Monday, September 29, 2014

Dearborn Cemetery Part 2

The deaths of Hattie and William Moore caused much speculation. The couple married in 1872 and ranched along the Benton-to-Helena Road where they also kept a stage station. In the fall of 1885, Hattie moved to Dearborn City, some ten miles from the ranch, so their three children could attend school. Teachers usually boarded with their students’ parents. Thus teacher J. C. McConnell came to board with Hattie. She and McConnell soon became the subject of scandalous gossip.

Hattie’s rented home suspiciously burned to the ground and the family barely escaped. Hattie and William quarreled over McConnell. William demanded that she and the children return to the ranch. McConnell gave Hattie a .44 British Bulldog “pocket” revolver to take with her for protection. In the meantime, a second arson fire destroyed the Dearborn City hotel. An investigation revealed that McConnell was the arsonist. However, he was never prosecuted.

Hattie Moore. Courtesy Charleen Spalding, via Gayle (Moore) Tadday
In February 1886, soon after Hattie’s return to the ranch, the Moores placed their children at St. Peter’s Mission, paid for three years’ tuition, and began divorce proceedings. On February 25, travelers discovered the bodies of William and Hattie amid the signs of a violent struggle. Hattie lay propped in a doorway. Her husband sprawled nearby on top of a Winchester rifle with one shot in the breast, another to the head.

William Moore. Courtesy Charleen Spalding, via Gayle (Moore) Tadday
The coroner theorized that during a quarrel, Hattie drew her revolver; William grabbed it and threw it outside. Hattie went for the Winchester, fired at her husband, missed, and fired again, hitting him in the breast. A struggle ensued. William shot his wife in the side, staggered toward her and embraced her. Hattie’s bloody finger prints were smeared across his shoulders. He then stood up and shot himself in the head. Widely publicized as murder-suicide, the coroner’s jury actually found the Moores died “by their own hands or at the hands of others.”

Several years later, on December 7, 1889, at a Helena hotel, J. C. McConnell put a .44 Bulldog to his temple. Was it the same gun he gave Hattie? McConnell may have had money troubles, but he was implicated in the two arson cases and there were suspicions about his complicity in the Moores’ deaths. McConnell took the answers with him when he pulled the trigger.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Photo: Threshing Crew

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, PAc 90-87 4-3
Mabel Williams brings water to the threshing crew on her family's farm near Terry in September 1909. Her friend and neighbor Evelyn Cameron took the photo.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dearborn Crossing Cemetery Part 1

The Dearborn River country in Lewis and Clark County is an area rich in cultural history where physical remains abound if you know where to look. Buffalo jumps, pictographs, and stone arrow points illustrate Native Americans’ use of the abundant natural resources. One overlook, according to locals, was an eagle-catching site. Below, a stone cage—still intact—housed captive eagles until they molted. Then the birds were freed and the feathers collected. The area saw crews building the Mullan Road, completed in 1860, and heavy traffic between Fort Benton and Helena on the Benton Road from the mid-1860s to the advent of the railroad in the mid-1880s.

Nothing remains of the hotel and other businesses at the site of Dearborn Crossing, which served travelers along the Benton Road from the 1860s until the 1880s and the advent of the railroad.
The settlement of Dearborn Crossing sprang up to serve stagecoach and freight traffic and included a large hotel, livery, general store, and other businesses. The historic Dearborn Crossing Cemetery served the early settlers. It sits on a high, flat knoll overlooking the Dearborn River about a mile from the present Highway 287 Bridge. It is a beautiful, peaceful place. But the cemetery’s silent residents could tell tales of early-day violence.

Dearborn Crossing Cemetery, on private property, once served the local community.
In 1866, Charlie Carson and Louis Marcotte went out one morning to fetch the stage horses. Piegan Indians ambushed them. Marcotte survived by hiding in a gulch, but Carson was killed. He was the first person buried in the Dearborn Crossing Cemetery. In 1878, Gus Cottle and several others were also killed by Indians and buried here. Not all the graves are marked.

A few tombstones like this one of Gus Cottle, one of four killed by Indians in 1878, recall the hardships of early settlers.
A fence, built by property owners in 1960 to protect the tombstones from cattle, surrounds a portion of the cemetery. Depressions in the ground, however, indicate that there are unmarked graves outside the fence. Victims of murder, accidents, and sickness speak to the hardships of Dearborn pioneers. Most intriguing among them are William and Hattie Moore whose shocking deaths in 1885 were ruled murder-suicide. But was that what really happened? Stay tuned for Part 2.

Monday, September 22, 2014

William T. Hornaday

In 1886, the Smithsonian sent an expedition to Montana to collect buffalo specimens. Expedition leader William T. Hornaday was an internationally known naturalist, author, and conservationist. He was also the Smithsonian’s chief taxidermist and considered the best in the U.S. The expedition collected specimens from the last free-roaming herd of wild bison as they were on the brink of total extinction. Hornaday’s experiences in Montana led him to write scathingly of the buffalo’s extermination and to publicize its sad plight.

Library of Congress, LC-B2-1183-14 [P&P]
One of the specimens Hornaday collected at the Big Porcupine Creek camp in Garfield County is among the bison that make up the famous American Bison Group. It is one of the largest bison bulls ever recorded, and later served as the model for the buffalo on the 1901 ten-dollar bill. In 1908, Hornaday helped establish the National Bison Range in Montana. The Hornaday Buffalo Camp on Big Porcupine Creek at Sand Springs was the expedition’s final base camp. Today it is a National Historic Landmark. Hornaday’s American Bison Group, evidence of Hornaday’s skill in taxidermy, is on display at the Museum of the Northern Great Plains in Fort Benton.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Photo: Ashland

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 981-997
The men of the town of Ashland in Rosebud County turned out to have their photograph taken by L.A. Huffman circa 1910. There appear to be children peeking out the window of the building in the background.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Captain James Williams

Pennsylvania native James Williams was the son of Irish and Welsh immigrants. The West lured him as a young man. In 1856, Williams was involved in the violent Border Wars in Kansas where he was a “Free State” man. He followed the rush to Pikes Peak in 1858 and came to Bannack with a wagon train from Denver in 1862. In the absence of a leader, the travelers elected Williams to lead the train and thereafter he was known as Captain, or Cap, for short. Cap Williams followed the rush to Alder Gulch in 1863. Then during those dark turbulent days of lawlessness, he again served as captain, this time of the vigilantes. When robberies and murders terrified citizens, Cap Williams stepped forward to lead the vigilantes in the capture and hanging of some two dozen suspected road agents during winter of 1863-1864.

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 945-626
When this work was finished, Cap married and settled down in the emerald green ranchlands of Madison County’s Ruby Valley. But in March of 1887, searcher’s discovered Cap’s body hidden in a thicket. The newspapers reported that Cap had laid out his mittens and scarf as a pillow. He took a fatal dose of laudanum. He lay down knowing sleep would take over and the cold winter weather would do the rest. Some speculated that Virginia City banker Henry Elling was about to foreclose on his ranch. Others believed that his role as a vigilante weighed so heavily upon him that he could no longer live with the burden. Some however, had a different theory. Cap was a man of integrity, and he would never have willingly left his wife and seven children. Some believe that sentiments against Cap were still rife, and that he had enemies. Perhaps, they speculated, someone came along in the cold and offered him a fatal drink. A tombstone in a tiny burial ground today marks Cap’s grave. We will never know for sure what put him there.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Neihart’s Silver Lining

Neihart is a wonderfully quirky little community in the heart of the rugged Little Belt Mountains. In the 1890s, Neihart’s population of four thousand rivaled that of Great Falls. Today, the twenty-five full time residents take pride in the town’s colorful past. Its roots date to 1881 when James Neihart and company discovered rich silver veins. There was gold in the district, too. Richard Oatey and his partners sold their silver mine at nearby Barker and headed to Neihart to celebrate. As they hiked back to Barker, hung over and sick, Oatey inadvertently knocked off a piece of outcropping and stuck it in his pocket. Several days later he took it out and studied it. Gold ran through it. The assayer valued it high in both gold and silver content. Oatey and his partners searched the hills and coulees for years, but they could never find the mysterious outcropping.

Scattered buildings recall Neihart's roots.
 By 1885, Neihart bustled. Even though the area was one of the richest in Montana, lack of transportation hindered further development until the arrival of a spur of the Montana Central Railroad in 1891. After the silver market crashed in 1893, Neihart’s mines operated sporadically. They never regained their 1890s momentum, but the Broadwater and Chamberlain mines continued to produce. In the 1920s, Neihart’s silver production was second only to that of Silver Bow County. The late 1930s to 1945 saw the last burst of activity when silver prices briefly increased. In 1945, Neihart residents took their last round trip to Great Falls. Upon their return that afternoon, the train ran no more and workers pulled up the tracks.

Mines and mills dot the hillside around Neihart.
Remnants of mines and mills dot the hillsides. Declared a Superfund site in 2001, the $11.8 million project will include removal of lead-contaminated soil.  Although the mining waste poses no immediate risk, the project will protect residents from long-term exposure. Neihart’s Main Street showcases the community’s individuality. A sign posted just outside town reinforces its resdients’ love for their unique community.  “Our small town is like Heaven to us,” it reads, “please don’t drive like Hell through it.”

The town has a wonderfully quirky personality.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Photo: At the Park

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, H-372
This family is relaxing in Miller's Park at Coal Banks Landing, a low-water unloading and refueling site for steamboats headed up the Missouri River to Fort Benton. The landing is now a BLM recreation site. Well-known photographer F. Jay Haynes took the photo.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Gypsy Fortune Teller

Reigning over the Gypsy Arcade in Virginia City, the famous Gypsy Fortune Teller is the most unusual and rarest treasure among the hundreds of thousands of artifacts and antiques that fill the state-owned buildings there. Charles and Sue Bovey were inveterate collectors who bought whole inventories of antiquated goods. They bought the gypsy in the 1950s, and until the 1970s, tourists could drop a nickel in the machine and hear their fortunes read. The gypsy would flash her creepy eyes, click her teeth, and tell fortunes through a speaking tube.
When the gypsy eventually no longer worked so well, the Boveys placed her at Bob’s Place—a local restaurant—where she gathered dust for decades. The State of Montana inherited her with the Bovey properties purchased in 1998, and her real value only slowly was realized. The Montana Heritage Commission removed her from public display. In 2004, renovations of the gypsy’s internal mechanisms and appearance began. Completed in 2006, the gypsy was then exhibited in the Arcade where she remains today. During her restoration, word got out that Montana had a very valuable item. Famous illusionist David Copperfield tried to talk the state into selling her. He reportedly offered around $2 million, but the state fortunately refused. Copperfield, who is an avid collector of penny arcade games, claims the gypsy is one of a kind, the last of about ten that were manufactured. Other mechanized fortune teller machines dispensed cards, but the gypsy’s fortunes were recorded on a hidden player at the back.

The Virginia City Fortune Teller, one of ten manufactured in the early nineteenth century, may be the only one left.
Courtesy MHC.
The Mills Novelty Company of Chicago made the gypsy around 1906. The Mills Company also manufactured the first slot machines in the 1890s and the first refrigerated Coca Cola vending machine in 1935. It was one of few companies to deal in both vending and gambling machines. Between 1905 and 1930, the Mills Company was the world’s leading manufacturer of coin operated machines, including slot machines, vending machines, and jukeboxes.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Jersey Lilly

Completion of the “Milwaukee Road” brought hundreds of homesteaders to Ingomar in Rosebud County during the 1910s. During its heyday, Ingomar was the sheep-shearing and wool-shipping center. It saw two million tons of wool annually.  On July 2, 1914, the Ingomar Index announced that a bank would soon open, marking an important milestone in the community’s development. Investors H. B. Wiley, C. W. Greening, and E. B. Clark hired bookkeeper W. T. Craig. All, declared the Index, were businessmen of sterling reputations. When the new building was completed that October, the newspaper declared it a “pippin,” noting that “cashier Craig feels like a kid with a new toy.” It was Ingomar’s first brick building. The bank indeed prospered, reorganizing and expanding in 1917 as a state bank, and reorganizing again in 1921 under federal charter. Economic reversal led to the bank’s sudden closure later that year. Craig was convicted of misuse of bank funds, a ruling that was later overturned on appeal. The bank stood empty, a painful reminder of delinquent loans and failed homesteads. In 1933, the Oasis Bar opened in the building and the Jersey Lilly Bar and CafĂ© moved into the former bank in 1948.

The Jersey Lilly is a Montana must!
Named for the beautiful nineteenth-century actress Lilly Langtry, the Jersey Lilly has since served as a community gathering place with a devoted clientele. Original pressed tin ceilings, bank vaults, and the outline of teller cages on unfinished hardwood flooring suggest the building’s previous function. Recalling the sheepmen who once drove their flocks through the area, the Sheep Herder Hors d’Oeuvre — orange slices, onions, and cheddar on saltine crackers—is a favorite. And as in days of old, there is always a pot of beans on the stove. Fare is simple and facilities are out back, but today’s Jersey Lilly Saloon and Eatery is an unforgettable Montana experience.

The interior of the Jersey Lilly preserves some of the original features of the former bank.