CHAPTER V

 

VIRGINIA CITY:  DETOUR TO A DREAM

 

         The United States of early 1862 remained in a state of flux. Though in the primary stages of a horrendous civil war, the North seemed to lack commitment to preserving the union and Lincoln had to order his military to assume the offensive. The economy continued unstable, not yet fully recovered from the earlier depression. Thus on December 31, 1861, New York City banks suspended specie payment. Other banks quickly followed suit, as did the national government.

 

         While partial economic recovery could be seen in the more populated areas, frontier settlements like Little Falls remained depressed. Fergus hoped to return to a resurgent town and company, but he was sorely disappointed, for neither had revived. Instead, he faced a floundering company, a depressed town and serious financial troubles of his own, such as $106 in delinquent taxes owed to Morrison County for his city lots. [Auditor's Office, Morrison County, Minnesota, February 25, 1862, Box 17 F. 36, FP, UM.] In many respects his financial problems loomed greater than when he left some eighteen months earlier; he owed more, had worked hard for nothing (save experience) and had suffered greater expenses with his family in three different locations much of the time.

 

         Immediate survival presented no great problem, for he owned land in the Little Falls area and could always raise enough livestock and produce to maintain his family. Then again, James still had quality tools and similar skills as a millwright and carpenter, so could assume salaried employment. But he had worked for others only in his youth, and then only to gain experience and equipment. He preferred self employment as it offered greater potential for advancement, and thus James cast about for a new opportunity, well aware that his previous two ventures ended in failure.

 

         Friend George Stephens urged Fergus to remain in Little Falls and either try to rescue the company or to engage in something new, such as producing fanning mills with O. J. Rockwell. If James insisted on returning to the mountains, Stephens considered the freight business to be more promising than the foundry. [George Stephens to James Fergus, January 26, 1862, Box 10 F. 24 FP, UM.]

 

         James Dillin, Pamelia's brother and James' former partner, remained in the Denver area and offered another suggestion. "I do not know but it appears to me that if powder can be made in this country it would be money making business as long as this war lasts at any rate." Fergus may have considered this, for he helped build and operate such mills in Illinois prior to 1844 and his move to Moline. Dillin harbored no illusions about Colorado mining, however, for "prospecting in this country is poor business." [James Dillin to James Fergus, February 9 and March 1, 1862, Box 2 F. 56, FP, UM.]

 

         It took little to convince the discouraged Fergus that Colorado prospecting produced nothing but back-breaking work and an empty gold pan; he concluded the business potential to be equally unpromising. Therefore, James accepted Stephen's advice and declined to return. But neither did the once attractive Little Falls tempt Fergus, and he determined to leave. Exactly when he decided to leave his family and again cross the plains remains uncertain, but news of the rich Salmon River, Idaho, gold discoveries and a Congressional appropriation of $50,000 ". . . to provide for the protection of overland emigrants to California, Oregon, and Washington Territory," stirred his interest. [U. S., Congressional Record, 37th Cong., 2nd Sess., 1862, Vol. 5, Part I, 505. Merrill G. Burlingame, The Montana Frontier (Helena, Montana: State Publishing Co., 1942), pp. 133-134.] After the Midwest successfully pressured Congress into opening a northern route to the gold fields with adequate military protection, James L. Fisk received the rank of captain and the appointment to lead the expedition. [Hiram Martin Chittenden, History of Early Steamboat Navigation on the Missouri River (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1903), p. 270.]

 

         These events, combined with depressed conditions in Little Falls and Colorado, rekindled Fergus' drive for wealth through gold. Therefore, two years after instructing Pamelia with a March 1860 memo, James wrote another to sustain his family during his absence in Idaho. Again, he indicated the hope of a speedy return after a summer's work "but in case I should stay longer than I intend I leave the following memorandum for your assistance."

 

         Pamelia received instructions concerning the collection of debts, care of the animals, house, fields, and most of all, the children. James told her who would clean the chimney, provide the flour and bring the wood. She was to keep Andrew away from the water and Tuttle out of his papers. If low on money she should sell some town lots or watches, sleds, a compass or whatever she liked as he planned to have them come out the following year and it would be easier to move light. The methodical Fergus even instructed her when and where to write the first summer: "I want you to write me in five days after I leave to Fort Abercrombie in twelve days to Pembina in one month to Fort Benton on the Upper Missouri and after that to Salmon River Gold Mines." [Memo: James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, June 22, 1862, Box 17 F. 19, FP, UM.]

 

         For the second time in two years the usually sensible Fergus contracted gold fever, which clouded his thinking. He rationalized that another thousand-mile adventure in pursuit of quick wealth was undertaken for his family's benefit. Actually, he held self-centered motives, for Pamelia obviously preferred that he remain in Little Falls with the family; her first choice would have been to return to her home state of Illinois and the advantages of a settled area. Instead, Fergus somewhat foolishly left his wife and four children on the Minnesota frontier (soon to be inflamed by a Sioux uprising), self righteously providing his overburdened wife with another set of survival instructions. He did not see them again for over two years.

 

         One author insists Fergus made a sudden decision to join the Fisk party and left with only two days notice, for "he gathered some bedding and food, hitched four oxen to a wagon, bade his wife goodby and overtook Fisk at Fort Abercrombie." [Helen McCann White (ed.), Ho! For the Gold Fields (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1966), p. 35.] There may be a grain of truth in this, but Fergus had been considering a return to the mountains for some time and had decided to leave for Salmon River at least no later than June 12, as indicated by W. R. Marshall of St. Paul. [W. R. Marshall to James Fergus, June 18, 1862, Box 2 F. 42, FP, UM. On the other hand, Fergus wrote Donnelly June 8, 1862, that he planned to leave for Pike's Peak that fall with his family. (Fergus to Donnelly, Roll 10, DP, Minn. HS.) Donnelly regretted that Fergus planned to leave but offered help: "I shall trust however that if successful you will return to us. If in any event or at any time I can serve yourself or your family do not hesitate to call on me. Some time the wheel of fortune may enable me to be of use to you." Donnelly to Fergus, June 12, 1862, Box 2 F. 61, FP, UM.] Then, of course, he had time to organize and write a detailed memorandum to his wife.

 

         At any rate, Captain Fisk organized the expedition in St. Paul and arrived at the official starting point, Fort Abercrombie, south of present Fargo, North Dakota, on July 3, 1862. [U. S. Congress, House of Representatives, Captain James L. Fisk's Report of the Expedition to Escort Emigrants from Fort Abercrombie to Fort Benton, and to Fort Walla Walla, Executive Document No. 80, 37th Cong., 3rd Sess., March 2, 1863, p. 6. Hereafter cited as Fish Report.] The emigrants assembled at Fort Abercrombie presented Captain Fisk with blanket pessimism concerning the unknown country ahead and especially the hostile Sioux. Consequently, they wanted to follow the eighty Minnesotans that left a month earlier and take the northern route skirting Sioux territory, though it meant a 250-mile detour through Pembina and St. Josephs. To reduce their apprehension Fisk obtained a 12-pound howitzer; thus satisfied the emigrants and train left Monday, July 7, 1862. The party consisted of 117 men and 13 women. [Ibid., pp. 6-7.]

 

         Fisk also worried about the expedition's success. They started late in the season, leaving in July, and traveled a new route, excluding that surveyed by General Stevens in 1833. [Ibid., p. 1. William H. Goetzman, Army Exploration in the American West, 1803-1863 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), pp. 276-280. Stevens surveyed from the Pacific to Fort Snelling, Minnesota Territory, in 1853. Fisk followed the Stevens route from the big bend of the Missouri River to Fort Benton.] Fortunately, the expedition experienced no serious Indian troubles, though they encountered numerous bands and tribes. The group escaped injury or death between Forts Abercrombie and Benton, losing only two oxen and one mule. [Fish Report, pp. 2-3. Fisk did not learn of the 1862 Sioux uprising in Minnesota until later, nor did Fergus.]

 

         The party arrived at Fort Benton September 5, having traveled 61 days, averaging 13.6 miles per day for 830 miles. [Ibid., pp. 26 and 36. They averaged 17˝ miles a day for the 367 miles between Forts Union and Benton.] Captain Fisk later explained the expedition's success:

 

Nearly if not quite all of the men of the escort and emigrants had seen more or less of the frontier life, were not afraid to encounter hardships, and knew how to surmount impediments in whatever shape occurring. The season was most wonderfully favorable, plenty of grazing and water for our purpose, and yet not sufficient rain at any time to swell the streams or soften the basins of the prarie country. [Ibid., p. 2.]

 

         Fergus also thought it a good trip with little unusual happening but a wedding July 15 and a birth August 8. Since he had crossed the plains twice before with much less organization and much more uncertainty, the security of an army escort must have made the trip almost pleasant. But commenting on his fellow emigrants he noted, "I have often thought that Minnesota got rid of more hard cases the trip I came through in than I ever saw together, broken down businessmen that would pay nothing, broken down merchants, and scalawags of all sorts." [James Fergus to William Butler, March 20, 1875, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM. General Sully seemed to agree with Fergus, for on September 9, 1864, he complained: "Why will the government continue to act so foolishly, sending out emigrants at great expense? Do they know that most of the men that go are running from the draft?" Chittenden, Early Steamboat Navigation, p. 270.] The St. Paul Press, however, viewed the expedition more positively, looking on the gold seekers as a "victorious army . . . sent forth by Minnesota to clear the path of emigration and commerce to the Pacific." [White, Ho! For the Gold Fields, p. 35.]

 

         Though Fergus and others in the Fisk party originally planned on going to the Salmon River mines, many detoured south after reaching Fort Union. News had it that Salmon River, while a rich strike, was overrun with men, causing unemployment and forcing thousands to leave for Oregon, California, and new diggings in the Rocky Mountains. Therefore, Fergus and N. P. Langford, among others, investigated the Prickly Pear Valley, stopped briefly in the Deer Lodge Valley, and continued south to the Beaverhead gold mines, later to be called Bannack, in the Grasshopper Creek area. James arrived October 13, formed a partnership with O. J. Rockwell and David A. Bently, and began building a winter cabin. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, October 16 and November 2, 1862, Box 11 F. 58 and Box 17 F. 19, FP, UM. N. P. Langford, Diary, September 29, 1865, locked case, M. Room, Library, University of Montana. Langford did not mention Fergus but spoke of the "Minnesota boys" October 8, 1862.]

 

         The whole mining area, Fergus noted, belonged to the hostile Snake Indians. About 450 men had arrived that fall but only a few women, with most coming either by the Platte River route or directly from Pike's Peak, moving from one mining rush to another on the basis of rumor. Though James did not consider the mines as good as Salmon River, he certainly thought them better than Pike's Peak. Miners averaged about five dollars a day, with some making $10 to $15; wages amounted to about four a day. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, November 2, 1862, and October 16, 1862, Box 17 F. 19, FP, UM. James Fergus to person unknown, October 16, 1862, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM.]

 

         By early November they had built a 17 by 19-foot winter cabin which occasionally housed as many as eight men. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, November 2, 1862, Box 17 F. 19, and January 4, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.] By late October news also filtered into the mining camps concerning the Minnesota Sioux uprising. James heard several unnerving tales, including the story that 500 to 700 Indians planned to destroy Crow Wing and Little Falls, forcing Governor Ramsey to order all able-bodied men to protect the country. Fergus became alarmed about his family and noted, "I thought yesterday when I heard that there was Indian troubles in Minnesota that I had better go home at once, but on reflection I thought that I would be too late to lend any help, but now I don't know what to do. I will go and hunt up a paper and then decide." James concluded not to return, for he would be too late to help and it was dangerously late in the season to travel. [Ibid., November 2, 1862, Box 17 F. 19, FP, UM.]

 

         Earlier, James had urged Pamelia to write, because "I want to hear from you to know that my family is at home alone without money causes me a good deal of anxiety." James promised to send her some "United States bills" that winter. Pamelia's financial support in James' absence is unclear. Fergus memos of 1860 and 1862 indicate she should try to collect accounts receivable; yet she, like others, also had taxes and debts to pay, not to mention daily living expenses. Whatever savings James once had must have been eaten up by the Colorado failure and family support. Pamelia could sell city lots and other property but probably received little from this source in a depressed economy. She either managed on very little or had an unknown source of income. Of course, as James discovered Virginia City gold he sent money, but he apparently sent little until the spring of 1863, a year after he left home. What little money James managed to forward Pamelia apparently came from his joiner's work that first winter in Bannack. He had already given up the idea of returning for "the prospect for me ahead is very good and I can't do much this fall." Advice home included:

 

Keep plenty of flour in the house, be careful of fires, secure you cellar, have the girls help Andrew in with wood, get a few loads of dry popular over from our claim, and get workmen to see that nobody steals wood from it—get plenty of hay for your cows, keep the children at school and take care of all your healths. [Ibid., September 25, 1862, Box 17 F. 19, FP, UM. James Fergus, "Early Mining life at Bannack and Alder Gulch," Rocky Mountain Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 4, pp. 265-69, 1900-1901. In the same article Fergus noted some typical Bannack mining camp deaths. These were noted on January 21, 1863: "Morning bright and pleasant; another coffin to make—three in a few days. The first man died of apoplexy, induced by drinking too long and too freely of his own bad whiskey; the second was shot in cold blood in mid-day, and the murderer (Plummer) is still at large, untried, unpunished, and no one molests him; the third, a young man in the prime of life, lately married, died of fever." Hereafter cited as: Fergus, "Early Mining Life at Bannack."]

 

         During the winter months James often wrote Pamelia in a conversational tone, describing Bannack City conditions and projecting into the future. James conceded that few women or children then lived in Bannack, but expected more in the summer, leading to a school. Greater numbers would also mean increased safety from unfriendly Indians; besides, he tried to reassure her, Salt Lake City quartered 1200 soldiers only 350 miles away. Pamelia could make $20 to $25 a week cooking and washing for others, and James' prospects looked good: "When we get tired of staying here we could always go on to Oregon." Relocating did not bother James at all, though it probably did not thrill his wife.

 

         While James had promised to return that winter he soon confessed to changed plans. The next question came to be twofold: would Pamelia and children come to the mines next summer? And if so, how would they come? James examined the options and none seemed palatable. Steamboat offered the most comfortable travel for the family: up the Missouri to Fort Benton, requiring $650, and at least $350 for the balance of the trip. But that route held the disadvantage of passing through hostile Sioux country, besides being the most expensive. Coming overland by the Platte required much time, not to mention the need to hire a driver and buy an outfit, including oxen, wagon and provisions. The cost—at least $600, Fergus thought.

 

         The best and cheapest means of getting them to the mines, in James' opinion, would be for him to return in March and arrange the trip, sell his property, secure an outfit and bring them back. However, this meant the loss of about six months of work—approximately $700—and required at least $300 in expenses. Besides, storms dominated March in the Salt Lake to Missouri area. James requested an early reply from Pamelia, but as it worked out the family did not come to Bannack until the summer of 1864. [Ibid., December 13, 1862, Box 17 F. 19, FP, UM.]

 

         Though Fergus could do little mining or work that winter because of the heavy snows, he continued to write Pamelia and, when possible, send her money. The activity slowed to such a point that in March he joined others and walked to the Prickly Pear Valley, some 120 miles north but found nothing worth digging and returned. His goal consisted of finding a better claim to work and own by himself. [Ibid., January 4 and March 24, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.]

 

         As in Colorado, James and Pamelia encountered considerably problems in exchanging mail. By January 1863 James had heard nothing from his family since leaving Fort Abercrombie the previous June; he suspected the express had been cut off by Indians. Finally, late that month, he received a letter from Pamelia dated July 28, which had come by way of Oregon, Walla Walla and Dear Lodge requiring two dollars postage. Pamelia experienced similar problems, with letters either not arriving or taking six weeks by way of Oregon. [Ibid., January 4 and January 27, 1863, Box 17 F. 20; October, 1863, Box 3 F. 27, FP, UM.]

 

         Raising money to send to his family in Minnesota constituted a major problem; getting it through safely came to be another. Indians and robbers attacked the express. The American Fur Company carried mail from Fort Benton down the Missouri, but Benton lay 300 miles distant. Letters which arrived in Little Falls via express were sometimes opened, and the money stolen, as when Pamelia failed to receive $90 pilfered in Salt Lake. [Ibid., March 24, 1863, Box 17 F. 20; Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, October 8, 1863, Box 3 F. 28, FP, UM.]

 

         One alternative was to send mail or money with a friend, paying him. Fergus resorted to this, sending small amounts by several people to reduce the risk of robbery for "this country is overrun by rowdies, gamblers, robbers and assassins. But I will send you a little more at a time as I can get hold of paper money." By late May, 1863, he had sent Pamelia $435, though most may have been sent in the spring. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, May 3 and 27, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM. During this time James sent $30 in treasury notes, $100 in gold dust by Ft. Benton, $130 and $175 by different friends. The person who carried the money usually received five dollars.] Later, Fergus wrote friend Ignatius Donnelly, a Minnesota Congressman in Washington, D. C., "to have the Post Office Department ferret out the mail robbers on that [Salt Lake] route." [Ibid., December 10, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.]

 

         Fergus did not hesitate to encourage Donnelly to work to improve Idaho Territory, especially the southwestern section around Bannack. Donnelly pledged his help, requested information about the area for use in Congress, and promised his support to "have a wagon road and post route established from Minnesota to Idaho Territory." [James Fergus to Ignatius Donnelly, August 28, October 9, 1863, and May 14, 1864, Box 2 F. 61, FP, UM.] James also took the time to inform his Minnesota friend that if any states were formed in the West they would surely be loyal. In addition, Fergus hoped the Civil War would soon end with the Union intact, because he considered the present form of government "though not perfect is the best for the ‘millions' of any in existence and I hope it may be perpetuated." [Ibid., May 10, 1863, Roll 12, DP, Minn. HS.]

 

         Though James spoke of establishing a school as Bannack became more populated, the fact remained that the Little Falls educational picture of the early 1860's remained sporadic, almost hit and miss. By late November 1862 Pamelia reported the children had attended little school since James left; besides, winter term just started, only to terminate in February. Consequently, Luella tutored Andrew and Lillie, plus seven or eight others. [Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, November 28, 1862, and March 11, 1863, Box 3 F. 27-28, FP, UM.] This situation prompted James to issue these comments on self education:

 

If there is no school and you have not enough to do for the girls let them read good useful books, and store there minds with good useful knowledge. Far better than to read novels that draw the mind from the ordinary realities of life and have a tendency to make young people dissatisfied with there lot. Cards are just a useless waste of time. I hope however that you find enough for them to do without spending much of there time in those frivolous occupations. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus and children, March 24, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.]

 

         Two months later district school began, leading Agnes to write her father that she liked the woman teacher's personality; she did not, however enjoy the twenty-year-old lady as a teacher "but I suppose that she does the best that she can with sixty-three little children." [Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, March 11, 1863, Box 3 F. 26; Agnes Fergus to James Fergus, June 8, 1863, Box 5 F. 24, FP, UM.]

 

         Later that fall Luella, about fourteen, developed a strong interest in securing a school of her own, mainly because "teaching school is all the talk among young ladies now. If they can do ‘sums' to fractions, they can get a certificate to teach." Her father objected, eliciting this response from Luella: "You spoke of not wanting Agnes or I to teach anywhere around Little Falls. Mr. and Mrs. Elwell spoke to me about taking a Belle Prairie school. I told them I was to young and did not want to teach. They thought I was sixteen instead of fourteen." [Luella Fergus to James Fergus, August 19 and October 5, 1863, Box 3 F. 28, FP, UM.]

 

         By September 1863 school claimed all the Fergus children. Luella reported to her father that "Agnes studies Robinson's Practical Arithmetic, Warrens Geography, Greens Grammar. I study the same except the addition of Robinson's Mental Arithmetic which Agnes does not study. Andrew studies Arithmetic, Geography, Reading, Spelling, Writing." Luella little realized that a century would produce only slight change in this educational pattern. [Ibid., September 22, 1863, Box 3 F. 28, FP, UM.]

 

         Fergus, like most other married miners away from their families, suffered doubts about his absence from home, leaving women and children alone for long periods of time. In such a moment, James penned the following advice:

 

I ought as a duty send much good advice to the children but hard labor every day leaves but little time for thought or reflection. They must therefore pay the more attention to what mother gives them, and for the remainder depend upon their own judgement and good books. Borrow what you can and take good care of them and buy a few. Money is never wasted on books that give good advice or instructions to the young. Even good history helps enlarge the mind. Rollins' Ancient History is a good standard work. Buy a good large sized late map of the United States if you can get one. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus and children, June 1, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.]

 

         James undoubtedly missed such reading, for at the mines he neither had access to books nor had the time to study or think, except during the slow winter months. Thirty years later, after semi-retiring on his central Montana ranch, he occupied considerable time doing both. This spurt of thoughts dealing with his philosophy of life provided his family with one outlook and a hint of numerous future references to the same topic:

 

If we take good care of our bodies, live wisely justly and honorable in this life I think we will be prepared for another life, or an existence beyond the grave if such is the order of natures laws. I am willing to risk my self on those terms. I have examined the subject for many years, and have found nothing better, and I think and hope after examining the subject thoroughly for themselves my family will come to the same conclusion. [Ibid., March 11, 1863, Box 21 F. 3, FP, UM. This provides another indication of his agnostic-like beliefs.]

 

         When James left for the mines the spring of 1862, neither he nor Pamelia worried excessively about one danger both would confront—Indians. Soon after he left, Pamelia experienced the un-nerving Minnesota Sioux uprising—a reaction against the neglect and inadequate provisions from a government more engrossed in civil war. James also found himself concerned with Indians, both for his family's safety in Minnesota, and for his well-being at the mines near Bannack.

 

         Traveling down the Deer Lodge Valley to Bannack they met two men who insisted Indians were determined to drive the miners out, if not kill them. The Fergus party waited two days, then met two others who reported the miners had bargained with the 1500 Indians, giving them "three oxen, some beans, flour, sugar, tobacco, pipes, etc," for the privilege of mining. The party pushed on, arriving in Bannack. Soon surrounded by "unfriendly Indians who have been committing murders and other depradations all summer," Fergus believed their numbers alone, about 450 men and a few women, "saves us from being robbed if not murdered, for we are all well prepared and sleep with our guns and revolvers by our sides." [Ibid., November 2, 1862, Box 17 F. 19, FP, UM.]

 

         As in Colorado, James expressed respect for the plains Indians, in marked contrast to his feelings for the "drunken Chippawas seen about Little Falls. They are well mounted, and better armed, and far better marksmen than the whites and in square numbers are far more than a match for them." Fergus noted the Indians left for the Missouri and the fall buffalo hunt. However, he expected them to return shortly to their wintering grounds about twenty-five miles away. Hopefully, "by prudence and care we expect to keep on good terms with them this winter, next summer we will be numerous enough to protect ourselves." [Ibid.]

 

         Unfortunately, all miners did not exercise the hoped for "prudence and care" James spoke of, and that winter incidents such as the following occurred, greatly disturbing the open-minded James and arousing both the Indian and white communities:

 

Five days ago, two drunken rowdies had a difficulty with some Indians about a squaw, in a lodge within a few rods of our cabin, and during the fuss (the two white men who were armed with double barreled shot guns and revolvers) shot two Indians and two Indian children dead. The sqaws and children set up the most dredful howling I ever heard. Several Indians and children who were wounded were also moaning and the howling and while this unearthly noise was going on, some white men and an interpreter were in the lodge trying to find out from the Indians who had done the shooting, and to convince them that the whites were not going to massacre them. The same two fiends returned in the dark (accompanied by Wm. Mitchel, a young man who worked on the Little Falls dam the winter before I went to Pikes Peak and who was also somewhat intoxicated) and poured another volley of 18 shots into the lodge amongst white men and Indians killing one white man who was interpreting, and wounding three more. The Indians and sqaws killed by the last shooting has not been ascertained, as they were carried off in the night. Next morning of course there was considerable excitement. A meeting was held and men dispatched after the prisoners, who had left early in the morning accompanied by a man who had killed another man a few days before. Rockwell was among the party who went in pursuit, was one of the four who overhauled them about 16 miles from here, and brought them back about ten oclock that night. The miners decided to give them a jury trial. There were but two lawyers here who would have any thing to do with it. They were both engaged for the prisoners. Of course they had it pretty much their own way, and strange to say not a man of them was hung, only banished, on the ground that it was not murder to kill Indians, and the whites were killed accidently. The miners are very much dissatisfyed, believing that a great wrong has been done to the Indians and to ourselves, an atrocious massacre has been committed and nobody punished, hundreds of naked mounted savages are ready to revenge the murder of their kindred, and pick off every straggler that comes in their way. Some are expecting them here in large force every day. Others think they will not come before spring but will content themselves for the present with stealing all our cattle horses and that when the snow goes and the grass comes they will pounce on us. . . . Many of the miners would shoot an Indian whenever they see them if it were not for there own safety. [Ibid., January 27, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.]

 

James assured Pamelia they would be relatively safe until spring, though if the Indians attacked there would be a general war which the Indians would certainly lose. He listed the Minnesota Massacre, killings and robberies by Indians in Montana and general distrust to account for the miners' strong anti-Indian feeling.

 

         By spring Fergus observed an increase in this friction, noting, ". . . there is a worse feeling existing among the whites toward the Indian tribes than I ever saw before." Still, he continued to show much respect for the Indians, especially the men, whom he described as "always mounted . . . tall fine looking men." He thought much less of the hard working squaws who "even when quite young are bend down with hard labor most all dirty homely and badly dressed." [Ibid., May 3 and 17, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.]

 

         Fergus had been in Montana less than a year and was destined to remain, after several moves within the territory, the rest of his life. His conscience bothered him early, however, in relation to the treatment of these proud horsemen of the plains, which civilization pushed aside. Unlike others who may have felt the same inner pangs, James' sense of fair play prompted more objective observations after several more incidents like the above.

 

There is no doubt but the Indians have murdered and plundered a great many whites. But so far as my experience goes during the past winter the whites have been the aggressors and the Indians have behaved their selves by far the most like civilized people. Many of the rowdies here think it fine fun to shoot an Indian. [Ibid., May 3, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.]

 

         James also considered the press to be less than fair in reporting white outrages on the Indians while magnifying the Indian's actions: "the Indians no doubt have committed many outrages on the whites, most of which are made public but from long experience I am satisfied that the whites have committed outrage upon outrage on the Indians few if any ever reach the public ear." [James Fergus to Ignatius Donnelly, May 20, 1863, Roll 12, DP, Minn. HS.]

 

         After spending a winter worrying of the future and making what preparation that could be made for the summer work, the partners eagerly anticipated warm weather and wealth. Their claims had produced little to date. Therefore, to expand their chances for success, they bought three claims on the Wisconsin Bar for $121—numbers two and three above discovery and number one below. [Receipt, April 12, 1863. Rickard and Kaly sold to Fergus, James McGuire, O. J. Rockwell and W. Wright for $212. Box 13 F. 16 and Box 20 F. 28, FP, UM.]

 

         To a miner summer meant backbreaking toil. Leisure became a luxury James missed during those busy days. He described a typical week to Pamelia, indicating their claim to be three miles below their Bannack City cabin. They usually walked to the claim, worked it all week, and returned on Saturday of Sunday to clean up, secure provisions, repair their tools, and collect and send mail. He conceded prices to be high, but expected them to be lower the following year as goods became more plentiful. Butter sold for $1.25 a pound, eggs $1.50 a dozen and tea $5 a pound. James reported his meals consisted mostly of bread and beef, with some rice, dried apples, and corn meal mush. At times they used up all their tea and sugar and rather than pay these high prices they did without. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, May 10 and 17, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.]

 

         This relatively peaceful routine was hardly established before the Bannack miners stampeded over the hill to new diggings. James had been confined to his cabin sick with stomach troubles requiring medicine costing eight dollars (probably making him sicker) when:

 

Our butcher came along with his meat on horseback, and told us that there was a big excitement up town about some new diggings found by a party that went out last Feby. I knew that Henry Edgar who used to be with Joseph Whitford was one of that party, and I thought I would try to go up to town and see him. So I went up, sent Rockwell in search of him. He came to our cabin in the evening and Rockwell went off with him this morning. I think they have found good diggings about 5 days travel from here but there are so many going that it is doubtful whether they all get claims. Several hundred went. [Ibid., June 1, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.]

 

         Such news, in addition to producing a mad scramble for claims near the discovery, provided good medicine, and Fergus soon improved enough to "take my blanket and grub on my back and [leave] too," walking the seventy-five miles to Alder Gulch. Thus the rich Virginia City diggings came to light. [Ibid., June 15, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.]

 

         A town quickly developed in the gulch to service the diggings; somebody called it Verona, the name of Jefferson Davis' wife. Northerners protested, and it was renamed Virginia City. Fergus described it as:

 

. . . about two weeks old [and] contains some 20 stores and grog shops (in tents and bowers) and the diggings some 1500 people, most of whom however are mostly looking for new diggings. As more gold country is found miners become more excited and all are feeling well thinking that they are now in a gold country and that they may possibly make their pile. [Ibid., also, July 5, 1863, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM.]

 

         Those who discovered the Alder Gulch diggings and those first to follow soon limited the number of claims which could be staked. Though Fergus did not arrive in the initial rush, partner O. J. Rockwell had, so James held part of a claim. He planned to buy additional claims after identifying those with promise. [Ibid., June 15, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.]

 

         Fergus had been in Alder Gulch only a few days when several of his friends started for a new strike on the Madison River. They encouraged James to leave with them but by then he not only held partial interest in a promising claim but had been made deputy recorder by Henry Edgar, the recorder. James thought he could "make a few dollars every day in that way, so that my time is not all lost," concluding it would "bring a few hundred dollars." [Ibid., June 15 and July 5, 1863, Box 17 F. 20 and Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM.]

 

         After being at the diggings less than a month James assumed a very optimistic view of the situation. He considered the Virginia City strike richer, more extensive and easier to work than the one in Bannack. Hence, "although we only have one claim we expect to take out $2000 apiece during the summer." While no fortune it would at least pay previous expenses and leave enough to move the family and start them in some enterprise. The partners had purchased other claims in Alder Gulch, still had their Bannack claims and hoped to buy horses. Rockwell returned to care for the Bannack claims while McGuire and Fergus worked the Alder Gulch mines which produced enough to require the help of two hired men at $4 a day plus board.

 

         That first summer in Alder Gulch the men apparently placed serious mining before serious celebrating, and the Fourth of July passed quietly, leading James to comment:

 

We had no celebration here. We have too many cecessionists and southerners, but we all live together peaceably and have nothing to say about politics or the war. We worked all day on the fourth, three of us taking out $153 in gold. Yesterday four of us took out $196 but we work hard and late and early. [Ibid., July 12, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.]

 

         That summer's good luck and hard work enabled Fergus to prosper for the first time from a mining venture. In mid-October he wrote Pamelia that the worst week had netted him only $80, while the best week of production brought in $500 in gold dust, the equivalent of $600 in treasury notes, which would require "a long time in Minnesota to clear that much." Winter's cold and snow reduced earnings to about $50 to $100 a week but still provided a steady income all season. "I could leave here now with nearly $4000 besides what I have sent you. But I want you to keep these things to yourselves." By then Fergus had supplied Pamelia with at least $715. It is uncertain if this figure included the $435 he sent the previous spring. [Ibid., October 18, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.]

 

         Keeping such news quiet, however, proved difficult, and rumors of good income filtered back to the Little Falls area. One wife, trying to prod her husband into going to the mines, asked Fergus if it were true that "you and O. J. Rockwell were clearing one hundred dollars per day and that all who went from here were averaging thirty." She was, however, realistic enough to inquire as to "how many is there who do not make anything?" [Mrs. Helen M. Smith to James Fergus, December 18, 1863, Box 10 F. 8, FP, UM.]

 

         Fergus entertained plans to branch out into some type of business in the Virginia City area. Earlier that summer George Stephens indicated an interest in coming or at least in supplying capital to finance a quartz mill. Stephens neither came nor supplied money for such an operation. Consequently, in combination with Rockwell and McGuire, Fergus hoped to initiate a milling operation the following spring. He closed the mining season in a burst of optimism, and wrote Pamelia he had:

 

. . . found now what I have been looking for for some years, a place where I could have a permanent paying business, and I can have it here with a quartz mill. . . . We are in a good mining country, have some good claims and some money by us, and the prospects are good ahead. [George Stephens to James Fergus, July 12, 1863, Box 10 F. 25. James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, October, 1863, Box 11 F. 57, FP, UM.]

 

         Pamelia and the children seemed to be getting along fairly well back in Little Falls, They had enough to eat, a warm house, adequate money, and appeared to be doing better emotionally—possibly because the two older girls stayed with their mother while James went to Montana, unlike the Colorado absence. In addition, Pamelia did not have to struggle with the company's problems, for it apparently settled into dormancy.

 

         She did, however, have some nagging problems to resolve—especially that of caring for and paying the taxes on their Little Falls property. Depression still plagued the area by the spring of 1863 and land sold for taxes. Pamelia became gloomy about the situation by late summer, especially when she discovered the taxes had not been paid for the previous two years on their house, eight lots and the red barn. James had not yet sent much money, and some that he mailed never reached his family. Besides, the garden dried up and she had no money to buy winter clothes. [Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, April 5, August 1, August 30, September 22, 1863, Box 3 F. 28-29, FP, UM.]

 

         Conditions improved considerably that summer and fall because James prospered, sending money home. Pamelia received enough to pay the taxes and purchase winter supplies. [Ibid., November 11 and December 17, 1863, Box 3 F. 28, FP, UM.] Earlier that spring, when Pamelia had little money and faced delinquent taxes, both grew depressed. James instructed her to pay the taxes only on the house and most valuable lots, leaving the rest, so she would have enough for personal expenses. "I think very little of my Little Falls property anyway. If my family and what little property I have left there was out of it and what little my friends own I would not care if the rest of it was in hell, if there is such a place." [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, May 27, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.]

 

         The following summer James sent for his family. After Pamelia left Little Falls, their good friend William Butler cared for the property. James realized little from his ownings there, mainly because the area remained in a depressed state, economically, well into the last third of the century. Butler reported crop failures and hard times in both 1867 and 1868, with property unsaleable at any price, though James tried to dispose of his holdings. [William Butler to James Fergus, October 20, 1867 and February 21, 1868, Box 1 F. 66, FP, UM.]

 

         In 1874 A. E. Randall of Whitehall, Montana, returned to Aitken, Minnesota, to visit relatives. He reported Little Falls to be declining rapidly and to be:

 

. . . the most desolate looking place I ever saw for a place that is as old as that is and as lively as it was in '56. There ain't more than half as many houses now and not the least mark left to show that there ever was a bridge and a mill there. But the people that live there think it will be a hell of a place in a year or two. It may be a place some time but I think we will all be under the sod first. [A. L. Randall to James Fergus, April 24, 1874, Box 9 F. 4, FP, UM.]

 

         Though Butler sold the Fergus house in 1866 for $600, James continued to sell his Little Falls property by bits and pieces, disposing of the last small lot in 1895. [William Butler to James Fergus, August 31, 1866, Box 11 F. 66, FP, UM. Nathan Richardson to James Fergus, February 13, 1895, Box 9 F. 13, FP, UM. No one realized Fergus owned one-third interest in this last lot until 1895. He realized about $200 from it after taxes, indicating values had risen considerably.] Fergus confessed to Butler that, while he still had a few good friends and a few pleasant memories about the city, he nonetheless held "few pleasant recollections of Little Falls where I may say I lost the earnings of the best of my life. It was possibly my own fault however in believeing every body was as honest as I tried to be." [James Fergus to William Butler, March 20, 1875, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM.]

 

         Fergus left his wife and family in Minnesota in June 1862, promising to return that fall. He did not, of course, for he wanted to stay and prepare for the spring's work; in addition, the season became late before he located and settled. Pamelia, usually agreeable to James' plans, voiced concern, especially about the Indian danger:

 

Now Fergus do not stay there among them Indians. What does it profit a man if he gain the hole world and lose his soul. I had rather trust my luck of get along with the children than to have your weight in gold and be deprived of you or think you never can come back.

 

Of course, Pamelia had just experienced the unnerving Minnesota Sioux uprising and she did not want James injured, urging him to ". . . keep a good look out for those hateful things." [Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, December 18, 1862, and January 25, 1863, Box 3 F. 27-28, FP, UM.]

 

         James considered bringing his family out the spring of 1863 and again that fall. But by spring he had moved to Alder Gulch and potential prosperity, so felt he could not afford to leave; the same conditions existed in the fall, with the Indian problem also a major concern. Therefore, his family did not leave Minnesota in 1863. [Ibid., January 25, 1863, and August 30, 1863, Box 3 F. 28, FP, UM.]

 

         Late that fall James definitely decided not to return for his family but found a solution: partner O. J. Rockwell had family in New York and planned to visit them that winter. He agreed to stop at Little Falls in the spring and drive Pamelia's wagon back to Virginia City. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, November 15, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.] From a purely dollars and cents standpoint this proved to be the best arrangement, for James avoided the loss of six months income. In addition, Rockwell knew horses and the problems of cross-country travel. However, this decision graphically illustrates how the self-centered Fergus placed his monetary well-being before the comfort and physical safety, not to mention emotional welfare, of his distant family. Rockwell left Virginia City in mid-November, carrying $400 in gold dust to Pamelia. James paid him $100, encouraged him to collect an old debt in Denver and keep half, and gave him the use of his buffalo coat going home. [James Fergus Notebook, 1862-1869, entry of November 16, 1863, Box 25 F. 2, FP, UM.]

 

         The next few days James pompously wrote Pamelia detailed instructions concerning the Little Falls property and travel preparations, including what and how to pack. Essentially, he wanted her to pay taxes on the most valuable lots, including the house, and let the rest slide. He urged Pamelia to leave the Little Falls Manufacturing Company records with Gravel and Butler, get receipts for same, ascertain what, if any, he owed the company and it owed him, and bring the figures. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, November 22, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.] James either cared so little about his company business and Little Falls property that he did not consider it worthy of his personal attention, or had so much confidence in Pamelia's ability to successfully terminate these affairs that he did not return to Minnesota. It may have been a combination of each, or simply that Fergus, from his distant position, failed to realize the emotional stress he had forced on Pamelia. At any rate, he chose not to return to Little Falls, leaving her to shoulder the entire burden. Presumably, she received at least some help from the eighteen year old Mary Agnes and sixteen year old Luella; Andrew, fourteen, and Lillie, seven, probably contributed when possible. At the same time, the egotistical Fergus treated his wife as though she had little common sense, forwarding minute packing instructions:

 

I enclose you a memorandum of what things I think you ought to bring out, exclusive of what things you will bring from home that I don't think of, leaving you and Rockwell at liberty to vary it according to circumstances, such as scarcity of money, high prices etc. If goods are high I would buy the fewer of them and if some articles are high I would bring fewer of them. Rockwell will come by way of Salt Lake, and bring an additional supply of flour, beans, salt, butter, cheese, syrup, chairs, etc. I have kept a copy of these memorandums and will write to you if I think of any alterations. As soon as you receive it, copy it into a memorandum book as I wrote you before; leaving a space between the different headings so you can put down anything you think of and in the same book, you may put down what articles you want to bring from home, and as you pack them up at home, or buy them at Omaha or elsewhere, mark it with a pencil, so you may know it is packed or purchased, and when the articles are all marked of course your bills are full. Use the green chest upstairs my tool chest (what if it is not needed for a map chest) and some of the old trunks up stairs for packing, and buy three or four good trunks with locks for yourselves to keep your clothing, etc. in. Have the sides of your waggons boarded up high with thin boards (siding) to keep things from falling out. Have a step put on to the tongue of the waggon you ride in and never let one of the children go out or in the waggon under any circumstances without stopping it as many get killed or injured by the wagon running over them. . . . Sell all you can at private sale and bring no poor articles.

 

         Teams, etc.       

         Clothing

3 good covered waggons

1 from L. F. Balance from Iowa

One suit of good clothes for myself including hat and boots

9 yoke of good cattle

3 from L. F.  Balance from Iowa

1 every day coat

1 cow

2 pr every day pants

1 tent

2 good prs shoes from L. F. same as I brought with me

 

1 pr good boots

         Provisions

1 doz pr good socks

600 lbs flour

1 pr good undershirts

300       meat

1 pr good woolen overshirts

  50        beans

2 pr good drawers

100       rice

2 pr woolen mittens

2  bbls crackers

12 pr good every day shoes for yourself and girls

300       bacon

1 pr good boots for each

200       hams

4 prs good shoes for Andrew

  50        dry beef

Shoes for Lillie

  50 cheese (lbs)

Stockings for yourself and girls

  50 butter

      "     for Andrew

400 lbs sugar

      "     for Lillie

  20 gallons syrup

Woolen shirts for family

  50 lbs black tea

     "      drawers for family

100 lbs coffee

dresses or dress stuffs

400 lbs dried apples

clothing or cloth stuff for              Andrew

100 lbs dried peaches

 

  20       salt

         Sewing Apperatus

  40 dessicated veg.

1 good strong sewing machine

       raisens

  with assortment of needles

       saleratus

needles assorted

        pepper spices

thread       "

       vinegar to use on the road

yarn          "

       cod fish

Buck skin needles

 

Pins assorted

         Bedding

 

Your feather beds (packed)

         Stationary

2 Indian Rubber Spreads to lay on the ground nights and to pack your bedding in day

2 reams good white letter paper

Good blankets, quilts, bed ticks, pillows, etc. etc.

1     "      fools cap       "        "

        

˝ doz memorandum books

         Cooking Apperatus

$5 worth stamped envelopes

Camp stove

2 large bottles ink

camp kettles

2 gold pens for girls

tin reflector

    box  steel pens & holders

frying pans

    school books and slates

large cook stove for use here

    form book (Plus forms)

gold pans

    reading books

bread pan

    one or two good maps

milk pans

2 doz lead pencils

table dishes

    extra for use on road

matches

 

˝ doz good brooms

ox shoes and nails

 

tongue bolts

         Washing Apperatus

yolk and chains

1 wash tub

waggon grease

1 wash board

tar

2 flat irons

spirits of turpentine

    soap

whiskey for poisened cattle and to make vinegar here

concentrated lye to make soap

oxbows

    starch

 

 

         Tools

         Misselaneous

My tool chest & tools. The

1 pr gold scales

    chest may be used as a

candles 1 box

    mess chest on the road

5 gal. kerosine oil

1 shovel to use on the road

2 lamps with durable chimneys & some extra chimneys

1 pick   "   "     "     "      "

side saddle

1 hoe

5 boxes pistol cartridges for my pistol

˝ doz hand saw files

1 pr spectacles

1 fat files

some padwilks

1 buck saw (not wood)

looking glass

 

garden seeds

shot

flower seeds

powder

2 half boxes window glass

caps

2 kegs assorted nails

candle molds

a few papers assorted screws

     "      wicks

1 lb. shoe tacks

sausage cutter

 

James then assured his wife that "if some of these articles should be forgotten it will not matter a great deal because they can all be purchased here only at higher prices. Don't fret yourself about anything. Do your best and let the rest go." [Ibid., November 21, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.] James urged his wife to carefully buy good oxen as they would be able to pull heavier loads, last longer and be cheaper in the long run. He thought the three wagons should be able to carry a total of 8500 pounds divided into 3000 pounds, 3000 pounds and 2500 for the one in which they rode. [Ibid., November 22, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.]

 

         After forwarding such advice, James could do little for his family except to work, earn money, ready a Virginia City home, encourage them by letter, and send enough cash to secure their crossing, all of which he did. He also received notice in January that his oldest daughter, Mary Agnes, planned to marry R. S. Hamilton before leaving Little Falls. They both planned to come to Montana, however, for Hamilton had tired of Minnesota. [R. S. Hamilton to James Fergus, January 5, 1864, Box 5 F. 30, FP, UM.]

 

         Rockwell arrived in Little Falls by February, helped Pamelia buy oxen, dispose of what property they could, pack and leave her home of eight years. They stopped in Moline to visit the George Stephens family for one last time. Pamelia found it difficult to locate the teamsters needed to drive the other two wagons. They delayed here almost a month while Rockwell and Robert Hamilton went to Chicago for equipment, as western prices remained high enough to justify the trip. Pamelia gathered books and maps for James and purchased a yoke of oxen for $150. [Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, February 1864, March 8 and 26, 1864, Box 3 F. 28, FP, UM.] While in the area, Pamelia visited friends in Geneseo, a few miles from Moline. After living on the Minnesota frontier almost ten years she thrilled to the comforts and security of civilization, and expressed reluctance to leave because:

 

. . . he has about 1500 fruit trees set here and a nice cotage house and full of every thing if we had our house here in this country I should want to stay I have lived among the Indians and the frounters long enough and like improvements and good society. [Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, March 26, 1864, Box 3 F. 28, FP, UM.]

 

Once again the long-suffering Pamelia, who during the previous four years had seen much less of her husband than she had seen of him, indicated her preference to stay at least within easy reach of civilization. But once again James dominated, as he disregarded her feelings and urged her across the barren plains.

 

         The stronger attraction to her husband outweighed the pull of civilization, however, and by late April they passed Gutherie Center, Iowa, on the way to Omaha, the last stop before crossing the plains. After leaving the comforts of Moline and Geneseo Pamelia sank into depression, fearing future unknowns, especially the Indians. "I wish we had never started. I had a great notion to go back when I got to Grenell [Grinnell, Iowa]. Now I wish I had it seems impossible to get there." [Ibid., April 23, 1864, Box 3 F. 28, FP, UM.]

 

         Nonetheless they pushed on and by May 13 approached Omaha, though Pamelia's spirits remained low. Her driver, Torn Sely, was often drunk, the load seemed excessively heavy, they had no wood; Rockwell, she thought, neglected them. Worries combined to increase her nervousness, leading to written complaints to James. "If I was home I would be mighty glad to stay and you [were] foolish to send for us. . . . Next time I cross the plains it will be with my husband or on my own hook. This is the awfles mess I ever was in." Pamelia complained legitimately, for James should have been by her side during the long and at best nerve-wracking journey. While no serious incident occurred, James Dillin, like his sister, had little faith in Rockwell's ability. He wrote Fergus, "I was well satisfied that they [his family] would not get along well with Rockwell as he is too pasionate for any use." [Ibid., May 13, 1864, Box 3 F. 28, FP, UM. James Dillin to James Fergus, July 4, 1864, MC, MHSL.]

 

         Despite Pamelia's worries, the children undoubtedly thought it exciting. Before reaching Omaha their train included thirteen wagons on a road full of emigrants. Their party consisted of Mrs. Fergus, Agnes, Luella, Lillie, Andrew and Thomas Dillin. Robert Hamilton, Agnes' new husband, planned to join them at Wilton, in eastern Iowa. Pamelia fussed over her three yoke of oxen, the children and the milk cow trailing behind. [S. C. Stein to James Fergus, April 8, 1864, Box 10 F. 20; Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, April 23, 1864, Box 3 F. 28, FP, UM.] After passing Omaha Pamelia's spirits improved, for James had a $750 draft waiting, and there seemed to be better cooperation; also, their numbers increased, providing more safety. The 72 cattle and 45 men heightened the excitement of the journey, despite the 5:30 A.M. start of each day's trek. Pamelia confessed she dreamt of Fergus and continued worrying about Indians. By June 14 they could see Ft. Laramie. [Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, May 13, May 22, and June 14, 1864, Box 3 F. 28, FP, UM.] Contrary to Pamelia's fears Rockwell brought them through safely with no injury or major incidents. They arrived in Virginia City August 15 for their happy reunion, after a separation of over two years. By early September, Fergus, Rockwell and McGuire reached an agreement concerning the previous year's activities. Since Rockwell owed the company for work he missed while in the East, from November 22, 1863, to August 15, 1864, and since McGuire and Fergus owed Rockwell for bringing their families out with him, they agreed to cancel the debts. They owed each other no cash. [Fergus Notebook, 1862-1869, entry of September 2, 1864, Box 25 F. 2, FP, UM.]

 

         The years 1863-1864 marked the height of the mining influx into the Virginia City area. It also marked its lawless period, typified by Henry Plummer and his gang of highway robbers. The story of their demise at the hands of the Vigilantes is too well known to tell here, but Fergus did live through the period and, as usual, made some penetrating observations. [For accounts of the struggle to clean out the Plummer gang and other highwaymen, see K. Ross Toole, Montana: An Uncommon Land (University of Oklahoma Press, 1959); Burlingame, The Montana Frontier; Nathaniel P. Langford, Vigilante Days and Ways (A. C. McClurg, 1912), among others.] For example, early in July 1863, about a month after the rush to Alder Gulch, Fergus related an incident indicative of the increasing lawlessness and the difficulty the miners had in conquering the problem. Three highwaymen dragged a man out of his tent and shot him dead. The miners held a meting at which they tried, convicted and sentenced to death two of the three, who were to be hanged. Though sick at the time, Fergus related the following results:

 

A letter was read that one of them had written to his mother. He was blubbering and crying, a few women present commenced blubbering. Some of the men became tender-hearted. Some one moved that the prisoners be banished, which was carried, and they mounted their horses and left. The gallows is still standing and the graves still open. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, July 5, 1863, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM. At that point Fergus considered the miners "just like a mob without a leader" and unable to present a solid front against such open crimes. He believed that if a Wilbur F. Sanders had been present such men would have been hanged, therefore, "no road-agents would have been organized, and no necessity would have existed for a vigilance committee." Fergus, "Early Mining Life at Bannack."]

 

         All killers were not as lucky, however, for the miners toughened when buttressed through their Vigilante society. James described another incident illustrating frontier justice. One day he and his partners were "drifting on a bar" about one-fourth mile above Virginia City when a stranger came along, visited briefly and left. Soon afterwards his partners buckled on their guns and followed him to Virginia City. Fergus investigated when they did not return, and upon arriving in town:

 

[He] saw five men in the street with their arms pinoned and a man on each side of each with one arm linked in an arm of the prisoner and a revolver in the free hand. Everybody was quiet. There was no noise or confusion. On enquiring, I learned that the five prisoners were road agents who were sentenced by the Vigilantes to be hanged, that the beam selected to hang them on was too low and that they were waiting for the ropes to be taken to a higher beam. The difference in action of the five men at this critical period of their lives was noticable. One sent for Judge Dance to pray for him. One called for whisky and got it. A third harrahed for Jeff Davis, a fourth stood with tears in his eyes, and I think the fifth man was writing to some relative. . . . When the  boxes were pulled from under them one at a time, it was reported of Jeff Davis' that when he saw his next partner kicking he said, ‘kick, damn you, I will be in hell with you in less than five minutes.' [Newspaper article by James Fergus, n.d., n.p., Box 21 F. 5, FP, UM.]

 

         Though Fergus did not join the Vigilantes, he seemed to approve of their swift and sure actions; yet he considered it only a necessary evil and temporary at best. A law obeying and honest man, he believed in and spoke of support of the rights of every man, whatever his position, race, nationality or religion. James put it this way:

 

American citizens claim the right to be tried by the laws of their country, in open court and by a jury of their countrymen and the power that deprives them of that right is a tyrant and a usurper, be it one or many.

 

I think no American citizen will deny the truth of the above, but I for one am willing to admit that circumstances may arise when for the benefit of the community at large good men may be compelled to disregard the laws and the rights of the citizens for the time being and deal out swift and certain punishments on the offender.

 

Such I believe was the case last winter. Our roads were infested by Highwaymen beyond the reach of our laws. Our own safety required that they be exterminated. Your committee performed that difficult and dangerous duty to the satisfaction of all good men.

 

But I think for the safety of society the powers you then exercised should be resorted to only in extreme cases, all interference with the laws are dangerous. If one man or body of men set the laws aside another man or body of men can chose the same right. The end would be anarchy and confusion.

 

James continued his open letter to the "Gentlemen of the Vigilance Committee" by insisting their order forbidding anyone to carry concealed weapons had become uncalled for and infringed on the rights of citizens in general. [James Fergus to "Gentlemen of the Vigilance Committee," September 10, 1864, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM. This statement marked a portent, for Fergus and others, including Granville Stuart, suspended trial by jury in the mid-1880's to hang some horse thieves in central Montana. See Chapter VIII.]

 

         Fergus' objective, levelheaded approach to matters did not go unnoticed. As mentioned, he functioned as Henry Edgar's assistant recorder for Alder Gulch, doing the bulk of the recording, apparently until he left Virginia City. Fergus also served as president of the Fairweather Mining District. [This is uncertain, but letters of March 17, 1864, from L. Buttrick, and March 25, 1865, from A. P. Noble to Fergus indicate he was still recorder in the spring of 1865. Box 1 F. 67 and Box 8 F. 53, FP, UM. Also, notices of February 1, 1864, and April 20, 1864, Box 13 F. 16, FP, UM.] In addition, James received appointment from William B. Daniels, acting Governor of Idaho Territory, as a county commissioner for Madison County in February 1864; Sidney Edgerton, Governor of the newly formed Territory of Montana, reappointed Fergus to the same position in September 1864. [William B. Daniels to James Fergus, February 6, 1864. Sidney Edgerton to James Fergus, September 4, 1864, Box 13 F. 23, FP, UM.]

 

         Though James had been making good money from his claims, by the fall of 1864 he apparently foresaw the beginning of the end, for he sold his six claims, two on Fairweather Bar, to O. J. Rockwell for $1000. The following summer he sold two more claims in Opher Gulch, Deer Lodge County, for $300. [Sales receipt, James Fergus to O. J. Rockwell, September 15, 1864. Receipt, James Fergus to party unknown, July 25, 1865, Box 13 F. 16, FP, UM.]

 

         By mid-March 1865 Fergus confessed to George Stephens that his quartz lode had not produced well at all; therefore, he considered beginning a flour mill. [George Stephens to James Fergus, March 17, 1865, Box 10 F. 25, FP, UM.] At this time the Fergus family owned at least eleven claims in Madison County—the Bannack, Virginia City area—and 29 claims in Deer Lodge County, many in the Silver Bow District. ["Abstract of claims located, pre-empted and recorded by James Fergus as per the Records of Madison County, Montana Territory up to March 13, 1865," Box 12 F. 24. "Memorandum of claims located in Deer Lodge County pre-empted and recorded by James Fergus as of the Records of the said county—1865," Box 12 F. 24, FP, UM. The Butte Miner later noted that Fergus "owned an interest in what has since proved one of the great bonanzas of the district" about Butte. March 1884. Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 29.] Though James owned these numerous claims and had taken about $8000 in gold dust in two years, he determined to quit the Virginia City area for several reasons. Gold production had declined, leading to telltale signs of depression in Virginia City. Besides, rumor had it a rich strike had been made in the Prickly Pear area, and Fergus was never one to stay rooted to one spot for any length of time. [James Fergus to Dr. E. A. Wood, December 25, 1866, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM. Others may have reaped as much money from their claims but few held on to it as did Fergus. Henry Edgar, for example, according to rumor, hooked up with a wily woman who gained his confidence and relieved him of between $4000 and $5000, leaving him almost broke by March 1864. James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, March 7, 1864, Box 17 F. 21, FP, UM.] Thus James resigned as county commissioner in early June 1865, and headed north to Last Chance Gulch, leaving Pamelia, Luella, Andrew and Lillie in Virginia City. Pamelia earned some money taking in boarders while wondering if she should buy some cows, chickens and garden seeds and bring the family to Last Chance. [R. C. Know to James Fergus, July 6, 1866, Box 5 F. 68; Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, April 1865, Box 3 F. 29, FP, UM.]

 

         For all practical purposes, James abandoned his mining interests in Virginia City and Deer Lodge County, at least there is no record that the realized anything from their sale. While his partners remained in Virginia City for a time, they too soon left the depressed area, with McGuire going to Iowa and Rockwell to Missouri. [James J. McGuire to James Fergus, May 11, 186, Box 7 F. 26; O. J. Rockwell to James Fergus, October 9, 1868, Box 9 F. 21, FP, UM.]

 

         Son-in-law R. S. Hamilton and his wife Agnes remained in Virginia City for a few years, losing money in his general store as the depression deepened. Hamilton managed Fergus' property, renting the house out for $12.50 a month the fall of 1865; he tried to sell it but few had money and many were leaving. Two years later he attempted to get $350 for the house but could not. [R. S. Hamilton to James Fergus, October 22, 1865, and January 7, 1867, Box 5 F. 30, FP, UM.]

 

         Though Fergus apparently placed little value on his abandoned mining property, much confusion developed over certain claims, especially in the Illinois Lode near Virginia City; James considered a law suit but abandoned that just as he had the claims. [R. C. Know to James Fergus, February 25, 1866, Box 6 F. 68; Lester Campbell to James Fergus, April 21, 1866, Box 2 F. 3, FP, UM.] Fergus may have considered a move to Deadwood, Dakota Territory, for by the fall of 1866 he became a partner of H. B. Bailey, who owned a claim and was sinking a shaft into a quartz lode. Bailey wanted Fergus to come and lend his experience to the operation, especially after someone found a $700 nugget at the head of the gulch. Fergus declined as nothing of promise was found and by 1868 considered selling the interest. [H. B. Bailey to James Fergus, August 12, 1866, and August 1868, with five letters in between, Box 1 F. 19, FP, UM. Nothing came of this.]

 

         Virginia City continued to deteriorate, as did Bannack. James' friend Melvin Trask tried to care for his Bannack cabin but could do little. By January 1866 he reported, "I believe it is tenantless and judging from the number of empty houses in town I do not think it would bring anything except for fire wood," or at the most ten dollars. Two months later it had been "torn down and burned for fire wood." Fergus need not have felt abused for "about all of Yanks Flat has shared the same fate." [Melvin Trask to James Fergus, January 21 and March 17, 1866, Box 10 F. 66, FP, UM.]

 

         James left Virginia City in the spring of 1865. Partners Rockwell and McGuire left shortly after, heading for the Iowa-Missouri area. Confusion resulted as to ownership of claim number 13 in the Fairweather discovery, with two men named Jackson and McDowell claiming to hold clear title. R. S. Hamilton urged Fergus, the fall of 1866, to come to Virginia City and see to the matter at the risk of losing the claim. Fergus apparently saw the problem as inconsequential, for he never came; Jackson and McDowell sold the claim for $300 and pocketed the money, much to Hamilton's disgust. [Thomas w. Stephens to James Fergus, November 11 1866, Box 10 F. 28; R. S. Hamilton to James Fergus, October 8 and November 21, 1866, Box 5 F. 30, FP, UM.]

 

         Hamilton remained in the rapidly declining Virginia City, losing money and growing more pessimistic by the month. Reduced mineral output led to decreased population and made outstanding debts difficult if not impossible to collect. In early 1868 Hamilton had $4000 in bills owed him. Freight costs added to the problem; for example, a spring load of goods from Salt Lake City costing $5,000 had an equal freight bill. [Ibid., May 16, 1867, and January 16, 1868, Box 5 F. 30-31, FP, UM.]

 

         By the fall of 1868 Hamilton was reduced to selling his dry goods and hardware at cost, happy to get that return from the inventory. He realized they would have to start again some place else, expressing thankfulness he had managed to save $15,000. Hamilton asked his father-in-law for advice on investing the money.

 

         Early the following year Hamilton decided to sell, close up and leave as soon as possible; unfortunately by then he could not sell, even at cost. He became very depressed, insisting he had lost at least $7,000 by spring, and considered that ". . . everything is going to hell." Uncertain as to what to do, he hesitated to start another store in Helena, fearing the same mining-business cycle, for he had been caught in the Little Falls depression too. Hamilton eventually joined his father-in-law in the Helena area and drifted into ranching. [Ibid., September 10, 1868, January 12, February 22, March 20, May 5 and June 10, 1869, Box 5 F. 31, FP, UM. Hamilton also gives some detailed and interesting descriptions of the decline of Virginia City.]