The new decade 1880 brought fresh hope and enthusiasm to the Fergus family, and like the nation as a whole they embarked on a period of growth, interrupted by fits of depression until the turn of the century. The older James and Pamelia left a maturing Helena for the youth of the plains. Paced by their son, they molded a ranch from the Judith Basin, ending the decade with steady growth and solid prosperity.


         James, after wintering in Helena while Andrew mothered their stock the first winter at Armells, joined his son that spring and plunged into ranch work with youthful energy. With Andrew at the other ranch, James and his hired man improved Armells. James later reminisced:


         I made a harrow, a machine to bore posts all the pins for Andrew's first fence, made a hay rack, irrigated three acres of oats, made and irrigated the garden, went twice to Maginnis several times to Andrews, and the man and I put up all the buildings we have here except the kitchen buildings and work horse stable. The men hauling the logs helped us up with some of them I did not help to put on the poles and dirt, the man did, but I cut out the doors and windows, made the frames, etc my self and put on all the mortar both insides and out stables and fence and all the man making and bringing it up to me. This building log houses on the frontier is a business by itself like everything else it requires experience.


In addition, James took his turn herding the horses, for they had no fence then; besides he made a five-day trip after horse thieves. [James Fergus to James H. Gilpatrick, March 8, 1894, Box 11 F. 62, FP, UM. The other ranch was apparently Andrew's homestead (at Box Elder).]


         The work progressed well, for James possessed skills as a mechanic and carpenter, with his sixty-eight year old back surviving the summer's strain. Pamelia arrived in September for her first winter at Armells.


         That summer James "went to Maginnis once a week for mail and beef," setting a pattern maintained for years. Fort Maginnis, some twenty miles distant, served as their post office and one of two main supply sources during much of the decade. Broadwater and McNamara and Company, post traders at Maginnis, supplied Armells for years, as did the T. C. Power & Bro. Company of Fort Benton at the head of navigation for Missouri river steamboats. As Benton declined and Lewistown grew, Fergus received more goods from the later trading center. [Ibid. Trade receipts with various businesses are scattered throughout the papers, but some are concentrated in Box 18, F. 55, FP, UM.]


         Though James crossed the mountains primarily to raise cattle and horses, he never abandoned tilling the soil. Those first years at Armells his garden and crops provided extra income, in addition to variety of diet. His 1882 crop, for example, while small by farming standards, did bring in $1,372.50 of income. That year he irrigated 25 acres, harvesting 400 bushels of potatoes, 20 bushels of peas and 1100 bushels of oats from 22 acres. [James Fergus and Son Day Book, December 6, 1882-January 1885, memo on 1882 crop, FC, MHSL.] As the ranch operation increased in size more attention went to livestock management while selling produce declined. Harvesting small grains for cattle feed, however, continued a standard procedure on the Fergus ranch.


         The Ferguses emerged from that first trying winter with approximately 600 head of cattle. They lacked capital to buy a larger herd, yet they had an abundance of superior free land; therefore, James decided to use land and labor to increase their operating finances by caring for someone else's cattle. With this in mind, James Fergus and Son contracted with Cornelius L. Vawter, Helena, to raise his cattle for a three-year period. Fergus agreed to furnish needed range and help from October 1, 1882; Vawter promised payment of one dollar per head for each calf branded and two dollars for each beef steer or other animal gathered, counted and delivered to purchaser of said cattle. Vawter held the privilege of selling at will. [No record is available to verify this but it is a reasonable assumption. A December 1885 entry in the James Fergus Ledger and Daybook, 1882-1886, p. 259, notes a James Fergus Homestead entry (No. 2374). Proof was to be made on or before January 15, 1891, but Fergus must have entered a homestead claim on the home ranch in 1880 or 1881 to secure the land. Found in the Granville Stuart Collection, Case 2, Drawer 13, MHSL.] Early in 1882, James and Pamelia each filed a desert land entry of 160 acres and in July 1884 added 80 additional acres under Pamelia's name. [Massena Bullard to James Fergus, December 6, 1887, Box 1 F. 67, FP, UM. Desert Land Entry No. 846, Pamelia Fergus Desert Land Entry No. 847, both final proofs due January 12, 1887. Bullard and Barbour, Helena lawyers, to James Fergus, April 1, 1885, Box 12 F. 44, enclosed $4 bill for drawing up Pamelia's Desert Land Papers on July 8, 1884. The first letter is missing two pages and probably contains two additional land entries including the original Fergus Homestead.]


         Therefore, by 1884 James described his ranch as including "560 acres as good as entered with about 6 miles of fence [and] good water right good houses of their kind with plenty of stables corrals sheep sheds etc has frame granery 28x24 orchard and small fruits. I should be glad to get $4000 for it when it is entered." [James Fergus to Theodore Lindsay, 1884, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM.]


         Not all of those entering desert land claims, however, planned to develop the land and live thereon. Fergus' son-in-law, S. C. Gilpatrick, urged him in 1882 to take advantage of the new interpretation of the Desert Land Act and secure lands for speculation as some Helena businessmen planned.


         House and others on the Spokane have taken up four or more sections turned the water into the old ditch and fenced about 15 miles and now have leased it for a pasture. Of course poor men cannot carry the matter so near completion. Under the ruling all that is necessary is to turn the water from a ditch on to the land and the law is compiled with.


Gilpatrick thought James, Andrew, and half-brother William should take similar steps. Gilpatrick and Luella planned to enter 640 and 160 acres each through Desert Land and Timber Culture "and by this means get a good body of land in compact form."


If this land is worth so much to these business men it is to me and I propose to await myself of the same situation. A company of persons who will enter about 3 or 4 thousand acres can run a canal for water that will not cost more than about .75¢ or $1.00 per acre each. At the rate emmigration is coming we are destined to see the day when good available land will be worth from 5 to 10 and probably more dollars per acre. [S. C. Gilpatrick to James Fergus, April 9 and 16, 1882, Box 5 F. 9 FP, UM.]


         Apparently James never took advantage of the new interpretation to indulge in speculation. Evidently he had that urge under control by 1882—the memory of his Little Falls fiasco undoubtedly encouraged him to enter, under Desert Land claims, only the land he planned to develop himself.


         The Fergus enterprise expanded slowly, though not without sinking into debt. By May 1883 James observed their worth had increased by some $15,950; still they had debt balance of $29,307.88. after making improvements, purchasing cattle, sheep and additional horses, he analyzed the previous fourteen months this way:


Our expenses and purchases added to the debits of genl acts . . . $29,000 among the 14 mos including the $1000 paid for horses were 9555.43, making a total of $38,955.43. Net cost of sheep interest and herding to date to be added 3482.06 equals $42737.49, the ledger debit; the ledger credit came to 13429.61 giving a balance of $29,307.88 as of May 26, 1883.


However, James believed his cattle value rose from $20,000 to $30,000, the horses from $4,000 to $5,000 and Armells ranch from $2000 to $2750. [James Fergus Ledger and Daybook, 1882-1886, entry for May 26, 1883, p. 97, Granville Stuart Collection, MHSL.]


         That fall Fergus paid $503.48 in taxes to the Meagher County auditor on an assessed valuation of $31,030, broken down principally as follows: 320 acres of land, $1500; 100 horses, $4500; 1900 sheep, $5700; 950 cattle, $19,000, 3 wagons, $150. [Receipt, Meagher County Auditor, November 23, 1883, Box 18 F. 55, FP, UM.]


         James entered the sheep business reluctantly that year after Andrew encouraged the move, and though they raised sheep until he died, James never made it their major source of income. James wrote Andrew, while visiting his Helena daughters in January 1883, opposing the sheep purchase for several reasons. He wanted to avoid sinking deeper into debt; he sensed the tight money and feared a depression; he believed Congress might open additional grazing land for sale and wanted cash available to expand their holdings; he did not think sheep sold for a good price or would in the future. But the calendar caused him to hesitate more than any other reason. "Again you know that I am getting old and in poor health, although sheep need less clerking and bookeeping than most anything else and I think more profitable than cattle." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, January 14, 1883, Box 14 F. 44, FP, UM.]


         Still, James yielded to his son's arguments. They purchased sheep, going into debt, but realized some income from the flock that August—at least $2210 for 10,049 pounds of wool at twenty-two cents a pound. The following year both father and son joined the Montana Woolgrowers Association, remaining members until they quit the business. [Bank of Northern Montana, Ft. Benton, credited the Fergus account on August 2, 1883, with $2210.78 for 10,049 lbs net weight of 42 sacks of wool at 22¢ lb. Box 18 F. 11, FP, UM. David Hilger, Sec. of Lower Judith Wool Growers Association, to Andrew Fergus, April 16, 1884, Box 16 F. 60, indicates Andrew joined this group as well. Receipt of October 15, 1884, indicating James Fergus had paid his dues in the Montana Woolgrowers Association for 1884, Box 12 F. 43, FP, UM.]


         James and Andrew soon agreed they could not care for two thousand sheep and give adequate attention to an equal number of cattle plus an increasing number of horses. Thus by the spring of 1885, they concluded an agreement with Eugene Townsend, their former hired man, and Mr. Scott of Deer Creek. Fergus agreed to "let" them 2020 mixed sheep on shares for three years. He received 40 per cent of the wool, one-half of the natural increase and an equal number of sheep in three years as he entrusted to them. James also agreed to pay the taxes on the original band and half the taxes on the increase. The renters promised to build sheds, feed the flock and, of course, give the animals good care. [April 1885 agreement between James Fergus, Eugene Townsend and Mr. Scott, Box 13 F. 18, FP, UM. This type of arrangement was a common practice in the late 1800's, benefiting both parties.]


         In March 1886 fellow rancher David Hilger reminded Fergus that the Lower Judith Wool Growers Association planned to meet at the Fergus ranch April 1, "a very appropriate day . . . for sheep men." Hilger stepped down as president whereupon James replaced him though failing to rename the group the Fergus County Wool Growers Association. [David Hilger to James Fergus, March 7, 16, December 28, 1886, Box 6 F. 29, FP, UM. Fergus County had been created in 1885. See Chapter X.]


         Wool provided steady though unspectacular income during the balance of the 1880's, reaching an apparent high of $3231 in 1886. That fall James "let" out 780 ewes and 300 lambs on shares for two years to George W. Ayers. Ayers agreed to pay expenses and provide Fergus with one-fourth  the wool proceeds and one-fourth of the sheep increase. [Ibid., July 24, 1886, Box 6 F. 29, FP, UM. Fergus-Ayers agreement of October 7, 1886, Box 13 F. 18, FP, UM. The 1886 wool sale included 51 bags amounting to 14,361 lbs. at 22½¢.]


         The following year James sold a mixed band of 2,014 sheep and 15 Merino bucks for $4,000. He promoted the sale by taking a four-year chattel mortgage on the flock, allowing it to be paid on time. It proved to be a good move, as indicated by the depressed sheep prices, especially on mutton, issuing from the Chicago stockyards the following spring. [Agreement between Fergus and Grant-Cowan, September 12, 1887, Box 13 F. 18, FP, UM. Rosenbaum Bros. & Co., Livestock Commission Merchants, Union Stockyards, Chicago, May 26, 1888, to James Fergus, Box 9 F. 33. Prices were very low, with some sellers not making enough to cover freight costs. One Texas seller received 80¢ per hundred for sheep and 25 at 40¢ per hundred. Grant and Cowan may not have been able to consummate the deal for a year later James agreed to let them 1900 sheep for one year, unless this number was in addition to the original 2014 sheep. Box 3 F. 3, FP, UM.]


         The Ferguses worked similar arrangements to raise at least part of their horses. On July 2, 1884, James Fergus and Son agreed to let Thomas Shea a specified number of "mares, young stock and stallions . . . to breed and raise on shares, for a period of eight years." Fergus furnished the needed stallions and gave Shea one-third of the increase and all of the original stock living at the end of the contract period. Shea agreed to provide good care, break all colts to halter and refrain from taking the horses from the waters of Armells Creek without Fergus' approval. [Agreement between James Fergus and Son and Thomas Shea, July 2, 1884, Box 18 F. 60, FP, UM. As indicated earlier, Shea also cared for the Fergus horses in Prickly Pear while Andrew wintered at Armells in 188-81. The contract:  "You are hereby left in full charge of our stallions, and all our horses and cattle that we have now or may bring on the range, and you will not let them go or give any of them up under any pretence whatever, unless by authority of a written order from Andrew, Mr. Gilpatrick, or myself." James Fergus to Thomas Shea, September 16, 1880, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM.]


         Andrew and James had been ranching together since 1879 under the arrangement of James Fergus and Son. By the Fall of 1884, however, they agreed to dissolve this partnership, with Andrew getting his ranch, one-half the cattle, seventeen saddle horses and a portion of the other equipment and stock:


. . . giving James Fergus his notes for $6206.08 payable in one, two, three, four, five, six years with interest at the rate of ten per cent per annum interest payable annually. James Fergus is to give Andrew at the rate of $1.50 per head for taking care of his half of the cattle every year for three years. [Agreement between James Fergus and Andrew Fergus, October 20, 1884, found in James Fergus and Son Day Book, December 6, 1882-January 1885, FC, MHSL.]


         After this division, Andrew's total worth amounted to $19,850, for he received half the cattle valued at $18,000, with his ranch worth $1000 and the seventeen horses coming to $850. James enjoyed $39,750 in total worth, including $18,000 in cattle, $2500 for the ranch, $7000 in sheep, $5150 for the balance of the horses, $500 worth of wagons, etc., $6206.08 due from Andrew and $393.92 from Andrew's accounts. Father and son together had a total worth of $53,000 with about a one-third, two-thirds split after this 1884 agreement. [Ibid. Also, agreement between James Fergus and Andrew Fergus, October 20, 1884, Box 13 F. 18, FP, UM. Andrew probably initiated the move to dissolve the partnership, as indicated in a letter to James, undated, suggesting similar terms reached in October 1884. The major difference is that Andrew wanted three-fourths of the cattle, not the half he got. Box 21 F. 2, FP, UM.]


         Formal agreements of this type occurred frequently between James and Andrew, with James keeping careful record of the terms. Also, James frequently loaned to or borrowed money from his son or daughters. This was done on a business-like basis, with careful record kept of principal, interest and time, apparently to the satisfaction of all, for there is no evidence of family friction over such an issue. The practice continued through the 1890's. [Letters indicating this type of agreement, especially loans, are scattered throughout the papers. James seemed to borrow mostly from Luella and son-in-law R. S. Hamilton. He loaned mostly to Lillie and Andrew. James also borrowed from half-brother William before he came to Montana.]


         Through the early 1800's the Montana cattle industry had existed only a score of years and much of that in a haphazard fashion. By 1884 cattlemen recognized the need for an organization to promote their special interests both in the legislature and among ranchers. Therefore, in July of that year the Montana Stock Growers Association was organized to protect and further the stock industry. James Fergus became a charter member and remained active until his death. [R. B. Harrison, Secretary, Montana Stockgrowers' Association, to James Fergus, March 28, 1885, Box 8 F. 19, FP, UM. Fergus dues receipt from Montana Stockgrowers' Association, January 16, 1885, Box 12 F. 44, FP, UM. Fergus joined on July 29, 1884.]


         While the parent stock growers' association dealt with issues affecting the entire territory, including legislation, local cattlemen needed smaller sub-divisions to handle local issues. The fall and spring roundup, mavericks, stray cattle, rustlers, and Indians demanded attention. Therefore, Fergus, like other area ranchers, joined the Moccasin and Cone Butte Roundup. By December 1885 the roundup named him secretary and acting treasurer when James Stuart, Granville Stuart's brother, neither attended meetings nor kept adequate records. Stuart had been the secretary since the group organized in April 1884; Fergus served as president until he replaced Stuart as the secretary, an office he held until the spring of 1888. [James Fergus Ledger and Day Book, 1882-1886, memo of early January 1886, p. 265, Granville Stuart Collection, MHSL. Record book, Moccasin & Cone Butte Roundup, January 5, 1886, Box 25 F. 3, FP, UM. Granville Stuart discusses rancher cooperation in Phillips, Forty Years on the Frontier, II, 165-66.]


         One duty assumed by the local Moccasin Roundup came to be the range riding assessment, first initiated the fall of 1884. Area ranchers paid an assessment based on the number of calves owned, "for the purpose of keeping men on the range all winter to watch Indians and cattle thieves, keep the cattle away from the Missouri River and from drifting off the range," the same type of thing Andrew and his men did alone that first winter of 1880-81. The Fergus brand, an "F" on the right hip and a ––– on the right side, was assessed $179.69 and the 72 brand, those Fergus raised for Vawter, paid $147.25, for a total of $326.94 in 1884-85. [James Fergus Ledger and Day Book, 1882-1886, memo on assessment and range riding, January 26, 1886, p. 271, Granville Stuart Collection, MHSL. Fergus first made note of his brand April 15, 1876, in the Fergus Day Book, 1872-1878, p. 168, Box 24, F. 1, FP, UM. On March 6, 1879, the Treasurer's office of Montana Territory certified that James Fergus and Son had "adopted and claimed for their sole and exclusive use the benefit and have this day recorded the same the following stock brands to witt:


Brand for cattle the letter F on the right hip and a horizontal bar thus ––– about six inches long on the right side. Mark – inderbit in right ear and tip cut off same. Brand for horses – the letter thus F on the right shoulder.

D. H. Weston, Recorder of Brands"

Box 13 F. 17, FP, UM.]


         The 1884 range riding assessment issued by the Moccasin Roundup grew from the Indian threat experienced by Granville Stuart, Andrew and the few others on the range during the trying winter of 1880-81. The fall of 1881 area ranchers met, agreeing to unite to keep fifty men in the field the following winter "to drive back the Northern Indians." [Granville Stuart to James Fergus, August 27, 1881, SP, YUL.]


         Stuart, Fergus' good friend from the Prickly Pear Valley, was a manager and partner in the newly formed Davis-Hauser-Stuart cattle organization. By September 1881 he estimated their loss of cattle to British Indians at 1300 head and tried to collect damages from the English government. [Donald MacMillan, "Andrew Jackson Davis:  A Story of Frontier Capitalism, 1864-1890" (unpublished Master's thesis, University of Montana, 1967), pp. 85 and 93. Hereafter cited as MacMillan, "A. J. Davis." The partnership was formalized in 1879 with $150,000 in capital.]


         Apparently they never enacted the plan, however, for Stuart posed basic questions to Fergus concerning the minimum cost to the DHS, the largest ranch in central Montana. If the DHS refused to support the plan, it could not possibly succeed. Stuart hesitated because he wanted to know in advance which, and more importantly, how many ranchers would join them from the two-county area, for he did not believe one-fourth of the stockmen planned to contribute. He estimated the cost for keeping fifty men on the range for three months to be:


50 men at $50 per month each



65 horses per month



provisions, ammunition, etc.








per month



for three months


The organizers suggested each rancher pay according to the amount and value of his range livestock. Stuart worried that if few joined, the DHS might be pressured into the position of paying half the assessment–$3700 a month or $11,000 over the three-month period. [Granville Stuart to James Fergus, August 27, 1881, SP, YUL.]


         By December most Indians had apparently left the area but Fergus reported to Stuart that "the Big Springs half-breeds are killing our cattle on Dog and Armell Creek."


These wounded animals were all in the wake and near the trail of Half breeds going after buffalo. Now then the question is, if they wounded so many and let them go, how many did they kill? And what had we better do about it. There is not a party of Indians or half breeds that have been on our range the past season that we know of but have left evidences of killing our cattle. . . . But the Half-breeds are doing us more harm than the Indians. [James Fergus to Granville Stuart, December 4, 1881, Samuel T. Hauser Collection, Montana Historical Society Library, Helena. Hereafter cited as: Hauser Collection, MHSL.]


Stuart suspected as much. "We are certainly in hard luck. We have got rid of the Indians only to find what I suspected all along, that the half breeds are as bad as the Indians." Stuart promised to write S. T. Hauser, one of his partners, and have him talk to General Ruger, the commander of Fort Maginnis, about the problem. If they received no action he thought the ranchers would need to organize, visit the breed's camp and "warn them to keep off and away from our ranges or we will run them out of the country." Stuart suspected them of killing DHS cattle but could not catch them in the act. However, he maintained, "we must stop them in some way or they will ruin us." [Granville Stuart to James Fergus, December 12, 1881, SP, YUL.]


         The following month Andrew and a hired man discovered an Indian band on Dog Creek, frightening them away. They later left their squaws, old men and best horses across the Marias River and went into Clagett, trading beef or buffalo. "Mr. Wells at Clagett says he was positive it was beef. They probably killed some steers on Arrow creek . . . on a horse stealing and cattle killing expedition." [David Hilger to James Stuart, January 31, 1882, Box 6 F. 29, FP, UM.]


         The first few years after claiming their central Montana ranchland, Stuart and Fergus, like other pioneers in this area, fought to wrest control of the range from its original inhabitants. Actually, the Indians had as much right, under the Treaty of October 17, 1855, to use these ancient hunting grounds as did the cattlemen. Two ways of life, vastly different, clashed on the rolling plains, for by 1881 the buffalo had almost vanished. In addition, scarcity of game on the reservation forced the Indians to search for their food on traditional hunting grounds. With a remnant of the northern buffalo herd grazing between the Missouri and Yellowstone and east of the Musselshell, the Indians were drawn onto the central Montana range coveted by Stuart, Fergus and others. "Naturally in the course of tracking traditional game the Indians made use of the beasts which had replaced them." [MacMillan, "A. J. Davis," p. 92. Ernest Staples Osgood, The Day of the Cattlemen (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1929), pp. 144-146.]


         By the spring of 1883 Stuart could see progress in securing their range against the Indians but considered the issue still in doubt as to which people controlled the plains. While sympathizing with the Indians' situation—he had married a squaw and fathered several half-breeds—like Fergus he realized the ranchers could not afford to make good the government's promises. Stuart ridiculed government policy trying to feed, cloth, house and maintain the depressed tribes. They must be driven off the range to promote the livestock industry; besides, Stuart believed those who treated Indians with kindness usually became their first victims. [Granville Stuart to James Fergus, April 15, 1883, SP, YUL.]


         In addition to killing cattle for food, Indians also found a particular joy in stealing horses, for it proved their manhood, increased their wealth, and provided recreation. The horse had become vital to their survival. But to ranchers like Stuart and Fergus this became a major irritation and threatened financial destruction. Consequently, Indian horse stealing became more than a game.


         The mid-1880's seemed especially bad in this respect. Stuart commented:


         It is to d---d bad about those horse thieves. They are probably across the river by now but of course that is only conjecture. The only course is for five or six or seven more men to follow as fast and as far as they can travel so they can overtake them if possible. If they cross the boundary it is not safe to follow them far across that region being in a state of war.


         It is undoubtedly Indians and if Piegans or Gross Ventres or Assinaboins a vigerous persuit will very probably recover them at their agencies. It is useless to apply for troops. They are too slow and never go far enough.


There is little doubt what Stuart would have done with Indian horse thieves: "I would have given $500 to have known that they were hiding at the head of Armell. I think we could have made good Indians of at least some of them." [Ibid., June 26, 1885, SP, YUL.]


         Stuart, like many ranchers, considered the army to be less than effective in handling the Indians. That September the military arrested about thirteen Crows with thirty horses. After escorting the group to Fort Maginnis they let eleven Indians free on the best horses and under orders from General Terry escorted the rest back to the reservation, "although Reece [Anderson, Granville's foreman] and others identified six branded horses as white men's property but could not get them." Stuart fumed:


         This is a big victory for the Indians, and when can we expect them to stop stealing if when caught the military feed them well, inflict no punishment of any kind and then escort them and their booty back home to prevent the outraged citizens from taking their own property and killing the thieves.


Granville planned to protest to the Stock Growers Association but expected no positive action. "If General Terry does not know any better than to do such things he should be superseded by someone having ordinary horse sense." [Ibid., September 26, 1885, Box 2 F. 9, FC, MHSL. In 1881 Stuart expressed similar anger at the military and intended to destroy the Indians himself if no action resulted:  "Now Sam if these or any other Indians, come on our range and the military will not send them home I propose to raise a force and kill them. . . . I will not stand idly by and be mocked in this manner, while our property is being destroyed by these thieving murderous savages. The situation has become intolerable and I will submit to it no longer." Stuart to S. T. Hauser, July 8, 1881, found in MacMillan, "A. J. Davis," p. 93.]


         Cooperation among ranchers became a key to warding off the Indian horse thieves and protecting horses. Thus in July 1885 Stuart warned Fergus of "five or six lodges of Grossventres numbering about twenty bucks and 30 to 40 women and children . . . on their way to visit the Crows," by permit from the Belknap Indian Agent. Lack of game in the area, Stuart believed, would lead them to live off ranchers coming and going; therefore, "their receiving a permit to go is certainly an outrage." Stuart would either deny them a permit to leave the reservation or provide an escort to prevent stealing. "Whenever they go back some of the young bucks will stay behind a week or so and then steal some horses and go home rejoicing." Stuart concluded that "our only safety lies in keeping close watch on our horses and if enough are taken so that the trail can be followed to pursue as quickly as possible. I will go any time." [Granville Stuart to James Fergus, July 26, 1885, Box 2 F. 9, FC, MHSL.]


         The following winter, in January 1886, Stuart, serving as a member of the finance committee of the National Cattle Growers' Association of America, wrote Fergus to secure a $20 contribution to promote a Washington lobby working toward two goals:  "To have the government perfect and take charge of a system of inspection and guarantees against the diseases of animals in all the States and Territories," and "to have the Indians given their lands in
Severalty, and the rest of their immense reservations thrown open to the use of the white man." [Ibid
., January 21, 1886, Box 2 F. 9, FC, MHSL.]


         The cattlemen rode in the mainstream of Congressional thought and added their weight, for the following year Congress passed the Dawes Act forcing land allotment on the Indians. Consequently, "between 1887 and 1923, through forced land allotment 90 million acres of the best Indian land passed to whites," including those in central Montana. [John Collier, "Back to Dishonor?" Christian Century, May 12, 1934.]


         It proved ironic that Stuart, with an Indian wife and half-breed children, led the fight to remove Indians and breeds from the range. He acted through emotion and expressed vindictiveness and hatred for he "thieving murderous savages." Yet he expressed traces of sympathy. Fergus, however, acted in a more objective fashion than Stuart. He too wanted the ranges cleared of Indians and breeds who stole horses and killed cattle. Yet he admired and respected the plains Indian, expressing these thoughts while mining in Colorado and Virginia City. In addition, Fergus blamed whites for precipitating more incidents and acting with more savagery than the Indians in and around early Montana mining camps. Fergus also criticized the press for biased reporting. The fall of 1864 he wrote Ignatius Donnelly:


         I with other honest Minnesotans here were much pleased with the stand you took on the Indian question and much displeased with the course of the "press" and its interested correspondents. I have lived so long on the frontier that I am well posted in the swindling operations of the Indian agents and traders. If the treaties made with the Indians were honorably and faithfully carried out, we would hear of fewer massacres, and our government would be at less expense on Indian accounts. [James Fergus to Ignatius Donnelly, August 31, 1864, Roll 20, DP, Minn. HS.]


Of course, if the treaty of 1855 had been honored by the government, it is doubtful that Fergus would have been ranching at Armells, the heart of Indian hunting grounds in the 1880's. Thus Fergus, like other westerners with feelings of ambivalence toward the Indian problem, was caught in a perplexing situation.


         Fergus chose the public press as one method of supporting Indian rights. In 1885 when the Helena Rod and Gun Club complained to Flathead Indian Agent Peter Ronan that his charges strayed from the reservation killing game, Fergus supported Ronan. The Indian Agent obliged the Helena citizenry, recalling the Indians, while pointing out that existing treaties allowed them to hunt and fish outside reservation boundaries. Fergus supported Ronan in a public letter and urged him to let the Indians hunt and fish:


         It is popular to speak and write against Indians, and to trespass not only on their rights under treaties and as the original owners of the soil, but on their rights as men . . . We have our press through which we give our side of this Indian question, while the untutored Indian has only his agent to defend him and take his part, and I am glad there is one agent who does his duty in this respect.


         I am sorry, however, that you called the Indians back to their reservation. They had a right to hunt and fish and ought to have been protected in that right against all comers. [James Fergus to Peter Ronan, November 7, 1885, newspaper clipping, n.d., Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 59, FP, UM.]


Fergus held a high sense of individual rights and obviously felt that even Indians should have their rights protected as a group and as individuals, unlike many westerners.


         The same month Ronan had written an article in the New Northwest indicating that "Indians have constitutional rights as well as any other race of people who occupy the lands of this country," and listed the various treaty provisions granting them hunting and fishing rights. Fergus supported Ronan by personal letter which greatly pleased the agent, ". . . to find the sentiments . . . were so well appreciated by you."


         Again thanking you for the kind expressions of confidence you were pleased to write me in regard to the honorable and upright discharge of the oftentimes disagreeable and generally unappreciated duties of an Indian agent, which coming from you—one of the oldest pioneers of Montana—one of its principal stock growers, and one of its oldest legislators, is doubly appreciated. [Peter Ronan to James Fergus, November 16, 1885, Box 9 F. 30, FP, UM.]


         Fergus also supported Indian rights in private conversation. Late in the decade he and a house guest at Armells became embroiled in an argument concerning Indians, with Fergus losing his temper, which he rarely did. He later apologized, blaming a headache and fever, and when in that state, "anything like treading on the weak easilly arouses me." But Fergus refused to retract his sentiments. He pointed out that Cornelius Hedges, attorney general and former superintendent of public instruction, called Fergus "as well read as any man in Montana." Study plus experience had convinced Fergus of Indian mistreatment by whites. Their buffalo killed and land taken, they depended on whites for survival. Fergus scoffed at his friend's contention that fighting among themselves branded Indians as uncivilized; white "civilization" had been warring for centuries, James reminded his guest. [James Fergus to "Friend McLaughlin," December 28, 1889, Box 3 F. 4, FC, MHSL.]


         Another event that made the 1880's good years for James Fergus, in addition to establishing and prospering at Armells, was the arrival of his Scottish half-brother William in 1883. When nineteen-year-old James left Scotland in 1833, he planned never to return, looking "upon that as a certainty from the moment I determined to leave Scotland." Of course this meant he would never again see a Scottish friend or relative unless they came to America. By 1880 the sixty-seven year old Fergus had almost abandoned the hope of seeing relatives again. [James Fergus to father, August 8, 1853, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM. James Fergus to William Fergus, August 1, 1858, Box 11 F. 56, FP, UM.]


         Of all the old world relatives, William expressed the most friendship to James, though they knew each other only through letters since William was less than a year old when James left. James wrote William during the years from a desire to keep in touch with the old homeland, though he left with feelings of an outcast. William, for his part, hungered for news of the promised land, yearning to come some day. Then too, he harbored a missionary zeal to bring the infidel Fergus back into the Presbyterian fold; unfortunately, William's overbearing sermons almost led James to terminate their correspondence. A mutual agreement to maintain religious silence preserved their exchange and friendship. [William Fergus to James Fergus, January 1, 1877, Box 3 F. 31, January 13, 1886, Box 3 F. 32, FP, UM.]


         While in Little Falls during the disastrous 1850's James often urged William to join him in Minnesota. William expressed interest but responded, "I have been crippled in every atempt to fulfill your desires, and they are mine also, for I have a determined desire to see America." He felt unable to come then because "my devotion to my aged parents keeps me and nothing else," especially his loyalty to their "aged mother, after living at variance with [her] husband (as I doubt not but you know Father's temper as well as what I do), her memory and intellect deteriorating with old age is reluctant to part with her youngest son." William also confessed to be short of funds and "without money at my command I could do you no good at present and I think it will suit me far better to stay where I am for a little longer to see what may turn up." [Ibid., September 20, 1858, Box 3 F. 31, FP, UM.]


         Three years later their domineering father died. Fergus had not seen him for almost thirty years, though in 1861 William had sent James a picture of himself and father Fergus. The same letter contained news that William had rented a farm in the Highlawside Farm Parish. By 1865 William married, giving James less hope than ever of seeing his half-brother. [Ibid., January 29, 1862, Box 3 F. 31, FP, UM. James acknowledged the picture in a December 1, 1861, letter to William, MC, MHSL. William was three days old when James last saw him. William told James of his marriage in a November 1865 letter, Box 3 F. 31, FP, UM.]


         When William married in 1865 he had been renting his farm only three years, but even then he experienced troubles. Several poor crops, coupled with high rent, compelled him to borrow from his prosperous brother Robert and ask James to repay some of his loans. Of course, William's kindness in loaning James money during the desperate Little Falls years endeared him to his American brother who promised: "I will pay you as soon as I can, to the last farthing, whether your property here [in Little Falls] can be sold or not. You did me a favor which I can never forget." By the fall of 1865 Fergus moved to Helena and had enough cash to repay William half his loan, though James confessed that Indians and civil war had made his Little Falls property unsaleable at the time. [William Fergus to James Fergus, November 1865, Box 3
F. 31, FP, UM. James Fergus to William Fergus, March 5, 1862, and August 25, 1865, Box 11 F. 57, FP, UM.]


         William and his growing family struggled through the next fifteen years, trying to survive on their rented Scottish farm. But by the fall of 1881 high rent and several poor seasons convinced the forty-eight year old Scot to bring his wife and eight children to America, hopefully to improve their situation. His wife had resisted the move before or the may have come earlier, but after years of fruitless struggle she, too, agreed they could do no worse in America. William hoped to borrow from his brothers to finance the passage and work on shares to become established and repay his debts. [Ibid., September 6, 1881, Box 3 F. 31, FP, UM.]


         After making the decision to leave Scotland, William confessed, in a long letter pelting James with questions of the Minnesota to Montana area, "I have lived for upwards of thirty years in America if not in body in mind in the midst of all frontier situations as I have found them in letters books and in conclusion what kind of country is the Yellowstone Valley?" William apparently heard it was arid, for he added, "I fear bad for water." [Ibid., November 9, 1881, Box 3 F. 31, FP, UM.]


         William, like James, remained fiercely independent, determined to make his own way; he wanted to burden his brother as little as possible:


As far as I can judge my two girls will not be of much service to us at home for a time. I suppose there will be plenty of work got for them perhaps one of them may be of help to Mrs. Fergus. We are all willing to work and don't want to be idle.


William also expressed his gratefulness for the encouragement and assistance James offered, indicating "I fear I will never be able to half recompense you for the time and anxiety you are spending on my account. [Ibid., January 31, 1882, Box 3 F. 31, FP, UM.]


         William planned to leave Scotland March 29, 1882, and arrive at Bismarck by April 16, then take a Missouri River steamer to Ft. Benton. Though it delayed his arrival that spring (to let the ice melt) it meant a 30-pound saving, about $150, over coming by Northern Pacific Railway. [William Fergus to S. C. Gilpatrick, February 3, 1882, Box 3 F. 21, FP, UM.]


         Before William arrived, James entered William's land and then helped him secure a Desert Land Entry as well as a preemption claim. [James Fergus, memo to Andrew Fergus on accounts, January 4, 1883, Box 14 F. 44, FP, UM. Louis Rotwitt, Meagher County Clerk and Recorder, to James Fergus, May 9, 1884, August 25, 1884, Box 7 F. 56, FP, UM.] James also helped establish his brother in the sheep business, letting him raise half of 2051 sheep, paid $700 for one year's labor, half the shearing costs and gave him "one span horses harness and wagon, 1 saddle horse, hauling lumber, timber, etc – for favors already, etc." [James Fergus and Son Day Book, December 6, 1882-January 1885, memo on the arrangement with William Fergus, entry of February 14, 1883, p. 15, FC, MHSL.]


         The meticulous James then wrote a "Memo about Brothers Business" illustrating how a family of ten got its start with brotherly help, though James expected William to repay with interest:


Brother owes on his half of 2051 sheep at 3 with expenses




He owes a private debt of




Interest on 3224.50 for 1 year




Total next fall




He will take in from herding until next Oct.




His half of wool say












Deduct 500 lambs at 3












He will have his 1000 sheep worth




His place worth








Balance above




Allowance for living








Leaving balance of





         Of course it is expected they will sell a little butter etc. eggs and raise there own vegetables but even then the above balance is a little too good. If he clears the half of $5000 he will do very well.


Though James wanted his brother to prosper, it seems he did not want him to prosper too much or too quickly without appropriate struggle, possibly like he labored in the Prickly Pear Valley, raising produce to flourish. James continued, listing what it cost him to help locate William:


It cost us to hold his ranch say


Going after him to Claggett


Haulling lumber and timber


2 horses wagon and harness


saddle poney


2 cows


tools and use of tools etc.


brothers and Andrews expenses to Benton and back







[James Fergus Ledger, 1859-1862, and Daybook, 1882-1886, entry of February 14, 1883, Case 2 Drawer 13, Stuart Collection, MHSL. The second half, including location expenses, is listed under a September 14, 1883, date but looks to be a continuation of the first entry on page 89. There is also some confusion as to whether William came the spring of 1882 or 1883, with evidence to support each date. However, he came no later than the spring of 1883.]


         William did not forget this assistance, however, again expressing gratefulness after arriving and establishing the ranch, which he named Caledonia. "We are greatly indebted to you for giving us a good start and will be indebted all our lives." James had not helped his brother entirely from an altruistic stance, however, for as their brother Robert pronounced, "I have no doubt you had a great desire to see a Blood relation." In addition, William had befriended James with loans in his hour of need, even when struggling with his own rented farm in the late 1860's. [William Fergus to James Fergus, n.d. in 1883, Box 3 F. 32, FP, UM. Robert Fergus to James Fergus, June 22, 1882, Box 3 F. 30, FP, UM. In 1868 William loaned James an additional $247.50 (50 pounds at one pound equaled $4.95), as noted from a receipt on a London bank dated December 5, 1868, Box 12 F. 27, FP, UM.]


         Like James, William had a streak of the hardheaded and practical Scot in him. He thought enough of his children and his debt to James to request a binding agreement to insure payment. "If I were gone I don't know how my children would act so I want you to hold security against us giving us three or four years to pay our many debts," which James did. [William Fergus to James Fergus, n.d. in 1883, Box 3 F. 32, FP, UM.] Two years later William struggled to keep his entire herd together and still repay James. In his strong independence, he requested a favor:


I don't want to infringe on your great liberality towards me no more nor I can help I asked not I might not need to pay you before three years you have granted me my request now what I want is if I fail to find money to pay you can I get the use of it for another year. I am willing to pay extra interest as I can do so and not increase liabilities.


Shortly after that he added, "if we have health and success by another year I expect to be able to meet all debts I owe." [Ibid., August 22, 1885, and an undated 1885 letter, Box 3 F. 32, FP, UM.]


         Accepting huge favors and sizeable amounts of money carries with it the inherent danger of control or at least unwanted advice. By August 1885 William still received advice from James, including admonishment to avoid greater debt by careful management. James pointed out that he still had debts and thus bought carefully, avoiding any item not urgently needed; William should do the same. [James Fergus to William Fergus, August 10, 1855, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM.] William apparently spurned such counsel and appeared ungrateful, calling forth this response from James as he denied an eastern friend a loan:


         A half brother came from Scotland three years ago, a good Christian man with a wife and nine children. I have never seen him before. He was broke. I gave him a farm, horses, wagon, etc. and started him with 2000 sheep. Besides that I gave him he now owes me about $4000 and like the rest of the human family he forgets favors quicker than injuries. [James Fergus to J. R. Monroe, November 14, 1885, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM.]


         Despite James' worry, William prospered through a combination of hard work, much help from his several sons, luck, and of course the fine start provided by his brother. In July 1886 he marketed 49 bags of wool for about $3000. In 1890 James wrote a Scottish friend of his brother's prosperity, exhibiting a trace of envy tinged with bitterness:


Brother [William] who has always been fortunate since he came here, has sold two thousand pounds sterling worth of wool and mutton this summer and got his money, enabling him to pay all his debts and have more than enough to run his business another year. In five years he will be able to buy out Andrew and Robert [his Scottish brothers] and still not interfere much with his business. Him and his boys have 4000 sheep, 30 horses, 25 head of cattle, 1200 acres of good land, 300 tons of hay, farm machinery, horses, stables, sheep sheds, pigs, chickens, etc. This all comes from his getting a good location getting help from his infidel brother, having lots of help, engaging in a profitable business and good management. [James Fergus to Janet Simpson, August 10, 1890, Box 11 F. 61, FP, UM. David Hilger to James Fergus, July 24, 1886, Box 6 F. 29, FP, UM.]


         Despite this touch of envy and their close working relationship, the two strong-minded brothers got along quite well during the 1880's, exhibiting only minor friction. If the divisive topic of religion was left discretely buried, they maintained good feelings toward one another. [An October 15, 1884, letter from William to James gives an example of a small disagreement over some lumber.]


         James Fergus had been at Armells slightly over a year when he again exerted strenuous efforts to begin and maintain an orchard. In September 1882 he ordered over thirteen hundred fruit trees and bushes from a Geneva, New York, firm. The next month he ordered $14 worth of vegetable seeds from Detroit. [James Fergus Ledger, 1859-62, and Daybook, 1882-86, entries of September 14, and October 10, 1882, Stuart Collection, MHSL.] He achieved limited success, however, and about 1877 warned those who would listen that he had spent $1000 since planting fruit trees in Montana in 1866 and "I have no orchard yet—only a few crabs, Duchess of Oldenberg, and half a dozen cherries and plums." He thought fruit could be raised only east of the mountains as he had succeeded in raising only fruits such as Siberian crabs, currants, gooseberries and strawberries. This limited success led him to proclaim, "I have given up trying to raise an orchard on our exposed, clayey soil, and advise all who have neither time nor money to lose to do the same." [James Fergus to Mineral Argus, n.d. (about 1877), Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 67, FP, UM.]


         Despite Fergus' pessimism, a correspondent of the Rocky Mountain Husbandman, touring area ranches, wrote this glowing description of Armells:


At this ranch I find the only orchard in Fergus County, and many of the trees are loaded with delicious apples eight and nine inches in circumference. The garden contains currants, gooseberries, red rasberries, strawberries, native buffalo berries and blackberries, the first grown in eastern Montana. Besides these there are all sorts of vegetables raised here, such as butter beans, sweet corn, cucumbers, summer squash, carrots, beets, onions, pumpkins and turnips, besides nutmegs or cantelope melons. Lilac shrubs and rose bushes are seen in the yard. In fact I never saw a ranch in this country that had this variety of fruits and vegetables on it. Order and system is the motto of this ranch. Mr. F. is the only man near here engaged in the cattle and horse industry—his neighbors all have sheep. [Rocky Mountain Husbandman, n.d. (about 1883), Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 72, FP, UM.]


         Though Fergus believed his energy wasted and his orchard a failure, he continued efforts to develop fruit. Thus the fall of 1889 he took apples to Lewistown, part of the surplus he could not use on the ranch. Two months later James decided to plant more fruit trees in the spring, for he ordered $50 worth of seedling trees from an Idaho nursery, including apples, cherries, plums, pears, etc. [Lillie Fergus Maury to James Fergus, October 1, 1889, Box 7 F. 47, FP, UM. James Fergus Day Book, May 22, 1889-April 5, 1893, entry of December 17, 1889, pp. 37038, FC, MHSL.]


         One of the most controversial, mystery-shrouded events in central Montana's folklore centers around the 1884 raids of horse thieves and their subsequent hanging. After bring Indians and breeds under control the ranchers discovered they still lost horses. It soon became evident that well organized horse stealing gangs, operating from the Little Rockies and across the Missouri, were eluding the law and effectively stealing enough horses to threaten ranchers with financial ruin. Therefore, led by Granville Stuart, certain key cattlemen decided to handle the situation themselves. If the law proved weak, a strong rope would either terminate horse stealing for good or convince surviving friends the country had become very unhealthy.


         By the spring of 1884 the situation became so desperate that Stuart planned dramatic steps:


         I am devoting considerable time, and some money to find out who they are and their haunts, and I hope to be able to give good account of some of them soon, but all this is confidential and should not be repeated to anybody for fear it may defeat my plans, but when I see you I will tell you all about it. [Granville Stuart to James Fergus, June 24, 1884, SP, YUL. For Stuart's comments on this period see Phillips, Forty Years on the Frontier, II, 195-226.]


         Secrecy dominated the operation to promote its success. Few details ever leaked out, though trusted friends received a general description. Thus in early July Fergus wrote his close friend W. F. Sanders:


         We are worse infected with horse and cattle theives than we were with robbers during the days of the Road Agents, and are obliged to hang a few of them. One was hung at Clagget a few days ago. One was hanging yesterday on a tree between Granville Stuarts and Maginnis, his saddle under the tree and his horse picketed near by. Two were at Maiden yesterday and are probably "up a tree" before this. Andrew goes to Stuarts today to join a party to scower the country on "business." [James Fergus to Wilbur F. Sanders, July 5, 1884, Manuscript Case, B.F. 38, FC, MHSL.]


         A few days later Granville Stuart returned from the expedition's first stage to offer his friend James Fergus the following confidential report:


         Have just returned and find your letter of the 13th awaiting me. . . . This expedition is also a success. We received 32 head more of stolen stock. (31 before). Three of the men will be in with them today, and the rest of the party (eleven strong) are still on a secret expedition and will be gone some ten days longer. Andrew and Stuart are with them and both well and hearty. Nobody hurt on our side but theres wailing among the enemey & the good work goes swiftly on.


         Don't tell any one that the expedition will be out ten days more, it might interfere with their plans. [Granville Stuart to James Fergus, July 24, 1884, Manuscript Case, B.F. 38, FC, MHSL.]


         Of course such secret "business" soon flamed into controversy. Fergus rushed to defend the raids in the local papers but denied he took part in the punitive action, though "old age and ill health and that alone kept me home." James admitted the raids had been conducted in an extra legal manner but called the situation desperate for "it is now simply a state of war [waged] on theives, bandits and desparadoes." He insisted the county and state governments provided no services other than to collect taxes. "We have been here four years and have not seen an officer but the Assessor; we pay our taxes but get nothing in return; we have no school, no road money, no poor to be supported by the county."


         The military, close by in Fort Maginnis, offered no help either because of the red tape involved—by the time a distant commander could be informed and return orders, effective action was difficult. Therefore, "now as the county don't protect us, the army don't protect us, there is no way left but to protect ourselves so we call upon the much abused cow-boy." [James Fergus to Rocky Mountain Husbandman, August 16, 1884.]


         Shortly after that Fergus again supported the raids in public, this time indicating the judicial system and warning sympathizers that the "hangings, etc. of horse theives [was not done] by bands of lawless cowboys but was the result of a general understanding among all the large cattle ranges of Montana."


         Fergus saw weak judges, ineffective attorneys and unjust decisions as the primary cause for cattlemen taking the law into their own hands. After citing recent cases of what he and others considered poor performances by judges and attorneys, he concluded, ". . . our courts are so uncertain that it is only a waste of time and money taking prisoners there. It is the certainty of punishment that prevents crime and in this respect the cowboy court has the advantage, criminals never break jail after hanging half an hour by the neck to a tree." James bluntly warned, lest anyone failed to understand: "sympathizers who are generally more or less ‘tarred with the same stick,' will be watched and their names placed on record."


         Thus the same James Fergus who twenty years earlier had opposed excessive vigilante power as dangerous when operating outside the law, now supported the same and condemned those in opposition. He believed the situation truly desperate, more so than during the days of the Virginia City road agents. He justified their actions because organized government failed to fulfill its legitimate responsibility and neither did the courts. The entire affair was probably distasteful to the law-abiding Fergus but in his usual fashion he vigorously supported that which he believed and backed down in the face of no opposition, whatever the source.


         Others, less sure of their position, grew increasingly nervous over the issue. James Stuart, Granville's brother, opposed the creation of another vigilance committee the following spring because:


         I do not think there is enough on this Range of the right kind to warrent a meeting and besides I do not care to belong unless Business is done more quietly than same was done last summer for there is too many people knows who belonged last season and some of the parties have left the country on account of so much talk besides it does not require many if they are the right kind and further more I don't think we will be required to make any more raids unless it is to hunt a few now in the Little Rockies. [James L. Stuart to James Fergus, April 2, 1885, Box 1 F. 40, FP, UM.]


         Whatever the resulting public furor or internal nervousness, horse stealing declined noticeably in central Montana. However, paying for the expedition also required considerable effort and met some opposition. By mid-December Granville Stuart complained that he was having difficulties "collecting the . . . expenses" (even to Fergus the nervous Stuart would not commit himself to paper), though he had collected $300 from the Moccasin Roundup. He urged Fergus to prod others into paying as they both were being mistreated. [Granville Stuart to James Fergus, December 19, 1884, SP, YUL. For example, Jim Atkinson of Box Elder Creek, wrote Fergus July 20, 1885, "if you have payed five dollars for us Atkinson & Abrams you are out the $5.00. I will not pay one cent of horse theif expenses for last summer." Box 1 F. 8, FP, UM.]


         A month later, however, Stuart received $700 "in full for Cone Butte and Moccasin Roundup Associations Assessment to defray the cost of breaking up the gangs of horse thieves that infested Eastern Montana." [Granville Stuart to James Fergus, January 16, 1885, Box 10 F. 39, FP, UM.] Three years after the raids occurred, Fergus still defended his friend Granville Stuart, both as a cowman and as the one who cleaned the area of thieves:


This however has nothing to say or do about Granvilles having had too many irons in the fire to keep them all from burning but in this country we cannot forget the services he Anderson, my son and others rendered the stock interest by risking their lives against great odds to rid our country of organized bands of horse and cattle theives and made it possible for Mr. Conrad Kohrs and all the rest of us to keep cattle in this part of Montana. The vigilants in all their time never did a braver, nobler, or more necessary act or one that paid better in results. Always have a warm side with Granville who was the head and front of it. [James Fergus to "Friend Kohrs," May 5, 1887, Box 3 F. 2, FC, MHSL. Since these raids were shrouded in mystery, disagreement exists as to what did happen on the expedition, who took part, and where they operated. C. B. Worthern questions if the Stuart-Fergus group took part and feels it may have been led by stockmen north of the Missouri River. See Manuscript Case, B.F. 38, FC, MHSL.]


         While thievery continued to be a source of irritation after the 1884 raids, it never again reached the level to require such desperate measures. In mid-June of 1887, some northern Indians managed to steal a band of 150 Fergus horses in broad daylight, driving them north toward Canada. The Fort Benton River Press mocked the military, especially area commander General Beurke, who just before insisted army patrolling had secured the northern sector. He called the talk of Indian horse stealing "greatly exaggerated." [Fort Benton River Press, mid-June, 1887, Box 21 F. 5, FP, UM.]


         A couple of weeks later Fergus wrote to clarify the stories relating to the Indian raid. While most of the horses had been returned, he two described the army's chase as comical and offered $100 in reward for the scalps of the three Canadian Indians he held responsible. "The damage to us sums up to considerable expense in time and money, two horses and several foals, all on account of three theiving Canadian Indians, neither of whom as yet has been killed or hung that I know of, and my offer of $100 apiece for their scalps still holds good." [James Fergus to Mineral Argus, n.d. (late June-early July, 1887), Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 64, FP, UM.]


         When pioneers Stuart and Fergus moved east of the mountains in 1880, Indians and buffalo offered the only competition for grazing space. Within six short years what seemed to many an impossibility happened—the Montana plains were overcrowded with more than 600,000 cattle and 500,000 sheep. The savage winter of 1886-1887 brought tremendous reduction in the number of these animals; it also topped the speculation boom by absentee owners on the western plains, including Montana. [Toole, An Uncommon Land, pp. 142-44.]


         Not all remained oblivious to the inevitable, however, for in 1881 James Fergus predicted ". . . there would not be a vacant range in Montana in five years." Cronies huddled around pot-bellied stoves in Lewistown and Helena laughed at such foolishness, attributing it to Fergus' old age. [James Fergus to Rocky Mountain Husbandman, April 20, 1885.]


         But Fergus did more than predict disaster—he offered a remedy to save the stock industry. Though ignored, his suggestions indicate a firm understanding of the problem; by the 1890's the wide-open livestock industry was but a memory, replaced by a model similar to the one sketched by Fergus in 1885. The only way to save their ranges and prevent overstocking:


. . . is to use all the water we can on our meadows and farm lands, raise large quantities of hay, either wild or cultivated or both. Enclose large fields for winter feeding; turn out stock on the range in summer; take them up and turn them into these inclosures in the fall and feed hay to poor animals and in bad weather. To make this plan profitable we must still further change our plan of handling stock. Take the bulls out of the herd from December first to July first; take the calves away from the cows in the fall and spay all inferior heifers, keeping only the best. By adopting this plan the writer thinks stock raising will continue to be profitable. The calves we now lose on the range during the winter, the great check in the growth of young stock during the same season under the present system, and the large per centage lost in mud holes in the spring will go far towards paying for the extra expense in feeding and handling.


Fergus was enough of a realist, though, to know that stockmen were both stubborn and dominated by tradition. Still, there could be no escape from the inevitable unless drastic changes came about. "Of course stockmen will pursue the present plan just as long as they can; but from the rapid increase of all kinds of stock on our ranges they cannot hold out long." [Ibid.]


         By the fall of 1886 Fergus sensed the closeness of impending disaster. Low Chicago prices on cattle prompted him, like many other ranchers, to hold more cattle than usual; unfortunately, the exceptionally dry ranges were ill equipped to support extra stock. The worried Fergus wrote his son:


         You can see now that it would have been better for us to have sold our cattle a year or two ago when I spoke about it several times. I saw farmers in the states were all getting into the way of raising a few cattle, the ranges were getting all overstocked and filled up, so that more cattle were being raised than there was a market for in a few years as the best part of the ranges are being taken up for farming, less cattle will be raised the population is increasing, more beef eaters will be to feed and cattle will gradually go up to the old price or higher. [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, November 12, 1886, Box 14 F. 45, FP, UM.]


         Fergus was right, of course, but even he could not predict the peculiar "combination of circumstances that presaged disaster" during the next few months. Heavy November snows, a mid-December thaw, followed by several months of unusually low temperatures and bitter winds produced unbelievable destruction. The mild December temperatures followed by bitter cold iced the plains; even when the cattle could penetrate the snow and ice they found only scant nourishment. [Toole, Uncommon Land, p. 145.]


         Few wanted to believe what they would find that spring. In early February son-in-law S. C. Gilpatrick wrote from Helena:


         There seems to be no end to the cold and snow. For days the sun has not been visible. From what the stockmen say there is no use to calculate what will be the per cent loss. This old doctrine of ‘the wind being tempered to the shorn lamb' this winter is practically [dead] and ought theoretically be knocked in the head. [S. C. Gilpatrick to James Fergus, February 11, 1887, Box 1 F. 11, FC, MHSL.]


The Fergus County probate judge also worried. "This is the severest on stock that was ever witnessed in Montana. Severity of the weather combined with the scarcity of feed will make serious inroads on stock interests of this country." [D. A. Meagher to James Fergus, February 14, 1887, Box 2 F. 5, FC, MHSL.]


         Later in February A. L. Randall of the Gallatin Valley wrote Fergus of his unusual losses. Six of one hundred horses had died even though protected in good sheds. Three froze their legs and had to be shot. Randall erupted, "Cattle raising is very nice in the summer but in the winter when you raise them as I do, that is, grab hold of their tails and try to raise them on their feet and have them fall over it will fetch a curse from a saint." [A. L. Randall to James Fergus, February 20, 1887, Box 2 F. 8, FC, MHSL. By April 15 Randall exclaimed, "This has been the longest winter of discontent I ever experienced. Sometimes I think it would be better if I was cavorting around the Elysian fields of paradise above." Randall to Fergus, Box 2 F. 8, FC, MHSL.]


         By late February enterprising men saw potential profit from the disaster. Skinners such as Theodore Lindsay and William Vanest wanted to contract with ranchers "to skin your brand of dead cattle on the range this spring for one half the proceeds. But this offered small recompense, for within two months T. C. Power and Brother of Lewistown reported "the bottom is out of the hide market." [Theodore Lindsay to James Fergus, February 20, 1887, FC, MHSL; T. C. Power & Bro. to Fergus, April 29, 1887, Box 2 F. 7, FC, MHSL. Murian beef hides sold for 7¢ per lb. in Billings and from 9 to 11¢ in Chicago. Power offered Fergus 7¢ at Judith Landing on receipt of steam boat.]


         The weather broke in early March. As one Lewistown rancher reported, "the snow is very deep over here. The loss of stock around here is heavy. The snow is melting off the animals so that you can see them." Andrew toured the Fergus range to evaluate their situation. A cursory count indicated at least 130 dead cattle, producing guarded optimism. He called these losses "considerable: but not as bad as expected since the weather had been so severe. Losses had probably been kept down because we "fed ours well early in the winter and kept them strong." James realized losses would be great. As Andrew put it: "Father says if we do not looze over $25,000 in cattle he will be sadisfied." [Andrew Fergus to Ada Stephens, March 6, 1887, Box 16 F. 56, FP, UM. William Cantrell to James Fergus, March 2, 1887, Box 1 F. 3, FC. MHSL. Andrew Fergus Notebook, January 28, 1866-August 27, 1887, Book No. 10. Andrew was on the range from February 27 to March 5, 1887.]


         As it turned out, Fergus would have been "happy" with a $25,000 loss, for their ultimate damage came to "$36,000 on cattle alone and a good deal on sheep [plus] about $1000 on grain and hay." James reported they had branded 600 calves and ran a herd of 1600 the fall of 1886. He thought they "lost 62 per cent and our brand was reduced to 173 calves." [James Fergus to friend in Glasgow, Montana, penciled rough draft in 1888, Box 11 F. 60, FP, UM. James Fergus to Senator Thomas H. Carter, about 1890, Box 21 F. 1, FP, UM.]


         While Fergus experienced grim losses, he neither suffered alone no lost as much as many. Many ranchers estimated their losses from between 70 and 90 per cent; others indicated more. "When the winter began the E6 and Turkey Track ranches had 27,000 head. By spring they had 250 head." There may have been 82,000 cattle remaining in Montana Territory of the 500,000 which began the winter. [Toole, Uncommon Land, pp. 146-47.] Many of the giant cattle companies on the plains plunged into bankruptcy, ending the period of absentee ownership and large scale speculation in western cattle. [Gene N. Gressley, Bankers and Cattlemen (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), pp. 244-47. Some of the larger companies to fold included: The Delores Land and Cattle Co. of Texas; Swan Cattle Co. of Cheyenne, Wyoming; The Dickey Bros., the Niobrara Land and Cattle Co., and the Union Cattle Co.]