|The Montana Standard
(Butte, Montana) · Sun, Nov 9, 1941 · Page 6
Pioneer Relates Exciting Story
Trip From Iowa to Alder Gulch Recounted
Today the Standard presents one such account, written by Mrs. Mary
Valiton of Deer Lodge, who in last Sundays Standard told her recollections
of Butte in 1876. “I was only one year old when this trip was
undertaken,” she said. “My story is written entirely from a diary left
by father and mother.”
The trip in question was from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Alder Gulch,
Montana, in the spring of 1865. Mrs. Valiton’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. G.
W. Rea, were residents of Portville, N. Y., where Mr. Rea was in the
lumber business. Like millions
of others, he had heard of the gold excitement at Alder Gulch, as well as
famous strikes in other parts of the West. He decided to see it all,
saying he would “be back in a year.” But his wife had ideas of her
own; she also would like to make the trip. And they would take the baby.
In the meantime, they learned of an emigrant train that was
organizing at Council Bluffs. They left at once for this “jumping off
place,” where they accumulated a covered wagon, four oxen and the
necessary equipment. The trip
took three months.
And now 76 years later, when airplanes make the distance within a
few hours, Mrs. Valiton set down the story of that journey across
withering plains, spending many hours in piecing together the faded notes
in her father and mother’s diary.
“I hope” she said, “that the telling of it may do some good,
as well as provide interesting reading. This page of American history,
involving the severest hardship, suffering and sacrifice, should give
pause to many young persons today who think nothing is good enough—who
take for granted the comforts and conveniences around them – progress
that was undreamed of when I was a girl. As these youngsters speed along
our paved highways, experiencing one thrill after another,
tasting new pleasures, wearing fine clothes, spending money—do
they ever stop and think ‘who made all this possible?
I fear that few of them ever have such thoughts. They should
realize that what they enjoy today was made possible through the sweat and
blood and tears of those who went before, and they should also remember
that they can keep this fine, easy way of life only by adding their bit of
service, loyalty and devotion. Our
great country, I truly believe, is at a fateful crossroads.”
Mrs. Valiton has lived in Montana since her arrival with her
parents at Alder Gulch in July, 1865. Her parents moved to the Gallatin
valley in 1866, to Helena in 1869, to Missoula in the same year, to Deer
Lodge in 1872 and to Butte in 1876. Here Mrs. Valiton (then Miss Mary Rea)
met her future husband; Henry G. Valiton, who later became the second
mayor Butte. Mr. Valiton sent
his young wife to Melrose on the day the first train arrived in Butte over
the Utah & Northern, a narrow gauge track. “He wanted me to be able
to say that I rode the first train into Butte” she said in recalling the
event. “He also saw to it
that I was at Gold Creek for the golden spike ceremony in 1893, marking
completion of the Northern Pacific. I
saw General Grant as he stepped from his special train. He helped drive
the spike. I remember how disappointed I was in him.
I had visions of a tall, handsome man, gallant as the knights of
old. But Grant was nothing like that. He was short of stature, his face
hidden behind a brushy bear and he wore no fine trappings. That’s the
girl of it! Always looking for looks. It never occurred to me to admire
him for his military genius and for the leading role he played in
preserving our beloved nation.”
Mrs. Valiton was the first woman ever elected president of the
Society of Montana Pioneers. Other of her sex who were thus honored were
Mrs. Molly Kline of Butte, (now in California); Mrs. Jennie Chowning,
Ennis; Mrs. Marvin Trask, Deer Lodge, and the present incumbent, Miss Mary
Evans of Anaconda.
Following is Mrs. Valiton’s story of the covered wagon journey
from council Bluffs to Alder Gulch:
Arrives in 1865
“I arrived in Montana Territory in 1865, a small baby, coming
across the plains in a covered wagon drawn by four oxen. I was born in
Portville, N.Y. My father and grandfather were lumber merchants and also
were engaged in a general mercantile business in Portville.
Father, having heard of the ‘Great West,’ where gold nuggets
were supposed to grow like potatoes, decided to take a pleasure trip of
one year and see that wonderful country. Mother thought the idea was
splendid and decided that she, too, would make the trip and take her baby.
Hearing of a wagon train that was being outfitted in Council
Bluffs, Iowa, father made arrangements for us to join it. He
turned his business over to my grandfather.
Locking the doors of their home, they started out.
Neither of them ever saw the old home again, the reason being that
they felt they could never endure a repetition of the hardships
experienced in getting here. It
was years after their arrival in Montana that they heard from home.
Grandfather had died, and all that my parents possessed had passed to
“The train which they joined at Council Bluffs consisted of 100
wagons. All went smoothly until they arrived in the Indian country.
From there on, all had to be on their guard. Night pickets were
stationed around the camp. Every
unusual sound gave thoughts of the redskins. Within a short time the train
arrived at a spot where the Indians had made an attack, murdering poor
unfortunate travelers, burning their wagons, robbing the dead of their
clothing and leaving their bodies for wild beasts.
After several days of anxiety, but without seeing an Indian, they
felt they were not going to be molested.
“One bright, beautiful morning, father decided he would go deer
hunting, as we hadn’t had fresh meat for days.
He told us he would overtake the train when it camped for dinner.
The train was corralled at noon and the oxen turned out to graze,
with everybody happy that they had so far escaped the Indians.
When the train made camp at noon and night, the wagons were drawn
up into a big circle. If you have ever seen on the screen the picture,
“Covered Wagon,” you were given an idea of how the pioneers made camp
on the plains. Well, on this
occasion, the oxen had been driven back in the circle, yoked up and all
was made ready to start, when Lo! there was heard the dreaded warwhoop of
a band of hostile Sioux Indians. In
less time than it takes to tell, our train was surrounded by hundreds of
howling demons. All became
excitement and confusion. Women
clasped their babies in their arms, and with a prayer on their lips, ran
to the wagons for safety. Arrows were flying thick and fast. In the midst
of the fighting, father was seen coming over a hill with two deer on his
horse. Immediately he was
surrounded, but being an expert marksman, and well-armed, he succeeded in
killing several of the savages, to the surprise of all watching him,
thinking every minute to see him fall.
But, instead, the Indians gathered up their dead and disappeared
over the hill, but only to reform for the attack, as you shall see.
Cutting the deer from his horse, father made camp unharmed where he
grasped his terror-stricken wife and babe to his heart.
The only way to account for the Indians giving up the attack on
father was their superstition that he had a charmed life, he having killed
so many and they not being able to kill one.
The Indians held with the train for three days, killing and
wounding many of the party.
“The only thing that saved us all from being massacred was the
timely arrival of a regiment of soldiers, on their way to Fort Laramie.
As soon as the soldiers appeared, the Indians disappeared, riding
like mad, as they realized they were outnumbered and stood no chance
against well-armed and brave men.
During the fighting, my mother had placed me in the oven of her
cook stove (in the back of the wagon) where she felt I would be safe from
flying arrows and bullets. In
the meantime, she was busy loading guns and handing them out to the men.
An Indian, seeing her loading and handing out the guns, made a dash at her
with a spear. The captain of
the train saw the attack just in time and shot the Indian dead.
“A girl of 16 years and her baby brother, 18 months old, were
captured. Their family name was Fletcher. The mother was killed, her body
stripped of clothing and filled with arrows.
The father and his two young brothers ran for the train.
The boys made it but the father fell, mortally wounded, dying as
the train reached Green River, Wyo. This
Mr. Fletcher and his family had overtaken our train just before we reached
the Indian country. He had a team of four mules and could travel much
faster than our ox teams. The
captain of our train advised him to stay with us, at least until we were
past where the Indians were raiding. But
the eight or ten miles the oxen traveled each day was too slow for him.
On the day the Indians attacked us, he insisted on going ahead.
He and his family had got only a short distance when the Indians
appeared and cut them off from our train, killing his wife, capturing his
daughter and baby boy, taking his mules and burning his wagon.
“The daughter was with the Indians for two years when she made
her escape, somewhere in Texas, where she told her story, which was
published. Some years later
the clipping was sent to my parents by friends in the East.
In her statement she said that after she and her little brother
were captured they were tied on a horse.
Her little brother was so frightened that he could not stop crying.
Thereupon, an Indian snatched the little fellow from his sister and dashed
his brains out against a tree. The
girl fainted. The next thing she remembered, she was in the Indian camp.
One of the chiefs made her his wife.
She said that while the warriors were in camp she was well treated,
but when they were gone on their raids, the squaws showed their jealously
and would stick pins into her, pull her hair, sit on her and torment her
in different ways. Her Indian
husband was killed in one of their war raids. She was then taken by
another chief as his wife, traveling with him from place to place, finally
making her escape after two years of a living death.
Locate in Alder
traveling four months over the dusty plains, our emigrants arrived in
Montana, locating in Alder Gulch, noted Eldorado of the west and often
referred to as the cradle of Montana history. Homes were made of logs,
with dirt floors and dirt roofs. Provisions were scarce and prices high.
Flour sold at a dollar a pound and other commodities in like range. The
only thing cheap was meat, as that could be obtained by going a short
distance with powder and a gun. Buffalo,
deer and elk were plentiful.
“The camp was wild and woolly, with ‘a man for breakfast’
each day as the old saying ran. Law
and order was eventually established by the Vigilantes. In the meantime it
was reign of terror. One morning my father, on going to the log shed where
he kept his oxen, found a man hanging from one of the logs.
His blankets were on the ground and a card nearby, ‘Hung by the
Vigilantes.’ No one knew who
the victim was, where he had come from or what crime he had committed.
The Vigilantes were a band of Montana’s best citizens who formed
a secret society to enforce the law and bring order out of chaos during
the early 60’s. They hanged
all outlaws and murderers who were found guilty. They did not exact the
death penalty unless proof of guilt was clear and indisputable.
When it became necessary to rid the country of men who were clearly
of the criminal class, but upon whom the committee did not desire to
impose the death penalty, they place the dreaded sign of warning,
‘3-7-77’ on the door of the cabin, tent flap or wagon of the suspect,
a warning which gave three hours, seven minutes and 77 seconds to leave
camp—and not return. The warning also signified a grave three feet wide,
seven feet long and 77 inches deep. If
this warning was not heeded the culprit was hanged to some convenient
tree, with a card pinned on his back, ‘Hanged by the Vigilantes.’
He was left hanging for some time as a warning to other criminals.
“From Alder Gulch my parents moved to the Gallatin valley where
Father squatted on a piece of land, thinking to establish a farm home.
But the Indians were so hostile against the whites that my parents
were afraid to remain. Mother always kept a few provisions ready in case
of an Indian raid. If she saw
horsemen in the distance she would take me and her little bag of
provisions and hide in a near-by swamp, waiting there until she learned
whether the riders were Indians or whites.
At night the settlers never had a light in their cabin for fear of
guiding a band of Indians to their homes.
Such was the life of our pioneer women who endured the trials and
hardships of those early days.
Moved to Helena
“From the Gallatin valley we moved to Helena, remaining there
until the spring of 1869. It was not the Helena of today—far from it.
For every five homes there was a saloon, gambling den, ‘hurdy gurdy’
house (a low dance hall, where girls and women sold drinks after every
dance, the girls being given a commission on the drinks they sold).
I well recall the famous ‘Hangman’s Tree’ which grew about
where the center of Helena is today. It
was the tree from which the Vigilantes hanged many of the outlaws. As a
child I remember seeing more than one of these criminals hanging from that
“From Helena we went to a mining camp called Cedar Creek.
To reach this camp we had to travel over a mountain trail 15 miles
on horseback, with our household goods carried by pack mules. There were
only two children in the new camp, a boy about my age, and myself.
I was literally petted and literally spoiled by the kindhearted
miners who catered to my every whim. Cats,
dogs and toys found their way over the mountain trail for me.
A man by the name of Kelley was murdered in a dance hall just back
of our shack. The shots
awakened my mother and me. The
crowd poured out of the back of the hall into our yard, shouting and
howling like so many Indians. My
mother was so frightened that she took me and crawled under the bed.
Next day Kelley was buried. The funeral was a long procession that
filed its way up the mountain side. His coffin was a rough board box,
painted dark red, the only paint to be found in camp.
It was carried on a bier by six men at a time.
With a few words and prayer spoken by a lawyer, Kelley was laid to
rest. I often have thought of
that lonely grave on the mountain top.
My little boy friend and I followed Kelley along to his last
“From Cedar Creek we went to Missoula in the fall of 1869.
Missoula was a small town, with only one house on the south side of the
river. I attended the first
school ever held there. There
were 13 students, only two of us now living.
Our teacher was Mrs. W. W. Dickenson. I have seen a thousand
Indians camped on the south side, where now stands the State University
with its wonderful buildings and campus.
The Indians would camp there when passing through going and coming
from their semi-annual buffalo hunts on the east side of the Rockies.
“I will here relate an experience I had in Missoula with a
drunken Indian. On the hill
just north of town, several of my schoolmates and I were picking flowers.
We came upon an Indian sitting nearby.
He called to us and we went to see what he wanted.
He said, ‘Dance way-no, papoose, heap dance!‘
We saw that he was drunk and started to run away.
But he caught me by the arm and said, ‘Dance, heap dance, way-no
dance’—dance I did, the Charleston or the rumba of today had nothing
on the steps I executed for that redskin’s benefit.
He laughed and said, ‘Hi you scucum papoose, you go.’
I can assure you I needed no second invitation to take my leave.
In the Indian language, ‘way-no’ means good and ‘hi you
scucum papoose’ means ‘you are a very nice child.’
“In 1872 we left Missoula and came to Deer Lodge where we
remained until 1876. In that year, Butte had discovered several silver and
copper mines and it looked likely that a boom would soon take place.
So we decided to take a chance on it and moved there.
“In conclusion I will say that all our travels of the
60’s and 70’s were made either by ox team or stagecoach, the
latter drawn by four or six horses, changing horses every 10 miles and
drivers every 12 hours, traveling both day and night. Every minute was one
of fear, expecting to hear a command, ‘Halt, hands up!’ by a gang of
road agents, or possibly the terrifying warwhoop of hostile Indians on
“Dear readers, such was the life of our early pioneers. There are
only a few of us left to tell the story—the story of hardships endured
in order that future generations might have it easier. One by one they are
laying down the pick and shovel and going to their great reward. ‘Peace
to your ashes, dear old friends of the trail; your hardships are over,
your work is done.’ ”
See Tells Story of Butte in 1876