Yellowstone County Miscellaneous

Alice McCleary – Travel to Coulson

(Mrs. John Schock)

Revised 5 February 2002 Clarified travel details


Alice is referred to simply as Mrs. Schock, wife of the Ferry owner and operator in Coulson. Her tale of travels from England to Utah, and on to Coulson describes some of the hardships early pioneers had to endure. It helps establish a timetable on the arrival dates for other settlers in the Yellowstone County area. [The article was extracted and compiled from a series of Billings Herald & Gazette articles as told by Alice to the reporters (dates not listed) about 1930.]

Alice was born 29 October 1852 in Liverpool, England, and died in Billings on 13 May 1932. At time of her death she resided at 310 North 14th Street in Billings. Her parent’s were William McCleary, born in Londenary, Ireland; and mother was Ellen Billion. Her paternal grandfather was a sea merchant, dealing in African trade, and lost at sea. Her father left the family when she was ten years old to become a seaman. While serving on a British Man-of-War, he was badly crippled from a broken mast. He returned home and for a while was having a difficult time to find work. A shoemaker took him under his wing and taught him the trade. The shoemaker was a Mormon, and soon William became convinced that this was the true life for himself and family. Shortly thereafter all converted to the Later Day Saints religion, and William who was a very heavy drinker and smoker gave them up. At age 16, along with 99 other immigrants she left England and traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, arriving in September 1869. She had an uncle who arrived there a few years earlier, and settled in a fruit valley where he grew peaches. Alice and one of her sisters worked about a year in her church’s bishop’s home. It was here that she met James H. Reed, stagecoach worker.  They were married, and for several years lived in the area. Construction of the railroad in Salt Lake City ended the need for a stagecoach, thus his job. After that he was employed by the Northwest Stage lines at Summit (near the Utah and Idaho border), and placed in charge of their stock. This lasted until April 1877 when they heard that gold had been discovered in the Black Hills, and immediately decided to try their luck.

The Reeds, along with Thomas Nicholson and William Ferguson and their families, started on a long trek to the Black Hills, Deadwood area. They went through Ogden, on to the Green River, then to Deadwood. At Green River the water level was so high that the ferryboat had been swept away. They waited until the water receded sufficiently so that they could cross the river with their wagons. During their travels they passed several places where the Indians had camped less than a week earlier. One camp contained a number of sweat lodges. They also passed a stage barn that was burned, and an abandoned stage that was broken.

At Deadwood, things were not what they expected. Times were “dull”, and miners were selling their holdings at half of they were worth. They continued on to Centennial Prairie, three miles away, where they found 80 other emigrant families camped. James Reed had brought along some farming tools and found a chance to make some money cutting hay in a meadow about a mile away. One person mowed, another raked, and the third hauled the hay to Deadwood where it sold for $20.00 a ton.

At Centennial Prairie word reached the settlers that the Indians had killed a family of five women and children near by, and they were quite excited as a result of the news. After a short stay in this place, the emigrants decided to leave and travel as a group to the west. Some members were lured by the talk of gold in the Big Horn Mountains. Another man, named Wustum, told how it was possible to raise big crops without irrigation in the Yellowstone Valley. The Reeds and ten other families decided to go there. The Fergusons remained behind. A man named Captain Burnham who had considerable experience on the plains was chosen captain. He showed others how to make a coral of the wagons, with the tongues all in the inside, and to dig rifle pits for protection at the different encampments. He divided the men into four companies, A, B, C, and D. Each night 25 men were put out as scouts.

 On the third day out, while camped on the Redwater, about 2 am in the morning, they heard someone yell “Friend or Foe?” Shooting began on a bluff and soon five cowboys came riding in, drawing fire from the surrounding Indians who were planning to attack the camp. There was a large rifle pit near the Reed wagon, and Mrs. Reed, wrapped a blanket around her and crawled into the pit. Soon it was crowded with women and children from 16 families. About 10 am the Indians began whooping and yelling as they tried to stampede a bunch of cattle and drive them among the horses tied along a bank below the pits. Captain Burnham urged the men not to get excited and direct their energy toward the fighting. Some of the shots came close, and a Dutchman with a magazine gun who had several narrow escapes from bullets exclaimed: “That Indian has got a gun just as good as I have, and he is looking right at me.” Finally the Indians drew off and crossed the river. They were seen to be carrying one of their men, who from the blood tracks, had been badly wounded. A horse was also found which had been shot in the head. Mrs. Nicholson was wounded in the foot while sitting at the door of her wagon.

Shortly after the attack some men with two-wheeled carts came in and told of finding some hunter’s cabins that had been broken into, and hides and buffalo robes destroyed and the food taken. These men were on their way to Deadwood and some men with two wagons to return with them. When they reached the flats about a mile from camp, the Indians rode down and attacked them. The Indians knelt down, holding their horses by a line over their arm as they shot. One young fellow came running back from the wagons with three Indians in pursuit. Eight or ten men from the camp rushed out to help. The fellow dropped his gun in the fighting and the Indians closed in for the kill. When they saw the men from the camp rushing out they stopped and left the area. The bodies of the four men who left were found scalped and literally shot to pieces, along with several dead horses. The sides of the wagon boxes were riddled with holes. Another man, with the train, was a reporter who got out of the range of the guns, but one bullet went through the brim of his straw hat, and another through its crown. He ran to a cabin with portholes and stood off several Indians. Men from the camp discovered him awhile later. There was one dead Indian in the front. “Don’t be afraid of that man, he is a good Indian,” he told him. Somehow or other news of the attack reached Deadwood that the camp was surrounded by Indians. The next afternoon 25 men came over the hills. Through field glasses it could be seen that they were whites with saddled horses, and cheers went up as they rode into camp.

That night the emigrants traveled three miles to a little town of Spearfish, and on to Belle Fourche. A number of Deadwood residents remained with the party, including Dr. W. A. Allen (future Coulson & Billings’ dentist and horseshoer.) He was made second in command to Captain Burnham. At Belle Fourche three men went out to cut hay. One, a heavy-set man, went up a hill with field glasses. A band of Indians came up from behind and shot him in back of the head. The other two became separated as the Indians looted their wagons. One of them, a boy of 16, hid in a haystack. The other after searching vainly for his companion, made his way back to camp. A party went out and found the dead man’s body, rolled it in a blanket, and five or six others searched the haystacks for signs of the boy, but there was no response. About 10 am the next morning the party saw someone running pell-mell from the vicinity of the haystacks like a whirlwind. He appeared to be running blindly, as though he didn’t know where he was going. It was the lost boy, and he was beside himself. After learning that he was hiding in a haystack, they asked him why he hadn’t answered. He said he heard no one except the Indians prowling about. They kept calling me “Bill.” “I don’t know how they knew my name, but I was too wise to answer them!”

The group traveled on to the Big Horns without any more Indian trouble. From there they went to the Powder River and across the upper part of the Tongue River and other streams until they reached the Little Big Horn. Sometimes a wagon wheel would break and it was necessary to place a timber pole under an axle until it could be repaired. At other places it was necessary to put on brakes on logs or to use ropes to let a wagon down a steep hill. There were difficult streams to cross and occasional miry places would be reached where the wagons would get stuck. Alice recalled a prank she pulled on a particularly bossy woman. She let the brakes loose on the wagon she was riding in when going down a steep hill!

There was plenty of fun, too, as the big party traveled leisurely along the way. Game was plentiful and there was good hunting and fishing. There was an Italian family who composed a band, and the company had a schoolteacher and a preacher. The preacher left after the Black Hills episodes. Captain Burnham had two cows in his outfit and sold milk. Another outfitter had a wagon drawn by two cows and two horses.

During the trek, before reaching the Big Horns, Mrs. Reed (Alice) was asleep in the wagon (with the horses hooked up to the wagon) while her husband got up and left separately to look for signs where the road forked. A pack outfit belonging to Mr. Wustum came along and the rattling of pots and pans from his wagon scared the horses. They started to run over a road cut through some timber. Alice was awakened by the jolting wagon. Pushing back the curtain in front to see (where she was going) she braced her feet underneath some boards, and reached down to retrieve the traces. She checked the horses on the verge of a precipice.

At the Big Horns the company separated for various destinations. Mr. Brown had a contract to put up hay at the newly built Fort Custer. He had 16 head of Missouri mules in charge of a man named Brewer. Two men, called Burnstein and Brewer had brought a load of liquor across the plains, intending to establish themselves at some mining town. The Reeds and Nicholsons left with these two outfits and started down the Big Horn, traveling for two days. Reed had been promised a place as cook with the haying party. That night some Indians ran the horses and mules off and the men started after them. They followed Wolf Creek finding where the Indians had trailed the horses and mules in the water, and finally driven them onto a flat. They had just discovered the horses when an Indian on bareback got to the animals and began driving them on. Reed’s horses dropped out and soon, the Burnstein and Roper horses, but they continued after the mules. They got to some tress and were pressing closely when they saw the Indian wave a blanket to about 50 Indians encamped in a valley below, and they immediately astir. The three men found a buffalo wallow not far from the trees and they were determined to stand off the Indians. Aiming at the Indian’s horses they dismounted the first few who attacked. Roper was sitting up, in tailor fashion, shooting Indians until he was shot in the heart. Reed and Brewer remained there all day, warding off the Indian attacks. When darkness came they crept away on hands and knees to some rocks. From there they could see the Indians were having a war dance. On the way back they heard someone coming up behind them and they hastily concealed themselves. The Indians rode on by, on the captured horses. The next day they went to Fort Custer to report the attack. A force was sent out and the mutilated body of Roper and his papers were recovered.”

Seeing their team gone, Alice and James sold all of their goods and took“freight” toward Bozeman. They reached Stillwater (Countryman’s place) before September 1877, got off. Alice worked as a cook and housekeeper in the stage store. This at the time the Nez Perce attacked Coulson. After the Nez Perce fight was over, Ed Forrest (Canyon Creek), asked the Reeds to come and settle there. They went first to Park city, then Rapids, but didn’t like either place. Moving on to Coulson, they settled there, with James (husband of Alice) working in the sawmill. He soon quit that job and operated the ferryboat at the east end of the valley. He could not make any money at the job because Hoskins and McGirl, who operated the ferry at Pryor Creek, were competitors that used “creative” marketing to get settlers to use their ferry. McGirl put up signs and told travelers from the east to take the right hand road, which led to their ferry,

James then got a job carrying mail between Coulson and Fort Custer. After two years of carrying mail, he fell into a creek freshet and died a month later from effects of the exposure. His young widow (Alice) supported herself at Coulson for over a year by washing clothes for 60 men, until 1881. She carried water from the river in buckets until Perry McAdow arranged for men to get her a barrel. She charged a quarter for washing and a quarter for a bar of soap. On April 27 1881, in Coulson, she married John Schock, who operated the ferry at the time. Justice J. P. Bradley performed the ceremony, first in the new area. John had arrived in early 1877, following Perry McAdow and John Alderson, and settled on the remaining land in Section 34, north and adjacent to Alderson’s. [This is the location where the NPR and freeway cross the river, and where the fairgrounds is located.] He received Patent to the land on 20 August 1886. John Schock operated a ferry until his death on 9 October 1909. Alice was given Muggin’s Taylor’s bugle that he found at the Custer Battlefield site. Alice and John had six children.

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Katy Hestand
Yellowstone County Coordinator

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