Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fort Benton’s Hoo Doo Block

Vigilantes hanged desperado William Hynson at Fort Benton in 1868. The hanging on Block 25, some believed, triggered a series of dark events on that site. Sheriff John Morgan built a livery stable, a hand-dug well, and a home on Block 25 around the time of Hynson's hanging. Morgan's wife died and his house burned down. Soon after, during a skirmish in the streets of Fort Benton, an Indian was hanged on Block 25 and the bodies of several Blackfeet were thrown into Morgan’s well. It was thereafter known as the Place of Skulls. By 1870, Morgan had died and his livery passed to others. A small log house on Block 25 served as the county jail.  On November 28, 1872, it burned down with three men inside. Officials found the charred remains of two men. Officials speculated that the third prisoner killed the other two and escaped. Locals whispered that the block was cursed, although Morgan’s livery continued to do a brisk business under other owners. Rumors circulated, however, that the ghost of a the dead prisoners spooked the livery’s horses, wandering over the other empty, overgrown lots of Block 25.

Block 25 in 1884 included Ferdinand Roosevelt’s first furniture store, destroyed in a freak wind, the River Press offices, and the livery business. Sanborn fire Insurance Map, MHS Research Center.
On the site of the jail in 1884, Ferdinand C. Roosevelt’s furniture store was nearly finished when a freak wind tore the boards apart and blew the entire frame structure into the river. The wind touched nothing else.  Roosevelt rebuilt. In 1885, fire claimed the store, Roosevelt’s huge inventory, and nearly destroyed the River Press next door. Property owners did not rebuild on Block 25. Brothers Ed and George Lewis rebuilt the livery in 1895, then Ed died in 1897. By 1900 only George Lewis’s new livery stood on the east half of Block 25. In a final burst of evil energy, fire consumed it. George Lewis promptly relocated his business. Finally, A brave citizen built a home where the jail once stood. Renumbering of the townsite blocks, twice, helped erase the stigma of the Hoo Doo Block. W. S. Stocking wrote in 1906 that forty years later, only the one dwelling stood there: “…and good luck seems to attend the occupant—from which it may be argued that the ‘hoodoo’ has exhausted its power for evil."

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