Editor's Note: Mrs. Cole, widow of a Forsyth banker, Robert J. Cole, lived in Forsyth from 1887 to 1924. Her parents passed through Forsyth in 1882 on their way to Sanders, where she was born in December of that year. A brother, Roy Austin, resides at Glasgow, MT., and is expected to visit Forsyth during the Jubilee. Mrs. Cole has lived at Altadena, CA. since leaving Forsyth.)
My father, John Henry Austin, and his older brother, Ray, came into Montana with a group of men to work for Foley Brothers, who were building the Northern Pacific railway across Montana in 1882.
They arrived in Glendive in April by railway coach and moved on to Miles City on a work train. From there to Forsyth, saddle horses were provided. Papa and Uncle Ray were sent on a day or two later to a station about 20 miles West of Forsyth, then called Reservation because it was situated on the northeast corner of the Crow (Absaroka) Indian Reservation. The name was soon changed to Sanders.
Papa said that with the exception of two or three log cabins, Forsyth was a city of tents. A three-story frame building was under construction for use as a section house. A one-sided Main Street, facing the railroad, was little more than a block long. It consisted of one or two general stores and twelve saloons, all in tents.
The Udey family lived in a small log cabin on the West end of the lot South of where the Methodist parsonage was built several years later. The Slater family lived in another such cabin on the lot where the Choisser building was later built. Papa had charge of one of the construction gangs that worked out of Sanders. In August, 1882, my mother and older sister arrived in Forsyth by train and went on to Sanders by carriage, In December, I was born and I am proud to say that I am a native of Montana though I just made it.
The following summer, Papa filed on a homestead north of the Yellowstone in Froze-to-Death Valley and built a log cabin in which Mamma lived alone with my sister and me while Papa worked for the FUF Livestock Co. during roundup, branding and shipping. The FUF was owned by the Fletcher Brothers of St. Paul and was managed by Whitman Longley. At one time it was the largest livestock company in the world and I have heard that they shipped horses to nearly every state in the Union as well as to many foreign countries. Mr. Longley and Papa, and later, my husband, were always good friends.
When the John Austin family moved to the homestead in 1883, Papa was just 23 years old and Mama was 20-1/2. During the four years in the valley, the family was clothed almost entirely in garments made from 100-pound flour sacks which Mamma had rescued from burning at the section house. Papa brought Diamond dyes from Forsyth to dye the sacks for dresses, aprons and shirts. The sacks were also used to line the cabin and to make hay ticks for the beds. They were all sewn by hand as were Papa's buckskin shirts that he wore for riding and the moccasins we all wore. When outside, my sister and I wore high boots, just like Papa's except for the low heels, because of the numerous rattlesnakes in the valley.
One day that I shall never forget, though I was only three years old at the time, was in the fall of 1886. Papa had not returned from Roundup and my sister and I knew that Mamma was worried. Slush ice was running the Yellowstone and the ferry at Forsyth would be taken out any day. He could not ford through the slush ice and it would be some time before the ice would be solid enough for him to cross the river. Provisions were almost gone. Mamma watched the horizon, about a mile and a half away, where Papa would appear first on the hill road coming down into the valley. She finally told my sister, Ida, and me to watch for him and let her know the minute we saw him so she could have a meal ready. She hoped that he would return immediately to Forsyth for provisions before the ferry went out.
In a short time we saw two men coming over the hill on horseback;. We were all excited and shouted that Papa was coming and Mr. Hopkins, another FUF man, was with him. Mr. James Hopkins came home with papa occasionally and always said that he come to see if the "lambs needed shearing." He always shingled our hair when he came. He later was the first representative from Rosebud County to the Montana State Legislature.
Mamma rushed to put on the food she had prepared on the stove. When she came out to look, she said it was not Papa and Mr. Hopkins; it was Indians! She knew by the way they sat on their horses. She also knew that a rather large group of Indians had crossed our field from the ford to the pasture bars into the lane leading to the hill road, two weeks before. When she had gone to replace the bars, she had seen the tracks of many unshod horses and there had been no sign of them since. She also knew that a company of soldiers was camped in the timber near the ford to keep the Indians on the reservation.
Some time before a group of Peigans from north of the Missouri, who were always warring with the Crows and any other tribe they could pick a fight with had come clear to the Yellowstone, no doubt looking for trouble. Some young Crow women were bathing in the river on the south side. The Peigans began shooting across the river at them and two of the young women were killed.
Many parties of young Crows had sought revenge and a bloody war could have developed between the two tribes had not the troops been brought in. The Peigans, I believe, are a Canadian tribe and had no business in Montana.
However, this group of Crows did manage to get by the guard and the two who came slowly over the hill were two of the seven who returned.
Mr. Glen, an old man who lived a half mile or so away from our cabin, was the only neighbor, so Mamma sent Ida, who was five years old, across the field to his place to ask him to come over. The field was usually forbidden to us because of the many rattlesnakes, but Mamma told Roxy, our part Newfoundland dog, to go with her. He always walked in front of us when we were outside to guard against rattlers. Mr. Glen sent Ida and Roxy back home and went out to saddle his horse and rode to get the soldiers.
The two Indians came into the dooryard and Mamma saw five more coming. One stopped at the grind stone to sharpen a long knife he carried and the other came into the cabin to beg for food. Mamma showed him the almost empty bins, but he insisted and she gave him the makings for a small batch of biscuits. Both were in rags and were covered with blood from their own, and probably their victims' wounds.
Mr. Glen rode by to tell Mamma not to be afraid and then rode on. We all started to go back into the house as Ida and Roxy had just returned, when one of the Indians, with a large knife held threateningly, stepped in front of us and said, "Where that man go?" Mamma was afraid to tell him the truth for fear he might take revenge on Mr. Glen, so she said, "He's going down to the timber to see about some stock he has down there." The Indian said, "White squaw lie!" and went out to his horse. As the two were riding out of the yard the five other Indians were about to ride in and, also, the soldiers came out of the timber shooting. We were between them and the Indians and Mamma made us lie down right against the base log of the cabin. We were really in no danger as the soldiers were shooting into the air and the Indians had thrown away their guns to lighten the load for their worn-out horses. However, we did not know this until later.
The Indians abandoned their horses and ran for the ford, but all seven were captured. We learned later that 20 young braves had gone on the raid and only the seven had returned.
Papa came home soon after this and never left us alone on the homestead again. The Indians had threatened revenge on the "White squaw who lied" and papa sold his rights and improvements to a man by the name of Ed Jones, and in April 1887, we all moved to Forsyth.
The family had grown to four children. Besides Ida and me, there was a sister, Lulu, age 2 and a 22-month (ed. note 2 month?) baby brother, John Harold. In 1893 another baby brother, named George Roy arrived.
As we drove into town in a covered lumber wagon, we stopped at H. R. Marcye's store for groceries. Ida and I saw two girls riding stick horses with heads and wheels, and were quite fascinated. It was almost our first sight of other white children, We had only played with each other. Another girl came to the door and called them in. A day or two later the same three girls and an older boy took a walk down the road past our house. When they came back in under the large cottonwood where Ida and I were playing, they stared at us and we stared back. We no doubt looked funnier to them than they did to us. The girls wore print or gingham dresses and had long braids while we wore dresses made from dyed flour sacks and our hair was shingled. At last the boy asked, "Are you girls or boys? You wear dresses like girls but you have short hair and wear cowboy boots like boys." Ida, who was six years old was quite offended. She said, "Indians wear braids." It was a draw and they left. I was very disappointed when they left but later we were good friends. They were Claude, Ida, Eva and Grace Marcyes. They hadn't meant to be offensive and we must have looked very funny to them.
In Forsyth we lived in a log cabin much like the one on the homestead. It was under a large cottonwood tree on the lot next to where the Presbyterian church was later built. The nearest house was several blocks away at that time and there were wild roses growing in almost every direction. We lived there about one year and were flooded out the next spring when the snow melted and Slaughterhouse Creek overflowed. Papa made his way to the railroad track and into town to get a team and wagon and led us all to an empty building just east of Marcyes's store on Main street. We lived there about a month while a 2-room frame house was built for us about a block west of the Udey place.