CHAPTER I

 

NORTH AMERICA:  THE PROMISED LAND

 

         James Fergus was born to Andrew and Agnes (Bullock) Fergus in 1813, one of several sons of this prosperous, rigid Presbyterian farmer. After being educated in the Parish's common schools, ["The Life Story of James Fergus," Fergus Falls (Minnesota) Daily Journal, as reprinted from the Lewistown (Montana) Democrat, December 19, 1901, as told by James Fergus. James U. Sanders (ed.), Society of Montana Pioneers (Akron: 1899), I, 93.] young Fergus appeared on the brink of a prosperous and comfortable life as a Scottish farmer. This, however, was not to be for friction soon developed between father and son, both strong-minded and unbending.

 

         Like many youth, James questioned tradition. But unlike many, he did not accept superficial answers for his enquiring mind refused to adopt anything on faith alone, demanding logical and reasonable explanations. When schoolmaster and father could not satisfactorily answer his penetrating questions, and when he persisted, he received a flogging from his quick-tempered father. When he carried his questioning further and challenged accepted Presbyterian doctrine, he was branded a heretic for "he did not believe what he did not understand and he would not pretend to." [Sketch of James Fergus by Mrs. Granville (Allis B.) Stuart, July 13, 1942, Montana Historical Society Library, Helena, Montana, B. F. 38. Hereafter cited as: Fergus Sketch, MHSL.] This marked the beginning of the split between father and son, and though James remained on the fringe of religious belief, he continued probing and questioning. He did not emerge as a confirmed infidel until reaching the prairies of the old Northwest. [Throughout his life Fergus consistently described himself as an infidel, which is defined as: "Not holding the faith; esp., non-Christian; also, opposing or unfaithful to Christianity." As will be seen from his later writings, he appeared to be more of an agnostic, one who believed that "neither the existence nor the nature of God, nor the ultimate origin of the universe is knowable." At times he combined the two positions, expressing both attitudes.]

 

         James and his father held other differences. James soon demonstrated apathy toward his father's farming and stock raising. Instead, he looked to science, machinery, inventions and manufacturing. "he was always trying to improve things, to make a plough or harrow or threshing machine do better work." [Fergus Sketch, MHSL.]

 

         Apparently James did not enjoy a close relationship with his brothers: he disliked the older Robert; he thought Charles peculiar (he died insane); William was only weeks old and a half-brother. James spoke fondly only of brother Andrew. [James Fergus to his father, Andrew Fergus, October 20, 1854, Box 11 F. 55, UM. Since the family then contained at least three Andrew Ferguses (James' father, brother, and son), to avoid confusion letters to his father will be addressed as "James Fergus to father." Little is known of the relationship between James and his brothers when he lived in Scotland, nor are his brothers' ages known.]

 

         Whatever the case, James considered himself the family's black sheep and became convinced his father would offer no assistance. Years later James reminisced:

 

I . . . have been treated as the black sheep of the flock by relatives since the day of my birth. If I am correctly informed Grandfather Fergus, because some of the Bullocks worsted him in a law suit had a clause in his will that neither me nor any of the name of James should ever inherit a farthing of his property. Father often told me that I was a Bullock and was the means of Grandfather Fergus putting Shawton by him. I always though it was his fault in not taking proper writings from Grandfather when Shawton was bought, but . . . Grandfather's putting Shawton by Father angered him and kept him cross and I suffered for it by unmerciful beatings the effects of some of them I feel to this day. [James Fergus to brother Andrew Fergus, n.d. (possibly early 1866), Box 3 Folder 1, James Fergus Collection, Montana Historical Society Library, Helena, Montana. Hereafter cited as: FC, MHSL.]

 

         James believed his father favored Robert and young William while treating him cruelly, which "in my infancy soured my temper, made me often wish I were dead, and wonder why I was ever born." [James Fergus to Avant Courier (Bozeman, Montana), September, 1885, Box 21, F. 4, James Fergus Scrapbook, p. 56, FP, UM. Hereafter cited as: Scrapbook, FP, UM. "Father always said I should never have a farthing of his property, and although he left me 20 pounds I never lifted it so as not to break his word." James Fergus to Robert Hamilton, Shawton, Scotland, 1883, Box 11 F. 64, FP, UM.] Therefore, believing his future to be dim through mistreatment and disinheritance, James left Scotland for North America. "I did not run neither was I drove away, but I came away boldly, honorably, and above board." [James Fergus to father, October 20, 1854, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM.] In addition, James fully intended the break to be clean and permanent, for "I left Scotland . . . never expecting to return, nor to see any of my relatives again." [James Fergus to William Fergus, March 5, 1862, Box 11 F. 27, FP, UM.]

 

         Later, as James matured and the bitterness decreased, he wrote his aging father:

 

You say that I left Scotland on William's account. Good God what harm could the then helpless infant do me. . . . No Father I left Scotland to better my condition—as I would again for I saw nothing before me but a life of toil and small recompense—but I left at the time I did on account of your own treatment of and conduct towards me. [James Fergus to father, March 8, 1856, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM.]

 

         James thus left Scotland, partly driven out by circumstance and temperament, but mostly by a father who, he felt, mistreated him and offered no hope for equality or opportunity. James later suggested that "had you treated your other children better (in addition to Robert and William) you might have had more reason to be proud of them also." [Ibid.] This came to be one of the driving factors in James' existence—that of proving to his Scottish relatives, who disinherited him then and again later, that he could uphold the dignity of the Fergus name. He thus carried on a peculiar love-hate relationship with his Old World family. Fergus asserted both his proud independence of them, insisting he cared little if he ever heard from them again, while laboring to make them proud of him, expressing anger when they refused to communicate.

 

         Young Fergus arrived in Quebec the spring of 1833. The following three years he lived in a Quaker settlement north of Toronto learning the trades of carpenter and millwright. His determination, natural ability and hard work quickly produced dividends.

 

I was unfortunate in not going to a trade until I was 20. To catch up with others I had to give it my whole attention. In place of going to theaters, etc., I studied books, learned to draw and the result was in one year I raised from six to thirteen dollars a month, in two to 75 cents a day and board; the highest wages then paid journymen millwrights and finally I went up to $3 a day the highest wages then paid. [James Fergus to Collie Gilpatrick, October 11, 1889, Box 11 F. 60, FP, UM.]

 

         James left Canada for Buffalo, New York, July 5, 1836, but remained only a few days before going to Green Bay, Wisconsin Territory, and a public works job. That fall he traveled to Milwaukee, where he helped build a hotel, and then walked to Chicago, a small town of about 2,500. Unfortunately, he refused an offer to purchase 160 acres on the forks of the Chicago River at $8 an acre; this transaction would ultimately have made him a wealthy man. Instead, he moved west to spend the winter of 1836-37 at Buffalo Grove, Ogle County, Illinois, and the following summer helped build saw mills there and in Iowa. [James Fergus to J. H. Rice, August 10, 1889, as reprinted in the Fergus Falls Daily Journal, Scrapbook, pp. 80-81, FP, UM. James Fergus to N. Rice, August 15, 1889, Box 11 F. 60, FP, UM.]

 

         The next few years Fergus fluctuated between Sabula, "Blackhawk Purchase" (Iowa), building saw mills, and Savanna, Illinois, about twenty-five miles to the east, where he constructed and managed powder mills. Thus in the spring of 1838, though he had not heard from his father in two years, he felt "duty bound" to write and occupied considerable spaces describing the "western praries"—its topography, climate, settlement, and the methods of acquiring land (simply claim it and buy for $1.25 an acre after improving same); he concluded "surely this is the garden of the world." [James Fergus to father, 1838, Box 21 F. 3, FP, UM.]

 

         During this period James and his older brother Robert still communicated, but Robert complained:

 

I have wrote you one [letter] for every year since you left for America and would write far more if you had any certain dwelling place to direct me to, or any public place near you where you reside at present . . . you change places so often [you] will rarely be found your trade leading you to various parts of a wide unconvenient country." [Robert Fergus to James Fergus, 1840, Box 3 F. 30, FP, UM. The two brothers later split over religion. See Chapter XIII.]

 

         Though Fergus moved often during his early years in the United States, he met the residency requirements to achieve citizenship. He declared his intent to become a citizen on September 12, 1839, and by October 1842 completed a year's residency in Jackson County, Iowa Territory, and received his United States citizenship, something he always prized. [Box 13 F. 15, FP, UM.]

 

         Fergus later described this as a critical period of training and experience which served him well in his quest for prosperity and status:

 

I spent nearly ten years of my life in fitting myself for the new calling. I had to adopt to my adopted country. I read, studied, traveled and mixed with her citizens from all countries and thus acquired knowledge that could not well be obtained by remaining in one place. [James Fergus to father, October 20, 1854, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM.]

 

         While in Savanna-Sabula area Fergus received an offer of employment from D. B. Sears, the founder of Moline, Illinois, who suggested "I have plenty of work for you for one year. Wages one dollar and fifty cents per day and board with very little cash until the flouring mill is finished . . . if you think of coming you had better come immediately and bring your tools." [D. B. Sears to "Furgesson" (apparently James Fergus), April 10, 1844, Box 6 F. 56, FP, UM.]

 

         James accepted this invitation, entering a prosperous phase of his personal and business career, for he quickly became Sears' partner and acquired a wife.


Family Group Sheet

 

Name:                     Andrew FERGUS, GGGG Grandfather

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Birth:                      8 NOV 1780             Balgrochan, Campsie, Stirling, Scotland

Death:                     23 JAN 1862            Shawton Farm, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland Age: 81

Occupation:              Farmer, Portioner Of Shawton

Anst File#:               154P-J5G

Father:                     Andrew FERGUS (1748-1831)

Mother:                   Anne STUART (STEWART) (1753-)

Other spouses:          Christian HAMILTON

Marriage:                 23 AUG 1811           Campsie, Stirling, Scotland

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Spouse:                   Agnes BULLOCH, GGGG Grandmother

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Birth:                      7 APR 1780             Campsie, Stirling, Scotland

Death:                     25 DEC 1830           Shawton Farm, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland Age: 50

Anst File#:               154P-J1M & NZ1T-D9

Father:                     James BULLOCH (1748-1833)

Mother:                   Isabel CALDER (1754-)

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Children

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1 M:                       Andrew FERGUS, GGGG Uncle

Birth:                      29 JUL 1812            Shawton Farm, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland

Death:                     OCT 1815                Shawton Farm, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland Age: 3

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2 M:                       James FERGUS, GGG Grandfather

Birth:                      8 OCT 1813             Shawton Farm, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland

Death:                     25 JUN 1902            Armells, Fergus, MT Age: 88

Anst File#:               154P-J2T

Spouse:                   Pamelia DILLIN, GGG Grandmother

Marriage:                 16 MAR 1845          Moline, Rock Island, IL

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3 M:                       Robert FERGUS, GGGG Uncle

Birth:                      12 APR 1815           Shawton Farm, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland

Death:                     20 MAY 1897          Strutherhead, Avondale, Lanark, Scotland Age: 82

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4 M:                       Andrew FERGUS, GGGG Uncle

Birth:                      13 APR 1817           Shawton Farm, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland

Death:                     8 FEB 1898              Strutherhead, Avondale, Lanark, Scotland Age: 80

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5 M:                       William FERGUS, GGGG Uncle

Birth:                      8 DEC 1818             Shawton Farm, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland

Death:                     28 APR 1825           Shawton Farm, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland Age: 6

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6 M:                       John FERGUS, GGGG Uncle

Birth:                      2 NOV 1820             Shawton Farm, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland

Death:                     13 MAR 1821          Shawton Farm, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland Age: <1

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7 M:                       Charly FERGUS Charles, GGGG Uncle

Birth:                      23 JUN 1824            Shawton Farm, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland

Death:                     1879                       Shawton Farm, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland Age: 54

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Second Wife

 

Name:                     Andrew FERGUS, GGGG Grandfather

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Birth:                      8 NOV 1780             Balgrochan, Campsie, Stirling, Scotland

Death:                     23 JAN 1862            Shawton Farm, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland Age: 81

Occupation:              Farmer, Portioner Of Shawton

Anst File#:               154P-J5G

Father:                     Andrew FERGUS (1748-1831)

Mother:                   Anne STUART (STEWART) (1753-)

Other spouses:          Agnes BULLOCH, GGGG Grandmother

Marriage:                 6 NOV 1831             East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, Scotland

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Spouse:                   Christian HAMILTON

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Birth:                      1793                       East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Death:                     17 DEC 1867           Heighlawside, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland Age: 74

Father:                     Hugh HAMILTON

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Children

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1 M:                       William FERGUS, Half GGGG Uncle

Birth:                      19 APR 1833           Shawton Farm, Glassford, Lanark, Scotland

Death:                     7 APR 1905             Box Elder Creek, Deerfield Dist., Fergus, MT Age: 71

Anst File#:               RHMX-DP

Spouse:                   Ellen (Helen) HAMILTON

Marriage:                 24 JUN 1862            East Kilbrideparish, Lanark, Scotland

 

Family Group Sheet added in 2005 by James R. Dangel.