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Title: Memories of Old Montana
Author: Con Price
Release Date: November 20, 2017 [EBook #56016]
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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK MEMORIES OF OLD MONTANA ***
Produced by Roger Frank
MEMORIES OF OLD MONTANA
(Masachele Opa Barusha)
THE HIGHLAND PRESS
Highland at Hawthorne
HOLLYWOOD 28, CALIFORNIA
By Con Price
All Rights Reserved
After Deluxe edition of 125 copies, numbered and
signed by the author.
To all the old-time cowboys and cowmen whose
hearts were as big as the range they rode.
Some years ago, through my interest in the life and work of
Charles M. Russell, I met Con Price. No one could go far into
the subject of Montana’s Cowboy Artist without cutting Con
These two men were more than cowpuncher friends and
associates in a ranch partnership. Charlie regarded Con as one
of the greatest bronco riders of his time, and Con considers
Charlie the finest kind of friend a man could have had.
It was a long time before Con would talk much about his close
friendship with Charlie Russell—a friendship that started on the
range before either was married, and lasted until Charlie
crossed the Big Divide in 1926. After some urging Con has, over
a period of years, written something of his early days in Old
Montana, with a few, too few, references to his friend Russell.
My own knowledge of Russell has been immeasurably enriched
through knowing Con Price, but more important is our own
friendship, which I treasure even more.
H. E. BRITZMAN
July 23, 1945
Trail’s End, Michillinda,
EARLIEST MEMORIES (1869 to 1878)
I was born in the year 1869 in Manchester, Iowa. My father served
in the Civil War and during that service contracted consumption and
was discharged from the army and came home a very sick man, without
any provisions being made to take care of him—only through the
efforts of my mother, who didn’t have a dollar, only what she made
working for wages which was very small at that time.
There was four children—the oldest eight, the youngest two. So
with my father’s sickness and us hungry kids to feed, she must have
had hard going. I think my father was home about a year when he
died. How she provided for the burial, I do not know, as there was
no charitable organizations or county help those days.
I remember after the funeral my mother called in a Catholic
priest to consult him about what to do with us kids. They finally
decided that the priest would find homes for us by having some
wealthy families adopt us, which he did.
I was placed with a family by name of Calligan, near a town named
Manson, Iowa. As I remember the contract, those people were to give
me an education and when I was twenty-one years old, they were to
give me a horse and saddle and $500.00.
But after a few years my mother married again and she and her
husband decided they wanted us children back. All the parties that
had the other children gave them up, but the people I was with
contested my mother’s rights, and they had a law suit about who
would have possession of me. My mother won out, which broke my
heart, as I was very much attached to my adopted parents. And
another thing, as I see the picture now, my stepfather didn’t have
intelligence enough to raise a pig, let alone a child, and I didn’t
So there was a mutual dislike between him and me right from the
time they got me home. The first thing he put me doing was herding
cattle out on the prairie. And almost every night I got a whipping
or a scolding and I was always thinking about my adopted home. I
think I was about nine years old at that time and he gave me a
pretty good horse to ride to herd those cattle. So one day I
conceived the idea of stealing this horse and run away and go back
to my other home, which was about 100 miles. Of course, when I came
up missing they didn’t know what happened and they went to all the
neighbors looking for me before they got the idea that I had run
away, which gave me quite a start.
It took me about three days to make the trip. I stayed over night
with ranchers and I remember they asked me, what I thought at that
time, some queer questions—where I came from and where I was going,
and so forth. But I mixed up a story that I was going on a visit,
which I guess seemed strange to them—a boy about nine years old
going that far with a good horse but no saddle. I was riding
bareback. Anyway I made the trip. But about three miles from my
adopted home, I turned the horse loose and walked—and as there was
no fences to stop him, in the course of a few days he drifted back
My adopted father and mother were tickled to death to see me.
They were an old couple and had become very fond of me. So they
cached me around in different places for several days until they
decided my stepfather was not going to bother about me—and I thought
I was settled down in my old home again. And they used to send me
after the milk cows in the evening when I came home from school.
They gave me a little mare to ride. She must have been a race
horse, for she could sure run. I rode her without a saddle and I was
still on the look-out for someone to come after me.
Now my stepfather had a mare that was very fast, but he sometimes
worked her in harness. Well, one evening I went after the cows—I
think about two miles—and had just started towards home, when I saw
a team and wagon coming pretty fast towards me right across the
country and not on a road. I soon recognized my stepfather and my
mother in the wagon. They were between me and my home, and I had a
rather narrow place to go by them—(a fence on one side and a creek
on the other ... I think about fifty yards space) and it looked like
I was in a tough spot, as I had to go right past them. I had to go
about a quarter of a mile to be opposite them. When I started
towards them, my stepfather sensed what I was going to do. He jumped
out of the wagon and started to unharness his fast horse. He was
pretty quick and about the time I got to where he was, he had
mounted and hollered at me to stop—but I was in high and I fairly
flew past him. I looked back at him once and he was whipping that
old horse and getting all the speed he could. But he might as well
be standing still as far as his chances were of catching me. I had
to go through some timber before I got to the house, so he couldn’t
see which way I went.
I give the alarm and the old lady told me to run into the corn
field and hide. My stepfather came to the house and made all kinds
of threats but he didn’t find me. My folks went back home and
everything seemed all right again for about two weeks. I thought
they were going to let me stay where I was.
But one morning I was taking the cattle out to graze and had got
off of my horse and was trying to drive a cow out of the brush. When
I looked around there were two men close to me in a buggy. I didn’t
wait a second but started to run. One of them jumped out of the
buggy. I thought he was the largest man I ever saw—must have weighed
250 pounds. He hollered at me to stop, which only scared me worse
and away I went and that big fellow after me.
The country around there was very brushy and rough. I tore into
that brush like a rabbit and run until I fell down and I just laid
still, hoping he wouldn’t find me. I heard him go by me. I think he
missed me about three feet and went on by. He must have been gone
about an hour—I heard him coming back and he walked right up to
where I was lying. He said, “I am the sheriff. Get up. I want you.”
Boy, was I scared! He put one handcuff on my wrist and led me back
to the buggy. My stepfather had sent him after me.
I have never had any handcuffs on since but I sure suffered agony
that day. They had to drive about 15 miles to the railroad to get a
train to take me back home and I begged the sheriff to take the
handcuffs off, as the thoughts of them scared me to death. The
sheriff was a kindly man and I know he felt sorry for me and was
going to take them off—but I heard the driver tell him, “That kid is
going to give you the slip if you turn him loose and we never will
catch him again, and he sure can run like hell.” It was a livery
stable team and driver that the sheriff had hired to go after me,
and I guess they didn’t want to waste anymore time chasing me. But
the sheriff did take the cuffs off when we got to town and took me
to dinner and treated me fine, but told me if I tried to run away he
would put me in jail. That cooked me ... I stayed close to him all
day so he wouldn’t think I was trying to get away.
When I landed back home I had quite a score to settle with my
folks for running away. They kept me under pretty close guard for
awhile but finally put me back to herding cattle—but they did not
give me a horse to ride anymore. I had to walk, as my stepfather
knew there was less chance of me running away if I had to walk.
My mother tried to make peace between the old man and myself but
never made much headway, as we both hated each other. He was a
comical-looking little Irishman—I was quite a mimic and was always
making fun of him behind his back to the other kids. One day he
caught me at it and it sure made him mad and he gave me a good
beating, which didn’t help my feelings towards him. So I used to job
him every chance I got and I guess I made life about as miserable
for him as he did for me.
BLACK HILLS OF SOUTH DAKOTA (1878 to 1885)
In 1879 my folks came across the plains from Fort Pierre to the
Black Hills and the first town we came to, of any size, was
Scooptown and from there to Deadwood was mostly mountains and
several toll gates. It cost a dollar to go through those places—that
meant the people that kept those gates kept the road repaired so it
would be passable—but those roads were sure tough. I remember when
we drove our team up the street of Deadwood the mud was about two
feet deep and we could hardly get through, as Deadwood was one
street about a mile long in a deep canyon. It was laid out in three
sections: first Elizabeth Town, Chinatown and then Deadwood proper.
We camped in Elizabeth Town for several weeks—lived in a tent.
It was a great sight at that time around the old Gem Theatre,
which was a big dance hall and gambling house. There was no law
prohibiting minors from going into those places and I sure got an
eyeful! The first unusual sight I remember was seeing a woman with a
black and swollen eye. And in most of those dives there were women
dealing faro bank and poker—and I was fascinated with the names they
went by. There was Big Gussie, who was Bed Rock Tom’s common-law
wife. She was considered a very capable gambler and would take and
pay all bets as cool and calm as a bank teller—and just as accurate.
I used to admire those old characters. There was Colorado Johnny,
Tom Allen, Deaf Jimmie and several others ... I have forgotten their
names. Those men were all faro dealers—and wore long whiskers ...
and the barbers sure got well paid to keep those whiskers in perfect
style—and the fine clothes and jewelry they wore must have cost a
As I remember there was 28 legitimate faro banks in town about
that time, besides several questionable ones. Those games had a
limit in the amount you could bet on the turn of a card, which was
usually $12.50 and $25.00, but one or two houses had $125.00 and
$250.00 limit—that means you can only bet the low limit where there
is only one card left in the deck to act. You can bet it to win or
lose. Most everybody played faro them days—but I believe the
Chinaman was the greatest gambler of them all. About 11 o’clock at
night was their favorite time to start out to gamble. They would put
on their best clothes—which was the very finest of goods them
days—white socks, silk top shoes, and they would leave Chinatown for
the white man’s game. I have seen 25 of them, dressed this way, one
behind the other heading for the faro game—and they sounded like a
bunch of geese honking to each other in their talk. They liked to
all get around one gambling table and if one of them seemed to be
lucky, the rest of them would follow him with their bets. In fact,
it seemed to be a kind of a system they had—and often they would win
several thousand dollars in a night.
While we were living in Deadwood, there was an old man kept a
little grocery store close to where we were camped, and an old Irish
woman kept a boarding house nearby. It was hard to get white sugar
most of the time, and the people had to use brown sugar, which came
in barrels, and when the weather was damp and rainy that sugar
seemed to draw moisture and got quite heavy. And each time the old
lady got sugar she accused the old man of putting water in it to
make it weigh more. One morning he saw her coming. He got a bucket
of water and was standing by the barrel when she walked in. She ran
up to him and stuck her first in his face and said, “I caught you at
last—I always knew you were watering that sugar!” She didn’t make
much fuss about it afterwards. She seemed pleased to know she had
caught him and that her suspicions had proved to be right.
After a few months in Deadwood my folks moved to the little town
of Galena, where Colonel Davey owned the Sitting Bull mine, and my
folks started a store and boarding house and I went to school for a
short time. There was two Irishmen run a store there by the name of
McQuillian and Finnegan. They also had a cow ranch about 75 miles
east of Galena. Finnegan run the ranch, McQuillian run the store.
Finnegan used to come to Galena sometimes on horseback. His saddle,
chaps and outfit was something wonderful to me—and his stories of
the range made me feel I wanted to be a cowboy. I asked him for a
job and he laughed at me, told me I was too young. Also my folks
wanted me to go to school.
But the spirit of the wild country had got in my blood and one
day I run away from school and started for the Finnegan Ranch,
caught a ride when I could and walked part of the way, but finally
got there, and told Finnegan I was going to stay. So he gave me a
job close herding some cows for breeding purposes. The first thing
he learned me was to read his brand which was “F M.” There was
thousands of brands on the range those days, and I was supposed to
keep all other brands of cattle out of his bunch.
The old man had several cowboys working for him, but he was chief
cook, bottle washer and boss. He used to tell me he was the best
cowboy of them all. But the fact of the matter was he couldn’t do
much of anything in the way of a cowboy, and the men used to make
fun of him behind his back. But I learned pretty quick that he liked
to be swelled about what he could do and I sure poured it to him,
and he liked me fine. He used to tell me what a fine cook he was—his
cooking was rotten and consisted of bacon and beans and sourdough
bread. I remember he had an old knotty pine log in front of the
cabin, and I don’t think he ever started to cook a meal that he
didn’t grab the axe and hit that old knotty pine log a few licks. He
never got any wood off of it, but would try it every time, then
throw the axe away, and hunt up some chips, or anything else he
could find to start a fire. When he made bread, he had flour from
his eyebrows to his toes.
In 1879 the country was sure wild. Deer, antelope, buffalo and
bear were very plentiful; very few white people, but lots of Indians
and some of them were still on the warpath in them days; also quite
a sprinkling of road agents. I remember one old road agent named
Laughing Sam. He was very polite in his holdups. He held up a
freighter one time and all he had that Sam wanted was chewing
tobacco. The freighter begged Sam to not take all his tobacco, as he
could not get any more until he got to Sidney, Nebraska, which was
about 200 miles, but Sam said he was sorry on account of the law he
could not go to Sidney, so took all of the tobacco.
In those days everything was freighted from Fort Pierre, South
Dakota, and Sidney, Nebraska, to the Black Hills by ox teams and
mule teams. I have seen 27 ten-yoke teams of oxen all in one outfit.
At the head of this caravan rode the wagon boss. He was quite a
dandy in those days—fancy saddle, boots and pearl handle
six-shooter. It was a great sight to see an outfit like that moving
across the country; with those men shouting at their teams, whips
popping and wagons rattling. It sounded like a young army in action.
The town of Deadwood was the terminal of all freight and stage
outfits, and as there was very little law and order those days, it
was sure a wild town. There was another town about 20 miles before
you got to Deadwood. It was called Scooptown those days, but
afterwards was changed to the more dignified name of Sturgis, which
it still has today. I have seen that town at night full of bull
whackers, mule skinners, cowboys and soldiers, and the dance halls
going full blast—when I think back at it today, it seems like a
I knew an old-time bull whacker. He went by the name of Baltimore
Bill. He got into a gun fight one night in one of those dance halls.
He got three fingers shot off, but killed the other fellow. He was
arrested for murder and laid in jail for about a year pending his
trial. He was finally acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. I
worked with Bill afterwards and was well acquainted with him. He
said he had a very narrow escape from hanging. He said when the
“prosecutin’” attorney got through making his plea to the jury, he
felt he (Bill) was the lowest human alive and deserved hanging,
“but, oh boy, when my attorney got through with my defense, I was a
damn good man!”
Fort Meade was located three miles from Scooptown and was
occupied by colored soldiers, and a very noted nigger ran a dance
hall and gambling house in Scooptown.
One night some of those negro soldiers were drinking in this
house and got into a row with the proprietor, whose name was Abe
Hill, and he hit one of them on the head with a bottle. A few nights
after this, these soldiers stole some guns and ammunition out of the
Fort and came in to shoot Abe Hill’s place up. There were about
twenty of them, and they raided that old dance hall and in fact
nearly all the town. There was a cowboy in Abe’s place that night.
His name was Bob Bell and he didn’t know what all the noise was
about. He stepped from the gambling part into the dance hall,
thinking it was a little celebration and was shot four or five
times. Poor Bob never knew what hit him.
I was in town that night, and when the shooting began I ran back
off the main street, but bullets seemed to be hitting all around me.
The first thing I came to that looked like protection was a wagon
with a mule tied to it. I ducked under the wagon—but between the
bullets hitting the wagon and that old mule bucking on the end of
the halter, I put in a quarter of an hour very uncomfortable. But
the mule and myself escaped unhurt.
Part of that regiment of negro soldiers were afterwards
transferred to Wyoming to stop a war that broke out between the
stock men and cattle rustlers, and they pulled off another job about
like they did in Scooptown.
There was a little town established at the end of the Burlington
Railroad on Powder River. It was named Sugs. The town consisted
mostly of saloons and the sporting element. Those negro soldiers got
into some difficulty with some of the citizens of the town and
decided to have revenge. They were camped a little ways outside of
Sugs in tents. So one night they stole some ammunition and guns like
they had done before at Scooptown, and started in to town to shoot
It was quite a dark night and the only lights the town had was
coal oil lamps. The town had about 500 population and one street.
Those soldiers lined up at the end of the street and started
shooting at every building, tent, or any form they saw, and
everybody that could run for cover—in half finished cellars, out
houses or any hole they could get into.
There was an old man there—(he was a Jew)—who had started a
little hardware store, and had a few dish pans hung on the wall of
his tent store, and about the first bullet that hit anything of
consequence was those dish pans. They were hung one on top of
another, and the bullet went through all of them. And while everyone
was running for cover the Jew saw his pans wrecked. He stopped right
there and said, “Oh my God, look at what they have done to my
Now there was two cattle rustlers came to town that night, making
their get-away, headed north, and had put their horses away, and got
a room in the only hotel in town, which was at the opposite end from
where the soldiers entered. Those men had gone to bed and when they
heard the shooting they thought it was a posse after them, and as
they didn’t have time to get to their horses, they decided to put up
a fight. They both had Winchesters. They put all their bullets in
their hats, came out of the hotel, and laid down in the middle of
the street, and when they saw this body of soldiers moving their way
shooting everywhere, they opened fire on them. I believe they killed
three of those negro soldiers and wounded several more. It became so
hot for the soldiers they broke and run. Meantime the officer at the
Post had heard of the trouble, ordered out his whole force, and came
riding into town and demanded law and order. It was quite a while
before the officer could be made to understand his own men had
caused all the excitement, as he did not know they had stolen away.
I START TO PUNCH COWS
In the year of 1885 I got my first job as a real cowboy. I went
to work for the “7D” outfit on the Belle Fouche River in the Black
Hills night herding horses on the roundup. There was twenty outfits
working together and there was about 300 riders—that was more
cowboys than I ever saw hi one bunch before, or since. Also there
was more grass and water that spring than I ever saw since that time
and the range was open for a thousand miles in every direction and
the country was just alive with cattle and it was not unusual to
work and handle 5,000 cattle in one day.
Each outfit had from 150 to 200 saddle horses and from 15 to 30
cowboys. Each outfit had a grub-wagon and a bedwagon, four horses to
each wagon. Each outfit had a day horse wrangler and a night
wrangler and a cook. When we moved camp, the night wrangler drove
the bedwagon to haul the cowboys’ beds. We didn’t have any stoves or
tents those days. The cook’s outfit consisted of Dutch ovens, iron
pots and coffee pot and boy, what a meal them old cooks could set
In the spring of 1886 I helped to gather and take a herd of
cattle from the Black Hills to Miles City, Montana. The cattle
belonged to a Jew by the name of Strauss and he owned the “54” Ranch
on a creek named Mizpah—I don’t know where that creek got its name,
but it must mean alkali, for the water there would take the skin off
your lips and was equal to any dose of Epsom salts that anyone ever
Mr. Strauss lived in Milwaukee and had been on the ranch about a
week when we arrived, and the weather was very warm and he drank
plenty of that water. So one day about noon he told his foreman
there was something seriously wrong with him and he had to go to
Milwaukee at once. He had black whiskers and I think that water was
so bad it even had an effect on his whiskers. He looked so bad he
So I told the boss I would quit and went with them to the
railroad—they had to go to Miles City for the Jew to get a train to
Milwaukee. So I went with them, which was about 50 miles. We made a
night drive in a buckboard.
There was a road ranch about half way and the old man kept
telling the foreman when we got there he would be O.K. as the lady
who owned the place served nice cold milk and that was what his
stomach was craving. We got there about midnight and woke the people
up to get some milk for the old man. The lady sent her boy down
cellar for the milk. There was a skunk in the cellar. He killed the
skunk and brought the milk up to the dining room. When that old man
took one swallow of that milk he stopped and his eyes set in his
head. I thought he had a stroke.
He said, “Lady, I believe the animal has been in the milk.”
We got to Miles City the next day and I never saw the old man
again but hope he found some milk that was not tainted with the
perfume of the skunk.
I remember my first experience as a bullwhacker—that was what
they named a driver the days when they hauled freight with cattle
and mule teams.
When I quit the “54” outfit and went to Miles City, I proceeded
to counteract that bad water on Mizpah Creek with Miles City whiskey
and the results were so pleasant I stayed until I was broke and sold
my saddle, and when I could not get anymore of Miles City joy juice
I got in a box car one night on a train going West and landed at
Ouster Junction on the Yellowstone River in Montana—that was where
freight was unloaded and hauled to Fort Custer and some parts in
The first outfit I found was loading for Wyoming and was owned by
a man by the name of Bill Marsh. He had two teams (10-yoke of Texas
steers to the team) and was loaded with whiskey—I have forgotten how
many barrels but they usually hauled 9,000 pounds to the team. I
asked Marsh if he wanted a man. He asked me if I was a bullwhacker.
I told him yes, and he hired me.
Now I never had put a yoke on a steer in my life, or drove one,
but I wanted a job, so he showed me the right-hand leader, which is
the first steer to be yoked. Now the way to yoke a steer is to put
the yoke on your shoulder and walk up to him. The cattle were used
to that way, but I took the yoke in my arms, and walked up to the
steer. He took one look at me, jumped up in the air, kicked me in
the stomach, knocked me down with the yoke on top of me and run off.
The boss was looking at the performance and said he better help me
We rolled about 10 miles that day and my team just simply
followed the boss’ team and done about as they pleased. They
certainly knew I was a tenderfoot as a bullwhacker.
That night I was pretty badly discouraged when we camped and I
told the boss the truth that I had never drove oxen before but I was
broke and had to have work. He said I need not tell him anything as
he knew when I tried to yoke that first steer that I was not a
It has always been a mystery to me about those steers—how well
they knew me—after about a week on the trail they wouldn’t pull your
hat off for me. I know the boss would have fired me but we were
crossing the Crow Indian Reservation and we didn’t see a white man
for a hundred and fifty miles, so he had to put up with me. At that
I don’t think he suffered anymore than I did, because my team done
just about as they pleased most of the time.
I recall one day we were pulling what they called the Lodge Grass
Hill on the Little Horn River and it was very steep and scarcely any
road at all. The boss and his team had pulled the hill and got over
the top out of sight of me. My team stopped on the hill and refused
to start. I will never forget my near wheeler—I was whipping and
hollering at the rest of the cattle trying to start the load—I
happened to look at him. He had the yoke up on his horns and his
eyes bulged out like he was pulling his best, but the fact of the
matter was he was holding back. It looked like he was just fooling
me. Finally the boss came back to see what was the matter. I told
him I was stuck and the cattle couldn’t pull the load.
Now Bill was a real bullwhacker and those steers knew it. He give
one yell at those cattle and the three wagons began to move; in fact
they went so fast I could hardly keep up with them and it looked
like that old steer that had been fooling me pulled half the load
We used whips, with the lash about 20 feet long and the handle
about 5 feet. Those old bullwhackers could pick a fly off any steer
anywhere in the team, and when they hit a steer it sounded like a
six-shooter had went off—that was something I never learned. They
could hit a steer with their whips and make a loud noise and not cut
him. Every time I hit one I cut his hide. The boss used to give me
hell about that but I would have used an axe if I had one when I got
When we had been on the road several days we lost a work steer
and it broke up my team.
While the boss was out on the range looking for the steer, a
young buck Indian came into camp, riding a pretty good-looking
horse. He could talk a little English and I could talk some Indian.
I made him understand we had lost a steer and asked him if he would
go and look for it. But he wanted money and I didn’t have any ...
but we had six wagon loads of whiskey and I knew Indians liked
whiskey. They called it fire water—Minnie Kavea. The people we were
hauling it for allowed us to drink what we wanted, the only proviso
was not to put any water in the barrel after we drew the whiskey
out, so I asked the Indian if he would hunt for the steer if I gave
him a drink. His face immediately became all smiles and he made
signs if I would give him a big drink that it would be a bargain.
I went to the grub box, got a pint tin cup and filled it for him.
He drank it like water. He made signs that I was his brother and he
loved me and he would find the steer right away.
I think he was gone about half an hour when he came back. His
eyes were glassy and he was slobbering at the mouth but very happy.
He said. “Me no see cow.” He made me understand the fire water was
very fine and wanted some more. I gave him another cupful.
He started away singing, to hunt the steer again. He was riding
bareback and was leaning pretty much to one side. He went about 50
yards and fell off. When he hit the ground, he completely passed
About that time the boss got into camp with the lost steer. When
he found out what I had done he said, “My God, kid, you will have us
both in the pen for giving whiskey to Indians. Yoke up your cattle
quick and we will get out of here.” We left him lay where he was.
I’ll bet he was a sick Indian when he woke up.
The boss sure was mad about it at the time, but had a big laugh
over it afterwards.
We were six weeks making that trip, and I was a fairly good
freighter by that time, but it wasn’t a very good job for a cowboy,
as I had to walk too much.
WITH THE RL OUTFIT
In the spring of 1887 I went to work for the “RL” outfit located
on the Musselshell River in Montana. The outfit belonged to the Ryan
Brothers of Kansas City. They run about 25,000 head of cattle, and
run three wagons and worked about 20 men to each wagon, and had
about 500 head of saddle horses.
That year they had a contract with the government to supply the
Sioux Indians with 5,000 beef cattle. We gathered the first herd of
2,500 and trailed them to landing Rock Agency on the Missouri River
in North Dakota. We were about four months on the trail and I don’t
remember of seeing one wire fence or farming ranch on the trip.
We swam those cattle across the Yellowstone River east of Miles
City. We were four days trying to get those cattle across. It was in
the month of June and at the time of high water—the river was bank
full and at least a quarter of a mile wide. We tried every way
anybody had ever heard of to get those cattle to take that water. We
would bring them to the river every day and fight them all day, but
it was no go. We would then drive them back from the river and night
herd them and try again the next day. Finally we decided to hold
them off water for twenty-four hours, and then drove them all into
the river at once. It worked. It was sure some sight, the 2,500 head
all swimming at once.
We had a wonderful trip after that. We only moved them about
eight or ten miles a day and with plenty grass and water they got
very fat. It was the custom them days to butcher a calf on anybody’s
range, so we had plenty good meat.
When we arrived at the end of our journey, we had to herd those
cattle for about three months, as we only delivered 250 head a week.
We held them about twenty miles from the Agency, and each week we
cut out the fattest ones and took them to the Agency. After we had
been there about a week all the cowboys quit and went back to
Montana, which only left the boss, the cook and myself with 2,500
cattle to hold, and as there was no white men in that part of the
country, the boss had to hire some Indians to help hold the cattle.
Those Indians could not understand one word of English and we
couldn’t talk much Indian, so we were in a pretty bad fix.
Our horses didn’t like the smell of the Indian, and they
persisted in getting on on the right-hand side, and, of course, our
horses objected to that. They all wore moccasins and they would put
their foot so far through the stirrup when a horse got scared when
they were getting on and they would fall down and their foot would
hang in the stirrup, so the boss and myself put in most of our time
catching loose horses.
One day a steamboat came up the Missouri River and it blowed the
whistle. Now those cattle had never heard a steamboat whistle
before. They were scattered over an area of about four miles
feeding. It sure scared them. They first run together all in one
bunch, and we might have checked them but those Indians got excited
and scared them worse than ever. One Indian was running his horse
pretty close to the lead of the cattle and giving war whoops, and
his horse fell down and throwed him right in among the cattle. I
sure thought he was killed and hoped he was, but he never got a
scratch. After we got the cattle stopped, he made signs that he
enjoyed it very much, as it reminded him of hunting buffalo.
All cattlemen know that cattle do not get over a scare like that
very soon, and those were all longhorned Texas steers and would
scare of their own shadow, and when one jumped they all went. So
that night when we put them on the bed-ground, the boss wouldn’t put
the Indians on night guard as he knew they would scare them for
sure. So he put me on first guard, and he brought his bed and night
horse out to the herd so he would be close if anything happened. He
staked his horse and went to bed.
I was riding around the herd and they all seemed to be settled
down fine, when all at once, quick as you could snap your finger,
they were all running. It was very dark and it sounded like thunder
when that herd stampeded. I was badly scared and I tried to stay in
the lead of them as much as I could, but they would swing first one
way and then another. I think they run about three miles, when
something came out of the herd right longside of me. I knew it
wasn’t a steer. It made a different noise from anything else that I
had heard. I thought it was a ghost, and I pretty near fainted. It
was the boss’ horse dragging the stake rope and the stirrups and
saddle a-popping that scared the cattle and me, too. The horse had
pulled his stake pin and stampeded the herd. After this ghost had
disappeared, I got the cattle stopped but I still didn’t know what
it was. I didn’t know where I was or where camp was, so I tried to
sing and talk to the cattle and wait for help. Some of them began to
bawl and I knew that was a good sign, as cattle will not scare so
bad when some of them are bawling. In about an hour I heard the boss
whistling and coming my way. He had walked to camp and got another
horse, and come hunting me. He stayed the rest of the night with me.
Luckily we had not lost any of them, as they all stayed together,
but there was a lot of broken horns and lame cattle, as they had
piled up several times in the run.
For several days those cattle were very nervous and we had
considerable trouble watering them. A steer would see a little rock
or a piece of grass that didn’t look just right—he would jump and
away they would all go.
After about a month the other herd came and we had more cowboys.
We were all right then as we had plenty of help, and began
delivering beef to the Indians.
I remember one delivery we made, the boss sent me with a pack
outfit and my orders were to camp about halfway of the twenty miles
we had to go and make coffee for the cowboys that were bringing the
cattle. It was raining that day, and as we were on the Indian
reservation there was very little wood to build a fire with, so when
I got to the place I was to camp everything was wet and nothing to
make a fire with. I saw a pine box about two feet long in a
cottonwood tree. I got it down and broke it up and inside of it were
a few dried bones and a few pieces of red flannel. It was an Indian
papoose grave—that was the way they buried their dead. I dumped the
bones out and made a fire out of the box.
Old man Ryan, one of the owners of the cattle, was with us that
day, and came ahead of the cattle to get some coffee. When he seen I
had coffee made, he was very pleased, and told me I was a great boy.
But when he went to pour out his coffee, he spied those bones. He
asked me what they were, and when I told him he nearly fainted, and
would not touch the coffee. But it didn’t affect those hungry
cowboys when they got there; they told me I was wonderful, but the
old gentleman said I was simply terrible. The old man was a very
devout Catholic and said I would surely go to Hell when I died.
We would put those cattle in the government corral and an army
officer would just look them over and accept them. They didn’t weigh
them, but bought them so much a head.
After the inspector passed on them, they would call five or six
Indians with their rifles. They would get up on the corral fence and
shoot every one of them before they touched one. Then the army
officer would take so many Indian families to each steer and let
them divide it up. There was three tribes there, with a chief at the
head of each tribe. I don’t know how many Indians was in each tribe
but it looked like about 3,000 Indians—all Siouxs.
In about two hours there wouldn’t even be a tail of a steer left.
Each family took their portion and went to their different camp
Those three chiefs’ names were Sitting Bull, Rain in the Face,
and Gall—the latter two looked like old seasoned warriors, both had
been wounded in battle several times. Sitting Bull was a younger man
and looked like he had some white blood in his veins.
The old time Indians claimed Sitting Bull was not the great
warrior that he got credit for and that he did not plan the massacre
of General Custer and that Rain in the Face was the great man in
Every time those steers were shot down in the corral, before any
beef was divided, Rain in the Face made a speech—I don’t know what
it was about, but the roar of applause was terrific.
That fall when we got the beef all delivered, we took the saddle
horses to Mandan, North Dakota, on the Northern Pacific Railroad and
shipped them back to Montana.
The cowboys went by passenger train. Those cowboys had been on
the Indian reservation all summer and could not get any
refreshments, and as they had all their wages they made Mandan a
lively town for a Hay and a night. There was about twenty of them,
and it was some job getting them cowboys loaded on that train, and
after we got started it took the train crew all their time to keep
Them days they heated the chair cars with a coal heating stove.
One old cowboy got a raw steak out of the diner, and before the
conductor knew it he was cooking it on top of the stove and the car
was full of smoke. The conductor took it away from him and throwed
it out of the car and gave the old man hell. The old man was very
mad and told the conductor he didn’t know nothing, as that was the
proper way to cook a steak.
Another fellow bought a suit of clothes in Mandan and decided to
change clothes in the parlor car. He got into quite a dispute with
the train crew, but finally got his new suit on. He said they were
too damn particular about riding on trains.
We were all at the RL ranch one afternoon ready to start on the
spring roundup next morning. We saw a rider coming very fast. When
he rode in we all knew him. His name was George Shepord. His horse
was all sweat and about winded.
Someone said, “Hello, George. What is the matter?” He set on his
horse and didn’t say anything for about a minute—then he said, “I
killed John Matt about two hours ago.”
John run a saloon at what was known at that time as Musselshell
Crossing, a stage station.
George’s story was that him and Matt were playing poker
single-handed that day and got into a dispute over a pot. George
said Matt tried to steal a twenty dollar gold piece out of the pot.
They got in an argument over it. They both had guns (all cowboys
wore guns those days)—Matt reached for his gun but George beat him
to it and killed him right there at the poker table.
George got on his horse and came to where we were and the boss
notified the Sheriff. The boss knew George very well and liked him
very much, so he took George to a big patch of brush down the river
and hid him out until things got cleared up and the boss detailed
one of the cowboys to carry food to him.
George was very desperate at first and would not agree to give
himself up—so the sign agreed on between George and the other boy
was that the cowboy was to whistle When he came near the brush
patch. This boy told me afterwards he would begin whistling a mile
before he got to the brush patch, and when he got there he would be
so damn nervous he couldn’t whistle at all.
Finally the boss got George to give himself up and the fact that
no one saw the shooting and George’s testimony was all there was, he
got clear on the grounds of self-defense.
It’s a strange coincidence, but I worked with another fellow that
killed a man the year before in Gold Butte, Montana, and he and
George worked together for the RL outfit. His name was Frank
McPartland—and they were both the quietest and mild-mannered men in
the outfit. So as the old saying goes: “You can’t tell how far the
frog can jump by looking at him.”
Frank and his partner were wintering in a cabin in Gold Butte and
got into a fight over a gallon of whiskey they had—anyway that was
what started the fight. Gold Butte was about two days’ ride to Fort
Benton, which was the county seat and the nearest place to get in
touch with an officer.
Frank stayed with the corpse and sent a neighbor after the
sheriff and coroner. When they arrived they had to stay all night in
the cabin and when it came time to go to bed there were only two
bunks. Frank gave one to the sheriff and coroner. They asked him
where he was going to sleep. He said with his partner. He said, “I
slept with him when he was alive—I don’t see why I shouldn’t now.”
Frank was in jail for about a year and as Gold Butte was at that
time an Indian reservation, he had to be tried in the Federal Court
which was at Fort Keogh near Miles City.
He got free, too, from the fact nobody saw the killing but him.
When I worked for the RL outfit, we used to work along the
Yellowstone River. There was one place where there was quite a
little settlement of farmers. The place was known as Pease Bottom.
We always camped a couple of days right on the edge of the Bottom.
My memory of it is the whole female population of the Bottom was
two girls, a widow and a married lady.
Always the day before we made this camp the cowboys shined their
spurs and bridles and put on clean shirts (if they had one) as they
knew all the lady folks would be at the roundup and boy, what a show
those forty or fifty cowboys would put on for those four or five
ladies. If a cowboy’s horse didn’t buck, he would make him buck. If
no cattle broke out of the roundup, some fellow would cut one out
and take it around and around in front of the ladies. Of course, the
ladies applauded us all—and we didn’t know who was the favorite but,
of course, each one thought in his own mind he was the best.
Every year when we camped and worked the country close to Pease
Bottom it was understood by everybody that we would have a dance at
night in some one of the farmers’ houses, as the people in this
little valley really enjoyed those events just as much as we did.
Our cook played the banjo and a mouth harp, both of which he
always carried with him. He had a kind of a frame fixed around his
head so he could play them both at once. He only played two or three
tunes, such as “Turkey-in-the-Straw,” “Hell Among the Yearlings”
(which was a cowboy title) and maybe a waltz or two, but those
pieces answered the purpose for all dances.
We danced mostly quadrilles, I remember, and one time some
stranger happened to be at one of those dances and he asked the cook
to play some dance tune that he never heard of and it came near to
causing a riot, as that was one thing the cook prided himself
on—that he knew and could play any tune that anyone asked for,
regardless of how difficult. So he played “Buffalo Girls,” or some
other old-timer. The fellow said that it was not the tune he asked
for and it started a hot argument right now. We all said the cook
was right and the stranger didn’t know what he was talking about. Of
course, we didn’t know anything about music, but we did know we had
to stand by the cook, as he was the only musician we had. He
wouldn’t stand for any criticism of his music and would quit playing
and break up the dance.
In those days the foreman of an outfit wore better clothes and
rode a better rig than the average cowboy and really was in a class
by himself, so when we went to those dances he was usually more
popular than the regular cowboy, and was often shown favors among
the girls. In fact, we would have to take another fellow for a
partner instead of a girl sometimes—the ladies was so scarce.
I recall what seems to me to be very amusing now. There was a
school teacher at one of those Pease Bottom dances and she was a
great favorite with everybody and every cowboy tried to pick her for
a partner, if possible. The floor manager had called a dance with
“Ladies’ Choice.” I heard that call and figured I was out for that
dance—and took a big chew of tobacco—when to my surprise this little
lady stepped up to me and asked me for that dance. Now I had no
chance to get rid of that chew and rather than let this little queen
know I chewed tobacco or lose that dance, I swallowed the whole
works, tobacco juice and all.
It is hard to imagine the high regard and respect we had for
those good women of that day, as we saw so few of them—and as I know
good women appreciate those things, I believe they liked us and
valued our friendship. Why I have known some old hard-faced
cowpuncher that had a grouch about something and when one of those
women would give him some little attention his face would soften up
until you couldn’t tell it from the face of the Virgin Mary.
WITH THE TL OUTFIT IN THE BEAR PAWS
For a good many years there was a section of the country along
the Canadian border and the Milk River that the cattlemen thought
was no good for cattle—but in the late eighties and early nineties
they discovered that it was a much better cattle country than the
Missouri and Yellowstone country as it produced a buffalo-grass that
I think had no equal for fattening cattle. It was a short grass, but
had plenty of fattening qualities, especially in the Sweet Grass
Hills area. I have seen steers so fat we could hardly drive them
into the roundups.
So nearly all the Judith Basin and Moccasin outfits moved into
that country. They had to swim all their herds across the Missouri
River and it was between a quarter and a half mile wide and swimming
water from bank to bank.
Most of the herds were crossed at a place called Judith Landing,
an old steamboat landing in the early days. It was afterwards named
There was a man by the name of Bill Norris who had a store and
saloon there, and for a few years, while these herds were crossing,
he reaped a rich harvest off the cowboys. Charlie Russell helped
swim some of those herds and he told me he believed Bill made his
own whiskey and must have made it especially for swimming cattle, as
when a cowboy got about three drinks of that whiskey the Missouri
River looked like a very small creek. It made him plenty brave.
There must have been some truth in what Charlie said, as I cannot
recall where one cowboy was drowned.
I went over to that country about the spring of 1890 and went to
work for the TL outfit, which belonged to McNamar and Broadwater.
They had a ranch in the Bear Paw Mountains.
When I went to the ranch and asked for work, the boss said it was
too early in the spring to hire any men as the roundup wouldn’t
start for a long time, but would hire a bronc rider if he could get
a good one. Now I had rode broncs and rough strings (which is
spoiled horses) for several years and had no fear of any horse and
had a good opinion of myself. So I told him I was sure a bronc
rider. Now I had wintered pretty hard that winter as I had lived in
town and had sold everything I had in the way of a good rig and
looked pretty seedy. They had four or five steady men on the ranch.
I didn’t know any of them, and as I didn’t have any boots, only a
cheap pair of shoes, one spur and an old rattle-trap saddle, they
didn’t think I looked like a bronc fighter. Anyway the boss took a
chance and hired me.
The next day he had the men run in the saddle bunch to pick out
some horses to ride to gather those colts I was to break that ranged
down in the Badlands. He looked the bunch over quite a while, as he
said he wanted to find a good strong horse for me. He finally found
him. I remember his name yet—it was “Humpy,” a very pretty horse. He
said, “This fellow might hump up a little but that is all. He is a
I told him I didn’t mind that; in fact I was in hopes he would do
something, as I had an idea they didn’t rate me very high. Anyway I
mounted Humpy—and about that time they turned the loose horses out
of the corral. Humpy wanted to go with them. I gave him a pull and
down went his head. I hit him with my hat and took a rake at him
with that one spur. The next thing I knew I was on the ground about
ten feet in front of him, but I held to my hackamore rope. He didn’t
get away from me.
When I got up and looked around everything was as silent as a
graveyard. Those men and the boss were sitting on their horses
looking at each other with a grin on their faces, that I couldn’t
tell whether it was pity or disgust and, of course, I had no alibi.
I got back on Humpy and took another rake at him and he galloped off
as nice as you please.
We had about two miles to ride to the house. Nobody said
anything, only the boss. He said he was afraid some of them colts
would buck harder than Humpy did. I didn’t answer him.
But before we got ready to gather those colts, somebody brought a
horse to the ranch that the outfit had sold to a livery stable in
Big Sandy for a buggy horse. I found out afterwards that the reason
was nobody could ride him. He had a wide reputation and was known as
S.Y. (from his brand) all over the country. The weather being bad
when they sold him on trial to the livery stable they didn’t hitch
him up for about a month and had fed him grain all that time. So
when they did try him out he kicked the buggy all to pieces and ran
away. So they sent him home, as they didn’t want him. He was a
beautiful horse, weighed about 1150 and built like a greyhound, and
I was itching to tie into S.Y., as I knew my standing was bad, and I
asked the boss to let me try him out. He told me it would be
useless, as one of the best riders in the state had given that horse
up as a bad job. Then I kidded him and told him I didn’t think the
horse could buck at all, was just a plow horse. Anyway I rode S.Y.
and as I knew I had to make good, I scratched him everywhere I could
reach him and, of course, I was made from then on. I never rode him
again and I know I was lucky that day, as that horse had throwed
better riders than I ever was.
I broke about thirty head of colts for the outfit before I quit
When I was young I never stayed anywhere very long. If I didn’t
get fired, I would quit and in the winter time I liked to live in
town, so when spring came and time to go to work, I was always
broke. No saddle, no boots, no nothing. If possible I would hunt
Charlie Russell up for help. I used to think up a pretty good hard
luck tale to tell him. But before I got started he would laugh and
say, “What do you need now?” Charlie didn’t always have money
either, but had good credit and could always get anything he wanted.
Indians, cowboys, gamblers, everybody borrowed off Charlie and I
don’t know if they all paid him back or not—if they didn’t Charlie
would never tell it to anyone.
I have often wondered if horses go crazy like humans. The reason
I say this is that while I was breaking horses for the TL outfit,
they had a fine imported stallion—paid three thousand dollars for
him. They had an old man taking care of him. His name was Cayouse
George. He knew stallions thoroughly, had done that kind of work for
several years. This horse had always been gentle as a lamb. He had
him in a box stall loose. He used to go in there and feed and curry
him and lead him to water. One day two men were stacking hay outside
the barn, when they heard a terrible racket inside. They ran in
there and the horse had George by the side with his teeth and was
throwing him up and down, trying to get him under his feet. One of
the boys hit him on the head with a club and they dragged George
outside. Meantime that horse roared like a lion.
They sent George to town to be doctored.
The next morning the boss told me to water the stallion. He said,
“Just take his bridle to the box stall. Hold it up. He will take the
bit and lead him to water.” I did as he told me, but I had a
forty-five Colt in my bed. I went and got that first, filled it full
of bullets and cocked it. I held the bridle up for the stallion to
take with one hand and held the gun with the other, and kept that
position until he was watered and back in the stall.
A few mornings later the boss came out when I was watering him.
He looked me and the stud over and told me I needn’t water him
anymore, which pleased me very much. I believe if he had even winked
at me I would have killed him, as I was deathly afraid of him. They
carried water to him for a while, then hitched him in a four horse
team and started to town. He died on the way—being soft, they
LINE RIDING WITH THE MOUNTED POLICE
A few years after the big outfits moved their herds to the Milk
River country, cattle got very thick along the Canadian line and as
there was no fences anywhere the cattle would naturally drift into
Canada and they could go hundreds of miles without anything to stop
them on the finest kind of grass, which was fine for the Montana
But there were some Canadian cow ranches started (mostly
Americans) and a contention started about so many American cattle
coming into Canada without duty being paid on them. So there was a
kind of a gentleman’s agreement made between the Montana cattlemen
and the police captain of the Alberta Division that the cattlemen
would put line riders at all the police camps, which was twenty to
forty miles apart, and keep all cattle out of Canada which, of
course, was just a joke, as I was one of those line riders for two
My orders were to kill all the good beef the Mounties could eat
and have them write a report that read something like the following:
“American cowboy rode 15 miles in Western direction. No American
cattle seen. Policeman Smith rode 15 miles in Eastern direction. No
American cattle in sight.” Those reports went to Ottawa, Canadian
headquarters twice a week.
I was always under the impression the Captain of the Alberta
Division was getting his right hand greased by the cattlemen.
I recall an amusing thing that happened. A report leaked through
to Ottawa that those reports were not all true, so the Canadian
government sent a special army officer out there to investigate.
I was at Police Camp named Writing on Stone the evening he
arrived with an escort on horseback. They had rode the trail from
the railroad station and it being a cool evening and the cattle out
grazing, he saw thousands of American cattle on his way.
The next day the old boy got all his regimental regalia with his
escort and a tally man together and started out to make a tally and
a report on those cattle. Now it turned out to be a very hot day and
when he got on the ground, there wasn’t a cow to be seen, as the
cattle had all drifted back into the big bend of the Milk River to
water and as the Captain would be lost if he got a mile off the
trail (and those cattle had went about 10 miles) he was stuck. On
his way back to the railroad, he met my partner who was staying at
another police camp. He said, “I say, Cowboy, where are all those
cattle I saw last evening on this trail?” This fellow was a Texan
and had quite a sense of humor. He said, “Damned if I know, Captain.
I think they saw your hole card and all went back to Montana.” Of
course the Captain didn’t understand that kind of language. But we
didn’t hear anymore from him. I don’t know what report he made—but
the cattle continued to graze on Canadian soil for several years
It was pretty soft for those cattlemen of those days. Every year
two or three big outfits would pool together and take thirty or
forty men, a big band of saddle horses, chuck and bed wagons, and go
to the Port of Entry on the Canadian line. There they would report
that they were going into Canada to gather and take all American
cattle out of Canada which, of course, sounded good to the Canadian
Now, what they would do was go into Canada and work for several
weeks and roundup all the American cattle they could find and bring
them out to Montana and report the same just like they did when they
went in. They would take them about three or four miles across the
line into Montana—several thousand head—then they would brand the
calves, cut out the beef cattle that was fit to ship—and then turn
the main herd loose right there and, of course, in a couple of days
those cattle would all be back in Canada, and nothing to bother
about for another year.
Of course, it didn’t do any harm to anyone as the grass was going
to waste and somebody should get benefit out of it. The amusing part
about it was that my job was to keep all American cattle from
crossing the line and to have all or as many as possible to drift
across. But the Mounted Police and I got along fine. I butchered the
finest beef I could find and that was all they wanted or cared about
and didn’t question how many American cattle came into Canada.
I sure had a lot of fun with those policemen. A great many of
them came right out of the city of London, England, and knew nothing
about the West or Western ways.
While I was there the Mounted Police force bought a bunch of
horses from a big horse outfit for the police to ride to patrol the
line. Those horses had been broke by cowboys that rode and handled
horses much different from the regimental way and the policemen had
a great deal of trouble with some of those horses. There was one
horse brought to a police station on Milk River that they could not
ride and in order to get rid of him there had to be made a very
lengthy report. I read that report and it covered a whole sheet of
paper. It went into details as to his disposition, how he had bucked
off several policemen, giving the name of each man, and pictured the
horse as a regular man-eater. At any rate it took about a month to
get this horse condemned. Then they detailed an army officer and a
policeman to go and bring this horse to army headquarters, which was
100 miles. They stayed over night at Writing on Stone where I was at
that time. I tried to get the officer to give me five dollars to
ride the horse. He said he could not do that but would like very
much to see him rode. So I rode him. He was a very nice horse and as
far as bucking, he didn’t jump two feet off the ground. A lady could
have rode him.
I joked the officer about the horse and he said the main
objection was no one could mount him in regimental way. My
description of the regimental way of getting on would be to fall on,
instead of getting on and, of course, the horse didn’t savvy that. I
tried to buy the horse, but they couldn’t sell him until he had went
through the form of being condemned, which was surely some red tape.
Charlie Russell spent one summer in Canada and told me a funny
experience he had. There was an old retired army captain up in
northern Canada who went into the cattle business and had occasion
to swim a bunch of cattle across quite a large river. He tried for
several days and in different ways to make those cattle cross the
stream but couldn’t make it work.
So he built some blinds made out of green rawhide stretched on
frames and put them on the river bank where the cattle were to cross
and put a man behind each blind. So when the cowboys drove the
cattle to the edge of the river and the captain got his position he
gave the command, “Men behind rawhide—charge!” which they did. Now
one can imagine those wild cattle when a lot of men charged in among
them on foot. They stampeded and went to the hills and the captain
had a hard time gathering them and getting them back to the river,
and he immediately removed the blinds, as the cattle would not work
the regimental way.
That is something I never found out about cattle—you may try for
days to get cattle to take swimming water and use every means that
you can think of and they will not go. Then some other day they will
walk right into the water without any trouble.
Another thing in the old days a cowman weaned his calves. The
range cow would wean it herself and when I was ranching in a small
way I would wean the calves and keep them away from the cows for
months, and some of them would go back to the mothers and when the
cow would have a calf the next year she would leave the young calf
and take up with the yearling. I have had cows that would nurse a
steer sometimes until he was three years old and bigger than she
was. My guess is that nobody knows these secrets but the cows
I believe cows has different ideas just like cowboys have. I
worked for an outfit one time and the boss sent two of us out
together to hunt some saddle horses we had lost on the roundup. We
had a pack horse, bedding and grub.
I noticed the first day out this fellow was eating some little
pills and he wouldn’t tell me what they were, and thinking of his
disposition and the way he acted, I know now it was morphine.
Those horses we were hunting were supposed to be ranging on a big
flat down on the Missouri River and we had to take one certain ridge
to get in there. The ridge was about 15 miles long and if at any
time we found out we were on the wrong ridge we had to come back and
take another one. Now we were both uncertain about this ridge and I
tried every way I knew to get his opinion on which ridge to take, as
he was in a very bad mood just at that time. It was getting late in
the evening. I was anxious to get to the river and make camp before
dark. Anyway I had to choose the ridge, which proved to be the wrong
one and we had to make camp in a very disagreeable place—no
shelter—and we were pretty cold before morning. While we were making
camp, I made the remark it was tough luck that we got on the wrong
ridge. He said he knew damn well we were taking the wrong ridge, but
it was none of his business, and he wasn’t going to say anything
about it, so one can see he had a very lovable disposition.
We didn’t hold much conversation while we were getting supper and
soon after I saw he was dividing the bedding, which was a very small
amount, so I decided he did not want to sleep with me. So I took my
cut and went to bed. He set by the fire. We had coffee enough to
last about a week, but he made coffee and drank it all night, so
when I got up we didn’t have any coffee for breakfast. I think those
little pills gave out on him and he used the coffee as a substitute.
Anyway he must have got kindhearted in the night sometime, as when I
woke up in the morning he had throwed his blankets on me.
In a few days we found the horses we were looking for, and as our
horses were tired, we decided to catch fresh horses out of the bunch
we found to ride. We drove them up against a cut bank and roped two
of them. One was a nice looking little fellow—the other one was a
big, sleepy-looking guy. So I offered him his choice of the two
horses. He thought the little horse looked kind of wild, so took the
big fellow. However, when he went to saddle him he found him pretty
Anyway he got on him and the show started. This fellow had the
longest nose I ever saw on a man. Some way in the bucking and
mix-up, the saddle horn hit him on that big nose, but he rode him. I
went to stop our loose horses and waited for him to catch up. When
he came to where I was, the first thing I saw of him was that big
nose—all blood and swelled up twice as big as it was before. I
pretended not to see it and looked the other way, and asked him how
he liked his horse.
He said, “How do I like him? Look at my nose!” and, of course, I
had to look. Well, I nearly fell off my horse laughing, which I was
ashamed of, but I couldn’t help it, as he was sure a funny sight and
he being such a grouch made it more comical.
I nicknamed him “Curlew,” which is a bird with a long bill.
When we got back to the ranch the other boys all took up the name
and called him Curlew. This lasted about a week and he was getting
pretty sore. So one day he called us all together and said, “The
next man that calls me ‘Curlew’ can shed his coat and get ready for
battle. I am not going to stand for this name any longer.”
Now this fellow could sure fight and we all knew it, so he got
nothing but silence—but we still called him Curlew behind his back.
One day there was a bunch of us riding—most of us was behind him.
I whistled like a curlew. He stopped and turned around and looked us
over. He didn’t know who had whistled, but he looked at me pretty
vicious, so I was careful where I whistled after that.
When I lived with the Northwest Mounted Police, working for the
Montana cattlemen, I kept three horses furnished me by the cow
outfits. I had very little to do. My horses were fed plenty of grain
by the police and the sergeant detailed a policeman every two weeks
on cook duty. Most of those boys had been raised in the city. Some
of them were highly educated and were remittance men who had come
from very wealthy families in England and were given a small
allowance from their families. So they knew nothing about the West
or camp life. The result was we got some very poor cooking, but they
were perfect gentlemen and had the highest sense of honor I have
They had never known mosquitoes before (and we had plenty of them
on Milk River in summertime). They called them “blooming American
flies” and said “they not only bite one through to the pores of the
skin but would bloody well bite through your trousers.”
In the wintertime we were quite isolated, as the snow usually got
very deep and there wasn’t much travel. We played whist (which I
believe is an old English game) those long winter evenings for 25
cents a game and would have some hot arguments as to the rules of
the game, so that we all went to bed mad every night—but everybody
would be ready for play again the next night. If someone from the
outside had heard us, it would have been like the man shipwrecked on
an island who thought he was in a country of nothing but wild
animals. He finally saw campfire smoke. He crawled up close to
listen and find out what it was, when he heard someone say, “What
the hell did you play that ace for?” He thought for a moment and
said, “Thank God, I am in civilization.”
IN THE JUDITH BASIN COUNTRY OF MONTANA
When I was a kid, an old Indian told me a story about the badger
and coyote and said they hunted together as partners. I had a very
good chance to test that story when I was living on Milk River, as
the badger and coyote were very plentiful. I have watched them
travel together all right—but came to the conclusion the coyote
forced his company on the badger. I think the coyote is the smartest
animal that stands on four legs and a natural thief. I have watched
them travel together for miles. The coyote would be about 50 or 60
yards behind. Now the badger is a natural digger and when he comes
to a squirrel hole or prairie dog hole, he digs him out. I have seen
a coyote watching him while he was digging and as the badger would
always bring his game out of the hole to eat it, the coyote would
grab it and run, and the badger being slow on foot and the coyote
very fast, he would always get away with the spoils. I am sure there
is no affection between them—and the coyote would kill and eat the
badger if he could.
I have seen a coyote watch a band of sheep for hours and shift
his position every few minutes—always watching behind, too, so that
nothing would slip up on him. Then when he thought the time was
right, he would dash through the sheep and pick up a lamb right in
sight of the sheepherder and his dogs.
The wolf is a better killer than the coyote but not near so
One morning on a roundup, we left camp just at daylight and we
had gone about four miles and was riding at a gallop when we came
over a little hill. We rode right into a bunch of wolves. They had
killed a big fat cow and was eating on her. They evidently had been
eating for some time, as there wasn’t much of her left. They were so
full of meat they couldn’t hardly run at all. There were about
thirty of us and not many had guns that morning—but everybody had
ropes and we sure went to making loops. Of course, they scattered
every direction and every cowboy was trying to catch a wolf, as the
bounty that time was $5.00 a head. It was sure an exciting morning.
Some of those cowboys’ horses wouldn’t go near a wolf and when they
got a smell of them would snort and run the other way. Sometimes
when a cowboy did catch one and took his wraps on the saddle horn,
the horse would stampede, wolf and all. Sometimes when they would
throw at one, he would snap at the loop and if he hit it, would cut
it in two like a razor would.
It was a strange thing to me—but I was riding a young horse that
morning that had not been broke long, but he cocked his ears forward
and took right after them wolves. I believe he thought he was
chasing a colt. I got two wolves and choked and dragged them until
they were dead. One had been shot through the shoulder by the boss,
so he was easy to catch. I met the boss coming over a little hill.
He was sure smoking this one up with his six-shooter, and as I had
killed mine, he hollered, “Get this one, Con. I saw a black one back
here. I want to get him.” (The others were all gray wolves.) He had
lost his hat and he had been chasing those wolves so hard his pants
legs was up to his knees and he sure looked wild. He didn’t get back
to camp until night—but he didn’t get the black wolf.
We got nine wolves out of the bunch—I don’t know how many got
away—but we didn’t have any roundup or gather any cattle that day,
as the cowboys kept stringing in all day, one and two at a time.
I have tried several times since that time to rope a wolf but
always found them too fast for me when they were empty. Those wolves
were a great menace to the stockmen. One couldn’t poison them, as
when they got hungry they killed whatever animal they wanted, and
they were sure plentiful.
I have seen places on Milk River when it had froze up and fresh
snow had fell on the ice, it looked like a bunch of school boys had
been playing where there had been a bunch of wolves.
They weighed about one hundred pounds and measured almost seven
to eight feet long. Their first move to make a kill was to
ham-string the animal by grabbing the animal by the fleshy part of
the hind leg. That usually brought the animal to the ground and
then, of course, they made short work of the job.
I broke a bunch of horses one time for a man by the name of
Gordon near Ubet in the Judith Basin. He told me when I started he
would give me sixty dollars for one month’s work—that was all he
would pay out on them. He didn’t want them roped, but must catch
them in a chute. Above anything else, he didn’t want them to buck,
and as there was twelve head of them, it was impossible to do much
of a job on them in that length of time.
I got along fairly well with them for awhile. I think I had rode
about five head. I was out on the range riding one of them one day
and saw a big wolf. This colt was pretty fast. So I thought I would
give the wolf a little run. When I got close to him, I seen he was
crippled, evidently had been in a fight with another wolf, so I
roped him. Now when I started dragging that wolf, the horse went
plumb crazy. He whistled, snorted, kicked and bucked and run away,
but I still had the wolf and dragged him to the ranch. Of course,
the wolf was dead. When I got there—well, that horse never got over
that scare. He jumped in the manger, kicked the side out of the
barn, and whistled and snorted like a lion and got worse from day to
The old man wasn’t there the day I brought the wolf in, but did
come out in a few days to see how I was getting along with the
horses. When he went in the barn, this horse started kicking and
snorting, bumped his head against the walls and run the old man out
of the barn—and to make matters worse, he was his favorite colt. He
asked me what was the matter with him. I told him I didn’t know—but
I didn’t tell him about the wolf. Then another day he saw one buck
with me—that did settle it. He said I was spoiling his horses
instead of breaking them. Anyway, I stayed the month out and I think
him and I were both glad when it was over and I was on my way.
I went from there to the Horse Shoe Bar Ranch on Warm Spring
Creek in the Judith Basin. It was owned at that time by T. C.
Powers, who was a pioneer of the state and quite a politician of his
I remember a rather amusing thing happened to him. He was running
for Senator one year and was having a pretty hard race and it was
known he was spending plenty money to get votes. There was a
precinct about fifty miles from the railroad on the Teton River
where there was about fifty votes—mostly half breed Indians. There
was a half breed lived there and claimed he had great influence
among his people. So he looked up T. C. Powers and told him for one
hundred dollars he could swing every vote in his precinct. Powers
gave him the hundred. When the votes were counted in that precinct,
Powers had not got one vote. Some time after he met this big
politician. Powers said, “What was the matter in that precinct of
yours? I didn’t get a vote out there.” The breed said, “I just
couldn’t get them to vote for you, Mr. Powers.” He said, “Why?” and
the names he called him wouldn’t look good in print, “You didn’t
vote for me yourself!” He said, “I dassent, Mr. Powers, they would
have kill me out there if I do.” Evidently Powers wasn’t very
popular in that precinct.
When I got to this ranch I found a man there alone in bed and
very sick. The outfit had left a few days before on the fall
roundup, and as he was not feeling well at the time he figured to
stay at the ranch a few days and when he got better would follow up,
but he got worse. I stayed with him a couple of days and still he
got worse. At night the only way he could rest was to prop him up in
bed, then I would put my back against his and my feet against the
wall, and move to any angle that suited him. I would have to change
his position every few minutes and his back was becoming hot, as he
had a high fever and wanted water very often. So he finally wore me
out and I decided to go for a doctor, who was twenty miles away. At
this time it was about nine o’clock at night. There was a
good-looking horse in the barn, so I saddled him and started. It was
very dark and for the first few miles he bucked several times (if
anyone reads this that has rode a bucking horse in the dark he will
know what the sensation is). I didn’t know where I was half the
time—whether I was in the air or in the saddle. But after I got him
going, I didn’t give him any time to buck anymore until I got to the
Well, when I found the doctor he would not come to the ranch that
night, as he had been up with a sick woman for a day and a night and
was very tired. After describing the symptoms of my patient, he gave
me a bottle of quinine and a bottle of morphine with directions. I
went back to the ranch.
This fellow was suffering terrible when I got there. I gave him a
shot of quinine first, which I believe was in powder form and very
bitter. Then shortly after I tried to give him some more quinine but
he refused to take it, so I gave him some more morphine, but didn’t
seem to relieve him. Now I was very tired and he was cussing me all
the time, so when he would get very bad and in pain I would give him
some more morphine. Along about morning he went to sleep and
wouldn’t wake up, which was all right with me as I was getting some
About noon the doctor came. He tried to wake him up, but he
couldn’t. Then he took his pulse. While doing so, he picked up the
morphine bottle and said to me, “Where is the rest of that
morphine?” I was sure scared then, I knew I had given him too much.
I told the doctor I had spilled some of it. He said, “I guess you
did!” He told me to heat a tub of water at once. We put that fellow
into it—and I don’t know what the doctor done but we finally brought
him to—and was I glad! I know now I gave him an overdose, but I
believe I saved his life at that, as he was suffering terrible. The
doctor said he had a bad case of pneumonia and made arrangements to
take him to a hospital and I took his place on the beef roundup.
The boss put two of us night herding the cattle. We moved camp
every day and they put new cattle in the herd every day that they
gathered and the nights were long and cold—so we sure had a hard
We had a good cook that year—but like most good cooks he was sure
cranky. He couldn’t drive four horses, so the boss told me to drive
the mess wagon from one camp to the other, and we didn’t get along
well at all. We called him “Big Nose George” and he was so mean I
think he hated himself. I have seen him drop something out of his
hands when he was cooking and would jump on it and stamp it in the
After we had night herded about a month we had about a thousand
head in the bunch—and the nights got long. We used to get hungry
during the night. One day I asked George for a lunch to take with
us. My partner spoke up and said, “How about a pie, George?” He
looked at us like a grizzly bear and said, “Yes, I will give you
That night when we started for the herd, he handed us what looked
like a nice pie. On the way to the herd we talked about it and
decided George wasn’t such a bad fellow after all. That was a tough
night and the cattle drifted about three miles. We couldn’t carry
the pie very handy, so set it down by a cut bank where we thought we
could find it if the cattle settled down, but we didn’t get back to
where we left it, which proved to be a good thing for us.
When the day-herders came out at daylight, they began kidding us
about the pie. They thought we had tried to eat it. George had told
them the joke he had played on us. So we went back and hunted up the
pie to see what the joke was. We found it was made out of potato
skins, onion peelings and clay, and other filth around the camp,
with a cover on it in a pie tin and nicely baked.
So we held a council of war to decide what to do about it. My
partner wanted to take it to camp and hit him on the head with it. I
suggested we make him eat it. He said that was a fine idea. Now I
told him, “He is a big guy. Let’s double up on him.” So we planned
our attack right there, and George not expecting it, we had him at a
disadvantage. We unsaddled—walked into the cook tent.
He said, “How did you like your pie, boys?” We said, “Fine—but
brought part of it to camp so you could enjoy it with us.” I had the
pie in my hand and he knew what was coming. He said, “The hell with
you,” and started for a butcher knife—but my partner met him head on
and they clinched. I nailed him from behind and we brought him to
the ground with both of us on top of him. I got the pie to his mouth
but he wouldn’t open, so I used the pie tin for an opener (not very
gently) and got his teeth apart. I don’t think he swallowed any of
it but he at least got a good taste of it—and any other dirty thing
I could reach. When the pie-eating contest was over and had worked
out to the messwagon tongue, and when we let George up, the first
thing his hand found was the neck-yoke which was about four feet
long, and a bad weapon just at that time, and George was sure going
to clean up on us. But my partner had a forty-five Colts stuck in
his chaps that George didn’t see and before he could get the
neck-yoke into action, the gun was right against his stomach—full
cock. He throwed the neck-yoke over his head and both hands in the
air and said, “Don’t kill me.” Then we gave him some not too kind
advice what his actions should be towards us in the future, and I
will say George was a pretty good dog from that time on.
That is the only time I ever double-teamed on anyone but felt
justified that time under the circumstances.
When the men came in off that day’s ride, George took his
troubles to the boss, told him how we had doubled up on him and
abused him. All he got was a hearty laugh from the boss (he was a
Texas man). He said, “Did they sho ’nuff really make you eat the
When we got to the railroad with that herd, there was two other
big outfits shipping beef and we had to wait several days to get
cars for our cattle. Big Sandy was the shipping point. The town had
two saloons, one hotel, one store, stockyards and livery stable, and
a jail. We had plenty of help and we took shifts holding the cattle.
Those that wasn’t on shift spent most of their time in town, and it
was sure lively during shipping time—and looked as good as Chicago
to some of them cowboys.
There was also a lot of half breed Indians gathering buffalo
bones and brought them there to ship. Most of them drank plenty
whiskey and with their families had dances every night. The musician
would be some half breed with moccasins on, and he kept time with
both feet while he played.
The town had a constable to keep order, and he was quite lame.
One night he arrested two half breeds and was taking them to jail.
One got away from him. He let the other one loose to catch him and
he ran away, and he didn’t catch the first one, so he lost them
both. Them breeds with moccasins on could sure run.
One night a fist fight started between the cowboys and the
breeds. There was several fights going on at the same time. An old
buffalo hunter was in among them, with his hands in his pockets,
looking on. It was dark and some cowboy thought he was a breed. He
took a run at him and hit him on the side of his head with all his
strength and he went down. About that time he discovered his mistake
and went to help him up. He said, “Fred, I am sure sorry. I didn’t
know that was you.” Fred said, “I guess you are sorry all right—but
that don’t help my ear any.”
There was several commission men in town that night, trying to
get cattle consigned to their different houses in Chicago. One of
them had never been West before. There were some of them playing a
social game of cards in one of the saloons. Every little while some
cowboy would shoot his six-shooter off right in the saloon. This
fellow was very nervous and could not get his attention on the game.
Finally he went to light his cigar. About that time somebody shot a
gun off and his match went out. He jumped up right quick and said,
“Quit playing cards. This is getting too damn close for me!” That
tickled Charlie Russell and he told the fellow he saw the bullet go
right by his nose. He said he knew it did.
Somebody stole my saddle that night off my horse which was tied
to a hitch rack. So next morning I was in a pretty bad way. We
hunted and searched all the breed camps but didn’t find the saddle.
Everybody had given up when Charlie Russell came in and had found
the saddle and the way he found that saddle shows what a close
observer he was. He was following a dusty trail, looking for tracks,
when he saw the print of a cinch-ring in the dust. He said he knew
nothing else would make a mark like that. He looked around and saw a
little box-elder tree about a mile away. He went to that tree and
there was the saddle. That cost me a good many drinks but it was
sure worth it. We joked Charlie and told him it took one Indian to
trail another one.
There was a man by the name of Marsh kept the hotel in Big Sandy
and was a great friend of the cowboys, as when they were broke they
could always eat and sleep at his hotel until they got a job. I had
known Marsh for some years.
One day we had got through loading cattle and I was in the hotel
and he told me he had just bought two fine dogs, Canadian stag
hounds, and he was anxious to try them out and see how fast they
were, and asked me to borrow one of the cowboys’ horses for him to
ride and we would take a ride with the dogs and maybe jump a coyote
out on the range. Well, we got the dogs lined up and started.
He also had a bull dog and a fox terrier. They couldn’t run but
just trailed along.
We hadn’t went very far until we jumped a jack rabbit and away
went the hounds, the bull dog and the terrier bringing up the
rear—all dogs barking, Marsh hollering and laughing at the bull and
terrier. The hounds were making a pretty run and Marsh was trying to
keep in sight of them and his horse was running his best, when he
stepped in a badger hole ... and down they went. This was an
unusually big saddle horse and Marsh was a very big man, and when
they piled up it looked like a box car had jumped the track. Marsh
must have fell on his head, as he had lost $80.00, his watch, pocket
knife, and everything—it was all scattered around the wreck. He was
not hurt bad any one place, but was jarred all over. While I was
picking up his stuff I was so full of laugh I could hardly hold
myself. In the meantime, the bull dog and the terrier had caught up
and was licking his face and he was cussing them. Then I exploded
and laughed ’til I cried—I don’t think he ever quite forgive me for
that but I couldn’t help laughing at the pile-up.
Con and Claudia Price at the time of their
Marriage, December 26, 1899
Roundup Camp—Fall of 1896—DHS and CK Outfits On
the Big Dry near Oswego, Montana
WITH THE DHS OUTFIT
In 1892 I went to Wyoming and broke horses there for a couple of
years. Then I heard of the Cripple Creek gold stampede in Colorado.
I sold my rig and went to Cripple Creek and it looked like everybody
in the world went there. There was two railroads in there and every
passenger coach would be loaded with people. The roads were lined
with people of every description—some walking, some riding donkeys
and some with wagons.
About every other house there was a saloon and gambling house. Of
course, there wasn’t work for everybody and lots of them were broke
when they landed there—that was in the month of November and shortly
after the weather turned bitter cold. I have seen men lay down on
the floor to sleep in those saloons which kept open day and night,
and when the house man started to clean up in the morning he would
find dead men under the tables and on benches. The altitude was very
high. Those people had no place to sleep—and nearly all of them
contracted mountain fever and that went into pneumonia and they
would sometimes die in a few hours after taking sick.
New Year’s night in 1894 was sure a wild night in Cripple Creek.
Every man that filed on a mining claim prior to that time had to
have one hundred dollars’ worth of work done in order to hold it by
law and, of course, there was the usual contention when people are
crazy for gold, some claiming the required amount of work was not
done—and others claiming they had fulfilled the requirements of the
law. The results were that every man owning a claim was on his
ground at midnight with a gun to protect what he thought was his
I was in a good spot that night to get a view of the Big Mountain
around Cripple Creek, and the lanterns moving around from claim to
claim looked like a bunch of stars. There was reported nine men
killed that night over claims and I didn’t hear of one arrest.
I had a little money when I landed in Cripple Creek but soon lost
it all gambling and then took down with mountain fever. An old
prospector took me into his cabin and he took sick, too. We were
both broke and had nothing to eat but a half sack of potatoes, but
had plenty of wood and kept warm. We took turns, when one was a
little better than the other, going out and gathering mountain sage
and making tea out of it—and I am sure it saved our lives, as it
broke the fever. When I got a little better I made a little money to
buy food, gathering that sage and selling it to sick people.
When I got a little stronger I got twenty dollars for digging an
assessment hole on a fellow’s claim, so I got in a poker game with
that and won about a hundred dollars. I will never forget that
night. People were being help up every night—sometimes hit on the
head—sometimes killed, and the amount of money didn’t mean anything,
as some of them birds would hold you up for five dollars.
This night when I had won that money quite a crowd gathered
around me in the gambling house. I didn’t know any of them but
bought a drink for everybody and thought I would slip away. There
was one big tough-looking guy persisted in shaking hands with me and
gave me some kind of a sign that I did not understand, so I was
rather nervous when I got out of there.
I had to walk about a mile to my cabin following an old mining
ditch. I had got about half way home when I saw a man’s head raise
up out of the ditch just in front of me. That sure scared me. I
turned the other way, back towards town. The farther I went the more
scared I was ... and the faster I ran. I think even if a jack rabbit
had seen me he would have admired my speed, and I didn’t stop until
I got into town where there was light. I could not get a room in
town, so sat in a chair all night in one of the gambling houses. I
kept my hand on that hundred dollars and sweat with fear.
A few nights afterwards I was going home late. I had to go by a
lot of wagons—a freighting outfit. Just as I got opposite the wagons
I saw a man in the dark coming towards me. I had a gun that night so
I got it in my hand and backed up against one of the wagons. This
fellow came up about twenty feet from me and stopped—neither of us
spoke for several minutes (but seemed to me to be an hour)—finally
he said, “Hey, there.” I said, “Hello.” He said, “What are you doing
here?” I thought quick and said, “I am working for the man that owns
this outfit,” and said to him also, “Who are you?” He said, “I am
the night marshal.” I believe I would have kissed him if he had been
close to me because I sure had him sized up as a hold-up.
I stayed around there a few days longer and hung onto the hundred
dollars, but decided it was no place for a moneyed man, so took the
train for Denver and lived quite respectable for awhile until I was
pretty near broke and started for Montana. I rode box cars the most
of the way and saved my little money to eat on.
When I got to Helena I heard Charlie Russell was in Cascade and
as I was badly in need of money, I headed for there and found him
batching in a cabin with plenty grub—and he sure looked good to me.
After my experience in Cripple Creek I decided that I belonged
back on the range among the cows, and wrote to the foreman of the
DHS outfit at Shelby, Montana, for a job. I had known him several
years before and he told me to come on, he would give me work. So
after being outfitted by Charlie, which meant everything a cowboy
needed, including some money, I went to Shelby.
I worked for the DHS outfit the first time in 1889 for only one
season. They were one of the pioneer cow outfits of Montana and was
owned by Granville Stuart and Reese Anderson, and were located near
Fort Maginnis and ranged on Flat Willow country in the year of 1887.
They moved all their cattle north of the Missouri River on what was
known as the Little Rocky Range. They swam this big herd across the
Missouri River at an old steamboat landing called Rocky Point.
The cowboys had a dance while I was in Shelby that I believe
there is a record of in the files of some of the old newspapers of
There was an opera troupe on their way to Spokane, Washington.
For some reason they were sidetracked at Shelby and as they were
from New York, some of the ladies had never seen a cowboy, so they
said (I guess they thought cowboys eat grass and were only half
human). Anyway, some of them left the train and went to the hotel
where the dance was going on and mingled with the crowd and as those
cowboys were very easy for a lady to get acquainted with and as
there was considerable liquor consumed, the dance was a great
success and the ladies found the boys much nicer than they had
anticipated and invited some of them over to their train.
Now the male population of the troupe did not take to the cowboys
too well and finally ordered them out of the car which, of course,
insulted the boys and a fight started. But some of these fellows in
the troupe were good boxers and the cowboys didn’t have a chance in
a fist fight, so they brought their guns into the play. They didn’t
shoot anyone but made the car very smoky, and the troupe quit the
car and most of them scattered out in the sagebrush, Shelby being a
little cow town on the Great Northern Railroad.
It seems that the worst thing that happened was one of the
cowboys shot a lantern out of a brakeman’s hand. So in a few days
there was railroad officials around there, thick as flies, but they
couldn’t get any information and there wasn’t a cowboy in fifty
miles of Shelby. The railroad sent several detectives there at
different times but the population of the town was all in sympathy
with the cowboys and nobody knew any cowboy’s name that attended the
dance. So they could not get any evidence and didn’t know where to
find anyone to arrest, and had to drop the matter.
My old boss was one of the leaders in that mix-up and he, of
course, made a couple of days ride away from Shelby. It happened he
stayed a few days in a locality where there was considerable stock
rustling going on and he didn’t go to that part of the country very
often, so his presence there created quite a commotion and fear
among those fellows living there, as they thought he was after them.
But the old man was simply dodging the railroad officials and was
more frightened than they were.
At that time the DHS ran two outfits—one at Shelby and one at
Malta on Milk River about two hundred miles apart. Those big outfits
in the course of a few years all accumulated quite a few spoiled
horses for different reasons, sometimes from bad breaking and
sometimes on account of putting strange riders on them so often,
sometimes from getting away when they were half broke, and maybe not
finding them for a year. They would then be harder to handle than a
green bronc and would buck a few riders off. They would get pretty
tough and the average cowboy could not ride them. So the boss would
hire a bronc fighter to ride the rough string. A strange thing about
it was that most of those kind of horses were the best ones in the
bunch when they were thoroughly broke.
The DHS had accumulated about twenty head of those kind of
horses. So the boss sent me to Malta to ride some of those horses.
They also hired another fellow to help me. The only name I ever knew
for him was “Red Neck Davis” and he was a good bronc fighter.
The outfit was getting ready to go on the spring roundup and we
went to their horse ranch on Milk River and gathered all the saddle
horses—maybe two hundred head—and there was quite a lot of those
horses needed touching up before we went to work on the roundup. The
first day Red Neck and I caught two of the worst horses in the
outfit. The boss had put two men to help us and herd for us (they
are called pick-up men nowadays).
One of the cowboys had put his bedding out to air that day and
had a nice woolen blanket laid on a pile of poles on the ground.
When I mounted my first horse, he went up in the air and landed
right in the middle of that blanket, and the poles being hard all
four of his feet went through it. I believe the blanket belonged to
the fellow that was herding for me, so I laid the blame on him.
Shortly after Red Neck mounted his horse, a big buckskin. He had
quite an old man herding for him and rather cranky. He caught the
best horse in his string that morning, one he was sure was gentle so
he could pick up Red’s horse if he stampeded. As soon as Red hit the
saddle the buckskin went in the air and let a roar out of him like a
lion, which scared the old man’s horse and he stampeded. We were
only about fifty feet from Milk River and it was time of high water,
and into it he went and swam across. The old man was sure wet and
mad, and cussed the whole outfit—horses and men—and said he wouldn’t
have any more to do with such a damn wild west outfit.
That year—I believe it was 1896—our outfit was cleaning up their
Malta Range on Milk River with the view of closing out their
holdings in that part of the country. A fellow named Tom Daly and I
worked with all the different outfits owning cattle in that part of
the country. We were representing the DHS brand and all cattle we
gathered we shipped to Chicago. We had orders to clean the range of
our cattle the best we could, as they had missed several steers from
year to year. We found steers 12 to 13 years old and some of them
were sure wild and hard to gather and bring to the railroad for
It was quite comical and interesting to outsmart some of these
old renegades. We usually found them in the roughest country. They
would try to hide when they saw you, and when you got too close to
them they would fight and as most of them had bad horns if you
crowded one of them in a rough place he could easily kill your
The outfit had a big old steer that had made his home in the
Missouri River Badlands for several years, which was pretty rough
and when the cowboys would find him with other cattle and he got a
glimpse of the riders he would quit the bunch. As he was plenty
fast, he would get somewhere and hide, and as the outfits only
worked this part of the country about once a year on account of not
many cattle ranged there, this old steer had gotten by for several
years without being brought out and shipped.
I was repping with a wagon that worked that part of the country
this time that I write about and we knew the day that we would camp
and ride the locality that he was ranging in and several of the boys
knew this steer, as he had gotten away from them at different times
before. They were joking me about him several days before we got to
this place and called him “Con’s steer,” and made me a small bet I
wouldn’t get him.
We camped the chuck and bed wagon on a nice level spot of about
200 acres, just on the edge of the Badlands, and rode from there to
the river, which was about 20 miles. Coming back we found him in a
long canyon that led out to the camp and the rodeo ground. We put
riders on both sides of the canyon on top of the ridges and some
stayed behind. We had about 200 head of cattle, so we just drifted
the band along slow. I told everyone to keep as far away from this
old steer as possible so he wouldn’t break or get on the fight. When
we got out to the roundup ground, some of the other boys had gotten
in off their ride and had found quite a lot of cattle. We had about
a thousand head in all. We bunched all the cattle together as easy
as we could so as not to give this old fellow any excuse to break.
Now we had to cut out the cows and calves (to brand the calves)
and also cut out the beef steers to ship, and turn the rest loose,
and we knew as soon as anyone went to riding among those cattle this
steer would break for the Badlands and we would lose him. He was
going through the bunch ringing his tail and hooking everything that
came in his way, as he was getting suspicious that everything wasn’t
So we left about ten men to hold the cattle. The rest of us went
to camp to catch fresh horses to work the cattle and cut out what we
I had a little Spanish horse in my string, didn’t weigh over 900
pounds, built kind of squatty and close to the ground, about 15
years old, but he knew more about working cattle than lots of men. I
caught him. We went back to the roundup and started to work. I
stayed on the outside of the bunch with my eye on this old bird. The
boys had gotten out about 50 head when someone got too close to this
old steer, and here he comes as fast as he could run, headed for the
Badlands! I had a big grass rope about 40 feet long and had one end
tied hard and fast to the saddle horn and when he came out of the
bunch my little horse was watching him and went right along with
him. I run him about 50 yards. He was going down a hill. I dropped
my loop over his pretty horns and let him jump over the slack with
his front feet, and turned my horse the other way as fast as he
could run. When that rope tightened that steer went about 10 feet
high and hit the ground with his head doubled under his body. One of
his pretty horns was broken off right close to his head and he was
bleeding badly, and he was bawling like a calf—where otherwise he
would only snort when you got in his way.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the boys that I had made the
bet with had framed on me—and it was understood among them that
nobody was to help me—just to have a joke on me if the steer got
So after a few minutes, when nobody came to help me, I let him up
with the rope still on him. The fall had taken most of the sap out
of him. He made a kind of a weak attempt to get to my horse, so I
busted him again. The next time he got up I led him back to the
roundup and into the bunch where I wanted him, throwed him down,
took the rope off, and he never made a break to get away. We took
him to the railroad and shipped him to Chicago. He was a rather
funny looking old fellow with one of his long pretty horns gone and
blood dried all over his face. I don’t think he made very good
eating but I tallied him: “One beef steer shipped to Chicago.”
In the year of 1897 the Circle Diamond outfit turned loose 5,000
head of Arizona yearlings on their range on Milk River in Montana
and instead of settling down and locating there they kept on going
north until the outfit heard of some of them 200 miles up in Canada.
So they sent an outfit of about 20 men with horses and bed and
chuckwagon to bring them back and try to locate them on their own
The DHS outfit sent me with them, thinking some of their cattle
had drifted with the Arizona’s.
The country was all open—north, south, east and west—for miles (I
don’t know how far) and no ranches after we crossed the Canadian
border. We didn’t know any particular place to go to find those
cattle, so we just wandered around for days, first one direction,
then another. After we got as far north as Moose Jaw, which is well
north in Canada, we began to see some signs of cattle, and would
pick up a few each day. And those cattle hadn’t seen anybody for
four or five months and were plenty wild and, of course, we had to
nightherd those cattle every night. And badger holes were so thick
in that country you could almost compare them to a saltcellar—and
the grass was thick and tall so a horse or man couldn’t see the
holes. Somebody would get a fall every day and night.
One morning we were making a circle, looking for cattle, and we
saw two animals standing on a butte. We got close to them—could tell
they were two head of cattle—and away they went like a couple of
antelope. We finally got ahead of them and got them stopped. They
ran around in a circle for awhile, just like they might be tied
together. One wouldn’t get no distance away from the other. When we
got them to the roundup and could get a good look at the brands, we
found they both belonged to the DHS outfit, and we knew from the
Arizona brand on them and the year the outfit bought them as
yearlings that they were 13 years old. They were pals and had ranged
in that part of the country for several years alone, as we did not
find any sign of cattle anywhere within several miles of them.
It was quite a problem to get those two old fellows to the
railroad. They were easy to hold in the daytime but at night it took
all of one man’s time to watch them two. We would bed the herd down
at night and those two would lay down in about the middle of the
bunch—and sometimes they would lay ten minutes when they would come
slipping through the herd, heading back the way they came from. They
wouldn’t make any noise and reminded one of two big cats trying to
steal away. When they got to the edge of the herd, the man watching
them would holler at them—they would shake their heads and go right
back into the herd and lay down for a short time and then try again,
and would keep that up all night. We finally got them to the
railroad and shipped them to Chicago.
The man that had charge of that Circle Diamond wagon, or that
part of the outfit that year was Win Cooper. He came from Jack
County, Texas, and was a wonderful cowboy. He used to carry a 45
Colts six-shooter and had the trigger filed so it wouldn’t stand
cocked, but fanned the hammer with his thumb. He told me the reason
he had his gun fixed that way was for quick action. He could fill
the chamber with bullets and start a tomato can rolling and keep it
going until his gun was empty. He used to tell me about the gun
fights they had in Texas a long time ago ... and I think he
sometimes got lonesome for those old feuds and would like to go back
and have a little excitement.
As I remember, Tom Green County, Texas, and Jack County were
enemies and had a lasting grudge at each other. Win said the reason
for that was Jack County had the better men and always beat the Tom
Green County men in a fight.
Win didn’t have any education and couldn’t read or write—and when
he paid a man his wages he had to send him to the superintendent and
tell him how long the man worked.
This year I am writing about was election year in Valley County,
Montana, and the Circle Diamond ranch was supporting a man by the
name of Kyle for sheriff. They had put up a black flag with white
letters which read: “VOTE FOR KYLE FOR SHERIFF.” Now Win had been up
in Canada with his outfit for about six weeks looking for those
cattle that had drifted north and hadn’t had any news as to the
happenings around home. So when he had got the cattle back on their
range and turned them loose, he started for the home ranch with his
outfit, but he started several hours ahead of the men, horses and
chuckwagon—they were to follow. But when Win got close to the ranch
and saw that black flag (and he couldn’t read) he got scared and
turned back and stopped the outfit and said it wasn’t safe to take
the outfit home, as he thought that some sort of an epidemic had
broke out and the ranch was under quarantine. So he sent a man to
town to find out what was the matter.
I worked with several of those old-time gunfighters from Texas
and some that had left Wyoming during the Johnson County war between
cattlemen and rustlers, and found most of them pretty decent
fellows. Some of them were under assumed names and it seemed to
bother them to have to carry that load—and usually when they did
talk and tell me about their trouble most of them were victims of
The old man that run the DHS that I worked several years for was
the finest old-tune cow boss I ever knew. Jim Spurgeon was his name.
He always looked tough and hard and was about as good-looking as a
bank robber, but he sure had a kind heart and would never let you
know he sympathized with you.
I never knew him to fire but one cowboy. That fellow was supposed
to stand second guard on night herd, but when the first guard went
to call him, he was not in camp—had went to town and had not come
back. The boy that came to call him woke Jim up and told him what
had happened. Jim got up and stood the guard himself.
About the time Jim came off guard, the boy got back to camp. He
had a bottle of whiskey and asked Jim to have a drink. Jim refused,
which the boy knew was unusual for Jim. So he was suspicious things
wasn’t just right and didn’t want to get fired. So he came into the
bed tent about twelve o’clock at night, woke Jim up and said, “I
believe I will quit.” Jim said, “Go to bed. You have been fired for
Old Jim looked at him very pitifully next morning and I believe
if the truth was known it hurt him worse to fire him that it did the
cowboy. But he seldom ever talked much and few knew how
tenderhearted he was.
One time we had lost about forty head of saddle horses on the
roundup and Jim sent a man to look for them. He was gone a few days
and came back without any horses.
Now Shelby was the great cowboy town of that time, and whenever a
cowboy had any chance he went to Shelby. There was usually a dance
or some other doings that a cowboy enjoyed—and maybe he had a
So the night this boy got back from hunting the horses, we all
gathered in the sleeping tent to get the news of Shelby from this
boy, and it was quite interesting to the rest of us. I can see old
Jim yet, sitting there smoking a big pipe, saying nothing, but
listening to everything.
So he sent another man out on the range next day to look for the
horses. He was gone a few days and came back without any horses ...
but plenty news about Shelby.
The next morning he told me to catch a saddle horse and go and
see if I could find those horses. I said, “Where will I go?” He
said, “Damned if I know where to tell you to go, only there is one
place there is no use going and that is Shelby. I have sent two men
to hunt those horses and they both went to town and didn’t find the
horses. So I know they are not in Shelby!” You could have heard a
pin drop among those boys. They didn’t know the old man had been
I remember one time the old man hired a stranger from Oregon to
ride a rough string. Nobody knew the boy but he claimed to be a
bronc fighter. The first horse he rode very near throwed him off.
When someone caught the horse he was in a bad way, had lost both
stirrups and his bridle reins. Someone made the remark he thought
that fellow would ride that horse and whip him. The old man said he
could if he had another hand, as he had to use the two he had to
hang onto the saddle horn.
In those days the way we caught our saddle horses, when we made
camp we pulled the bedwagon up behind the chuckwagon and tied a long
rope to the front wheel of the chuckwagon and one to the hind wheel
of the bedwagon. Then a man held up each end of those ropes and the
horse wrangler took care of the gap. In that way we could corral
quite a large bunch of saddle horses. But there was always some
broncs in the bunch and the boys had to be careful in catching their
horses that they didn’t scare them and cause them to break through
So the old man gave orders for one man at a time to catch his
horse—but Jim had hired a new man that was very fond of roping and
he didn’t always obey orders, and he used a loop half as big as the
corral. So naturally, when he throwed his big loop in among those
horses he caught something. Sometimes two or three head of horses at
once. Sometimes he caught one around the body and would cause the
horses to stampede. The old man had told him several times in a nice
way to be careful of that big loop.
This morning Jim was in the corral trying to catch his horse. It
wasn’t quite daylight yet and the fellow didn’t see him. So he
throwed that big loop in there and caught two broncs, the brake on
the bedwagon and the old man—all in one loop. And believe me there
was some commotion—the broncs jumping and the old man a-hollering.
Charlie Russell helped Jim get out of the mix-up and he said Jim
bucked worse than the broncs. He lost his hat and his big pipe and
hurt his foot.
When he got straightened out, he went hunting this fellow. He
said, “Where is that big loop S.B.?” and when he found him he told
him plenty. He said, “I don’t think you are a cowboy at all. I think
you are a damn sailor the way you handle a rope. If I ever see you
throw another rope in that corral, I will shoot you. Somebody else
will catch your horse from now on.” But he didn’t fire him, and the
fellow was pretty tame afterwards.
There was a great friendship existed among those old cowboys of
those days. They would quarrel among themselves and sometimes one
would think they were bitter enemies, but if one of them got sick or
hurt, even with their small wages they would soon raise a few
hundred dollars for him, and as there was no compensation law those
days it meant a great deal to them.
Old Bill Bullard, the fellow that used to put bacon in everything
he cooked to give it tone, had a partner that he thought a great
deal of, but when they were together they were always quarreling and
when they were separated they would be lonesome. I believe they
enjoyed their quarrels.
One time they made a trip together up in Canada. On their way
back they had to make a long ride without water, and the weather was
very warm. So the morning of their long ride, Bill told his partner
to not put much salt in their food, as they wouldn’t get any water
that day. But the old boy was out of sorts that morning and said he
wanted plenty of salt—water or no water. All their breakfast was in
one frying pan. So Bill got a knife and run a line through the
breakfast and told his partner to not salt only half the grub. That
made the old fellow very mad and he put plenty salt on his side of
the frying pan. Bill said his partner nearly choked for water that
day and it was dark when they reached Milk River and instead of
stooping down to get water he walked right into the river so he
could drink standing up.
Tom Daly and I worked together for several years and I liked him
One time we went from the DHS ranch at Rocky Ridge close to the
main range of the Rocky Mountains to the ranch the outfit owned at
Malta, which was in the eastern part of Montana. We had two strings
of horses, which was about twenty head. We had our beds packed on
two horses on that trip. One day Tom’s pack slipped and got down on
the horse’s side. We roped him and fixed the pack, but while we were
doing so we turned our saddle horses loose with the bridle reins on
the ground (which is the way Montana horses were broke to stand).
Mosquitoes were very bad that day and was worrying the horses, and
when we turned the horse loose that we had been fixing the pack, we
turned around to get on our saddle horses—they both run off and into
the loose bunch, which got scared and away they all went, leaving us
both afoot and I think it was at least 20 miles to any ranch and the
day very hot. I never saw Tom excited before as he was very
easy-going, but when I looked at him and asked him, “What are we
going to do now?” his lips trembled and he said, “Damned if I know.”
Well, a lucky thing I had my rope that we had caught the pack
horse with. So I picked it up and we started after the horses on
foot. They run about a mile and stopped and went to feeding—but when
we caught up with them, one of our saddle horses would drag his
bridle reins around some of the horses’ legs and scare them—and away
they would go again. Finally we got the bunch in between us and one
of the pack horses had his head down feeding—I made a run at him and
when he put his head up to run I throwed my rope and caught him. We
unpacked him and I got on him bareback, with a rope around his nose,
and rounded up the bunch and brought them back to where Tom was. He
had made a loop in the pack rope and caught his saddle horse. And
after a good many trials of roping, we caught my horse.
When we got our horse packed again and on our way, we were sure a
couple of happy boys. Tom told me I sure made a lucky throw when I
caught that pack horse.
In my younger days as a cowboy I had a hobby on saddles. I always
wanted a light saddle with as little leather on it as possible. I
used to use a Clarence Nelson saddle, made in Visalia, California,
which was about the smallest and lightest stock saddle made in those
days. Then after I had got it, I would trim and cut off all the
leather I possibly could get along without. Tom Daly always rode a
double rig saddle and wanted it quite heavy. He was always making
fun of my saddle and said I might as well ride bareback.
One time a big prairie fire broke out and the best thing we used
to have to fight those fires was a “green” or fresh cowhide. We
could tie a couple of ropes to it and with our saddle horses drag it
along the fire line. If the blaze wasn’t too big, it would smother
the fire out completely. This fire broke out close to our roundup,
and we had a big jaw steer in our roundup and he wasn’t any value as
a beef steer. So the boss told the boys to catch him and kill and
skin him and use his hide for a drag to put the fire out.
Everybody got their ropes down in a hurry. Tom roped the steer by
the head and I caught him by one hind leg. He weighed about 1,500
pounds and Tom was riding a big strong horse, and when he saw I had
the steer by the hind leg he never looked back but was spurring his
horse and pulling on the steer to try to throw him down so we could
cut his throat, as nobody had a gun. My horse wasn’t too well broke
to roping, but I got my rope fast to the saddle horn and Tom was
pulling so fast and so hard, it must of hurt my horse and he went to
bucking. I couldn’t get my rope loose from the saddle horn and I
hollered at Tom—but he kept right on going and pulled me—saddle and
all—off the horse. The boys joshed me plenty about my little saddle.
I asked Tom why he didn’t stop when I hollered. He said he didn’t
know I was riding bareback or he would.
Another time Tom and I were gathering saddle horses for the
spring roundup. When we left our camp in the morning we went
different directions and I got back to camp quite a while before Tom
did. I had loosened my cinch and tied my horse to a post and went in
the cabin to cook dinner. I heard someone holler and looked out and
saw Tom coming with a bunch of horses. Those horses were sometimes
very hard to corral. So I run out and got on my horse but forgot to
tighten my cinch. Those horses came by me pretty fast and I run my
horse in ahead of them to try to turn them. They dodged by me and
when I turned my horse to head them off my saddle turned and, of
course, I hit the ground and my horse got away and went with the
I got Tom’s horse and followed them. After a little distance he
quit the bunch and took off across the country by himself. I
followed him about ten miles and finally run him into an old roundup
corral and caught him. The saddle was under his belly and there
wasn’t a thing left of it—only the saddle tree and the cinch—he had
kicked it all to pieces.
When I led him back to camp I felt like crying and called Tom out
to show it to him. In place of sympathizing with me, he smiled and
said he didn’t see any difference in it than it was before.
I had to ride 40 miles to town to order another saddle. I tied a
rope on each side of the saddle tree to use for stirrups and rode
that distance. Tom went with me—I think he had the time of his life
that day laughing at my rig.
We worked together on the roundup that year and slept together.
We worked pretty late that fall and the nights got very cold. We
were holding quite a bunch of cattle and, of course, that meant we
had to guard the cattle at night. Each man guarded three hours and
then woke up another cowboy. One night was very cold. When I came
off guard my feet felt like chunks of ice and I had noticed Tom’s
underwear was wore out where he had been sitting in the saddle. I
pulled off my boots and went out in the frost—then slipped into bed
with Tom. He was asleep and didn’t hear me. I got into bed easy and
found that bare place on his body and planted both feet right on it.
He hollered and went clear out of the tent. He said afterwards he
thought somebody had burned him with a hot iron. I think I got even
with him for making fun of my saddle!
Most of the big Montana cow outfits moved their herds north of
the Missouri River between 1888 and 1894. The point of crossing on
the Missouri was an old steamboat landing called Rocky Point where
Jim Norris had a saloon.
When I crossed the river there in 1889, there was no one living
there but the little old man. He had an old hand ferry boat that he
took people across the river with. The night I stayed with him, he
told me he had some fine gin and gave me a drink, which I found out
was straight alcohol and the one drink nearly strangled me, but old
Uncle Jim, as he was called, drank it like water and seemed to do
quite well on it. Every little while he would go to the bank of the
river and holler at the top of his voice, “Do you want to bring your
wagon over?” There would not be anybody in sight, but he seemed to
get a great kick out of make-believe.
I worked with Kid Curry that summer on the roundup. He worked for
the Diamond outfit and I worked for the DHS. Both outfits worked the
range together. Kid was a fine fellow at that time and a good
cowboy—that was before he became an outlaw. I have read where some
writers told what a cold-blooded killer he was and where he had held
up banks and so forth, and I know from some of the dates given that
he was blamed for a great many things he did not do.
I am not trying to make a hero out of the Kid or say that I
approve of some things he done, but the public at large does not
know all the circumstances leading up to where he first got into
Charlie Russell knew Kid Curry and has given me his analysis of
his character (and he seldom made a mistake in the reading of human
nature). Charlie figured any normal man might have went the route
the Kid did.
I am going to set down some of the facts regarding the Kid’s
becoming an outlaw. His name was Harvey Curry. He had an older
brother, Henry Curry. They had a little ranch in the Badlands of the
Missouri River and ran a few cattle and horses. Both the brothers
were fine boys at that time and would give anyone the shirt off
their back if they were in need.
Now there was a little mining town sprung up in the Little
Rockies not far from the Curry Ranch. The outstanding character in
that town was a man by the name of Pike Landusky, a prospector who
had found some fairly rich prospects, and as there was some
excitement about the find quite a lot of people went to the mining
camp and Pike being about the first one on the ground, the town was
The town was about fifty miles from the railroad and farther from
the Sheriff’s office, so Pike was appointed a Deputy Sheriff. Now
Pike was not a bad sort of a fellow as a rule, but had a reputation
as somewhat of a gun-fighter and was rather proud of it—he didn’t
have much education and very little intelligence—but was proud of
his authority as a Deputy Sheriff.
The Kid was in town one night with some friends, having a few
drinks and celebrating in the ways of the early West, when Pike
decided Harvey had violated some law and arrested him, and not
having any jail in the camp, handcuffed him for safekeeping. During
the time he was handcuffed, the Kid said Pike abused him shamefully
and cast reflections even on his mother, who was dead and whom Pike
had never known or seen, which burned very deeply into the Kid.
During the abuse the Kid told Pike, “I won’t always be handcuffed,
Pike, and when I get out of this trouble, you are going to get a
licking you will remember.” Pike said, “I will be ready.”
Some time after this incident Pike and the Kid met in the saloon
in Landusky and had a fist fight. Of course the Kid started it and
Pike got a bad licking. When the fight started both men had guns on.
Neither one knew the other had a gun. Pike’s gun was in a holster
under his arm. Kid’s gun was fastened to his pants. In the fight,
the Kid’s gun fell on the floor. A friend of the Kid’s picked it up
and when the fight was over handed it to him. Both Pike’s eyes were
pretty well closed, but he raised up on his knees and was trying to
get a bead on the Kid—so he shot Pike and killed him.
Of course this was a very serious offense as he had killed an
officer of the law, and the sentiment of the people was divided—and
the Kid did not know whether to give himself up or not. Anyway, he
and a few of his friends went to the ranch and talked the matter
over and decided it would be best for the Kid to cache himself in
the Badlands for a while. And his friends would bring him food—and,
of course, the longer he stayed a fugitive, the less chance he had
of getting acquitted if he did give himself up. So after dodging
around for a while and having lost his older brother, Hank, as he
was known, who had died and was always the leader and adviser, the
Kid and a couple of his friends held up the Great Northern Railroad
train which had a shipment of currency—they got away with it all
right and got the money, but it was new money and had not been
officially signed, so of course it was not much good to them.
However, they did pass some of it. The Kid had two half brothers who
come to Montana from Missouri. Their names was Lannie and Johnny
Logan, and they tried to pass some of the money without much
success. Lannie was caught in Kansas City and killed with $10,000 of
it on his person. Johnny was killed in the Little Rocky country in a
gun fight with another cowboy.
The Kid was caught in Tennessee after several years and sent to
the Knoxville pen—I believe for life. However, he didn’t stay there
very long. The papers said he roped a guard and tied him up and got
away. My personal opinion is he got help in some other way. I was
told by a very reliable party that he went to the Argentine country.
Anyway he has never been heard of since. If he is alive now, he
would be about 70 years old.
Fred Reid was one of the old time deer and elk hunters in the
early days of Montana. He told me the first bear he ever killed when
he was a young boy, that he was so scared he didn’t go near it after
he shot it until he saw some flies flying around its mouth. He said,
he knew then it was dead.
Fred hunted for the market and said he often followed elk all day
on foot until they got tired, then he would make the kill.
After his hunting days were over, Fred went to work as a cowboy
and took charge of quite a big outfit. The man wanted a new range
and sent Fred out to locate one. Fred found what he wanted and moved
the outfit to the Judith Basin. Then he located his headquarters
down in the Badlands of the Missouri River. It was surely a tough
country, to get in and out of—had to pack in everything on pack
I asked Fred one time why he picked out such an ungodly country.
He said he wanted to be alone where nobody would bother him and he
sure found the ideal place for that.
During the winter of 1891 he hired me to go there and ride what
he said was some half-broke horses—about twenty head. He wanted them
for the Spring roundup so he could use them to work cattle. Those
horses were like Fred—plenty tough. I don’t know how he got so many
mean ones in one bunch.
I never saw so many mean horses—they would buck, strike, kick,
bite, or run away. Shortly after I went to work for Fred, very cold
weather set in and I sure had a tough time with those horses. There
was snow and ice everywhere and it was hard enough for a gentle
horse to stand up. These broncs didn’t care whether they stood up or
not when they made up their minds to buck or run away. The camp was
on a ridge with very rough gulches and canyons on both sides. The
ridge averaged about a mile wide and a good many miles long, and
when I would get one of them lined out on this ridge I would sure
speed him up and didn’t give him any time to think of his tricks. I
had to dress pretty heavy in that cold weather and a lot of clothes
on don’t go very good with riding broncs. But the worst trouble of
all was, I would get two or three of them going fairly good and the
weather would turn so cold I couldn’t ride at all, sometimes for a
week and those horses would get bronco again and I would have all my
work to do over again. I rode most of them with draw reins and I
could always double or pile them up in a snow bank before they would
get to a cut bank or a gulch, but one day I was out riding one
without draw reins and the horse stampeded heading for a cut bank.
If one went over it he would land in the Missouri River. I couldn’t
stop him and that bank looked to be a million feet straight up and
down, so when I saw I couldn’t stop him I quit him and that’s a hard
thing to do when a horse is running away. I just let all holts go
and fell off but he didn’t go over the bank as soon as I quit him.
He turned and went to camp which was about four miles that I had to
One morning one of those horses bucked pretty hard. Fred was
there and saw it. He said, “I saw a lot of daylight between you and
that saddle. Looked to me like you was about gone.” I told him, “Oh
no, that’s the way I ride, kind of loose.” I don’t know if he
believed it or not but the fact was I was just about thrown off.
The headquarters consisted of a dugout for a home, no floor in it
and a couple of bunks made out of cottonwood poles, and a corral. We
melted snow to make coffee and cook with as the water hole was
frozen and about all we had to eat was sour dough bread and black
coffee. Of course, Fred being a great hunter, we had plenty of deer
meat. Soon after I came there the sugar was all gone so we didn’t
have any sweetening the rest of the winter. As soon as the weather
broke so I could get out I quit Fred and left that part of the
Some time afterwards I was back in that locality and went to his
camp. There was nobody home. It looked like nobody had been there
for some time. I looked around and found some grub. It was a very
warm day in the summer so I picketed my horse and laid down on
Fred’s bed in the dugout to take a rest before getting something to
eat. While I was lying there I saw a snake’s head appear out of a
hole in the dugout. It looked as big as my hand and when he got his
whole body out he was a monster. He was about four feet from me and
saw me. He stuck his tongue out at me a few times and crawled across
the dugout to where there was a grub box and got about half of his
body in it and stopped. I raised up on my elbow to see what he was
doing. He had his head in the sugar sack. I was twenty-five miles
from where I could get anything to eat. I saddled up and beat it out
of there. That was a bull snake (Gopher Snake) but he sure didn’t
look good to me and he took all of my appetite, eating out of the
grub box. I saw Fred some time afterwards and told him of my visit
and of my leaving without eating. He seemed very much surprised that
that should bother me any. He said the big fellow had been with him
a long time and that they were great friends. He also said the big
fellow didn’t allow no rats or mice to come near the camp.
I had quite an experience with another couple of old timers—two
brothers that had a ranch and quite a large bunch of cattle. They
had this ranch for some forty years, did their own cooking and
washed their clothes, in fact, lived in real pioneer style. Their
names were Frank and George. I was working for an outfit several
miles from where those old timers lived. They sent my boss word that
we had some cattle strayed on to their range and he sent me over
there to help them gather the cattle and bring them home, and while
working with them I took a very bad cold. One night when we got home
I was quite sick and went into the room where they slept and laid
down on one of the bunks. Later George and Frank came in and started
getting supper. Now, they had a kind of an old box fastened on the
wall of the cabin. They called it their medicine chest and in there
was every kind of a bottle and little pill boxes imaginable and they
were so old and dusty that the description and contents of each
bottle was unreadable. While I was lying down I heard George say to
Frank, “Con is pretty sick,” Frank said, “Why don’t you give him
some bromo quinine?” George said, “Where is it?” “Why, it’s in that
thar medicine box.” So George went looking for it. Pretty soon I
heard him say, “I think this is it.” Frank said, “Yes, I think it
is.” George started in where I was, but Frank stopped him and said,
“Wait a minute, let me look at that again.” There was a little pause
and I heard Frank say, “Hell no, this is coyote poison, don’t give
him that.” “All right,” George said, “I’ll go back to the medicine
box and look again.” Soon he came into the room with several
different kinds of packages but I told him I didn’t think I needed
anything now. In fact, I felt much better.
He was very much disappointed that I wouldn’t try some of the
medicine. But, oh boy, he couldn’t have gotten any of that stuff
down me with a ten foot pole.
In the year of 1886 Chief Sitting Bull of the Sioux tribe got
permission from the agent at Standing Rock Agency in North Dakota to
make a visit to the Crow Agency in Montana to visit the Crow
So he collected about fifty Sioux warriors and made the trip, and
went to the battle ground where General Custer and his army was
massacred in the year 1876, which was a short distance from the Crow
Agency. He asked the Crow agent for permission to have a war dance
on the battle ground. He said he wanted to recall old times. The
So sitting Bull collected a bunch of Crow warriors and had a
party on the Little Horn River adjoining the battle ground. The
party progressed very nicely until Sitting Bull got on his feet and
declared he was the greatest warrior that ever lived, stating the
fact that he had killed more white men and stolen more horses than
any other chief living. That statement insulted the Crow chief and
the party turned into a fight. Crazy Head, the Crow chief, pulled
his knife, grabbed Sitting Bull by his long hair and throwed him
down and made him smell his feet, which was the greatest insult one
chief could offer another, as in the language of the Indian it made
Sitting Bull a dog, which is the worst name an Indian can call
The party broke up, and the next night Sitting Bull, to get even,
stole a bunch of Crow horses, and with his fifty warriors started
back for the Sioux reservation.
But there was an old squaw man living with the Crows that was
plenty smart in the line of stealing horses and he collected a bunch
of Crows and followed Sitting Bull and overtook his party on the
Little Horn River, and took the horses away from them and killed two
Sioux bucks and scalped them. Sitting Bull and the rest of his party
got away and beat it back to their reservation.
Now the Crows got very uneasy over this affair and were afraid
the Sioux would go on the warpath and steal away from their
reservation and come back and clean up on them. So the Crow chief,
Crazy Head, called all the Crows together, which at that time was
about 2,800, and made a blockade by putting all their lodges and
tepees on a big fiat on the Little Horn River covering about 20
acres, and at night they put all their horses inside this enclosure,
and put guards all around it at night. Also inside this enclosure
about two hundred of these warriors had tom-toms and they beat them
all night and sang war songs. I want to say here that all the noise
they made was to keep their spirits up, as they were deathly afraid
of the Siouxs.
The old squaw man was in this big gathering, all dressed up like
the Indians with britch cloth and head-dress with all kinds of
feathers in his bonnet. I recall a rather amusing incident about
him. A few years prior to the time I am writing of, the railroad
ended at Miles City, and the administration at Washington, D.C., had
notified the Crow Indian agent to send several chiefs to Washington
to try to make a peace treaty and give them certain portions of land
if they would become civilized. The agent called this squaw man to
the Agency to send him with the chiefs as an interpreter. Now the
old man had never seen a train or railroad and thought he had to
ride horseback all the way to Washington. He told the agent he
thought he could make the trip all right, but would have to have a
new saddle. When he returned from Washington, the Indians were very
anxious to know what he had seen and some of them still thought they
could beat the white men at war. So they asked the old man how many
whites he saw. He picked up both hands full of sand and throwed it
in the air. Said he, “The whites are just like that wherever I
went.” It was said that this demonstration by the old man made it
seem useless to most of the braves to carry the fight any farther.
They also had the scalps of those two Indians they had killed
hung on a tripod and some of the young braves sure put on a real war
dance around the scalps.
Another man and myself went there one night. It sure was some
sight. We put blankets around us like the Indians wore. This man I
was with could talk Indian and they told him they knew we were white
men even in the dark from the way we walked. This man’s name was
Herb Dana, and he lived on Tongue River in Wyoming. If he is alive
yet he can verify what I have told about this incident.
That winter a man by the name of Ed Town and myself started
across the reservation with a freighting outfit, which he owned. He
lived at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains. We had forty head of
work cattle (which was Texas steers) and six wagons (which was two
teams, three wagons hooked together—ten yoke of cattle made a team).
It was in the month of January and the weather turned bitter cold.
We were near froze to death one night. We made camp and unyoked
the steers, turned them loose without any feed except a few willows
that grew on the creek. We finally got the tent up and I was kicking
around in snow up to my knees, trying to find wood enough to build a
fire, but there wasn’t any to be found. About the time I had given
up, an old Indian came up to me and made signs he had a good lodge
and no grub and that we had plenty food and no fire, and invited us
to bring our food to his tepee. We were sure glad to make the trade.
His lodge was about 200 yards from our camp. We took all the
bacon and flour the three of us could carry and went with the
Indian. That was as cold a night as I ever saw and am sure we would
both lost our lives if it wasn’t for that Indian.
I don’t think they had ate for a long time, as the squaws made
bread and fried bacon all night. There was ten Indians in the camp
and did they eat!
The lodge was round with a hole at the top. The fire was in the
middle of the lodge. They cooked the bread in a frying pan.
We stayed there three days during the blizzard and outside of a
little smoke we were fairly comfortable, but I think when we left
there we were two of the lousiest men ever walked. I traded an
Indian a $12.00 Stetson for a muskrat cap—I could brush lice and
nits off it in swarms.
When the storm broke we found enough steers to pull one wagon to
the ranch. As far as I know the rest of them died.
The winter of 1886 and 1887 was the toughest winter of my life
and I believe it will be verified by all cattle men of that period.
There was men in Montana and Wyoming that had 5,000 cattle that
didn’t roundup 100 head the next spring.
My boss paid me off when we got to the ranch. I met up with
another kid about my age. We had about $20.00 between us and no
place to go. So we made a dugout out of cottonwood poles and dirt.
We had no stove, so built a fireplace to cook on—and on the coldest
days it always smoked the worst. In the spring we smelled and looked
like Indians. We rustled a quarter of beef, a few beans, a little
sugar and coffee and lived on that until spring. We got a little
tapioca somewhere for dessert. We cooked that with water but we
couldn’t spare much sugar—there was no place to get any more (that
was on the line of Montana and Wyoming and was 100 miles from the
That winter the Indians suffered terrible from hunger and after
we set up housekeeping squaws and papooses would come to stay until
we cooked our meal with the hopes of getting something to eat. We
fed them for awhile but we were getting low on food and had to quit,
but they would come every day and stay all day and we wouldn’t eat
while they were there.
One day my partner said he wanted to eat, but didn’t know what to
do with those damn Indians. They were all huddled around the
fireplace. I told him to make a lane through them as if he wanted to
put some wood on the fire. I had a 45 six-shooter under my head on
our bunk. When he made the opening I opened fire on the fireplace
and took a fit. I hollered and bucked like a bronc. I throwed ashes
all over the Indians and they nearly tore the door down getting out.
Then we cooked and eat, and wasn’t bothered with Indians for a long
About a week after a buck Indian came by there looking for
horses. It was very cold and my partner asked him in to get warm. He
looked at me for a while and shook his head and made signs I was
crazy. I guess the squaws had told him about me. We had put out some
poisoned meat for coyotes and the Indians found it and was going to
eat it but was suspicious and tried it on a dog and it killed him,
which didn’t raise us much in their estimation.
I will always think those Indians got even with me. That
following spring I wanted to leave that part of the country, and I
didn’t have a horse. So I got to talking to some Indians. They said
they had a fine horse running in their bunch. It was a stray—nobody
claimed it and I could have him. I made a date with them when they
would corral their horses. I was there with my saddle. They showed
me a beautiful big sorrel and told me to catch him, which I did. He
trotted right up to me when I roped him and seemed very nice to
saddle. I was wondering all the time why those Indians were so kind
to me, but oh boy, when I mounted him I found out. After the first
jump I never saw anything but a little piece of sorrel mane in front
of the saddle. I have been bucked off a good many times and often
thought I could have rode most of the horses if I had got a break,
but there never was any doubt about that Indian gift horse—I never
had a Chinaman’s chance.
I saw several of those Indians in years afterwards. They would
think awhile before they would remember me—they would laugh and make
signs with their hands how the horse bucked me off.
The Crow Indians’ name for me was the White Man Chews Tobacco—Masachele
One time an old Crow Indian told me quite a story about the Tribe
that I don’t believe many people know (and I have seen some evidence
of the truth of his story).
I was riding line for a cow outfit on the Crow Reservation and an
old Crow Chief came riding into my camp one morning about daylight,
and asked me for something to eat, as he said he was making a long
ride on some important business. I knew him—he was the same Chief
that pulled a knife on Chief Sitting Bull, grabbed him by the hair
and made him smell of his feet. This old Chief’s white-man’s name
was Crazy Head—his Indian name was Ah Shumoch Noch, which means
“Curly Head.” His hair was curly (which is unusual for an Indian)
and he had very thick lips, which made me think of the story the old
Indian had told me. He said a great many snows ago, a Negro showed
up among the Crows. Nobody knew where he came from or how he got
there, but he lived with them for many years. The Crow name for a
Negro is Masachele Sha Pit Cot (which means White Black Man). While
this old Chief was enjoying his breakfast (and he was plenty hungry)
I asked him in Indian if he didn’t have some Nigger blood in him,
and it sure made him mad. I believe if he hadn’t been eating in my
camp he would have done something to me, but he said “Barrett” in a
very loud voice, which means NO, but I insisted that he must have a
little Negro blood. Still his answer was NO, with an oath, but I
kept on teasing him about his curly hair and thick lips. He finally
stuck out the end of his little finger with his thumb on the other
hand to measure with—ecosh cota, which meant about the size of a pin
head. He sure hated a nigger.
There was another old Indian visited our camp sometimes, that was
quite a character. But he could peddle the bull as good as any white
man I ever knew. Sometimes when he came to our camp—we wouldn’t have
much food cooked and wouldn’t give him anything to eat, and he would
silently sit on the ground watching us until we got through eating.
When we put our cooking outfit away, he would get up on his feet,
hitch his blanket over his shoulders and go out of the tent and call
us all the mean dirty names he could think of, such as dogs, skunks
and snakes. Well, maybe the next time he came we would feed him and
it was sure wonderful to see the change in him. He loved bacon and
coffee. Sometimes we would give him a big plate of bacon and sour
dough bread. He would sit on the ground, cross his legs and boy, how
he would eat! He would get his hands all bacon grease and rub them
through his hair, and get a few shots of that strong coffee into
him—it seemed to stimulate him like a shot of hop. Then he would
open up with his “bull.” He would talk part Indian and part English.
His favorite line was how much he loved the white man, such as, “Me
no steal em White Man horse—White Man he my brother—My heart very
good for him” (and I know he would steal the coppers off of a dead
white man’s eyes). He said the Piegan Indian and the Sioux was very
bad and all the time steal white man’s horse, but he was always
watching out for the white man and wouldn’t let other Indians steal
white man horse.
I recall another Indian I knew several years later, his name was
Christmas. I always thought that he had stolen my saddle. One time
at Big Sandy, Montana, we had shipped a train load of cattle out of
Malta, and as usual after the cattle were all loaded out, we
proceeded to celebrate before we went back on the range to gather
some more. I think there were about twenty of us when we started the
night celebration, but sometime in the night I must have took a nap,
anyway I came to about two o’clock in the morning and as it was late
in the month of October it was quite cold, in fact I thought I would
freeze to death, everybody was gone to camp, my horse was tied to
the hitch rack, the saloons were all closed, and not a light
anywhere. I was working my way around trying to find my horse. When
this Indian showed up where my horse was tied, he evidently had been
drunk too and seemed very glad to find someone to talk to or steal
something. He came up to where I was and said, “By golly Con Price I
sure glad to see you, you my brother.” I guess I must have got some
bad whiskey and felt pretty mean for while Christmas was talking to
me I thought it would be a good joke to swing on him. His hands were
both hanging down by his sides, so I was not taking any chances. I
braced myself and gave him all I had, right on the point of the
chin. It turned him half way around and he fell on his stomach. He
weighed about two hundred and twenty-five, he had on a pair of heavy
cowhide boots, that must have weighed five pounds each. He had no
sooner fell down than he was up again and running like hell, he
didn’t look back or say a word, but with those big boots and his
weight, it sounded like a bunch of horses running away. I saw him
about a month afterward, he didn’t say anything, but smiled. I guess
he thought it was a good joke too.
After Christmas left I got on my horse, and started for camp, of
course there were no roads so I started out across the prairie, and
it was very dark and I got lost. I finally landed in some heavy sage
brush, I got off my horse and tied him to some brush, by that time I
had got awful thirsty and couldn’t find any water. I felt something
in my chaps pocket, and found it was a bottle of tomato catsup
(where or how I got it I never knew). I couldn’t get the cork out so
I broke the head off of it with a rock, and drank nearly all of it.
I layed down and went to sleep but woke up in a short time with a
terrible pain in my stomach, the first thing I thought was that I
had swallowed some of the glass from that ketchup bottle and I was
sure scared. It was getting daylight about that time and I knew
where I was, and I got on my horse and started for the old DHS horse
ranch. There was no one home as the boys were all on the roundup. I
heated a tub of water and got into it and had a big sweat, after
that I felt much better, I cooked something to eat and went to bed
and stayed there until the next morning. As I knew about where the
roundup would be, I found camp that day, nobody said much to me
about my absence, as it was a legitimate excuse those days for a
cowboy getting drunk to be late on the job.
OPEN RANGE DAYS
In the days of open range, everybody had great freedom. A cowboy
could change countries every spring if he wanted to and they were
always drifting from one range to another—not only to different
ranges but to different states. For instance, maybe he would be in
New Mexico one year and on the Canadian border the next.
Every cowboy had a private horse of his own, pack horse and his
own bed, which consisted of a tarpaulin and some blankets. And
according to the custom of them days he could stop at any cow camp
or ranch and was not under obligations to anyone, and if he wanted
to stay a week and rest his horses that was O.K. too. If there was
no one home, he always found grub and helped himself, so he was
quite independent—and it did not take much money to travel. Nature
provided him with new scenery every day, such as unclaimed land,
rivers and creeks, and in my day plenty of wild game of all kinds. I
don’t believe the tourist of today with his automobile has anything
compared to what we had.
I am going to make a statement here that almost sounds fishy, but
I can prove it. I worked for a cow outfit that run twenty-five
thousand cattle and three or four hundred saddle horses to handle
the cattle with, and they didn’t own one foot of deeded land. The
land was unsurveyed and belonged to the government. They usually
built a big log house, some corrals and a kind of stable, and called
it their ranch, and no one disputed their title—even a sheepman must
not get too close with his woolies. They paid no taxes on this land
and as it would be impossible for the assessor to count the cattle
in an area of two or three hundred miles, I would say a good honest
cattle man might give in one-third of his number. An outfit the size
I speak of, would hire about twenty-five cowboys during the summer
months and keep four or five during the winter. That was the only
expense they had, outside of buying saddle horses to mount their
cowboys—which was ten or twelve to the man.
I have been asked quite often what a “Rep” was by people that was
hatched at a later day. Well, for illustration, Tom Jones has a
ranch at San Francisco—Bill Smith has a ranch at Los Angeles. Both
run several thousand cattle. There are no fences between those two
places, so, naturally, in the course of a year quite a number of
both men’s cattle would drift out of their range where they worked
their main range and it wouldn’t pay to send a whole outfit so far
for what cattle had drifted—so they picked out a very reliable
cowboy that knew their brands. He cut out his string of horses,
packed his bed and started for one of those ranges to represent the
outfit he was working for. There might be six or seven reps with
each different outfit.
Now, when one of those outfits started to work their range, they
started what they called a “Day Herd”—that was for the purpose of
holding all cattle that the reps, or the home outfit wanted to
hold—sometimes beef cattle, sometimes some outfit changing
hands—those cattle were held by home range men and driven from one
roundup to another and each day, and each roundup; anybody that
found any cattle they wanted to hold or take home, they were cut out
and put in that day herd.
This herd sometimes got pretty big before the roundup was over
and was bunched up at night and held on what they called the
bed-ground. Those cattle were night herded by all cowboys that
worked during the day, by shifts of two or three hours each, the
hours depending on the length of the nights—spring or fall—sometimes
two men on shift, or more, depending on the size of the herd or how
hard they were to hold.
The rep never done any day-herding as he was supposed to see all
cattle rounded up so as to pick out the cattle he represented, as
other cowboys didn’t know his irons as well as he did. There was
also a little cowboy etiquette extended to the rep—he didn’t have to
stand night guard unless it was absolutely necessary.
When this roundup was over and the range all worked, lasting from
a month to six weeks, the big herd was worked and every cowboy that
had any cattle in the herd cut them out in a bunch by themselves, or
some other fellow that had cattle going home the same direction as
he was, then they throwed in together. If a cowboy didn’t have help
enough to move his cattle to their home range, the outfit he
gathered them with sent some men to help him. This custom was
practiced in all the outfits. Another fine practice in the early
days by honest cowmen was if a cow was found in a roundup with a
calf belonging to her and nobody claimed her, the captain of that
roundup branded the calf with the same iron that was on the mother
and turned her loose where she was. This was done with what was
known as a running iron, which was a small bar and a small half
circle—one can make any brand on an animal with those two irons. Now
if that was a steer calf and nobody claimed him until it was grown
and fit for beef, that same captain or any captain of any roundup
had a right to load and ship that steer to any market with his
cattle, say Chicago, Omaha or Kansas City, which were the principal
shipping points in those days. There the stock inspector got a
record of what state the steer came from and when he was sold. It
was his duty to see that the money was sent to the stock association
of that state, they having a record of the brand and the address of
the owner. A check was immediately forwarded to the party.
For instance, Charlie Russell and myself got a check for a steer
I had not seen for six years and had been loaded on the train four
hundred miles from where I turned him loose. He was shipped to
Chicago, sold and the money sent to Helena, Montana, where we had
our brand recorded.
THE JOHNSON COUNTY WAR
This incident I write about was known as the Johnson County War
in Wyoming in the years of 1893 and 1894, and I presume some of the
old-timers of today remember those days when those things happened.
The way it first started, some of the cowboys working for the big
outfits bought a few cattle of their own and branded them and turned
them loose on the range. The cattle barons objected to this, and
passed a resolution that any cowboy owning a branding iron could not
work for them—for the reason, them days there were a great many
mavericks on the range and the cattlemen divided them up among
themselves. This caused considerable bitterness, as the cowboy
claimed any animal without a brand belonged to the first one that
found it. There may have been some justification on both sides; at
any rate it developed into quite a feud. I heard one old cattleman
remark that he knew cowboys that even their grandfathers never owned
a cow, had more cattle than he did.
This feeling between stockmen and cowboys got to be very serious,
as each side took the law in their own hands to a great extent, and
there was quite a few people killed. The rustlers got so bold they
took a contract with one of the construction contractors to supply
them with beef. They would go out on the range, and butcher any
animal they found, regardless of what brand was on the animal.
The stockmen appointed a stock detective. His name was Chris
Groce, who was very capable and absolutely fearless, and for a while
held the rustlers somewhat in check, but as time went on the
sympathy of all the little ranchers and cowboys were with the cattle
I remember two boys that the cattlemen wanted put out of the way
but could not catch up with them, so they formed a posse and went
out after them. They finally run those boys into an old cabin out on
the range and tried to get them to surrender without any success.
They finally backed a wagonload of hay up against the cabin and set
it on fire. When the cabin caught fire, the rustlers made a break to
get away, and the posse killed both of them.
There was another ex-cowboy I knew that decided to go into
business for himself. He would go out on the range, shoot a steer,
butcher it, bring it to town and sell it. He went by the name of
Spokane. He got along pretty well for a while, but one day the
Sheriff was trailing some horse thieves across the country and run
on to Spokane with a steer shot down and was butchering it. The
Sheriff told him to throw up his hands, but instead Spokane crouched
down behind his steer and opened fire on the Sheriff with his
six-shooter and made it hard for the Sheriff to get him, but the
Sheriff had a Winchester and could reach him at long range. He
finally shot him in the arm and Spokane came up and surrendered. The
Sheriff told me afterwards he sure hated to shoot him, as he was
plenty game. I was in the hotel the night they brought Spokane in
and the doctor dressed his arm without any anesthetic. He lay on the
couch and smoked cigarettes just as unconcerned as if everything was
all right and in no pain. They sent Spokane to the Pen for three
years and when he got out he straightened up and made a very good
These conditions seemed to go from bad to worse until things got
so bad the cattlemen took it on themselves to hire a bunch of Texas
Rangers to come to Wyoming to protect their interests. That fact
created more bitter feeling and anybody taking sides with either
group was sure in danger of their lives at all times. I remember a
bunch of rustlers and cowboys, went to an old deserted ranch and
built a kind of temporary stockade. The Rangers followed them there
and tried to arrest them on their own authority. One of the boys in
the stockade told me afterwards that siege lasted several days, and
they had to go to a spring for water, and every time they did so
there would be considerable shooting from both sides.
Finally conditions got so bad that it got out of control of the
local authorities and the militia was called out to settle the
trouble. They arrested everybody—cattlemen, cowboys, rustlers and
Rangers, and took them all to Cheyenne. That broke up the feud and
nobody gained anything. Most of the cowmen lived in the East and
they were sick of the whole affair. Some of them sold out and never
did come back to Wyoming. The cowboys and rustlers drifted to parts
unknown, and things in Johnson County got on a more legitimate
basis. I met several of those cowboys afterwards in Montana. Most of
them were under assumed names, and some of them had very good jobs,
such as stock inspectors and foremen of big outfits. They generally
made pretty good men, as they had had plenty of experience.
At the time those conditions existed, I was breaking colts for
the PK Cow outfit on Soldier Creek, close to Sheridan, Wyoming, and
Buffalo Bill Cody sent notice to Sheridan that he would be there on
a certain day and wanted to buy a carload of wild horses to ship to
Boston for his show, also he wanted to hire some Wild West riders to
take back to Boston. That is a long time ago and there wasn’t the
bronc riders there is today. Some rode with tied stirrups, some with
buck straps. There was a quite a number of riders but only one boy
qualified—his name was Scotty. I tried for that job, but Bill hurt
my pride very much, as he told me I might make a rider but wouldn’t
do at that time. The only consolation I had was to say to myself
that Bill didn’t know a good rider when he saw one.
Several people not familiar with horses have asked me what a
bronco-buster means, and they seem to think all cowboys are bronco
riders, which is not so. I sometimes talk to an old-timer that once
rode broncs and broke horses, and like most all old-timers in every
line of work they claim the younger generation cannot compete with
them the way they did it in their day. But the old boys are only
kidding themselves when they think those young fellows can’t ride a
bucking horse. They have made a profession of it and keep in
practice. Another thing, the old-tuners never flanked a horse like
they do in contest today—that’s putting a strap around his kidneys
and cinching it up to make him buck—and it does make him buck harder
than without it. He gets in a twist when he is up off the ground.
That the horses of the old days never did. I have been judge at
several bucking contests and shows and I would venture to say that
no old-timer could ever have rode those horses with that rigging on
him without first getting used to it.
Another thing, in the old days of the range the good riders tried
to keep their horse from bucking, whereas today they train and teach
them to buck for the shows. So naturally the horse and rider have
There is a great difference between a bronc-rider and a
horse-breaker, or a regular cowboy—and still they are classed as the
same by a great many people. Not saying anything against the modern
bronc-rider, but all he knows about a horse is to ride him while he
bucks. I have seen some the best riders that didn’t have any idea
what a horse should do after he quit bucking, from the fact he
saddles him in a chute and gets on him in there—then he is let out
and the skill he uses is to stay on that horse a few seconds until
the whistle is blown by the time-keeper and the horse is caught by
the pick-up man—and many a time that whistle has saved many a boy
when he was all in. But the poor bronc-fighter has a hard time at
best. He has plenty of competition and they can’t all win and most
of them, if they follow it long enough, wind up broken physically
and financially. So the old saying still goes ... “all it takes to
make a good bronc-buster is a strong back and a weak mind” ... as
all it requires is plenty courage and practice.
But a good horse-breaker really does something. He uses
intelligence and studies the disposition of his horse, as every one
is different and requires different methods—and I wouldn’t attempt
to say which is the best. Some cowboys are natural horsemen and
seemingly without taking very much pains get wonderful results,
while the other fellow will try ever so hard and never get nowhere.
Nearly every state has a different way of starting a young horse.
In Montana the first thing we did with a wild horse was to catch him
by the front feet and throw him down, and take one hind leg away
from him by tying it up so he can’t touch the ground with it (that
way he can’t hurt you or himself). He stands on three legs and if he
tries to kick or fight he usually falls down. After a few falls he
will stand and let you rub him all over his body and legs, and you
can saddle and unsaddle him until he finds he can’t get away from
you and that you aren’t going to hurt him. That was the system I
used and I thought I got very good results.
However, I have seen cowboys use a blindfold on a horse that
worked very well, too—using a soft piece of leather or a piece of
cloth to put over the horse’s eyes and in that way learned him to
stand while they saddled him and got on and off until he gets used
to it. But I always preferred the way of letting the horse see what
was going on from the first lesson.
But that is just a small part of breaking a horse. In the first
place he may have a notion of bucking no matter how careful you have
been in handling him, as there is no doubt some horses inherit those
different bad habits from their ancestors just like humans do, and
if bucking happens to be the favorite way of your horse’s showing
his meanness, the cowboy must be able to ride him, as every time a
horse bucks his man off he is getting that much nearer to being an
outlaw. Then another thing—seldom ever any two horses buck the same.
One will have some different twist from the other one. I have seen
good riders get on a horse that didn’t seem to buck so hard and
would get throwed off. When I used to ride, the hardest for me was
one that bucked and whirled around and around.
But the bucking is usually the small part of breaking a horse or
at least to make him valuable as a cow horse. Most horse-breakers
first start the horse with a hackamore and sometimes never put a
bridle on him for a couple of years and then sometimes he is not
finished, depending both on what kind of a horse and man they are.
I think in the early days in Wyoming and Montana they got much
quicker results with a horse, as they started working cattle with a
young horse as soon as a man could pull him around at all, and there
is no doubt but that is what makes a good horse. They are like
people. One can read forever about learning to do something and will
never learn much until they actually do the work themselves.
There is no doubt California turns out some of the best broke
horses in the world, but the breaking sometimes costs the owner as
much as two hundred dollars. So it can be readily seen that a big
cow outfit like they had a few years back, that had a couple of
hundred saddle horses and worked 25 or 30 men, couldn’t put in two
years breaking a horse or pay two hundred dollars to break him. Even
at that I have seen just as good, if not better, practical cow
horses that never had that much time or money spent on them—but they
worked cattle every day during the six months of the season—and I
contend that’s what makes cow horses and cowboys.
Another difference in the professional bronc-rider is he has his
horse in a chute to handle and saddle him, with plenty of help. The
old-timer had to rope his horse out of a bunch of horses and saddle
him alone and get on him without any help. Then maybe he would
stampede, run over a cut bank or fall down—and he had to be able to
take care of himself.
In the days that I write of there were very few women folks in
the country and a less number of girls, but there was one family who
had one girl of about seventeen years and I thought she was very
attractive. I worked about twenty miles from where she lived and
used to go to see her quite often, but she had two brothers about
eight and ten years old and they were wild as Indians and their main
sport and pastime was riding wild calves and yearlings. The girl was
about as wild as them and usually joined in those bucking contests,
so when I went courting her she wanted me to join in on the fun. As
my every-day work was riding and handling cattle, this kind of sport
didn’t interest me. I was serious and wanted to make love, so those
boys were a great worry to me, as when I wanted to court the girl
the boys wanted to ride calves. One time when I was particularly
interested in talking to the girl they wanted me to go out to the
corral and ride calves, and of course I wouldn’t go, so one of them
suggested I act as a horse and he would ride me. To get rid of him I
consented. He was to get up on my shoulders, put his legs around my
neck and hold on to my shirt collar with his hands. Then I was to
start bucking, which I did. When I got to bucking my best I bent
over forward and threw him off pretty hard and hurt him some. He got
up crying and the girl was laughing at him for being bucked off. He
said, “Well, I would have rode the S.B. if he hadn’t throwed his
head down.” Anyway, I got rid of him for that day and had a chance
to court the girl.
As most any story is not complete without some love and courtship
in it, I am going to write my experience in that matter.
I was married to Claudia Toole in the year 1899. She was a
daughter of Bruce Toole, who was a brother to Joseph K. Toole,
Governor of Montana at that time. Now Bruce Toole was a very fine
aristocratic Southern gentleman and knowing that a cowboy didn’t
usually climb very high on the ladder of culture he didn’t think I
was desirable company for his daughter. So, we had to carry on our
courtship secretly from the old gent, and as about the only
amusement of those days was country dancing and as we all went to
them on horseback (which usually was 15 or 20 miles) we would ride
to a dance. As I could not go to my girl’s home to get her, we would
designate a certain rock or creek out on the range to meet at and
would go from there to the dance. That is where I would leave her
the next morning after the dance. Her father thought she went to
those parties with her brother, who was in on our secret, so in all
our courtship it was unknown to him and it was the shock of his life
when we slipped away and got married.
My wife had a pinto horse of her own that her father had got from
the Indians and given to her and he must have had some fine breeding
back in his ancestry somewhere as he could run like a blue streak. I
usually rode the same horse every time we went out together and the
two horses became very attached to each other. One time I had taken
my wife to a dance and ventured a little closer to her home than
usual. I unsaddled her horse and turned him loose in the pasture and
rode away. Her horse ran along the fence and put up a terrible fuss
about being separated from my horse. My wife’s father saw him acting
up and wondered what in the world was the matter with him, but he
hadn’t seen me. That was one time we nearly got caught in our secret
I was working for a large cattle company and we had a great many
saddle horses. They used to stray away from the ranch quite often
and I used to ride the range hunting them. There was an old German
who had quite a large ranch about ten miles from us, and a good many
cattle and horses. He used to try to keep in contact with me as much
as possible to find out if I had seen any of his stock and to tell
him where they were. So, he used to tell me whenever I was anywhere
near his ranch to come there and eat and feed my horse.
About three miles from this old man’s ranch was an enormous big
rock that one could hide a couple of horses behind very easily and
my wife could get up on the top of the rock and see the whole
surrounding country. That was one of our meeting places and we had a
date one day to meet at this rock at a certain hour. I could always
see her and her pinto horse coming for several miles, so I was at
the rock this day waiting for my girl and the old German was out
riding this day looking after his stock and saw me quite a distance
away and came to where I was. He spoke very broken English and of
course was glad to see me and inquire about his stock. He said,
“Veil, Con—vot you look for?” I told him I had lost a horse and was
hunting for him. He wanted a description of the horse, so if he
found him he could hold him for me. Of course I had to give him an
imaginary description and I wanted to get rid of him as I expected
my girl along at any minute, but he insisted that I should go to his
ranch with him and have dinner and feed my horse. I used every
excuse I could think of—told him I was in a hurry to find the
horse—thought he might be sick and would die if I didn’t find him
right away—but he said, “Come on with me and have dinner and I vill
go mit you and hunt the horse.” Of course, that was just what I
didn’t want. I had a hard time, but finally got rid of him and went
and found my girl.
Some months afterwards, my girl and I were at another rancher’s
place and quite a crowd of people had gathered there that day. The
old German came and in the general conversation he said, “Con, didth
you findth that hos you vos looking fo’ and vos he sick?” I told him
I had found the horse and he was fine. My girl was listening to the
conversation and her face turned as red as a firecracker—of course I
had told her about the meeting with the old man at the rock.
I think everybody has more or less trouble in their courting
days, but it seemed to my wife and I that we had more than our
share. As I said before, my wife’s parents didn’t know we were
keeping company at all—in fact, didn’t hardly know me. There was a
very noted dance coming off about 20 miles from her home that we had
planned to attend, when, lo and behold, a few days before the dance
a very wealthy and refined gentleman (and an old friend of her
father’s) with a fine team and top buggy (which was very rare in
those days) came to her father’s ranch to ask her parents to take
her to the dance. They at once gladly said yes and she in order not
to tip her hand had to consent, and mind you, we were engaged to be
married at this time. Of course, with me not knowing anything about
this transaction it placed her in a very precarious position, and
she had a terrible time getting in touch with me to explain to me
what had happened. It didn’t set too well with me, but in order to
keep everything under control we agreed that she would go to the
dance with this man and I would go alone. I guess the fellow must
have had some suspicion of the way things stood, as he told her the
next day when he was taking her home that he noticed she and I
seemed to feel very much better when we had our first dance
together. He tried to question her about me and told her I didn’t
even own a cabin. She acted very innocent and unconcerned about the
matter, but he must have figured he was out of the race, because he
never came to call on her again.
When we got married we had to steal away like we did when we were
courting. I borrowed a team and spring wagon and we had to drive
forty miles and the snow was about belly deep on the horses. Then we
had to wait over in Shelby until the next day to go to Great Falls.
The job of getting her away from the ranch was the hard part of it.
My wife’s room was upstairs in her home and we agreed that she would
throw her stuff out the window about eight o’clock at night and I
would pick it up and carry it to the wagon I had parked about 100
yards from the house. I didn’t have any idea how much stuff she had
until she began throwing it out—clothes, suitcases, shoes and
everything else that a woman ever wore, and besides, she used to
play the piano and she had great bales of sheet music and every time
one of those bales of music hit that frozen ground it sounded like
someone had shot a high powered rifle and the stuff fell right in
front of a window down stairs and the window curtains were up. Her
father sat reading about ten feet from where I was picking it up. I
would take all I could carry on my back to the wagon and came back
for another load, and as she was still throwing stuff out while I
was gone there would be a bigger pile than ever when I got back. I
believe she would have thrown the piano out too if the window had
been big enough, and the worst part of it was her father had two
bloodhounds and they bellowed and howled every time she threw out a
fresh cargo. It was a very cold night and I wore a big fur overcoat
and every time I bent over to pick up a package they would howl
louder than ever. They thought I was some kind of animal. I tried
whispering to them to get out and keep still and that would bring a
bigger howl than ever. I was watching her father pretty close
through the window and every once in a while he would cock his head
sideways to listen and acted like he was going to get up and come
out, then would settle down and go to reading again. During those
intervals, my heart was sure pounding and I was all sweaty with
fear. I have often heard of people being very nervous when they
placed the bride’s ring on her finger, but I know that is nothing
compared to the ordeal I went through. I forgot, and left a lot of
things around where I loaded the wagon and it snowed a lot after
that. Every time my wife missed something of hers, we would go to
that spot and shovel snow. Neither one of us had any idea of what it
took to set up housekeeping and it is amazing what we bought. One
thing we both agreed on was a carpet, as we intended to move into an
old cabin that had big cracks in the floor. When we got home and
checked our Outfit, it seemed to be mostly carpet. Then I think
every friend we ever had gave us a lamp for a wedding present, so we
had a whole wagonload of carpets and lamps. We had hanging lamps,
floor lamps and lamps to throw away, but hardly anything else in the
way of housekeeping. When we arrived back in Shelby there were about
25 cowboys in town that had come to celebrate Christmas (it being
Christmas week we were married) and they were all at the train to
meet us. Most of them had a good sized Xmas jag on and the different
congratulations I got from that bunch would sure sound funny today
if I could remember them all. They were all old time cowboys that I
had worked with for years. We all went to a saloon to celebrate the
event. Each one would take me aside to pour out his feelings and
congratulations, and give me hell for stealing away to get married
without telling them. Some of the names they called me wouldn’t look
good in print but that was their way of showing their true
friendship. One old bowlegged fellow that I had known from the time
I was a kid had a little more joy juice aboard than the others. He
didn’t have much to say, but stood at the end of the bar and drank
regularly while the celebration was going on. He had one cock eye
and kept watching me all the time until he got an opportunity to
attract my attention. He nodded to me to come over to where he was.
I went over to him and he looked at me silently for a moment and
said, “Well, you’re married, are you?” I said yes, and he asked,
“Did you marry a white woman?” I answered yes, and he said “You done
damn well, but I feel sorry for the girl.” In the meantime, while we
were away getting married, my wife’s father wrote her a letter to
Shelby where we had our team and wagon and told her all was forgiven
and to come home, which we did.
I went to work for him and as he owned plenty of cattle and
horses I seemed to be just the kind of a son-in-law he needed, but
we sure had a supply of carpet and lamps that we didn’t know what to
Con Price and Charlie Russell At Great Falls, Montana (1903)
Charlie Russell with Sandy and Dave At the Lazy KY (1907)
THE LAZY KY
A few years after my marriage we settled on a squatter’s right on
the head of Kicking Horse Creek in the Sweet Grass Hills in Montana.
The land was unsurveyed at that time and one did not know where his
boundary lines were. So one staked off what one thought was about
right and it was respected by most stockmen.
I lived seven years on that squatter’s right and when it was
surveyed I proved up on it at once. The government allowed me from
the time I established my residence. I also had fenced in about
three thousand acres of government land, which I had the use of for
ten years without any cost.
It was quite easy to borrow money those days. So I soon was in
the cattle business for myself.
After some years Charlie Russell came to see me and in our
conversation he asked me if I would like a partner. That suited me
fine, as that would give me some money to work on. So I told Charlie
I would gather the cattle and horses, and he would come to the ranch
and we would count the stock and appraise the outfit.
He said, “You know what there is. You count the stock and
appraise what other stuff you got, and send me a bill, and I will
send you a check.” And when we dissolved partnership and sold out,
we settled the same way. He had great faith in mankind.
Charlie and I built up a very nice little ranch. He and Nancy
both filed on some land adjoining my old place and we run about
three hundred cattle and about sixty head of horses.
Our cattle brand was known as the Lazy KY. Our horse brand was
the letter “T.” It was very hard to get a desirable brand at that
time, as the recorder of brands would not give you a brand you asked
for, but would pick out a brand for you, and if what he sent you
didn’t suit, you sent two dollars more until you got the kind of
iron you wanted.
We had a great deal of trouble getting a horse brand until we got
the letter “T.” Governor Joseph Toole owned this brand in the days
when Montana was a territory, and he had not used it for many years.
A great many people tried to buy it from him, but he would not sell
it, but through his brother, Bruce Toole, who was a cattleman, he
agreed to let us have the iron, and as he admired Charlie’s work
would not accept any pay for it. Also the recorder of brands, in
courtesy to the governor, transferred the brand without cost. So we
owned one of the oldest brands in the state, and as we never
transferred the iron to anyone I believe it still stands on record
in our names.
But Charlie and I started in the cattle business too late to get
the full benefit of the open range. The cattlemen were like the
Indians. At one time they had everything they wanted—free range and
free water—but the sheepmen soon began to squat on the watering
places and it wasn’t many years until they had outnumbered the
There was a general hatred between them, as the cattle wouldn’t
graze or water where there were sheep and the sheep would go
everywhere. That was bad—but was nothing compared to when the
farmers came from the East and homesteaded the land. I seen that
country change in two years from where there was open range
everywhere to where there wasn’t a foot of government land left,
either in Montana or across the Canadian line, and in 1910 we had a
very dry year and had to gather our cattle and bring them home. So
decided to sell out. The farmers filed on every water hole in the
country and they all had dogs, so the cattle didn’t have a chance.
Some of the old-timers hung on for awhile and reminded me again of
the Indians, as they said the farmer couldn’t last and would starve
out and the country would all go back to open range. But when I seen
those farmers raise fifty bushels of wheat to the acre on that
virgin soil I could see the handwriting on the wall.
Course that land soon wore out for raising grain and most of
those settlers sure had a hard time to get by but they are still
there. It never will be a good farming country, but they have ruined
it for the cattleman. They have even drove the sheep out.
One time when the sheep and cattlemen were at war, I knew two
cattlemen that was very hard put by the sheep. They had monopolized
all the free range and water, and as it has always been commonly
understood that saltpeter would kill sheep, they decided to work on
the sheepmen. So they sent away and got one hundred pounds of
saltpeter and as it was a very serious crime to poison the range,
they were very careful. They took the saltpeter in front of a band
of sheep that was grazing on their range. One of them rode next to
the sheepherder so he couldn’t see the sack the other one had on his
horse. Then they cut a hole in the sack and rode slowly in front of
the sheep and distributed the one hundred pounds. One of those
fellows was quite a large cattleman and after the job was completed
he got scared and left that part of the country for about a week so
that in case of an investigation he would have an alibi that he was
not at home at the time of the poisoning.
When he came back he hunted up his partner in crime to know what
luck they had had. He told him the sheep had eat all the saltpeter
and hadn’t killed one of them. He said, “I’ll be damned! I give up.
Those sheep are too much for me.”
The range war got to be very bitter in that locality and I was
very glad to get out. Whenever anyone lost a cow or horse, he blamed
someone for killing it and the feeling got so bitter that it looked
like it was leading up to where someone would get killed, and they
Charlie and I sold out to a man by name of Peter Wagner, and we
had a neighbor by name of Al Pratt. He was very quarrelsome with
everybody. Wagner was quite an old man. Pratt was a young man. He
had chased the old man on horseback several times and once had beat
him over the head with a wet frozen rope, another time had knocked
him off his horse and run over him.
The surveyed road to town went between our house and barn, and in
wintertime the snow drifted so deep it was impassable, and I had
left about an acre of ground open where people went around the
About six months after Charlie and I had sold out to Wagner, one
morning Pratt started to town on this road with a team and
buckboard. When he came to this spot, the old man was there on
horseback, standing on the detour. Pratt started to drive on
Wagner’s land and he told him to follow the county road. Pratt said
the road was impassable and tried to force his team past the old
man, but he grabbed one of the bridles of the team. Pratt struck
Wagner in the face with his buggy whip. Wagner jerked out his gun
and shot Pratt once in the neck, once in the back and three shots
hit the buckboard. Pratt fell out dead.
At the trial I was called as a character witness. The prosecuting
attorney asked Wagner how many shots he fired. Wagner said, “One, to
save my own life.” When he asked him to account for the other four
shots, he said he was riding a hardmouth horse and he tried to run
away at the first shot, and in pulling on his bridle reins with his
left hand he forgot what his right hand was doing, and thought he
must have kept pulling the trigger on his gun. It was an automatic
and, of course, as long as he kept pulling the trigger it kept
shooting, but he couldn’t explain how the gun kept pointing towards
The corpse laid there in the snow for twenty-four hours before
the sheriff and coroner arrived and there was a gun found by the
body. Wagner claimed self-defense. I testified that Pratt had pulled
a Winchester on me once and threatened to kill me—which I think
Wagner was quite wealthy when this happened. He got free but he
was flat broke when he got out.
He had told me several times prior to this incident that he was
deathly afraid of Pratt, which I believe makes a very dangerous man
when he is afraid of another man.
One thing about our neighborhood I never could understand was as
long as the people were very poor they were peaceable and neighborly
but when they got a little prosperous some of them were in court the
We had a justice of the peace nearby and he sure had plenty
business. I listened to one case that seems very amusing to me now.
The judge liked to play poker and when he wasn’t busy with court
duties he was usually in a poker game. This case was between two
ranchers over the cutting of a wire fence. The trial was held in a
little store. Each one acted as his own attorney, also testified in
his own behalf. While one of them was testifying, the other one was
sitting on the store counter, swinging his legs and listening, and
when the other fellow made a statement he didn’t approve of he said,
“That’s a damn lie.” The judge jumped to his feet and said, “Damn
you, you can’t talk that way in this court.”
After the trial the judge took the case under advisement for a
Late that night I met the judge and asked him how the trial came
out and when he told me I expressed some surprise. He said, “Hell,
that other fellow couldn’t win in this court with four aces!”
Charlie used to come to the ranch quite often and enjoyed riding
horseback, but I always had a hard time to convince him the horses
were gentle. We kept about ten head and as I was the only one who
rode them, they were always fat and rarin’ to go, and as when he and
I worked together in the past, I was nearly always riding colts. He
said he didn’t believe I ever owned a gentle horse.
So one time he came to the ranch to file on some land and we had
to ride about fifteen miles. He told me to be sure to give him a
gentle horse and I thought I did. I saddled his horse next morning
and gave him the bridle reins and turned around to get on my horse,
when I heard a terrible noise. I looked around and Charlie was down
on his back with his foot fast in the stirrup, and the horse jumping
and striking at him. I ran and caught his horse and got him loose.
He had lost his hat and his clothes were dirty. He said, “This is
another one of them damn gentle horses you have been telling me
about. Now I have got to ride him fifteen miles with a hump in his
back. I will feel good all day.” I don’t think I tried to get him to
gallop but he said every time he tried to hurry that horse he would
hump up like he was going to buck until he would pull him down to a
He wrote me a letter when he went home and painted a picture of
himself down on his back with his foot fast in the stirrup. He said
it reminded him of a friend of his in Great Falls that sold a man a
horse and told the fellow it was a regular lady’s horse, but had
killed two men in Butte afterwards.
For thirty years, Charlie Russell owned a pinto named Monte that
could almost talk. I don’t believe Monte was ever in a stable until
he was twenty years old. When Charlie quit riding the range and went
to living in town, he built Monte a stable but Monte didn’t like
civilization and would not stay in the stable unless he was tied up,
then he would be very nervous and would never lay down. But after
some time Charlie found out there was only one way Monte would
compromise and that was to leave the stable door open and Monte
would lay down with his head out the door—he took no chances on
being shut in.
Charlie and I had about fifty head of mares at the ranch. That
was of the Mustang Stock. We raised some good tough saddle horses
but in general they weren’t much to look at—pintos, buckskins, all
kinds and colors.
So I began looking for a better grade of a stallion to improve
our herd. I finally contacted a fellow by the name of Jake Dehart
and he told me he had a fine stallion to sell, so I went to look at
the horse. He was a terrible looking sight. He had been neglected,
was sick and badly run down. His legs were swelled up almost as big
as his body. He hadn’t shed his winter coat of hair and looked like
anything but a horse. Dehart showed me the registered papers of the
horse and they were O.K., in fact, he was an imported horse and of
fine breeding. I didn’t know whether I could save the horse or not.
Looked like he might die any time, so I told Dehart I would trade
him a bunch of horses for the stud. We set a date when he would come
to the ranch to look at the horses that I was to trade him. I told
Dehart I thought I could give him about 20 head of horses for his
stallion. Our horses run on the open range and it took several days
to gather them.
When I got them all gathered and in the corral, they were sure a
tough-looking bunch but when I would think about Dehart’s stud the
Mustangs looked the best of the two so I began culling out the worst
ones for Dehart, but he didn’t come on the day agreed on and looking
the culls over I figured there was some too good to give him. Dehart
didn’t come for several days and when he did arrive they were sure a
sorry looking bunch of horses. Some of them crippled, some of them
had been cut in barbed wire, some blind in one eye, some with their
hips knocked down and some locoed. When Dehart did come he walked up
to the corral and looked over the fence at the horses. He said, “My
God, I thought you had better horses than those things. Where are
the rest of your horses?” I told him that was all I had. Of course,
I had got the rest of them out of sight.
Poor Dehart was in a bad spot. He had a lot of money in the stud
and he was afraid he was going to die and it was either take this
bunch of junk or nothing, so we traded. Shortly after I had made the
trade Charlie came up from Great Falls to the ranch to see how
things were getting along and didn’t know I had made the trade.
There was nobody home the day he came. I was out on the range riding
after cattle. This big terrible looking animal was standing in the
corral. When I got home Charlie asked me where I got that mountain
of “beauty.” I told him about the trade. “Well,” said Charlie, “he
is sure a good sleeper. I watched him for an hour in the corral; he
never moved an ear.” Charlie said Dehart must have got me drunk when
I made that trade. I told him if he saw what I had traded for him he
would think Dehart was the one that was drunk.
I doctored that horse and brought him out of his sickness and he
produced the best colts in that country at that time and I later
sold him for $500.00. In another way the trade proved to be very
profitable. I wanted to vent the brand on the horses when Dehart
took them but Dehart said no, he was going to ship those horses out
of the country and didn’t want any more brands on them as it would
hurt the sale of the horses. Instead of doing that, he sold them all
at the railroad station where he had intended to ship them from. It
was about 20 miles from our ranch and in about the middle of our
range where our horses run and where I turned loose the rest of our
horses, after the trade was made and the people that bought the
horses from Dehart turned them loose on the range without either
branding them or venting them. Consequently those horses in a few
days were back on their range mixed up with our bunch without any
way to identify them and all branded with our iron. I told those
people about the matter and tried to get them to get their horses
but they didn’t give it any attention so in a few months I sold all
our horses on the range with the iron. When I sold the horses with
the brand they sure put up a howl. They threatened me with court
action, said they would have me arrested, but they couldn’t do
anything about it as it was their own fault so I figured I got the
stallion for nothing.
One time when Charlie Russell and I were in partnership in the
cow business, I lost some yearling colts and as the country was all
open in those days and no fences, our stock would sometimes stray
two or three hundred miles away from home. So, after about three
years after I had lost those colts I heard of some horses up in
Canada which had my brand on them. I had a neighbor who had lost
some colts about the same time as I had, so we decided to go up in
that country and try to find them. We each took a couple of good
saddle horses and started out. That country was very thinly settled
those days, just a little stock ranch here and there, sometimes
twenty-five or thirty miles apart. As it was late in the fall and
the weather was getting quite cold, we had to make some of those
ranches to camp overnight, on account of horse feed and a place to
One evening we rode into a ranch that a couple of Irish brothers
owned and asked them to stay overnight. They said, “Sure, you’re
welcome as the flowers in May.” Neither of them had ever been
married and did their own housekeeping and cooking. The evening we
got there they had just butchered a beef. We helped them hang it up
in the barn and went to the house to cook supper. It was sure a
dirty looking joint and the brother that cooked supper had his hands
all stained with blood and dirt from butchering the beef. He had to
make bread for supper and didn’t wash his hands, but mixed up the
bread with his hands—blood, dirt and all. But we hadn’t had anything
to eat all day and were plenty hungry, so we ate it and thought it
was fine. We hunted horses all next day and along in the evening
came to what looked like an old deserted ranch where nobody was
home. After making a lot of noise and shouting, a man came out of
the cabin. He was a Mormon and was living alone on this old ranch.
Said he was sick and had been in bed three days and that there was
no food on the place and that he couldn’t keep us overnight.
It looked like a bad storm coming up and we didn’t know any place
to go. We told the man we were going to stay anyway, and as we both
had six-shooters he didn’t argue too much with us. We put our horses
in the old barn and went to the house. The Mormon went back to bed.
We went to the kitchen to see if we could find anything to eat. It
was the dirtiest looking outfit I ever saw in my life. The frying
pans and kettles didn’t look like they had been washed for six
months. We got a fire started and cleaned up things a little and
looked through all the old boxes and found some beans, dried apples
and flour. By ten o’clock that night we had what we thought was a
pretty good meal. I went to the Mormon’s bedroom and asked him if he
wanted anything to eat. He didn’t answer me, but began getting out
of his dirty blankets. He hadn’t even taken his clothes off. We got
him to sit down at the table and he ate more than both of us. After
we got him filled up on food he got to talking quite friendly. He
said he had been a Mormon missionary in some jungle country and had
spent several years converting natives into the Mormon religion. In
listening to his experience as a missionary I couldn’t help
wondering what kind of a job he did, because if there is anything in
the old saying that cleanliness is next to holiness he was sure a
The next morning was very cold and stormy, but we were anxious to
find our horses and our quarters were none too comfortable, so we
bade our Mormon friend goodbye and rode away. He was about 40 miles
from any town and we didn’t see any means of transportation around
there, so we often wondered what ever became of him.
Well, we headed for a big lake about twenty miles from this
Mormon’s place. We heard there was a lot of horses ranging in that
part of the country and there found our horses, so we drove the
whole bunch to an old roundup corral that we had located that day. I
had three horses in the bunch and my partner had one. Those horses
were three years old and were not halter broke. In fact, they had
not had a rope on them since they were yearlings and then were only
caught by the front feet and thrown down to brand them. So, we had
to catch them that way now. We necked them to the extra saddle
horses we had with us and turned them out of the corral and headed
them towards Montana. Just before dark we spotted a ranch and some
corrals so we headed for there. We found a man there who had come
from Michigan and taken up a homestead out on the Canadian Prairie.
He evidently was a man of some wealth as he had spent considerable
money fixing the place up. He wasn’t very keen about letting us stay
overnight. He kept sizing us up and I guess he had heard a good deal
about cowboys and rustlers and thought we were a couple of horse
thieves. We explained our condition to him and told him the
circumstances and that we were a long way from home, so he finally
decided to let us stay.
While this fellow looked like he had considerable wealth, he
didn’t have very much to eat. As he didn’t make any excuses about
it, I think we had his regular bill of fare. He didn’t have any
meat, no butter or sugar or coffee. My partner was a coffee fiend,
and this fellow gave us cold milk for breakfast. My partner was very
blue all that day and said he felt very queer, like the world was
coming to an end or something terrible was going to happen. But that
was because he missed his coffee.
This man charged us ten dollars for very little to eat and a very
poor bed, and as it was not the custom to charge anyone those days
for food it made my partner very mad. When we got our horses saddled
and ready to go next morning, my partner went to the barn and as he
was gone quite a while I asked him what he was looking for. He said
he was looking for something he could steal, to get even with that
old guy, but he said this fellow was so stingy he didn’t have
anything worth taking.
Well, we finally got going back towards home. If the weather had
been good it would have been about two day’s ride, but about ten
o’clock a bad storm came up and by noon it was a real blizzard and
out there on the plains you couldn’t see a thing or know what
direction you were going in, but after wandering around for some
time we came to a coulee that we recognized (Verta Grease Coulee).
It was about 25 miles long and we knew it put into Milk River which
was the direction we wanted to go, also we knew there was a ranch on
Milk River at the mouth of this coulee. We followed this ravine all
day and about night came to the ranch. They welcomed us in and gave
us a good supper and a feather bed to sleep in. It was a terrible
blizzard and I think we would have lost our lives if we hadn’t found
My partner was rather a spooky fellow and had some kind of a
phobia. He was always worrying about a cancer or some other dreaded
disease, so while we were lying in that good warm bed and talking
how lucky we were to find this ranch a funny thought came to me to
give my partner a scare. He had his head covered up and was about to
go to sleep. I nudged him and said, “Bill, I forgot to tell you that
this place was quarantined for Smallpox a short time ago,” and he
made one jump and landed out in the middle of the room and said, “My
God, I would rather go right out into the blizzard than stay here!”
Then I had a hard time to convince him I was joking and I don’t
think he rested very well the rest of the night. He told me
afterwards I gave him the worst scare he had ever had in his life.
We got home the next night and it was a very profitable trip, as
I had found three head of horses I didn’t know I owned.
Somewhere on the trip I had got lousy and I believe I had more
lice on me than any man that ever walked in public, and big ones
too. My wife threatened to make me sleep with the dog, but finally
took pity on me and let me sleep in the house, providing I would
sleep in a room by myself. I don’t know if all Canadian Greybacks
are as big as those were, but I had to boil all my clothes about
three times to get rid of those big tough babies.
MEMORIES OF CHARLIE RUSSELL
I first met Charlie Russell in the fall of the year 1888. He was
night herding beef cattle on the Judith Basin and Moccasin Range
roundup. Charlie was very modest and never claimed to be a great
cowboy, but I noticed the bosses always gave him a very responsible
job, as the cowmen of those days were very particular how the beef
cattle were handled.
We usually started the fall roundup about the first of September
and the gathering and driving to the railroad sometimes took until
the 15th of November. Now from the first day we worked the range, we
cut out some steers fat enough for beef, and those cattle were under
constant herd night and day, and the men were supposed to handle
those cattle so they would gain in flesh while we were holding
them—and any cowboy caught running or roping those steers was fired
at once—and great care was taken to keep the cattle from stampeding.
When we got all through we would have 2,000 or 2,500 head of cattle
in the herd.
I remember a rather amusing story Charlie told me in years after
we had quit working on the range. We were talking about people we
liked and disliked. I said to Charlie, “I always thought you liked
everybody.” He laughed and said, “No. There was one roundup cook I
have never forgiven for what he done to me.” He said, “I was night
herding cattle. One dark night the cattle were very nervous and kept
trying to stampede. Just before daylight my horse stepped in a
badger hole and fell—right in a nice patch of cactus and prickly
pears!” Charlie said he didn’t miss any of those cactus. When he got
up his body felt like a small cactus field. His partner caught his
horse and stayed with the cattle, and Charlie headed for camp. The
cactus was distributed in his body so he couldn’t sit on the saddle,
so he walked and led his horse.
When he got to camp, the cook was starting breakfast. (I knew
this old cook and he was plenty brave.) None of the cowboys were up
yet. Charlie went in the cook tent where there was a lantern and
took off his clothes to doctor himself and pull out some of those
cactus. This old cook never spoke to anyone if he could help it, and
as nobody had any right to come in that cook tent unless the cook
called them to eat, Charlie was taking a privilege contrary to
custom. Anyway the cook evidently did not notice him until he had
all his clothes off and was disgracing his cook tent by undressing
in it. He walked over to where Charlie was, said, “What the hell you
think this is ... a hospital?” He had a big butcher knife in his
hand. He throwed Charlies’ clothes outside and told Charlie to get
the hell out of there too.
Charlie told me whenever he met a new acquaintance and he said he
was a roundup cook by profession, he looked on him with some doubt
as to his being human.
I was associated with Charlie for a good many years and I think I
knew him as well as anybody could, and I think as a man and a friend
he had very few equals. He was a fine Western artist, but Will
Rogers said Charlie would have been a great man if he couldn’t have
painted a fence post. I thing that told the whole story.
Charlie enjoyed telling jokes on himself, which very few people
do. He told me about one time the Captain of the Judith Basin
Roundup sent another cowboy and himself to the Moccasin Roundup to
rep (that was to gather any cattle that had drifted from their home
range). The other man took a violin which he played a little, and
Charlie took some paint and some brushes. The next year the boss of
the Basin Range met the boss of the Moccasin Range and said, “What
was the matter last year? I had a lot of cattle over on your range.
I sent two men over there and didn’t get hardly any cattle.”
The other boss said, “What the Hell could you expect? You sent a
fiddler and a painter over there to act as cowboys.”
All during Charlie Russell’s life as a cowboy he drew pictures
for pastime—sometimes with a lead pencil and sometimes with a paint
brush and even in his earliest and rough work, one could always
recognize the man or horse that he had used for the picture. We used
to wonder at those pictures but he (or us) never dreamed that he was
the making of the greatest Western artist of his day, which I
believe has been conceded by art critics.
The last riding for wages that Charlie did was for the Bear Paw
Pool at Chinook on Milk River. They were a combination of the Judith
Basin Pool that he had worked for several years, but had moved their
cattle across the Missouri River into the Bear Paw country. Charlie
told me the reason he quit punching cows. The last winter he stayed
in Chinook him and some other boys had a cabin that they wintered in
and it was so cold they put on German socks and lined mittens to
cook and eat breakfast, and nearly froze at that. I think it was in
the year 1892 he bid goodbye to the range and saddled and packed his
horses and headed for Great Falls to try his luck at painting. He
told me he had tough going for quite awhile as he did not know the
price to ask for a picture.
I have seen some of Charlie’s pictures that he sold for ten
dollars at that time, that afterwards he sold one to the Prince of
Wales for ten thousand dollars that I couldn’t see a great deal of
difference. I think this money difference was due to his business
manager—his wife, Nancy C. Russell, who certainly deserves great
credit for making Charlie’s name famous. She is in very poor health
at this time (1939) and has suffered for a long time but she has a
great fighting heart and has never said “Whoa” in a bad place.
As a cowboy Charlie Russell was sure strong for cowboy
decorations. As I look back on him now, I can see him, seldom with
his shirt buttoned in the right button hole, and maybe dirty with
part of one sleeve torn off, but his hat, boots, handkerchief and
spurs and bridle were the heights of cowboy fashion. Of course those
were the days when we didn’t get to town only two or three times a
year, but when we did go to town we dressed like millionaires as
long as our money lasted.
When Charlie quit riding and started painting for a living, some
of his friends advised him to change his way of dress and get some
city togs. That he would not do. He never liked suspenders or shoes
and never wore them. He disliked fashion and said it was just an
imitation of someone else. He always wore a good Stetson hat, a nice
sash, and a good pair of boots—even after he had quit the range.
It reminds me of two city men I knew had come to a cow ranch on
business and had an old-time cowboy taking them around. One day they
were discussing the beauties of nature and when each one decided
what he thought was the most beautiful thing he ever saw one of them
asked the cowboy his idea of beauty. He promptly answered, “The
prettiest thing I ever saw was a four year old fat steer,” and he
may have been right, as nature had given the steer everything it had
to make it beautiful in its class, and he knew he was a steer and
was satisfied with his lot and didn’t pretend to be anything but
what he was.
That was the way I knew Charlie. He loved nature and the West and
was Western from the soles of his feet to the top of his head and
had the finest principle and the greatest philosophy I ever knew in
Charlie told me one of the worst troubles he had was some fellow
would rush up to him and say, “Hello, Charlie, I am sure glad to see
you.” Charlie would say, “I am glad to see you, too,” and to save
his life he couldn’t place him. He would talk to him about
everything he could think of, hoping the fellow would say something
that would refresh his memory but usually without any success, and
he said he had to be very careful to not say “No” or “Yes” in the
wrong place and give himself away.
I remember, when I went back to Montana from Cripple Creek,
Colorado, in 1894, I came into town (Cascade, Montana—where Charlie
was living) in a box car, but didn’t tell Charlie how I arrived. In
the few years I was away from Montana, Charlie heard I had been
killed by a horse. I didn’t know anything about that report. So when
I walked into his cabin we shook hands and had quite a talk—and, of
course I thought he knew who I was. He was sitting by the stove
frying bacon and I caught him looking at me in a sort of a puzzled
way and I knew at once he didn’t know who I was. So I said to him,
“You don’t know me.” He said, “Yes, I do.” “Well, who am I then?” He
said, “If I didn’t know Con Price was dead, I would say you was
While I was with Charlie that time, just in fun he had me pose
for him in a stage hold-up. I had a sawed-off shot-gun, big hat and
my pants legs inside my boots. We found an old Prince Albert coat
somewhere that I wore and a big handkerchief around my neck. I
surely looked tough. He sure got a kick out of that model.
Well, he painted that picture in a rough way and didn’t give it
much attention and never gave it any consideration as to value. It
was more of a joke than anything else. I think about two years after
he was married, he went to New York, and in some way this picture
had got mixed up with the rest of his stuff, so it landed in New
York with him.
He said New York was sure tough then for an artist breaking into
the game. He said there was only two classes of people there:
paupers and millionaires, and he had a hard time to keep out of the
But some artist friend loaned him the use of his studio and
Charlie was trying to do a little work and took this old picture
One morning a foreign nobleman came in and was looking the studio
over—mostly the other artist’s work—and he came to this old picture.
After examining it for some time, he said, “How much is this picture
worth?” Charlie said he needed money pretty bad just at that time
and wanted to ask him one hundred and fifty dollars, but didn’t know
whether the old boy would go for that much or not. While he was
hesitating Nancy, his wife, stepped over to where the old fellow was
and said, “This one would be eight hundred dollars,” and the man
said, “Very well, I’ll take it.” Charlie said he nearly fell off his
stool with joy.
After the fellow left he told Nancy, “I’ll do the work from now
on—you will do the selling,” and I believe that bargain held good
until the day of Charlie’s death.
Charlie didn’t like the new set-up. He was a child of the open
West before wire fences and railroads spanned it. Civilization
choked him even in the year 1889 when the Judith country was getting
settled up with ranchers and sheep had taken the cattle range. He
hated the change, and followed cattle north to the Milk River
Country trying to stay in an open range country. He said, “I expect
I will have to ride the rest of my life but I would much rather be a
poor cowboy than a poor artist.” He didn’t know he was graduating
from nature’s school and the education frontier life had given him.
In the fall of 1891 he got a letter from a man in Great Falls who
said if he could come there he could make seventy-five dollars a
month painting, his grub included.
It looked good to Charlie, as he was only making forty a month
riding, so he saddled the old gray and packed old Monty, the pinto,
and hit the trail for Great Falls.
When he arrived in Great Falls he was introduced to a guy who
pulled out a contract as long as a lariat for him to sign. Charlie
wouldn’t sign it until he had tried the proposition out. This fellow
gave Charlie ten dollars on account, saying he would see him later.
After a few days he met Charlie and wanted to know why he hadn’t
started on the work. Charlie told him he had to find a place to live
and get his supplies.
The contract read that everything Charlie painted or modeled for
one year was to be the property of this man and he wanted him to
work from early morning until night. Charlie argued with him that
there was some difference between painting and sawing wood and told
him the deal was off.
He hunted up a fellow he knew and borrowed ten dollars and paid
this fellow that had advanced the money to him. Charlie said he
wouldn’t work under pressure so they split up and Charlie started
out for himself.
He put in with a bunch of cowboys (I was one of them), a roundup
cook, and a broken-down prize fighter. We rented a shack on the
south side of town. Our bill of fare was very short at times as
Charlie was the only one that made any money and that was very
little. We christened the shack and gave it the name of Red Onion.
We had some queer characters as guests. Broken gamblers, cowboys,
horse thieves, cattle rustlers, in fact, everybody that hit town
broke seemed to find the Red Onion to get something to eat. Among
them all it was hard to get anyone to cook or wash the dishes but at
meal time we always had a full house. Along about spring time I got
a job in a cow outfit and I told Charlie. So he said if I was going
away he had an announcement to make to the gang—and in effect it was
that the Red Onion would be closed and go out of business.
I believe it was the Spring of 1889 we met at Philbrook in the
Judith Basin for the Spring roundup and a lot of the boys were
celebrating at the Post Office and store. The postmaster told us
someone had sent him a piece of limburger cheese through the mail.
He didn’t know what to do with it as he didn’t know anyone civilized
enough to eat it, so he gave it to the cowboys who put in a lot of
their time rubbing it on door knobs, the inside of hat bands and
drinking cups. They had the whole town well perfumed. When someone
noticed an old timer that had come to town to tank up on joy juice
and had got so overloaded he went to sleep in the saloon, his heavy
drooping moustache gave one of the boys an idea. A council was held
and it was agreed that he should have his share of the limburger
rubbed into his moustache under his nose. Being unconscious, old
Bill slept like a baby in a cradle while the work was done.
Next day Charlie Russell saw him out back of the saloon, sitting
on a box and looking very tough. He would put his hands over his
mouth, breath into them, drop them and look at them and shake his
head. Of course, Charlie knew what was the trouble as he had helped
to fix him up the night before. Charlie went over to him and asked,
“How are you stacking up today?” Old Bill looked at him in a kind of
a daze and shook his head. “Me? I’m not so good.” Charlie asked,
“What’s the matter, are you sick?” “No-o-o not more than usual, I’ve
felt as bad as this a thousand times. But—oh God—” then he covered
his face again with his hands. After a few seconds he slowly lowered
them, shaking his head and groaning, “Oh, it’s something awful, I
Charlie very much in sympathy with him said, “What seems to be
the matter, Bill?” “Damned if I know, but I’ve got the awfullest
breath on me. ’Pears like I am plum spoiled inside. You can tell the
boys my stay here on earth is damn short. Nobody could live long
with the kind of breath I’ve got on me. Oh, oh!” Then he would
breathe into his hands again, saying, “Oh God!”
I believe he would have died if they hadn’t told him what was the
All the years I knew Charlie, I never knew him to go to church
(although I know he was a real Christian at heart) but there was an
old time preacher, a Methodist by name Van Orsdell. He preached in
cow camps, school houses or anywhere that he could get even a few
Brother Van told me when he graduated from the ministry he came
up the Missouri River on a steam boat to Fort Benton. He had a very
good voice. He said he sang hymns to pay his fare. That must have
been in the early 1870’s. When I knew him first, he used to ride
horseback through the country and hold services, and he was sure
loved by everybody. I listened to one of his sermons in the cow
country and there was quite a sprinkling of cattle rustlers in that
locality and I remember in his talk he told us if we would do as God
wanted us to do we wouldn’t need a fast horse and a long rope.
He told us he overtook a bull whacker (a freighter) pulling a big
hill out of Fort Benton one time. Brother Van was riding a horse and
he followed along behind this fellow and the language he used for
those cattle was sure strong. He said the fellow called each steer
by some religious name with an oath after it, such as Methodist,
Baptist, Presbyterian, and so forth.
When the bull whacker got to the top of the hill, Brother Van
asked him what was the idea of giving those cattle such religious
names. The man said, “It’s appropriate. For instance, there is old
Methodist—when I unyoke him he walks out a little distance and paws
on the ground, gets down on his knees and balls and bellers just
like a Methodist preacher. Then there is that old steer I call
Baptist. If there’s a water hole anywhere, he will find it and get
into it and throw water all over himself—and old Bishop there, he
leads all the other steers.” He had a religious name appropriate for
each steer. Brother Van got a kick out of that.
Brother Van was a very devout Methodist and one time he and
Charlie were discussing religion, Charlie said he didn’t believe in
so many branches of religion and said he thought the people should
have a general roundup and make them all one. Brother Van said,
“That’s a fine idea, Charlie, and make it Methodist.”
One time at Malta, Montana, when we were shipping cattle, a
cowboy got killed. He was riding a young horse and the train came by
and this horse got scared and run away with this boy. It ran into a
wire fence and hit the wires just high enough on his legs to cause
him to turn a somersault and land squarely on top of the boy and
broke his neck. Brother Van preached a sermon over that boy’s body.
When I look back at it now, it seems to me the boy’s body was laid
out in an old store and I think there were about twenty cowboys with
their chaps and spurs on and the old time cowboy was a rather queer
kind of a mixture of human nature. Sometimes he drank whiskey to
celebrate and have a good time; other times he drank when he was
blue. I guess to try to raise his spirits. Anyway, this morning
quite a number of them had taken on quite a load of the old joy
juice. When the sermon started, Brother Van preached a very forceful
sermon and the tears rolled down his old cheeks like rain drops and
in looking around after that sermon was over there were very few dry
faces among that tough old bunch of waddies and they were all as
sober as if they never had a drink.
Speaking of batching, some people of this day may not know what
it means. But for us cowboys it meant this: four or five of us would
get together in the fall of the year and get a cabin in some little
town, buy some groceries and go into winter quarters, and everybody
cooked according to his liking and if anybody didn’t like the way
one fellow cooked he could cook to suit himself.
I remember one winter a bunch of us batched together and there
was a great variety of tastes. One fellow loved maple syrup and
lived mostly on that and a little bread ... but mostly syrup.
Another old-timer wanted to put bacon in everything he cooked. He
said it gave the cooking “tone” (he meant flavor). He spoiled most
of his cooking for the rest of us. I believe if he would try to make
a cake he would have put bacon in it. I liked hard-boiled potatoes;
nobody else did, so that was my specialty. Charlie Russell was the
coffee and hot cake man. We all agreed he had no equal in those two
One time we had a Christmas dinner and in some way got a chicken
(I don’t want to remember how we got it) and we held council as to
how it would be cooked and, of course, the old-timer came forward at
once with his bacon idea. But we told him the chicken was old and
tough and we would have to boil it. That didn’t make any difference
to him, as he said any way a chicken was cooked it had to have bacon
in it to be good and to give it tone. Anyway he won out and the
bacon was put in. Really I think there was more bacon than chicken.
Charlie Russell volunteered to make some dumplings, which sounded
good to everybody, but for some reason unknown to all of us, the
dumplings turned to gravy and we had to eat them like soup with a
spoon. Charlie himself didn’t boast about those dumplings but his
alibi was Bill’s bacon ruined the whole mixture. I don’t know as to
the truth of that statement as I never knew Charlie to make
One time I was in Great Falls, Charlie was circulating a petition
to get an old-time cowboy out of the penitentiary. He had been sent
up for rustling cattle and had served about four years. Charlie
asked me to go with him on his rounds, and I did.
We called on people for several days and there was not a man or
woman turned us down, until we met one of the wealthiest men in
Great Falls. He read the petition and handed it back and said, “He
can rot in the pen as far as I am concerned.” Then he began to
criticize Charlie for circulating the petition. There was where he
made a mistake and the things he told him must have cut pretty deep
into his feelings.
Charlie said, “If you don’t want to sign the petition, that’s
your business, but don’t you roast me. I knew this man. He was once
my friend. I don’t approve of what he done, but he has a wife and
two children praying for his release and he has been punished enough
already.” Then he looked him in the eye and said, “You know, Jim, if
we all got our just dues, there would be a big bunch of us in the
pen with Bill.” I thought I could see the old boy’s whiskers tremble
because he knew what Charlie meant.
I have never forgotten what Charlie said when we left this
fellow. He said justice was the hardest, cruel word that ever was
written. He said if all the people that were crying for real justice
got it, they would think they were terribly abused and would not
want it and would find out they wanted a little mercy instead.
While Charlie and I were partners, he got an attack of
appendicitis and someone told him to stand on his head and walk on
his hands and knees and it would cure him. He said he tried that
cure until his head and knees were so sore he couldn’t perform
So he finally made an appointment with the doctor for an
The morning he went to the hospital his wife, Nancy, was with
him. When they dressed him for the operating table (he called it
putting a set of harness on him) Nancy was very much frightened and
looked like she might break down under the strain. So to quiet her,
he began to tell her how simple the operation was and that he didn’t
mind it at all and started to roll a cigarette, but his hands got to
shaking so bad the tobacco all fell out of the paper and, of course,
Nancy noticed that and it really made matters worse than if he had
After he had gotten over the operation, he had some very severe
pains. One day when the doctor came to see him Charlie asked him if
he had lost any of his tools. When the doctor asked why he thought
so, he said he was sure he had some of them sewed up inside of him.
There was an old doctor in Great Falls told Charlie and me a
rather amusing experience he had about that time.
There was a fellow came through the country and camped in several
places around Great Falls and one day he murdered a whole family and
throwed them in the river. The officers finally arrested him and had
him in jail awaiting trial. During that time he killed himself and
he was buried in the paupers’ graveyard.
This doctor told us he had a great curiosity to know what a human
brain and head was like that would kill those people without any
known motive. For some reason, Doc could not get the body and as he
didn’t like the idea of prowling around the graveyard at night, he
chose one cold, rainy morning to go out and dig this fellow up. It
took him quite awhile to get him out of the ground, and as he had
just a small buggy to carry him in, he had to break the coffin open
and put him in a gunny sack.
Doc said while he was working on the corpse the sun came out and
the weather cleared and he thought everybody in Great Falls went for
a ride or walk. There was people all around him and looking at him
rather queer, and he was afraid he would be arrested for a grave
robber, but he finally got to town without anybody seeing what he
Doc’s entrance to his office was on Main Street, and no other way
to get in. So he drove into an alley back of his place. There was a
Jew running a pawn shop there facing onto a side street. So Doc took
his sack with the corpse and went in the back way of the Jew’s store
and dropped it in his woodshed, and went into the front where the
proprietor was standing behind his counter.
Doc slipped up to the counter and whispered, “Sol, I left a stiff
in your shed back there. I will get him when it gets dark.” He said
the Jew’s eyes began to grow large and said, “Vat’s a stiff?” Doc
said, “A dead man.” The Jew began to scream and was attracting
people on the street. He said, “My God, my God, take him out of
here! I will be arrested for murder!” Doc whispered to him to hush,
but he hollered still louder, so Doc picked up his sack, put it on
his shoulder and walked up the main street into his office. He told
us he was sure relieved when he got that corpse in his back room.
He had the skull on his desk when he told us the story and said
whenever he looked at it, it reminded him of one of the most
strenuous days of his life.
While I was working for the DHS outfit, I think it was in 1896, I
got a letter from Charlie Russell telling me he was married. He said
the gospel wrangler had caught him and necked him. The word
“necking” didn’t mean then what it does now. We would sometimes have
a wild horse that we couldn’t hold in the bunch and every chance he
got he would run away and we would lose him. So it was the horse
wrangler’s job to catch this horse and with a short piece of rope
tie him to a gentle horse, and the old horse would lead him wherever
he went. He had to eat and sleep and go where the gentle horse went.
So Charlie said he was necked and didn’t think he would get away
for awhile, and gave me a pressing invitation to come and see him,
and I wrote him the day I would be there and the train I would be
But something happened and I was a day late. Charlie met me at
the train. After we had visited for a little while several other
boys joined us and we were enjoying our general talk. Charlie turned
to me and said, “What happened you didn’t come yesterday?” He said,
“When the train arrived I was at the depot and looked on the blind
baggage car, on top of the train and down under the cars and the
brake rods.” The conductor knew Charlie and said, “What are you
looking for, Russ?” Charlie said, “I told him I had a letter from a
friend of mine that he would be on this train and I come to meet
That was the first time I knew he knew I had got out of that box
car several years before in Cascade.
I recall one time I was breaking horses close to the town of
Cascade, Montana. I would ride a colt into town nearly every day.
A blacksmith and a barber got heckling each other about riding
broncs. The blacksmith bet the barber four dollars he would ride the
first horse that I rode to town. Charlie Russell was stake holder.
I didn’t know anything about this bet until I had come to town
and both parties tried to find out the merits of the horse—whether
he would buck or not, and as I knew the stake money was going to be
spent for drinks, I told each one a different story—the blacksmith
he wouldn’t buck, the barber he would, so as to be sure to have the
bet go as the blacksmith was a little scared, but he was a big,
powerful young man and the horse was rather small, he took a chance.
The bet was he had to ride the horse to the livery stable and
back, which was about two blocks.
He got on. With a death-grip, with the reins in one hand and the
other on the saddle horn, he started and was getting along
fine—going slow—when a stock man by name H. H. Nelson started by him
going home. He had a big canvas overcoat on and could not resist the
temptation to shake his coat as he rode by the bronc—and down went
the bronc’s head. I think the first jump the saddle horn hit the
blacksmith in the eye, and the next jump he was on the ground.
Somebody caught the horse and helped the blacksmith up.
He said, “That is all right. I have lost this bet, but I will
make another one—I will whip Nelson the first time he comes to
We sure had a great time spending that eight dollars and I think
everybody else spent all they had besides.
We named that “A quiet day in Cascade,” and Charlie drew a
picture of it, with chickens and dogs and everything running in all
directions and some old man with a cane trying to get out of the
I remember a very amusing incident on a roundup. We had been out
on the range for about three months, and nobody had shaved. We came
into a little town (a shipping point) and when we had got the cattle
all loaded on the train, we found out there was a barber shop in
town, so we all patronized it, but there was one stingy old fellow
in the outfit that wouldn’t spend a quarter to get shaved, so when
we got started back on the range, he felt out of place, as we were
all shaved and slicked up. He asked if there was anyone in the
outfit that could shave him. I told him I could. Now I had never
shaved a man in my life, the cook had an old razor in the Mess box,
and God knows when it had been sharpened, (we had no safety razors
those days). I started in on him, of course his beard was full of
sand and dust, and I used cold water and lye soap to make the
lather. When I got to working on him, the blood followed the razor
wherever I touched him. We didn’t have any mirror so he couldn’t see
himself bleed. The boys would ask him occasionally how he was
getting along, he said the razor pulled a little but Con was doing
fine. Charlie Russell was laying on his belly looking at the
performance, and he laughed till the tears rolled down his cheeks.
When I got through with him he looked like he had broke out with the
small pox. He picked scabs off his face for several days, he didn’t
complain, but he never asked me to shave him again. Nobody felt
sorry for him because he never was known to buy a drink, and he had
three thousand dollars in the bank, which was a big fortune to a
As I grow older there are rather strange thoughts come to my mind
about cowboys and cow people. I have mingled with most all classes
of the human race and I have some very true and sincere friends
among all classes—but I don’t believe there is any other people in
the world that was as intimate and friendly on short acquaintance as
the old time cowboy and cowman.
They would fight among themselves and some of them would steal
from each other but let one of them get in a tough spot and his clan
would come to his rescue when everybody else had throwed him down, I
was on a roundup on the Moccasin range in Montana in the year 1888
and a small rancher lost a milk cow. He had come to the round up to
ride with us for a few days to try to find his cow. The next morning
we left camp about daylight and hadn’t went a mile from camp when
his horse fell and broke the man’s leg above the knee. We got the
bedwagon and fixed some blankets in it the best we could and drove
him 20 miles to a doctor. The boys raised three hundred dollars for
that fellow ... and none of them had ever seen him before that day
he came to camp.
There was an old-time cowboy and cowman—lived at Gilroy,
California, that I knew for twenty years. His name was Ed Willson.
He is dead now—but when I recall the many kindnesses he extended to
me in those years I knew him, it has burned a brand on my memory
that time cannot blot out. He was as rough and tough as a grizzly
bear, and to know him on the surface meant you didn’t know him at
all. My wife and I had eaten Christmas dinner with him and his
family for several years and he had planned for it again the year he
died. He had been quite sick for a long time but came to see me on
the sand of December with an invitation to come again to the
Christmas dinner. I was sick in bed and told him we would come if I
was able, but I got worse and on Christmas day could not get up. He
was also in bed on that day—but when noontime came and we didn’t
show up he had his wife, Pal, fix up a tray of turkey dinner and
bring it in and show it to him. He smiled and said, “that ought to
cure the old son-of-a-gun.” He had it sent three miles to my home.
He died a few days after. I never saw him after he came to give me
the invitation. That is just one of the many kind considerations
that the old-time cowboy had for the other fellow—and I believe if
they were organized they would be the greatest fraternity on earth.