those horses made a column five or six miles long.

    The Long-X horses had not been gathered in the last five years. Sam and Buck paid $4.50 a head for all kinds - Percherons, Shires, Belgians and many saddle type mares bred to Kentucky saddle studs. To get ready to gather they swam the saddle horses they would need across the Missouri.

    Buck Grimsley furnished the truck for the provisions and Buck's ranch east of Sun Prairie was headquarters. The main horse-runners this time were Harry Dundom, Tom Link, Fred Shoemaker, Ed Nichols, Johnny Parks, Gus Lantz, a Mr. Dyer, also James Dundom, Buck Grimsley, John Wright, Charley Copple and Sam Sherman.

    Sam had advertised to buy some saddle horses, as they were short of good ones. they were camped at Grimsleys when a young cowboy rode in leading a good-looking gray gelding. He asked if Sherman was in camp.

    When Sam replied, "I'm Sherman," he asked, "How much will you give me for this horse?" San said, "$20," The cowboy replied, "I want no less than $40." Sam then said, "Put your saddle on him and ride him out aways so we can see his action." He quickly said, "Give me the $20."

    The horse had a reputation as a bucking horse. Tom Link sat there grinning, so Sam said, "Let the hackamore down on the gray and try him." The horse lost his reputation as a bucking horse right then and there, and Tom rode him all fall.

    One day they had visitors from town who came out to see the horses and what horse runners looked like. They were asked to stay for dinner. The cook gave them a plate, cup, knife, fork and spoon and told them to help themselves.

    Sam had filled his plate and coffee cup and was sitting on his bedroll when two women came up to him and said they heard his crew ate horse meat. If that was true they didn't want to eat. They were told the boss loved a horse too much to eat one and that the outfit had just bought a yearling steer from a farmer, so they all ate a good dinner.

    In the spring of 1928, Sam finished his horse roundup north of the Missouri River, swam his saddle horses across the river above the mouth of the Musselshell at the Garrett Ranch and went south to Roy, where he lived at the time. San and his wife, Pearl, lived their later years in Grass Range.

    It is reported that edible parts of the horses slaughtered at Butte, were packed in wooden barrels and shipped to Europe for human consumption. Certain glands in the horses were used in medicine, many useful articles were made from hides, hair and hooves, while the bones and the intestines were used for dog food and fertilizer.

    John Matheson and Roy Hanson worked as partners in the horse operation in the Crooked Creek area, their headquarters became known as the Hanson Horse Camp. (Today it is owned by the Socha Cattle Co. Previous owner John Headman had sold it to Bub Nunn.) The horse operation, which ran about 200 head furnished a number of horses for rodeos.

    In the early 1930s, Carl Hedman acquired a delinquent homestead about eight miles down the creek from the horse camp. Al Green had lived there 10 years before and became affiliated with Smokey Johnson in the making of moonshine, which was common in the 1920s. There were a number of coulees that helped the bootleggers harbor their venture.

    Carl preferred to raise horses, as did his brother John, who joined him later. Their partnership, "Hedman Bros." lasted nearly 30 years.

    By 1940 they had cut the number of mares to approximately 80 head and had begun to raise Hereford cattle. They gradually switched to black baldies and black Angus.

    In the late 1930s, Arthur Kamrath from Hardin (More on Arthur Kamrath as "Monty") joined Hedman Bros. and acquired cattle as wages. During the war, Carl became caretaker while the others joined the service.

    After the war, Henry and Bill Hedman bought land mainly from Ray Henneman and the Machler Bros., located at the head of Soda Creek. Bill and Henry but when it didn't work out Henry bought Bill's share.

    There, is a one room log cabin nestled near Soda Creek, so near one could slide to the bottom with a misstep, Henry operated what the bankers called an "outfit with very little overhead."

    Henry's interest turned more to cattle and when he needed a saddle horse he would borrow one from John. One time, John and I rode in a pickup up Pack Rat Trail, which went from the Ale Place across Crooked Creek through Henry's pasture. Johnny began to cuss when we approached a hear of Henry's cows.

    Among those cows were two or three of Johnny's best bulls and now we knew why henry needed a saddle horse.

    Most of the horses that could be seen on any given ridge in the Chain Buttes area during the "50s belonged either to Frank McArthur or the Hedman Bros.

    Frank acquired land from Mike Machler and ran horses and cattle. They gathered the mares twice a year, first to brand the colts, then to halter-break them in preparation for the fall sale.

    Each horseman would pick several colts to break to lead for that day and do the same the next day until all the colts would lead nicely. During the late '40s and early "50s the colts were sired by a stallion called Colorado Coke. They sold in the fall for an average of $125 per head.

    In later years Henry and Dave Hale built what they called a hunting lodge. Today it is a modern log house owned by people in New Mexico who use it as a hunting "cabin."

    What a change the years have made.

    The ridges and hills are the same, but taking the place of the horses that dotted the ridges are elk they might blindly bound across the road in front of a vehicle headed for the only protection they know, the Missouri River breaks - a neat sight indeed.

    An appreciative "thank you" goes to Marie Zahn and Marcus Matovich who helped verify much of the information.

    Marcus also relates the following incident from 1916, at the Fort Musselshell Saloon:

    Marcus was there with his Uncle Dan Matovich when a drink was ordered someone said, "What about him?" "Oh let Marcus smell the cork."

    In 1929, Sam Sherman, Carl Hedman and Hank Griener had a contract with Petroleum County to gather the horses that had accumulated and multiplied since homestead days.

    Many of these horses were shipped out of Rosebud to the Hanson Packing Co. in Butte. As told by the late John Hedman; while trailing across country, they used a gentle horse to carry their grub and cooking utensils. This horse was called the kitchen horse; the eggs were packed in a sack with the oats; the bedrolls were strapped to the bronc-like horses.

    Arthur Kamrath was know as Monty to his acquaintances in and around Winnett. The story has it, he liked this character in a book he had read whose name was "Monty Price" and over the years he didn't mind being called Monty.

    Monty rode form Hardin to Winnett in the spring of 1936 leading two saddle horses to pick up a saddle horse which was supposed to be a trade made with Bill Hedman two weeks before when they were in Billings. (Confidentially, Monty admitted he had won the horse in a 21 game.)

    When he arrived in Winnett he found the Hedmans playing cards in what is now the Winnett Bar. Bill Hedman was on crutches. Carl barely looked up and mumbled through a cigar he was smoking. "You might just as well join us, the day is shot and we will all ride tomorrow."

    Monty agreed to stay a couple of weeks to help Bill ride for a horse, that had put Bill on crutches.

    Two weeks passed in searching, but the right horse was never found. Finally they decided to let Monty take his pick from the other horses. He picked a pacer that lived to be 27 years old.

    "During the time we were riding," Monty said, "they gave me a snaky, unpredictable, half broke gelding to ride, apparently to test me. This trifling form of aggravation gave me an incentive to stay.

    "What the Hedmans didn't know was I had rode 'rough string' in the late 1920s and early 1930s around Miles City and for the Chapple Bros. Cannery which trailed horses from Mosby to Miles City and from Mosby to Rosebud , where the were shipped east by railroad to Rockford, Ill."

    Twenty years later the Hedman Bros. bought Monty out which enabled him to buy a place of his own.

    Then where did Hedmans go when they needed extra help? You guessed it, Monty.

Copyright 1998-2006 - Ann Kramlich and Betty Distad - All Rights Reserved.

** Consent to post the stories and photos for non commercial use from the Lewistown News Argus was graciously granted by Dave Byerly owner and Publisher. These stories and photos may not be used by any commercial entity for any reason without consent from the  Lewistown News Argus.