James Fergus typified American pioneers in several ways—he moved easily and often; he believed in democracy and individual self determination; he saw and sought opportunity in the West; and as he aged he became more conservative. But Fergus was typical in yet another trait: his belief in the uplifting qualities of education.


         In some respects at least two of his convictions clashed, for each time he moved from a fairly settled community, which included schools, no matter how crude, his children faced the danger of diminished educational opportunity. Thus upon arriving in the city of St. Anthony Falls, after leaving Moline, James happily wrote his Scottish father: "we have good schools much better I think than those I use to attend in Chapelton 30 years ago—I think the American schools and school systems are not excelled by any nation in the world. There is an aim to teach ideas as well as sounds, to teach practice as well as theory." [James Fergus to father, January 6, 1854, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM. The metropolitan area could hardly be called a village, for St. Anthony Falls boasted 3,500 inhabitants, St. Paul 6,000 and Minneapolis about 800.]


         Leaving St. Anthony after only a few months, James moved his family to the fringe of the Minnesota frontier. With educational conditions equally as primitive as economic and social circumstances, James worked to establish a school district, to equip a building and pay the teacher. [Fergus' role is uncertain here, but he definitely was interested in education and became involved. In an April 4, 1859, letter to Mr. Butler (Box 13 F. 15) he urged buying some equipment, concluding, "if you have got them I will see that you get pay out of the first monies appropriated." A year later, March 3, 1860, their unpaid teacher, Mrs. Helen M. Smith, informed James she must have at least $5 a week and board plus the $25 in back pay or she would leave. Box 10 F. 8, FP, UM.]


         When Fergus left his family to cross the plains in search of Rocky Mountain gold he not only provided for their every-day necessities but for the education of his oldest girls. Depression crippled the initially shaky Little Falls school, closing it for months at a time. Consequently, with Pamelia's encouragement, James arranged to send Agnes and Luella to Moline for part of two winters, where his good friend George Stephens raised and schooled them as his own.


         Fergus returned from Colorado late in 1861, arranged business affairs as best he could, and again left his family for the West. Andrew and Lillie still attended school, when it remained open, but the older girls were finishing their formal education. Luella, about fourteen, wrote her father she hoped to secure a certificate and teach. While James did not oppose her working, he did discourage Luella from teaching in the Little Falls area, and wrote Pamelia:


I have no objection for her to be examined and get a certificate it might help her some other time. But I don't want her to keep school anywhere in that country. The children about Little Falls are too well acquainted with her and she is not old enough to go off alone among strangers to teach. Let her and Agnes learn all they can and when they come here I will try and get them goods of some kind to sell or a school to teach or maybe a post office. A small stock of lady or rather women and children's goods would probably sell well as there are a good many women here now and more coming. Let them make themselves qualified for such business and I can get them plenty to do. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, fall 1863, Box 11 F. 57, FP, UM. The previous spring Luella reported with some pride to her father they would have school for nine months that year in Little Falls. Luella to James, April 5, 1863, Box 4 F. 17, FP, UM.]


         Little is known of the education Andrew and Lillie received after coming to Montana. Andrew may have had little additional schooling, for he turned fourteen before they arrived in Virginia City the summer of 1864. Lillie attended school in the Prickly Pear Valley until no later than 1874 when at the age of seventeen she married Frank Maury. [A Fergus family tree supplied by Andrew J. Fergus, James Fergus' grandson, indicates Lillie married in 1873. However, according to a memo in the James Fergus Daybook, 1872-1878, dated June 20, 1874 (Box 24 F. 1) James indicated he had expended money the past year on Lillie's education. She probably married in 1874.]


         Evidence does not indicate James played an active role in territorial education while living in Virginia City, in the Prickly Pear Valley or at Armells; yet he was developing strong opinions on the topic. James first drew on his European background. "Protestant Europe supported good schools (particularly Prussia and Scotland) where boys went to school until they were fourteen, then to a trade—learning seven years—or to farm work or to serve as clerks or to sea, college etc, learning everything thorough and well." [James Fergus memo, n.d., Box 14 F. 4, FP, UM.]


         Thus by the mid-1880's Fergus announced:


         I think sir our present school system is wrong, the priviledges of the free school should end at 14, then we should send our sons to trades or some useful employment and our daughters into the kitchen or some other useful occupation. We would have fewer inmates in our jails, penetentiaries and insane asylums, as well as in our gambling houses. Idleness breeds vice." [James Fergus, notes for anti-gambling speech to 1885 Territorial Council, Box 14, F. 1, FP, UM.]


         During the 1884 Constitutional Convention the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported a resolution before the convention to make every boy in the territory learn a trade and every girl learn to cook, both before arriving at legal maturity. It is unknown which delegate proposed this resolution and it failed but Fergus would certainly have supported the measure. [Helena Daily Independent, January 23, 1884, the Independent opposed the idea, calling it a "most flagrant violation of the vested rights of young folks generally, and of tender and ambitious parents in particular."]


         While in the 1885 Territorial Council, James spoke heatedly against legalized gambling. He blamed the school system for leading, indirectly at least, young men to such vices:


         Our schools and school system is much in fault in this respect. We cultivate the intelect more than the morals, teach more of what concerns others than of that that concerns ourselves, we keep our children at school until they are young men and women, oh no, young gentlemen and ladies, dressed better than their grandparents were on their wedding day. Clerkships and professions are all full, our young people do not know how to work, it would soil their delecate hands. They saunter round in idleness. See the gambler dress like themselves, making an easy living. They too take an occasional glass of liquor and smoke a cigar have gambled a little at the church fair. The transition is easy and they take to gambling. [James Fergus memo, notes for anti-gambling speech to 1885 Territorial Council, Box 3 F. 15, FP, UM.]


         James looked back to the simpler life of the good old days and saw their subscription schools as better. If a school were to be opened community leaders circulated a subscription paper to help educate children of the poor. Still, James admitted this free public education which had swung to an extreme was partly his own doing. Years before he and others promoted taxation to provide public support for the common schools. Unfortunately, schools neglected the trades and practical skills. Before the free schools, boys worked on farms and girls helped at home learning useful things. "We had good practical schools" then, James observed. [James Fergus, note on education, n.d., but probably for speech to 1885 Territorial Council, Box 3 F. 15, FC, MHSL.]


         The pragmatic Fergus then emptied both barrels at the day's educational system. In one perceptive paragraph he typified the attitude of many westerners toward education, portraying the superficially educated as weak and useless:


         Now our children go to school. It is all school, no trades and little work. We are growing young men for professions and positions that are already full. Tall slender spindle shanked creatures many of them unfitted by nature for professional or business positions and by education for no other. Who must spend their lives as little better than superficially educated paupers for the poorest man on the face of this earth is a young man with an education and nothing else. Better sir if our free schools were to give only a common practical education and leave the rest of it if needed to the parents or scholar himself. [Ibid. Of course, pioneers still placed much faith in education. For example, William Fergus, just before leaving Scotland for America, wrote that "my greatest desire is that we may be granted health and be enabled to give our children some education." William to James, January 31, 1881, Box 3 F. 31, FP, UM.]


         Thus, James' thinking, just as his life, came to be a dichotomy pulling in diverse directions. His old world education and heritage pressed for a common education of practical skills. On the other hand, he believed in a thinking citizen able to reason and express himself well, especially on paper. Fergus represented both, of course, and understandably spoke from his own experience. Therefore, as in his own background, he would first provide the young with vital skills and work experience. Then, if a student had aptitude for the professions, he could pursue this on his own. "I would have reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar and bookeeping followed by phisiology" taught in the common free schools. All youth needed to be able to read, express themselves orally and on paper and to compute. Anyone considering business needed skill in bookkeeping, as James had been trained.


         In addition, Fergus the mechanic, the admirer of nature and believer in nature's law, urged the young to understand their own bodies, mostly a hidden mystery to them. "The human body is simply a delecate highly organized piece of machinery with the power of evolving from food and drink, thought, force, labor, as self preservation is the highest or first law of nature." Students should also understand the need of keeping this machine well fed, housed and to keep its governor, the brain, in good order. [Ibid. Fergus' views on religion and nature's laws will emerge in Chapter XII.]


         To an industrious man like Fergus, keeping the brain in good order meant avoiding idleness—certainly it meant avoiding the saloon and gambling house. A person should read good books and shun novels which tended to make the young daydream, especially the girls. Everyone must use their time wisely and not working should read to improve oneself, something James had done since coming to America in the 1830's. As he put it, "my hobby all my life has been to acquire knowledge to investigate things." [James Fergus to Mr. Cleland, June 5, 1892, Box 11 F. 62, FP, UM.]


         By the 1890's James viewed his life from the twilight years, concluding, "free schools for which [I] talked, spoke and wrote sixty years ago has been planted, grown, matured and gone to seed." To him a prime example of its waste and high cost, which in turn raised his taxes, was the instance where "the public [is] paying sixty dollars a month for educating a single family just from Europe." [James Fergus note, n.d. (handwriting indicates the 1890's), Box 14 F. 4, FP, UM.]


         One reason James' disillusion with the public school system became so pronounced may be traced back to the lofty faith he placed in its potential. As a liberal James expected common education to at least partially reform mankind. He expressed it this way in 1894, as usual holding his greatest wrath for the church: "When a young man I had great hopes that the United States would do much with her free schools and liberal governments to reform mankind but I have been sadly disappointed and I am sorry to say that church members are the worst . . ." [James Fergus to Janet Simpson, spring 1894, Box 11 F. 62, FP, UM.]


         When James Fergus spoke of improving oneself through concentrated reading, thinking, and writing he meant exactly that and spoke from experience. His reading habits developed soon after coming to America; those first years of apprenticeship and training led him to study with a twofold purpose: to improve his scientific skills and to become acquainted with his adopted land. These habits remained, for James never read novels, something he considered a waste of time. He instead concentrated on scientific works, religion, philosophy, livestock journals and flocks of newspapers, both local and national.


         No matter which frontier Fergus challenged, his key reading material always followed. In 1863, for example, James mined in Virginia City while Pamelia struggled to keep family and property together in Little Falls. James urged her to pay most important debts and taxes, buy some good warm clothing for everyone, and especially to keep taking and forwarding the New York Times, the St. Paul Press and the Boston Investigator. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, September 27, 1863, Box 17 F. 20, FP, UM.] In fact, in 1883, James observed that he had received the Boston Investigator for over forty years while living in five frontier states and territories, receiving his mail from nine post offices. To that date he had never missed an issue. [James Fergus to Boston Investigator, April 26, 1883, Box 21 F. 4, FP, UM.] Fergus subscribed to the magazine for the following nineteen years of his life, making a continuous subscription of fifty-nine years. This magazine exemplifies one major facet of his being—an abiding search for evidence to refute ignorance, superstition, and Christianity (he considered the three synonymous). James praised the Investigator for being so consistently good, for offering so many "intellectual feasts" over the years. "We have other Liberal papers with more words, some with more patronage; but for uniform consistency, and brave, gentlemanly, and able advocacy of so unpopular a cause for so long a period, it has probably never been equalled in any country or at any time." [Ibid. Fergus also took the Truthseeker (Box 10 F. 69) and the Freethinker's Magazine (Box 1 F. 6, FC, MHSL), both liberal magazines.]


         Fergus' great interest in science, technology and machinery can be traced in his subscription to the Scientific American, which he received without interruption from its inception in 1845. [Scientific American to James Fergus, November 13, 1899, Box 9 F. 54, FP, UM. In 1899 the company wrote to "congratulate you upon having arrived to so good an age as 87 years, and also that you have been a regular reader of the Scientific American from the very commencement of its publication." James also received the Popular Science Monthly, Box 1 F. 1, FC, MHSL.]


         The third leg of his life's interest rested on livestock and agriculture. Consequently, James received numerous journals of this type, some of which included: The Farmers' Home Journal, the Stockgrowers' Journal, Montana Stockgrowers' Journal, Drovers' Journal, Montana Woolgrowers, Kentucky Livestock Record and the Montana Livestock Journal. [Box 3 F. 8 and 11, FC, MHSL. FP, UM: Box 2 F. 40; Box 9 F. 1; Box 12 F. 31, 32, 38, 44, 46, 48; Box 13 F. 3.]


         Newspapers provided James with national news and kept him abreast of pressing local issues. He received the New York Tribune in 1853 and probably had for a decade or more. Whether he continued his subscription into Montana is unknown, but by 1898 he had sent the paper to his Scottish brothers for over thirty years. He also forwarded local Montana papers to Scotland, including the Helena Weekly Herald. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, July 12, 1853, Box 17 F. 15, FP, UM. James Fergus to Luella Fergus Gilpatrick, February 14, 1898, Box 11 F. 64, FP, UM. Box 3 F. 7, FC, MHSL. There is evidence that James sent the Herald to Scotland at least from 1881 until 1892, and he probably sent it both before and after these dates. See Box 12 F. 40, 41, 43, 44, 48; Box 13 F. 1 and 3, FP, UM.]


         Area newspapers to which James subscribed included: the Great Falls Leader, Rocky Mountain Husbandman, Helena Independent, Fergus County Argus, New Northwest, Ft. Benton River Press, Ft. Benton Record, Butte Rough Rider, Rocky Mountain Gazette (Helena), Helena Herald (weekly and daily), Avant Courier (Bozeman) and the Spokesman-Review. [FC, MHSL: Box 2 F. 8; Box 3 F. 7, 8, 10 and 11. FP, UM: Box 12 F. 31-48; Box 9 F. 36; Box 10 F. 45; Box 13 F. 1 and 3; Box 18 F. 56. He also subscribed to New Education through the Business Department of Montana State University. H. G. Phelps to Fergus, February 10, 1900, Box 8 F. 18, FP, UM. There may have been more but these can be verified.] Thus in the late 1890's when James did little physical work but much reading, he told a friend he received over forty publications each week. [James Fergus to Elmer E. Adams, date unclear, possibly December 14, 1898, Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 99, reprint from Fergus Falls Daily Journal, FP, UM. This claim varied from twenty-five to forty.]


         Fergus not only subscribed to many local and national publications but he wrote to many of them, making him distinctly unusual in that respect. James did not fit the stereotype of a western rancher, close mouthed and afraid of committing himself to paper, for he wrote more than the average citizen of any generation. Fergus himself best expressed his creed in relation to writing for the public press, as in 1876 he proclaimed in the Helena Herald:


Men in all ages have paid some respect to the opinions of those having age and experience. Being one of this class, and caring more for the good of my race than what men or even newspapers may say of me, I have always by work and pen offered views, advice and suggestions, looking to the moral, intellectual, and financial improvement and general happiness of my fellow-men.


James pledged that he would "continue to do so especially opposing public wrongs, for the few remaining years of my life, let it displease whom it may." James did just that, though his remaining years were not few but numerous. While he displeased some and irritated more, he aroused the applause of many. [James Fergus to Helena Herald, January 27, 1876.]


         Fergus constantly wrote letters to local Montana editors, either to comment on current issues or to engage in public combat over something he had written. It was not unusual for his private letters, well written and very descriptive, to be published in communities where he formerly lived. This was especially true when he wrote from the Colorado and Montana gold camps, though it also occurred during his ranching days. [Nathan Richardson to James Fergus, September 24 and October 14, 1897, Box 9 F. 14, FP, UM.]


         At various times Fergus wrote either to or for most of the local newspapers to which he subscribed. Editors often requested articles from him. The Mineral Argus (Maiden) urged James to write a "special correspondence" describing events in the 1884 Constitutional Convention for their Maiden – Lewistown readers. After attending the convention of 1884, James and Pamelia took a month-long trip to the Pacific coast. While there Fergus returned several articles to the Mineral Argus and Rocky Mountain Husbandman detailing sights and experiences on the Pacific. [James Fergus Scrapbook, pp. 30-32, Box 21, F. 4, FP, UM.] Later that fall, the Montana Wool Grower, a newly organized paper for Montana sheepmen, looked to Fergus as "one of the few who generally have something to say—and knows how to say it—for a little help in creating" interest in sheep business. The editor hoped other ranchers would contribute but acknowledged that most seldom wrote letters, much less to a newspaper. [Fell and Vrooman, Proprietors, Mineral Argus, to James Fergus, January 19, 1884, Box 7 F. 64, FP, UM. L. W. Peck, Montana Wool Grower, to James Fergus, October 15, 1884, Box 8 F. 21, FP, UM.]


         In 1875 the Fort Benton Record initially refused Fergus' subscription fee in thanks for his numerous articles and letters to the editor. "Your communications are excellent, and I feel very thankful to you for them. They show deep thought, long familiarity with the subjects and excellent literary ability." [W. H. Buck, Ft. Benton Record, to James Fergus, January 9, 1875, Box 3 F. 43, FP, UM.] In 1890 the Fergus County Argus wrote Fergus to "kindly furnish us with an article on the horse industry, for our special issue of August 7th." Within the next ten years The Age, Boulder, Montana, wanted James to compose a thousand word article on direct legislation, while the Rocky Mountain Magazine hoped Fergus would deal with "the Growth of a Commonwealth." [John W. Vrooman, Mineral Argus, to James Fergus, July 19, 1890, Box 3 F. 6, FP, UM. Will Kennedy, editor of The Age, to James Fergus, November 16, 1893, Box 6 F. 59. Kennedy could not offer cash but a two year free subscription. Donald Bradford, Helena, Manager of Rocky Mountain Magazine, to James Fergus, October 13, 1900, Box 3 F. 24. Eleven other topics were listed with potential writers, i.e., W. F. Sanders on "Territorial Governors." Also, in 1899 Robert Vaughan of Great Falls was writing a book called "Montana Then and Now." He wanted Fergus to compose a few pages describing his early days in Montana. R. Vaughan, July 13, 1899, Box 11, FP, UM.]


         During this period at least two potential Montana authors encouraged Fergus to contribute to their books. In 1886 John X. Beidler informed James he was "writing the history of my life from '56 to date," and wanted James to "write me a chapter of incidents for me to put in." [John X. Beidler to James Fergus, December 4, 1886, Box 1 F. 37, FP, UM.] In the mid-1890's D. M. Carr of Lewistown planned to write a "short, authentic history of Montana," including a history of Fergus County, which he urged James to compose. "I do not know of any one in the state better fitted for the compiling and writing of the Fergus county history than you, should your health permit you to undertake the work, nor do I know of one whose name would better insure the financial success of the book." [D. M. Carr to James Fergus, April 23, 1894, Box 2 F. 40, FP, UM. The book was never published, partly because of depression and lack of money, it is not known if Fergus agreed to write a chapter. Likewise, it is not known if he agreed to contribute to the above mentioned efforts.]


         The 1875 compliment of Fergus' writing ability was not an isolated remark. In the early 1890's the Helena Herald offered another:


         Now and then our venerable friend F., of Fergus, talks a bit through the Herald. And talks sensibly always, and many readers, we are sure, would like him to talk oftener. Eighty winters have whitened his locks and bent his body, but he is as bright of mind, as keen and vigorous of thought, as our pioneers knew him thirty years ago. His has been a sturdy, honorable and wholesome life—one to praise, one to pattern after. May his years round to a hundred and to the end his gumption and his goodness remain to us a boast, a benefaction. [Helena Herald, n.d., Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 82, FP, UM.]


         James Fergus remained an opinionated man who worked at writing and of course enjoyed it. In the mid-1880's he made note of this longstanding interest in writing and of his membership in groups such as the Franklin Literary Society of the Maiden-Lewistown area:


. . . I have always had an interest in such societies, and attended them in my younger days. I was generally editor of the little paper that was read at every meeting, so I have taken quite an interest in the meetings of the Franklin Society—and thinking that the general interest in them was flagging toward spring I proposed to David Hilger—a member that I would write a section that would take me an hour to read. The society could pick the subject. [James Fergus memo, n.d. (about 1886), Box 14, F. 1, FP, UM.]


         James not only wrote in the public press himself but on occasion urged others to do the same. In an 1890 article to the Fergus County Argus he suggested others write in the columns of their local newspaper because:


Good books and good newspapers furnish good reading for our farmers and stockmen during the winter evenings. But thinking is just as necessary as reading or amusements, and every thinking, observing man and woman has thought of something or has some experience that might benefit somebody if written out and given to the public press.


Other readers might respond to such articles, James thought (they often did to his articles, leading to public controversy) which would help educate as well as acquaint one with another. [James Fergus to Fergus County Argus, 1890, Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 74, FP, UM. James suggested several potential topics and turned on the schools again: ". . . and all can give their opinion as to whether a term or two, in a good cooking and housekeeping school and a term or two less in algebra would not be likely to make our girls better wives and mothers, probably lessen the number of divorces and whether there is not a higher destiny for our young men than spending their time and money drinking and gambling."]


         Late in the 1890's Fergus became embroiled with the Argus in a dispute over one of his articles. He finally explodes, "I have written for the public press for sixty years" and had only three articles refused. He continued, insisting, ". . . at least ten papers in Montana alone have asked me by private letter to write for them and one offered me ten dollars a letter or $520 a year if I would write a letter a week for them, another offered me a good salary to take charge of an agricultural department for a leading Montana newspaper." James said he had supported the Argus because it was a local paper but did not think he would write for it again. [James Fergus to Calsey Watson, Fergus County Argus, February 27, 1898, Box 11 F. 64, FP, UM. No evidence of these letters was found but they may have been destroyed. It might be well to remember that Fergus once considered buying and editing the Virginia City Post. See Chapter VI. There is evidence indicating Fergus' articles and letters to the editors appeared in the following newspapers; he probably wrote for more, in addition to those mentioned above: Great Falls Tribune, Helena Daily Independent, the Truthseeker, the Anaconda Standard, the Ironclad, and the Boston Investigator. See Box 4 F. 11, 22-25; Box 6 F. 3, 4, 29 and 46; Box 1 F. 67, FP, UM.]


         In addition to writing frequent letters to the editor and articles for the press, James composed several personal letters a day, receiving a similar volume. In 1886 he asserted, "I probably receive a thousand letters a year." Several years later, in discussing the previous fifty years of letter writing he indicated, "I believe in that time I have received 50,000" letters. [James Fergus to Dr. E. A. Wood, December 25, 1886, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM. James Fergus to R. S. Hamilton, penciled rough draft about 1890, Box 11 F. 61, FP, UM.]


         A person receiving this huge amount of personal mail expectedly returns a similar amount. This 1895 letter to his daughter Luella illustrates the fistfulls of letters James sometimes mailed, at least during the lax ranching months of winter. That day James "sent thirty letters of my own writing from Lewistown and have written ten including this today. Two to the Governor about salaries, wolf bounties Australian Ballot law." [James Fergus to Luella Fergus Gilpatrick, January 1, 1893, Box 17 F. 44, FP, UM.]


         While James Fergus spent his life in the out-of-doors, he used hours of spare time reading. His affair with books developed in youth, blossoming to a permanent attachment. After apprenticing in Canada, James began mining books to increase his technical knowledge, acquaint himself with America, and resolve his inner religious conflict. This reading pattern continued throughout his life, increasing during his semi-retirement years of the 1890's.


         Good books, like periodicals, either accompanied James onto the frontier or soon followed. In early 1864, just as Pamelia packed to leave for Montana, friend George Stephens of Moline promised Fergus he would give Pamelia names of "new and valuable books and amongst the first is Ben Butler in New Orleans which is the best thing I have seen for many a day. You will be delighted with it, it is rich and racy, trators find no sympathy with him." Stephens also forwarded the following books at Fergus request: the works of Bishop Colenso—The Pentateuch, Book of Joshua Crittically Examined by the Right Reverend John Mullian, St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, newly translated. [George Stephens to Pamelia Fergus, February 14, 1864, Box 17 F. 32, FP, UM.] This type of book represents James' continued efforts in a serious study of the Bible and Christianity, begun over two decades earlier and continued until his death.


         Little is known of the type or amount of books James received while ranching in the Prickly Pear Valley, other than occasional volumes such as the Dictionary of Science (1873) and attempts to secure titles such as Faith and Reason or Heart and Soul in 1879. [J. B. Lippincott & Co. to James Fergus, May 27, 1873, Box 7 F. 19, FP, UM. J. P. Mendum, Boston Investigator, to Fergus, December 12, 1879, FP, UM. In 1888 James tried to get Warfare of Science but found it temporarily out of print. Box 7 F. 58, FP, UM.] But in the 1880's after permanently settling at Armells, James began ordering books in quantity, just as he secured ranch supplies.


         Thus in January 1885 he ordered twenty books oriented to the study of religion-philosophy-history, including:


History of Creation

Other Worlds Than Ours

Evolution of Man

Our Peace Among

Paines Complete

All In A Life Time

Analysis of Religious Belief

Bible Myths

Bible Morals

Lives of Preachers


Self Content of Bible

Historical Facts

Bible Analyzed

Heads and Faces

Truth Seekers Almanac

The Worlds Thinkers


Champions of the Church




Since these came from the Boston Investigator most represent liberal interpretations and emphasize criticism of the Bible and Christianity. Many of the thoughts Fergus showered on the 1884 convention and the 1885 Council originated in books such as these, supplemented by free thought magazines. [James Fergus memo, January 4, 1885, Box 12 F. 44, FP, UM. The twenty books cost him $35.80, including shipping cost. No book sold for over $4.00 while several were less than fifty cents.] A year later James ordered another large volume of books, this time totaling $60. Unfortunately, he did not record the titles, though he again ordered through the Boston Investigator, at least indicating the type. [Boston Investigator to James Fergus, December 23, 1885, Box 1 F. 2, FC, MHSL.]


         During the early 1880's when books, like ranchers, were few and far between in central Montana, Granville Stuart and Fergus shared reading material. Thus in the spring of 1883, Stuart wrote that his partner S. T. Hauser had just sent two volumes of the Life of Voltaire. Stuart read the first volume and came to consider Voltaire one of the most "extraordinary men that ever lived," an intellectual giant who fought off Europe single handed and was fortunate not to have been burned alive. He sent it to Fergus and promised to forward the other volume after reading it. [Granville Stuart to James Fergus, April 4, 1883, SP, YUL.]


         Before Fergus reached middle age he probably accepted the dictum "we should accustom the mind to keep the best company by introducing it only to the best books." [Herbert V. Prochnow and Herbert V. Prochnow, Jr., The Public Speaker's Treasure Chest (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), p. 442.] With this thought in mind the following inventories from the Fergus ranch library will be presented. His 1888 inventory listed some 122 books valued at $300:


D. M. Bennet's Works

Evidences of Christianity

The Bible of Bibles

Nature's Divine Revelations

Supernatural Religion

History of Scotland

The Apocrypal New Testament

White, Medical Works

A Few Days in Athens

The Light of Asia

The Brain and the Bible

Success with Small Fruits

Ideology (Sutherland)

North Pacific Railroad

The Safe Side

Travels of General Grant

Apples of Gold

Woman's Work in the Civil War

The Gods and Other Lectures

Laws of Montana, 1885

Free Thought Lectures

History of the Rebellion

Nelson on Infidelity


[James Fergus book inventory, 1888, Box 14 F. 5, FP, UM. Those listed in the 1894 inventory have been deleted.]


         The 1894 Fergus inventory included 239 titles "not including pamphlets, etc." The Bible, A Cityless and Countryless World, and fourteen government books brought the total to 255, by his account. The inventory is presented as organized by James Fergus. Some of the titles and authors are uncertain because of slurred penmanship; spelling and punctuation are his:


Norse Mythology by  Anderson

Intellectual Development of Minds  Draper

Present Monarchies by Rawlinson 3

China  Wilson

History of Egypt by Rawlinson 2

Advance Guard of Civilization  Gilman

History of Scotland by Taylor 2

Roundabout Tomorrow  Bolton

History of Montana

Round the World  Carinager  *

Story of the American Indian


Travels in Brazil  Andrews

Standard Atlas  Palmer

Plutaneks Lives  Millinau

Steamer Covinwal in Artic  Becon

Sioux Massacre

Prehistoric Times  Lubbec

Dictionary of Dates  Putnam

Pesley and Reminiscenes  *

Butler in New Orleans  Parton

Study of Mexico  Wells

Gibbons Rome  Millinau

Historical Society of Montana

Parleys Remininscinces  *

Elements of Universal History  Colliyer

America Not Discovered by Columbus  Anders

Ragnarok  Donnelly

Atlantis  Donnelly

Our Place Among the Affluter  * Procter





Nimrod in the North

Boots and Saddles  Custer

Woods Medical Works  2

Hot Plow Shares  Turge

Direct Legislation  Sullivan 2

Country Homes  Woodward

Success in Business

Cyclopedia of Poetry  Goldsmith

Dr. Chase's Reseipt  Andrews

Sensible Elegent  Miss Ward

House Libraries  Andrews

Garland  Renward

Hoyles Games  Andrews

Robert Burns  Cunningham

Literature Art & Song  Maetunsie *

Edwin Arnold

U.S. Report on Cattle

Sunshine and ____  Clay

Slips of Pen and Tongue  Long

Websters Dictionary

Life Among the Trotters  *


Every Man His Own Mainor  * BPeck


Journal of Wm. McKay


Triumphant Democracy  Carnegie

Song of Hiawatha

Glenavevil Poem  Lytton

Paints Political Works  2

Sacred Mountain

Training and Educating Horses  Magher

Library of Poetry and Song  Bryant

Marvelous Country  Coseu

Illustrated Horse Doctor  Mahew



Catalogue of books owned by James Fergus, Feb. 4, 1894

Liberal Books


Science of the Bible  Wooley

Cossinas Hymbook  Washburn

The Worlds Sages  Bennut

Origin of Religeous Worship  Dubois

Champions of the Church  Bennut

History of the Council of Nice  Dudly

Bible Anilysed  Kelso

Secrets of the East  Oswald

Lafe Sicle  Mitchel (Life Cycle?)

Paines Age of Reason

Anaylesses of Religeous Belief  Amberly 2

Struggle for Liberty  Spencer

Life of Voltaire  Parton

Bible in India  Jacoulett

All in a Life Time  Wixou

Korau  Sale

History of the Christian Religion

Conflict Between Religion and Science  Draper

Sixteen Crucified Saviors  Grames

Evolution of Religious Thought  Decout

Occasional Thought  Sevear

Creation of God  Hartman

Bolueys New Researches

Gods & etc.  Ingersoll

Mistakes of Ingersol

Ideology  Sutherland

History of Sunday Legislation  Lewis

Free Thought Seekers  York

Apochraphal * New Testament

Bible Myths  Boughten

Men, Women, Gods  Garden

Abraham Lincoln was he a Christian  Rundsburg

Facts and Fictions of Life  Garden



Scientific and Mechanical


Experimental Science  Hopkin

Ancient Life History of Earth  Nicholson

Wonderland of Work  Rose

Geological History of Plants  Dawson

Earth and Ocean  Richuse  2

Pre-Glacial Man  Bruce

Industrial Art  U.S.

Ewbanks Hydraulic

Harness Barns & etc.

Tores Dictionary

Practical Receepts  Dick

System of Logic  Mill

Story of the Heavens  Bell

Steam Engine

Phisiology  Draper

Moose Michanicis Assistan

Horse Shoeing

Wonders of Science  6

Conservation of Energy  Stuart

Whitlocks Goowilry  *

History of Creation  Halckel 2

Advance in Science  Huxley

Evolution of Man  Halckel 2


Humbolts Cosmos


Other Worlds Than Ours  Boctn


Our Place Among the Unfunct * Boctn



Government Documents:  60


Historical and Literary


Encyclopidia Appleton  16

National Encyclopedia

History of the U.S.  Redpath

Wells Lawyer

History of English Literature  Collier

Hydropathy  Hall 2

20 Years in Congress  Blain 2

Fools Errand  Tourger

50 Years in the Northwest  Lotsom

Classical Brography

Croffuts Greenland

Kings of Fortun

Horses and Home Papers

Farmers Handbook

Laws of Montana

Great Harmonia

Swinging Round the Circle

English Grammer

Davies Borbon

Wells Grammar

Bound Investigators

Western Fruit Book  Elliot

Book of Iowa Farms

Census of the U.S.

New Atlantis


[James Fergus book inventory, 1894, Box 14 F. 5, FP, UM. The starred items are approximate spellings. During the 1890's James also received these books: Civilization's Inferno and Lessons Learned From Other Lives by B. C. Flower. Flower to Fergus, March 15, 1894, Box 1 F. 16. Dick's Encyclopedia, World Atlas and Wonders of Science, Fergus to Montgomery Ward and Co., 1892, Box 11 F. 62. The Crisis by Winston Churchill, Luella Fergus Gilpatrick to Fergus, January 22, 1900, Box 5 F. 3, FP, UM.]


         James firmly believed that good books formed the basis for improved thinking and behavior. With this in mind, he gave some of his volumes to the Maiden Library Association. He had not ended the search for new reading material though, for in the fall of 1901, less than a year before he died, James enrolled in a Kentucky library and asked for their catalogue of available books. [Halsey R. Watson, Fergus County Argus, to James Fergus, February 12, 1898, Box 3 F. 16, FP, UM. James E. Hughes, Blue Grass Blade (Lexington, Ky.), to James Fergus, Box 1 F. 67, FP, UM.]


         Fergus ordered catalogues despite the fact that his eyes gave him increasing trouble. In February 1901 he complained, "I am some not getting any better, can't get any better glasses and can't see to read." By March he noted, "the grip has left my eyes so bad that I can't read only the largest print and I can't get any better glasses." Surrounding Fergus with books he could not read was like dangling food beyond the reach of a starving man:


It was hard for a rapid reader like me who has read an average of three hours a day for the past fifty five years on all subjects but fiction and politics to have to sit and look at thirteen new books and thirty other publications without daring to read them as I had to do when my last mail came. It was like a hungry man looking at a table loaded with food within his reach and dare not touch it. [James Fergus to Fergus County Argus, January 5, 1890. James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, February 13, 1901, and March 2, 1901, Box 14 F. 49, FP, UM. Hazel Fergus Bubar, Fergus' daughter-in-law, believes James had a private library of over 2500 volumes, which is uncertain. It is probably true, as the Fergus Falls Daily Journal, December 10, 1901, insists, that he had the largest private library in the Territory.]