Powder River Examiner -

30 Years Ago

From the Examiner Files


November 8, 2018

The first article was featured in the Thursday, November 10, 1988 Examiner, and features headlines from the same timeframe in 1899 – which in 1988 would celebrate the 99th Anniversary of Montana as a state. The following article speaks about old trails found in the region, and was also featured in the Nov 10, 1988 Examiner.


WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 - 11 a.m. - President Harrison signed at 10:45 a.m. the proclamation admitting Montana as a state in the American Union: “By The Powers Invested in Me, I Now Declare That The Territory Of Montana Shall Be From This Date On Called The ‘State Of Montana’, So Help Us God!” - Benjamin Harrison, President, Nov. 8, 1889.

This was the message sent on the morning of November 8, 1889, the announcement to the world of admittance of Montana as the 41st state in the Union.

And now on November 8, 1988 Montana announces the beginning of a year of celebration, which will conclude on November 8, 1989 with a big “100-year birthday party” at the state capitol in Helena.

Old Trails

In the fall of 1888 the southern portion of Custer County, Montana Territory, which is now Powder River County, was anticipating statehood; or “states rights” - the right to pay taxes.

There weren’t many cattle left to pay taxes on after the winter kill of 1886-87. There was nothing even faintly resembling a town. There were no bridges over the Powder River. There was no industry other than trapping, grazing stock on the good grass of the former native’s “mother earth.”

There were only a few permanent ranch and farm residents. They were employing and raising a smattering of orphan young people, feeding out-of-work cowboys who rattled their spurs about, and providing safe harbor for travelers.

There was nothing at the present site of Broadus but a Niobrara Cattle Company line cabin and, perhaps, a holding corral for horses.

The area comes to life in the 1884 United States Gaw survey through trails and roads which followed the old Indian and buffalo trails, however, the roads were apparently just as well-known then as they are today. And even more important considering that it took all day to travel the distance of 45 minutes of today, with water and shelter at the end of the ride or drive an important consideration; even a matter of life and death.

But no taxes were paid on the roads just as no taxes were used to lay them out.

A land-grant railroad, the Northern Pacific, might have been a significant taxpayer had they patented the lands granted to them by the July 2, 1864, Act of Congress, prior to that time. Local abstractor Sheila Trumps said that most of the NP patents here were filed after statehood insofar as she has noticed. (The NP history is scattered through bits of information from archives, books and historical publications in accounts that would fill a book.) Sufficient for the time is the fact that NP - now Burlington Northern and/or its subsidiaries own the equivalent of nearly 10 townships of gas, oil, mineral and coal rights in the county. NP was granted “twenty alternate sections per mile, not mineral, on each side of said railroad line, as Company may adopt, through the territories from Lake Superior to Puget Sound…” (Abstractors and lawyers are still puzzling over that “not mineral” as the minerals definitely went with the grant).

In 1889 only a handful of patents had been given on the 160 acre tracts opened for filing in the Congressional Act of 1862 which offered “160 acres of public land to individuals who would reside on and cultivate the land for five years.” There was not much tax base there.

By 1888 some beautiful horses were beginning to emerge from crosses between the local wild stock and Texas mustangs through use of the high bred studs of different breeds at the Army Forts. Some immigrants had also featured good work or saddle mounts in the possessions they brought - often prized above all else and property which could not only walk its way in but serve as the means of transportations to arrive at all. Several ranches besides the Wallop headquarters on Otter Creek were “Horse Ranches.”

And the trails which crossed and crisscrossed this portion of Custer County were alive with riders and freight wagons… quite an improvement from the travel of those who trod them on foot - dated back to 11,500 years ago in the new Milliron archeology dig.

The Ft. Keogh Notebook (Montana Historical Archives) states that a proposed railroad had been surveyed on the old trail, “from Bismarck down the south side of the Yellowstone River to the junction with the Powder River and thence south down the Powder to the Wyoming line,” in the early ‘80s.

The Ft. Keogh - Deadwood military, stagecoach, telegraph line, and proposed railroad, route has received the most publicity of that day. It is clearly marked on the 1884 survey (courtesy of Dave Walter, State Historical Archives research librarian) and stopped overnight at Powderville, (1883) one of the three official post offices here in 1888.

The most plainly marked trail from Powderville shows why “Graham” was a natural for unofficial postal service after the line began, also. There was a Graham Cattle Ranch about 12 miles north of Powderville, near the later county line and on the Powder River trail. About 52 miles south, following first the same trail running south to the junction with the Little Powder River and then south to the Graham and Johnson Cattle and Horse Ranch at the mouth of Ranch Creek, and then on south to the Johnson and Graham Cattle Ranch between Trail Creek and Duck Creek, still on the river trail.

On that trail, for overnight stopping, were seven Scott and Hanks line cabins (with their headquarter ranch on Tongue River); Hauser’s Cattle Ranch, New York and Lawliss, Dows, Goodwins, Ferdon and Biddle, Edwards sheep Ranch and that is all. Except that most of the river tributary creeks were traced and some of them named - like Timber Creek - in 1884 or earlier.

That time of mail service was short, however. By 1894 Graham was an official post office and mail came on another old trail, from Gillette.

The trail in this half of Custer County Territory which served most people, and staggers the imagination, was the Miles City-Pumpkin Creek freight road, used extensively in the 1870’s, interrupted at intervals by objection of the natives, which ended at the mouth of Bloom Creek on the Powder River just above the Gay Ranch. That spot was marked in conversation as the “end of the Miles City freight road.”

Actually, it joined the Powder River trail south into Wyoming, but was known from there more familiarly by a Wyoming destination.

The Pumpkin Creek trail boasted two new post offices, Stacey in 1888 and Franklin in 1889. But mail had been coming down this route for years. A well-marked trail coming from the northwest crossed this road and came to the Powder River from Stacey. This west end of the area was considered fully settled by 1889.

There were 15 Niobrara Cattle Company line cabins spacing from across the (later) county line on the Mizpah and South up the Powder for comfortable lodging in traveling - not much else in ’84 until the Tibbit’s Ranch at the mouth of Bloom Creek, Pickering-Lewis farther up and Frewen’s Horse Ranch at the mouth of Bitter Creek.

From Bitter Creek a trail ended, or began, going up Otter Creek and crossing the Tongue to points north. Someday a dig there will show old, old footprints.

In 1890 Moorhead became an official post office but, again, this was an old, (tortuous) trail. Mail and travelers had followed the Indian trail near water since the early trappers. After 1891 when rails reached Arvada it became a popular shipping point and passenger and freight depot.

Take time occasionally to stop and enjoy looking at the old dusty trails that lead off the new graveled roads, courtesy of the Sam Gary oil field and usually moved to higher ground. They, too, were enjoyed by people who were glad to be in this beautiful Powder River County.

By 1894 bridges spanned the Powder. Bridges that would contain a wild horse herd or a runaway team. (They have been exchanged for structures with low sides which wouldn’t contain a fractious saddle horse, but they fulfilled campaign promise of “services”, and offered the “gravy” of state or federal contracts to large construction firms. Taxes have bankrupted the small firms).

Thirty years after statehood residents wanted their “own county”. A site was provided by the hard work, generosity and rare “flowing well” of Gustav and Margaret Trautman and their son Fred. They had settled in the SW1/4 of Section 35, Township 4 South, Range 51 East, in the fall of 1905, and provided lodging and food for all travelers and their horses, a general merchandise store, a freight depot, and mail service for this meadow on the Powder River, which had formerly been without the usual unofficial mail service. Mr. Trautman carried the mail from Moorhead, it is said, with team and light wagon, for seven months to establish the post office. They were later joined in their work by their daughter and husband, Ella and Charles Lewis.

The work was too hard in the days of the trails, and medical help and knowledge often futile. In illness, people had to carry water, shovel snow from the cellar to get food, carry out slopes and ashes, milk the cow and feed the stock, the dog and cats, and haul wood and coal in from outside. Some of them died in want and suffering. But none of them seemed sorry they came to Eastern Montana.

Landowners forget that their forebears were also land-grant beneficiaries in acreage which relegated the railroad grants to a paltry few acres by comparison. And when the 1909 Act raised homestead claims to 320 acres, and the 1916 Act gave 640 acres, the railroads brought settlers in, and also their necessities of life, and hauled their produce to market (at a reasonable price after the Interstate Commerce Department set the rates).

The history of civilization keeps repeating itself. And the only way it is palatable is when it is old - and stale and unchangeable. Current social problems are taboo if they endanger the stereotyped lifestyle of those who present the stereotype. The tax burden on independent business workers increases with every tick of the clock, yet public leaders and aspiring lawmakers speak of lavish new services. They can only give back a small piece of service to those in need in return for the freedom and taxes which they take away.


Reader Comments


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2019

Rendered 04/27/2020 07:15