ARMELLS – THE 1890's


The Man


         In the fall of 1887 James' wife and confidant of forty years died, leaving a void at Armells which never filled. Her absence affected James more than any other member of the family, for by that time all the children but Andrew had married and were surrounded by their own families.


         Before Pamelia died she and James had "made calculations to pass our winters in Helena with our children." Despite her death James initially planned to spend his winters in the capital visiting friends and family, returning to Armells in the spring to look after garden and orchard, "doing all this more as agent or trustee for the other children than for my self." [James Fergus to unidentified Glasgow, Montana, friend, rough draft of 1888 letter, Box 11 F. 60, FP, UM. James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, March 17, 1888, Box 14 F. 46, FP, UM.]


         While James did visit Helena at times he stayed for only short periods. "There are lots of things here I would like to see if I could get around, but it is such hard work for me to walk so much on these hard sidewalks and I don't try much. . . . Helena is a big city for a small one. Everything can be had here that one wants and still I would rather be at home." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, September 3, 1890, Box 14 F. 46, FP, UM.] After returning to the solitude of Armells, James expressed in print his views of city life and defended his isolation at Armells:


         The brain is wracked by the strife for position and wealth; the simplicity of nature is turned into methods; life is a system of rules; one is edged in by the hum of the human hive, and the brain by the everlasting tooting of the motor and the locomotive. All the pleasure of meeting friends and that alone is precious; all the displays of science and man's inventions do not compensate for the disturbance of one's own quiet, of one's calm, undisturbed serenity of the soul. So bidding good friends and your so-called civilization a present, heartfelt good-by, the writer gladly returns to his frontier home, where with busy hands, an honest purpose and a clear conscience he calmly and fearlessly awaits the final summons to return to mother earth from whence he came. [James Fergus, "Pioneer," to Helena Herald, n.d. (about 1890), Box 21, F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 75, FP, UM.]


         Thus to "preserve health and enjoy nature," Fergus isolated himself at Armells, "contenting myself with hard labor, good books and papers until I am almost a hermit." He did not miss the clamor of city life but enjoyed nature's quiet, though he longed for the intellectual stimulation of friendly conversation with such men as Sanders, Hedges, Stuart and others. His ranch help and occasional visitors offered little stimulation and "no company for me although we have much company much of it is the same kind. So I commune with nature, with my friends the authors and don't forget my friends in life." [James Fergus to W. F. Sanders, n.d. (about 1892), Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM.]


         Though James admired the scientific advances centered in Helena and other cities, he seldom left Armells during the decade. When he did visit Helena, as he did for a month in the fall of 1890, his attention usually focused on the state fair and old friends, including the Old Pioneers. Fergus' only major trip during the 1890's involved an unhappy and lonely journey to the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. He arrived early in July well but tired. However, the traveling had been unpleasant for:


         I got a good sleep in at St. Paul but the cars were so crowded and I was so clumsy I did not get out to get a lunch there was no dining car so got neither dinner nor supper. The sweat [smoke] from the cars and from the cigars has injured my eyes the noise has hurt my hearing in short I am not fit to take such a trip alone. Have seen nobody I know so far.


A few days later he visited the stockyards and fair, but the eighty-year old Fergus complained of "too much noise and too many people here. Makes my head ache. Ought not to be in so large a place alone. Get tired out every day." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, July 3 and 6, 1893, Box 14 F. 47, FP, UM. James Fergus to Dr. E. A. Wood, September 21, 1890 [sic], Box 21 F. 1, FP, UM.] James became so upset by the crowds that he did not even stop in Moline to visit his former home and old friends such as George Stephens, which "considerably disappointed" the latter. Stephens' daughter worried that the two former partners would not see each other again before death. She was correct. Fergus did pass through Fergus Falls by train, "but didn't know anything that I knew." He arrived back at Armells later in July. [Ada Stephens to Andrew Fergus, August 21, 1893, Box 16 F. 37, FP, UM. James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, July 1 and 12, 1893, Box 14 F. 47, FP, UM.]


         Without Pamelia in the kitchen and with Andrew seldom home, James involved himself in cooking, "a new business for me." Though James insisted "I get along very well and expect to have a housekeeper in the spring," of 1888, if the following Fergus poem is any indication, he did not get along that well:


I cooked three nice young Roosters; and a pound of bacon ham

And when t'was done to "smithereens"/ It was not worth a dam


Now George my honest trusty friend/ who knoweth all things well

Say, why that confound soup/ had sucha nasty smell


If you can, you will much oblige/ One poor old cooking man

Who does his very best to please/ The cowboys when he can.




         Since the above was writ

         George had a fit

         And says he shit

         More things than two or three

         That the soup was sour

         And had a power

         For many an hour

         On more than him and me.

[James Fergus to friend in Glasgow, Montana, penciled rough draft of 1888 letter, Box 11 F. 60, FP, UM. Poem found on back of a letter from James Fergus to Ed Hill, December 12, 1890, Box 11 F. 61, FP, UM.]


         Though James wisely planned to get a housekeeper, for various reasons he encountered considerable difficulty keeping one at the ranch for any length of time. For example, in 1890, a Norwegian and his wife quit after working only twenty-seven days, planning to return to Norway. Fergus liked the woman but not the husband, whom he considered cranky with little since of justice. As James put it, "we are having trouble about housekeepers . . . the last we had before these were discharged because the woman was too fond of the young men." [James Fergus Day Book, May 22, 1889-April 5, 1893, entry of November 18, 1890, p. 96, FC, MHSL.]


         Fergus preferred a couple without children, for noise and confusion bothered him. Young women probably did not like the isolation; possibly James had peculiarities which caused friction. Possibly he demanded too much for too little pay, as this 1898 contract might indicate: the man was to work on the Fergus ranch tending house "or any other interest of [Fergus] under the direction of its officers, including acting as captain on the range, and to work faithfully and honestly for its interests for the sum of $50 per month." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, March 10, 1900, Box 14 F. 49, FP, UM. Agreement with W. S. Johnson, January 1898, Box 19 F. 59, FP, UM.]


         Thus, during the last years of his life James experienced much trouble with cooks, when he had one, as indicated in this 1901 letter:


The girl still here but can't get her to cook what I want. Has been here six weeks and has only made corn meal mush about three times and no corn meal bread. I eat at the second table now, only had oat meal mush and pea soup for supper and oat meal mush for breakfast, nothing else. [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, August 24, 1901, Box 14 F. 49, FP, UM. Other letters mentioning this problem include: Lillie Fergus Maury to Fergus, July 28, 1891, and November 10, 1901, Box 7 F. 48-49; James Fergus to Luella Fergus Gilpatrick, September 3 and 25, 1899, February 4, 1900, January 6, 1902, Box 5 F. 2-3; James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, July 30, 1901, March 19, 1900, Box 14 F. 49, FP, UM.]


         James' formal nature and rigid manner may have had much to do with his inability to keep housekeepers. He did not play cards, smoke, or drink. He considered profanity worse than using nick-names, something he despised with a passion.


No one is thought more of by others because he uses profane language, and they cannot possibly think more of themselves. There is neither necessity or occasion for it. As a rule women don't swear—why should men? It adds nothing to the force of language, occupies time, offends others, is low and degrading at best, and does no good. We do not find it in books, don't hear it in ‘good' society, but generally among the ignorant and unrefined. There is no surer test of a gentleman than his language.


Cursing could usually be found in lumber, cattle and mining camps or "anywhere that there are more cards played than good books read." [James Fergus to unidentified paper, n.d., Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 67, FP, UM. Paradoxically, in 1899 a Fergus Falls company planned to put out a "new brand of fine cigars" and wanted permission to use Fergus' picture on the box label. He must have agreed, for he received a sample in May. Hunt Brothers to James Fergus, February 20 and May 24, 1889 [sic], Box 6 F. 40, FP, UM.] Unless it involved gambling [which he was obviously against], James opposed card-playing mostly because it was a waste of time, something he considered a major sin. Games such as baseball were similar waste of energy, as indicated in this commentary on the sport where he saw "oddly and sparcely dressed men throwing, hitting, catching or running after a small ball under a burning sun. This appeared to be a waste of time, strength and muscle and by some that are not so fast in using it in useful employment." [Lillie Fergus Maury to Andrew Fergus, January 5, 1902, Box 15 F. 50, FP, UM. James Fergus to unidentified paper, n.d. (probably Fergus County Argus as it involved a July 4h celebration at Gilt Edge), Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 97, FP, UM.]


         To James, "relaxation" meant serious reading—not novels, for they also meant squandered time and contributed nothing to development of self—unlike writing to publications and friend, and intellectual interchange. The austere Fergus allowed few parties at Armells, possibly one reason Andrew remained at the ranch for such short periods. [There is evidence of only one party at Armells, though James may not have mentioned others. This one made the Fergus County Argus in January 1889, which reported card playing, dancing and conversation frequently interrupted by refreshments. James sat up all night entertaining guests, helped by Andrew. Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 72, FP, UM. James described it as, "Andrew had a little party here [with] dancing supper lunch, etc. after cards, apples, wine, etc. About forty besides ourselves." James Fergus Memo Book, January 1, 1889-July 30, 1893, entry of December 27, 1889, FC, MHSL.]


         Numerous issues riled Fergus—hypocritical Christians, attacks on defenseless minorities, high taxes, drinking and gambling—but few put him on the "War Path" quicker than those addressing him as "Uncle Jimmy." His usual response was "I am not his uncle and my name is not Jimmy and I never answer to nicknames." James considered it condescending and insulting, consequently it became something the mannerly and those with "respect both for themselves and me" did not do. James conceded that "nicknames are common in Montana, [but] so is gambling and drinking, but neither adds to the welfare or the dignity of the human race." [James Fergus to E. Swoope, May 28, 1889, Box 3 F. 12, FC, MHSL. James Fergus to Helena Independent, n.d. (late 1890's), Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 101, FP, UM.]


         One Fergus trait which probably irritated his cooks and must have led to friction between him and Andrew concerned his frugality, especially in his latter years. Since he centered his ranch business in a few places, such as the Power Mercantile at Lewistown, he could wring the best price form each dealer, which he did. If James suspected mistreatment he quickly voiced his opinion, usually eliciting pledges that he received the lowest prices even for small items.


         In 1900, with poor health prohibiting vigorous activity, James had much time to brood about such matters and double check back orders against payments. On one such occasion James wrote a scorching letter to the Power Mercantile demanding to know why he had been charged for a five cent lead pencil which he never received; Fergus also complained of a five cent overcharge on a twenty-cent notebook. The Merc immediately responded that "we want to do whatever is right in this matter and will accept any suggestions you see fit to make in regard to this charge for a lead pencil," insisting they valued his trade too much to let such a small matter "stand between us." [Power Mercantile to James Fergus, March 10, 1894, Box 2 F. 7, and March 21, 1900, Box 8 F. 57, FC, MHSL. See also Box 8 F. 76, FP, UM, for other letters. Somebody must have considered James an easy touch, however, for a Hoople, North Dakota, man tried to convince him to finance a wild west show on the order of Buffalo Bill's. O. W. Davis to James Fergus, July 3, 1900, Box 2 F. 69, FP, UM.]


         Fergus, being a hard-working, frugal man, had little sympathy for those who worked sporadically and then squandered their earnings at the saloon or gambling den. But his contempt increased to wrath as such cowboys were turned out of Lewistown after their money had disappeared, left to "bum on us ranchers." Winter's cold meant less work and the extra ranch hands drifted through the area. Fergus complained that he had "two ranches on the public road and I have from four to six every night and all ride, we have to feed them and their horses for nothing." Fergus would much rather have seen Lewistown "drive out the saloon and gambling house keepers that have got their money." [James Fergus to Janet Simpson, Spring 1894, Box 11 F. 62, FP, UM. James Fergus to Fergus County Argus, n.d., Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 113, FP, UM. Here was one point on which James opposed universal suffrage for "men who have not as much sense as the bee, the squirrel or the beaver, who lay up a winters supply of food, are not competent to vote."]


         The Fergus solution: simply charge such bummers for meals, lodging and animal care, "unless they are out of money and in absolute want and I hope other ranchers will do the same." James insisted he doled out at least five hundred dollars in this manner each year. Of course, he proclaimed their "latch string" would always be out to "neighbors, friends and respectable people of every kind and quality who will be entertained in frontier style as heretofore to the best of our ability." With that pronouncement James ran the following advertisement in a local paper:




Armell's Creek, Fergus Co, Mont.


Meals - - - -  25˘                   Hay and Stabling - -  25˘


Lodging - - - 25˘                           Grain - - - - - - - - - -  25˘


[James Fergus to Fergus County Argus, undated clipping, Box 14 F. 2, FP, UM. Notice in unidentified paper, n.d., Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, P. 102, FP, UM.]


         As Fergus grew older he became increasingly willing to employ violence when dealing with local rowdies. Those who spent most of their time drinking, gambling and fighting could be eliminated with little loss of society. After witnessing such a group in action at a July 4th celebration, Fergus penned this remedy to the public press:


         The drinking and the fighting about the saloons was a disgrace to our civilization. Experience on the frontier has led the writer to prefer the gun in such cases to the clubs, chairs, boot-toes, beer bottles and tumblers. The death of two or three such fellows, who are generally cowards when confronted with a revolver and hardly worth preserving, soon makes a civil crowd out of a drunken mob, and as a general rule where the gun is used there are fewer brawls. The writer prefers the gun as an instrument of civilization. [James Fergus to unidentified newspaper, n.d. (summer 1898), Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 97, FP, UM. Fergus apparently encouraged the use of guns on certain elements but himself avoided firearms, for in 1901 he insisted, "I have never fired a gun and I never set a trap." Fergus Falls Daily Journal, n.d., 1901, Scrapbook, pp. 8-81 [sic], FP, UM.]


         While James could be generous to a fault concerning large issues, he became picky and demanding when dealing with small details. In addition, if someone wronged him he forgot it slowly if at all. Thus, he could give brother William hundreds of dollars worth of help but quarrel over an amount of hay or quantity of lumber. If the topic of religion remained beneath the surface they got along fairly well, though by the mid-1890's James brooded about William's ingratitude. In his usual fashion, James listed the wrongs:


What to leave behind me for Brother:


1.     His kindness in sending me money which I never forgot

2.     Doing my duty towards him in having a home ready for him and helping him start

3.     Taking our horses away from the foot hills when the herder and sheep herds quarreled

4.     Giving up all the range around Andrews place to him

5.     Refusing Grants offer of his sheep and ranches at $1000 less than he sold to or would sell to Brother

6.     Refusing ORourke and the Dutch boys places each at $500 each less than they sold them to Brother


Now what has Brother done to pay for it:


1.       Letting his bucks and his whole band of sheep run in Andrews field

2.       Buy Deyos & Hadlen places out from under us

3.       Fencing us off round the mountain and the timber

4.       Keeping 6000 wethers and some other sheep eight days on our home range last shearing time and last but not least sending word to brother not to deed his place until he saw him, this is the unkindest out of all and a poor return for what done for him. And then to talk to me about Christianity. I will die with a regret that my name is Fergus.


[William Fergus to James Fergus, October 1884, April 17, 1897, Box 3 F. 32, FP, UM. Luella Fergus Gilpatrick to James Fergus, December 17, 1893, Box 4 F. 24, FP, UM. James Fergus memo, Box 3 F. 6, FC, MHSL. James Fergus to William Fergus, September 3, 1896, Box 11 F. 63, FP, UM. Granville Stuart to James Fergus, March 27, 1900, Box 10 F. 39, FP, UM.]


The nature of their relationship fluctuated during the years, for they both remained proud Scots. When William died in 1905 he owned 8,000 acres of Fergus County land on which grazed 20,000 sheep, obviously, he prospered quite well after James provided land, equipment and advice in 1883. [Fergus County Argus, April 12, 1905.]


         One cause Fergus had championed for years but in the 1890's supported with increasing vigor was irrigation. He and W. A. Clark of Butte closely watched the 1892 Helena Irrigation Convention, circulating petitions to further western irrigation through government assistance. While Fergus thought windmills might help he recommended the "state irrigating commission petitioning Congress to convey all unsold lands within our boarders to the state for the purpose of reclaiming our arid lands." [James Fergus to Helena Independent, December 23, 1891; William A. Clark to James Fergus, January 4, 11 and 26, 1892, Box 2 F. 20, FP, UM.]


         With this in mind, James strenuously opposed the efforts of Paris Gibson, Great Falls, and the Great Northern Railroad, who both encouraged flooding Montana with farmers and ranchers. Gibson chided Fergus: "is it not possible that you under-estimate the agricultural advantages of many sections of Montana?" He proposed mixed farming and dairying, with irrigation where required, insisting that "as a rule, the pioneers have under-estimated the agricultural advantages of every Western State." Montana could never become a great or prosperous state "until we have at least enough farmers to stop the flow out of millions of dollars annually for staple farm products." Fergus responded that "It is wrong to encourage farmers to come to Montana until we have made provision for more water, either by artesian wells, reservoirs, dams and ditches from large streams or by all three." [Paris Gibson to James Fergus, January 23, 1899, Box 4 F. 11, FP, UM. James Fergus to Fergus County Argus, n.d., Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 95, FP, UM. Rocky Mountain Husbandman to James Fergus, May 1, 1899, Box 9 F. 23, FP, UM.]


         This little exchange preceded by some twenty years Montana's Honyocker period in which the state was inundated by naive farmers. The railroads and land promoters propagandized the state, especially eastern Montana, as a veritable garden, encouraging thousands to emigrate west. After temporary success, heightened by the world war, the boom deflated, and the state plunged into depression in a mini preview of the thirties. The state is still staggering from the burden of excessive governmental units on the county level, units created during the Honyocker period—a disaster Fergus warned against in the 1890's. [For a further discussion of Montana's Honyocker period see Toole's Montana: A Twentieth Century Portrait, Chapters II and III, Joseph Kinsey Howard, Montana: High, Wide and Handsome (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1943), Chapters XVII and XVIII, and Charles A. Dalich, "Dry Farming Promotion in Eastern Montana (1907 – 1916)" (unpublished Master's thesis, Department of History, University of Montana, 1968).]


         In conjunction with his interest in horticulture, James served as a field reporter for the U. S. Department of Agriculture during the 1890's. In addition, he continued to be a recognized authority on Montana horticulture, especially dealing with fruit. Consequently, Montanans sought his advice, though Fergus insisted his orchard was hardly a success for after fifteen years of "nursing, petting, etc, at an expense of nearly $2,000 [all he had to show was] a few standard apples and crabs, all dying and a few plums and cherries that are also dying or don't bear." He had planted about seven hundred trees of all types and gathered only "one bushel of standard apples, ten bushels of crabs and lost of small fruit." [James Fergus to unidentified paper, n.d., (late 1890s), Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 104, FP, UM. Charles Ancheney, Department of Agriculture, to James Fergus, November 8, December 13 and 14, 1891, Box 1 F. 4, and Box 11 F. 10, FP, UM. M. A. Arnold to James Fergus, December 22, 1892, and January 15, 1893, Box 1 F. 7; A. Hogland to Fergus, January 23, 1892, Box 6 F. 34, and S. S. McLaughlin to James Fergus, October 11, 1897, Box 7 F. 31, FP, UM, all wanted agricultural advice.]


         James held at least one other government position, if only briefly, in the decade. He and David Hilger encouraged Senator W. F. Sanders to help create a new mail route directly from Big Sandy, the nearest railroad point, to Armells through Judith and Christina. Consequently the government created the new post office of Armells, designating Fergus as postmaster. Mail was to be carried between Judith Landing and Maiden. Fergus took the oath of office on January 19, 1891, and a month later noted he had "received key and all necessary papers and have receipts for same and complied with the law as far as I understand it but have received no mail yet, as there is none comes this way so far." James probably suspected his limited tenure as a postmaster with this P.S.: "No stamp received yet." After two months he resigned because "there was no mail service put on the route." [David Hilger to James Fergus, September 23, 1890, Box 6 F. 29, FP, UM. James Fergus Ledger, 1886, entry of February 20, 1891, FC, MHSL. T. B. Coulter to James Fergus, September 10, 1891, Box 11 F. 14, FP, UM.]


         One habit James could not seem to purge from his system revolved around gravel and gold pan, for during the 1890's he became involved with quartz mining and flirted with prospecting. The Maiden area supported a miniature mining boom in the early 1890's, causing "great mining excitement over the gold mines in Fergus County." Sten Hanson persuaded Fergus to loan him about $3000 to develop a quartz lode; at this time the optimistic Hanson demanded $100,000 for his claim. [Sten Hanson to James Fergus, May 20 and February 7, 1893, Box 6 F. 3, FP, UM. See Box 13 F. 19, for loan details. Actually, the Maiden-Neihart area hosted a mining boom in the 1880's, with at least one mine—the Spotted Horse—a multi-million dollar operation, according to Michael A. Leeson (ed.), History of Montana, 1739-1885 (Chicago: Warner, Beers & Co., 1885), pp. 596-98. See also the Eugene Smith Papers, Archives, University of Montana. Smith, a mining engineer, came west in 1884 to manage the Judith Basin Mining Company.] By the end of the decade, however, Hanson had produced little gold; far in debt, he would have sold for $3500. [Sten Hanson to James Fergus, June 2, 1898, Box 6 F. 4, FP, UM. As of March 1902 Hanson had not sold the mine. Fergus probably never retrieved his investment, for in 1909 Andrew and R. S. Hamilton still struggled with the Voltaire Claim. Hanson to J. Fergus, Box 6 F. 4. J. Fergus Memo, October 26, 1900, Box 13 F. 11. R. S. Hamilton to Andrew Fergus, February 16, 1909, Box 15 F. 16. Fergus also loaned money to R. D. Warner of Maiden to develop a claim. Warner to Fergus, September 8, 1892, December 1, 1893, March 26, 1894, Box 11 F. 25, FP, UM.]


         By the late 1890's James had moved beyond the investment stage and flirted with prospecting himself. When grandson Collins F. Gilpatrick joined the Klondike gold rush, mining fever once again infected Fergus, and at eighty-five years, he announced he was going north. If Andrew, whose health continued poor, could spare him, James would go, but for "pleasure and recreation, not gold," he insisted. "I want for a time to get away from our so-called civilization drunkards, crooked, hilly roads, barbed wire fences and neighborhood bickering. Want to go where I can fish, hunt, get grass and water for my stock and go where I please." Acknowledging he might die up there, he considered that a fine place to rest, away from "civilization." [Collins F. Gilpatrick to James Fergus, November 3, 1897, February 19, 1899, Box 4 F. 14, FP, UM. James Fergus to Fergus County Argus, n.d., Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 103, FP. UM.]


         Though Fergus did not escape "civilization" by fleeing to Alaska, he entered a mining claim on the Voltaire Lode within the Cone Butte unorganized district. While he did not consider it "prudent" to go prospecting just then—his health did not support vigorous activity and he could not walk far—in February 1901 he announced plans to prospect up Townsend Gulch. "There is a big vein or a number of veins up in that mountain someplace." [Receipt for Voltaire Claim, April 14, 1900, Box 13 F. 21, FP, UM. James Fergus to Marion, October 1, 1900 (probably Marion Maury, Lillie's son), Box 11 F. 64, FP, UM. James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, February 18, 1901, Box 14 F. 49, FP, UM.] Thus, in a manner of speaking, Fergus closed his Montana days as he entered the territory—thinking of gold.


         As James aged he grew increasingly cynical about the progress of civilization. The nation had more and better education, travel, shelter, food and less physical work, allowing opportunity for self-improvement, yet:


. . . we have less morality taught in our schools and practiced in our families, more fallen women and of course more fallen men, more drunkenness, gambling—which was only known by name in the early days of our Republic; more theiving, strikes, Coxyites, Breckenridges, Daleys Millionaires, paupers and taxes. [James Fergus memo, 1895, Box 14 F. 4, FP, UM. W. Fisk Sanders agreed, as did E. Beach, who added: "To my mind the standard of morals are far below what they were when I was a boy, and growing worse all the time. Much of it, I think is attributal to the idleness of the youth of today. Parents in to many cases never once think of finding usefull employment of their children. Such employment must teach them habits of industry and something to occupy their ever restless minds, as well as teach them obedience. Will there ever be a change for the better? There must be." This familiar cry from the older generation was issued November 27, 1901, Box 1 F. 31. W. F. Sanders to Fergus May 27, 1901, Box 9 F. 48, FP, UM.]


         James insisted that one of his life's goals was "to live a life of usefulness and honor according to my abilities." His mother's contribution to his character came from the lessons she provided in "virtue and goodness." [James Fergus to N. B. Buford, October 21, 1853, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM. James Fergus to father, July 17, 1853, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM.] Yet Fergus looked about, seeing mankind working less, living better but enjoying diminished happiness. "You are simply a spoiled child. You have everything the heart could desire; you would be better contented if you had plainer food, less wages and more work." Of course, he felt too many swindlers, drunkards, thieves, gamblers, anarchists and "idle cayuses" existed; these could be spared with no loss. "We want thoroughbreds, with more moral training more manhood and a loftier sense of American citizenship." [James Fergus to Helena Herald, Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 81, FP, UM. For additional comments on the "decline" of civilization, see Fergus to Janet Simpson, September 22, 1900, Box 11 F. 64, FP, UM. Fergus to Cornelius Hedges, Hedges Collection, F. Letters, 1870-1903, MHSL.]


         Despite his outspoken nature James Fergus had few detractors but many loyal admirers. His sound judgement had been recognized for years. To some he became more than a friend but assumed a father image, as expressed by former partner O. J. Rockwell: ". . . you always seemed like a father; there never was a man I thought more of outside of my own father." [O. J. Rockwell to James Fergus, May 8, 1886, Box 9 F. 22, FP, UM. Daniel Jones to James Fergus, October 17, 1854, Box 6 F. 56, FP, UM. Sten Hanson also considered James to be like a father.]


         Over the years James earned the respect of such diverse personages as Ignatius Donnelly, who considered Fergus "an old and valued friend [and] a very reliable, honest gentleman," and Paris Gibson. Though they disagreed on Montana's agricultural potential, Gibson conceded "there is no man in Montana's whose opinion is entitled to greater consideration than yours, as to the resources of our State." [Ignatius Donnelly to nephew, June 4, 1883, Box 2 F. 61, FP, UM. Paris Gibson to James Fergus, January 23, 1899, Box 4 F. 11, FP, UM. Gibson also wrote to "express my appreciation of what you have done for the development of the West, and for the establishment of good government in Montana." Beaverhead County must have agreed, for its Pioneer Society made both Fergus and Granville Stuart honorary members. Stuart to Fergus, May 23, 1888, Box 10 F. 39, FP, UM.]


         Fergus gained the friendship and respect of scores of prominent Montanans such as Granville Stuart, Cornelius Hedges, Conrad Khors and W. A. Clark; yet he most valued the high regard of Wilbur Fisk Sanders. They had much in common; as Sanders expressed it in 1882: "I used so to enjoy your visits to my house [for] they were cases in a desert of troubles. Now with you off there they cannot be so frequent and they were always too rare. I am grateful for your good opinion. I always have been for I seemed always to have possessed it." Some twenty years later as Fergus lay near death Sanders asked R. S. Hamilton to convey the "profound affection [and] admiration I have for the nobility of his character, the gratitude which possesses my whole being for his long and unwavering friendship, and the high estimation I place on his service and example through the forty years he has lived in Montana." [W. F. Sanders to James Fergus, April 1, 1882, Box 9 F. 47, FP, UM. W. F. Sanders to R. S. Hamilton, March 7, 1902, Manuscript Case, B.F. 38, FC, MHSL. There were exceptions of course. Browley J. Hollaway of Harlow, Montana, thought Fergus to be "narrow minded and prejudiced" in 1898. Box 6 F. 35 FP, UM.]


         Fergus' age and achievements earned him recognition in various state publications. His biography and pictures appeared in the Anaconda Standard, the New Northwest, the Lewistown Democrat, the Fergus County Argus, the Northwest Magazine, and Joaquin Miller's History of Montana. [T. B. Miller to James Fergus, July 2, 1894, Box 20 F. 31, FP, UM. Miller required $185. Jerry Collins to James Fergus, December 18, 1893, Box 2 F. 40, FP, UM. Collins asked $50 to be included in the Northwest Magazine. At one point. S. C. Gilpatrick exploded, insisting those gathering pictures and abstracts of the pioneers "cared a d__d about the biography only to get your money." Undated letter to Fergus, Box 5, F. 10, FP, UM.] If James bought space in such publications it was at least partly through a sense of history, for he had been a member of the Montana Historical Society since 1873. [Certificate of membership, October 25, 1873, Box 13 F. 23, FP, UM. He may have belonged earlier. In 1894 James also encouraged the society to interview old trappers and traders to glean their memory of valuable information. Fergus to Fergus County Argus, n.d., 1894, Box 21, F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 87, FP, UM.]



The Ranch


         James Fergus and Son increased their holdings during the 1890's, expanding from the home ranch of Armells. To Fergus the decade meant a halting increase in both land and livestock, for like the nation, he experienced a business slump during the 1893 depression. Also parallel with the national business climate, the family reorganized its economic structure, incorporating midway through the decade. Expansion, promoted by a new economic framework and spiced with intermittent problems—these marked Armells in the last decade of the nineteenth century.


         During much of the 1880's and the first half of the 1890's, the Armells business structure centered on James Fergus and Son, a partnership. They owned and raised the bulk of the livestock jointly, in this case cattle, since most of the horses and sheep were let out. In addition, each partner had his own property, complete with house, outbuildings, a few livestock and limited equipment. [An 1892 tax memo indicated Andrew owned 18 horses, James 43 and four stallions. James also had 540 acres of land. But in partnership they held 175 horses, one stallion, 550 acres and 2373 stock cattle totaling $40,625. Box 18 F. 57, FP, UM.]


         In the spring of 1895 the Fergus family formed a corporation—the Fergus Livestock and Land Company—to operate the combined property. That July they met at Armells, to choose James, Andrew and Mary Agnes Fergus Hamilton trustees. The group elected James president-treasurer and Andrew manager-secretary. [Articles of incorporation were filed with Lewis Rotwitt, Secretary of State, April 15, 1895. Rotwitt to James Fergus, May 22, 1895, Box 8 F. 8, FP, UM. They elected officers on July 6, 1895, according to Fergus notes on the meeting. Box 19 F. 58, FP, UM.] Within a few years George Gilpatrick, James' grandson, assumed a position in the company and worked closely with Andrew, who managed the ranch. [George Gilpatrick to James Fergus, December 28, 1898, Box 4 F. 15, and December 29, 1898, Box 14 F. 58, FP, UM. Mary Fergus Hamilton to James Fergus, Box 5 F. 26, n.d., FP, UM. James Fergus to "friend Richardson," September 22, 1890, Box 11 F. 61, FP, UM.]


         James Fergus and Son began the decade with approximately one thousand range cattle. Buying and natural increase brought their herd to four thousand by 1892, a ranch high for beef. [Tax Memo, 1889, James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, August 16, 1889, Box 14 F. 46, FP, UM. James Fergus to Janet Simpson, April 8, 1893, Box 11 F. 62, FP, UM.] Unfortunately, the winter of 1892-93 proved to be harsh and changeable with an unusually cold spring. By April James gloomily predicted disaster. "We expect to lose 50 per cent say 2000 at $18.50 the price we paid for some of them 18 months ago and we have a loss of 37 thousand dollars." Adding another $2500 in damaged hay and labor brought total losses to $40,000. Just six years earlier they experienced the disastrous 1886-87 winter and another $40,000 loss; together "this will induce us to reduce our stock interest as being very unprofitable." [James Fergus to Janet Simpson, April 8, 1893, Box 11 F. 62, FP, UM. Tax Memo, 1893, Box 14 F. 2, FP, UM, indicated their range cattle totaled 2629 that fall.]


         While their losses came closer to "only" $23,000—their average winter decrease amounted to 10 per cent from weather and wolves—James seriously considered selling the cattle. In fact, he proposed reducing the herd before that disastrous winter because "I am an old man. My son's health is not good which makes him peevish at time. I like and want peace. I have children in Helena with whom I can live and enjoy myself free from care." Besides, he thought ranching had become unprofitable. With wages remaining at $40 a month, beef prices low, and a $2500 winter loss from dying horses, they struggled for economic survival, especially after such a hard season. Thus, like the nation at large, James Fergus and Son floundered economically in the early 1890's. [James Fergus to Mr. Cleland, June 5, 1892, Box 11 F. 62, FP, UM. Fergus to Dr. E. A. Wood, September 2, 1893, Box 11 F. 62, FP, UM. Throughout the decade wages remained about $40, with $50 to a man-wife combination. Also, Armells usually had about 40 men working, especially during the summer months. Fergus to Mr. and Mrs. Wharton, July 26, 1899, Box 11 F. 64, FP, UM. James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, September 10, 1900, Box 14 F. 49, FP, UM. Frank Hawksworth [Hawkesworth] to James Fergus, August 22, 1901, Box 2 F. 1, FP, UM.] James definitely decided to reduce the size of their horse herd, for in early April 1893, he advertised in the Drover's Journal. He offered the six hundred range horses, descendants of good stallions, at $30 a head for he lot. "Reasons for selling, old age and limited range." [Drover's Journal to James Fergus, April 1, 1893, Box 3 F. 16, FC, MHSL. Earlier, James refused to trade horses for land in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska or Iowa. James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, September 30, 1891, Box 14 F. 46, FP, UM.]


         Fergus held no doubt as to the cause of their ranch depression. The Cleveland-led Democrats had championed free trade and removed the wool-beef tariff. Brother William, for example, had been doing well but the effects of free trade led to hardships. "Wool for instance that was worth 20 cents a pound is now selling at from 10 to 12. Horses are a drug on the market and are not worth raising." James' old distrust of the Democrats had proved correct in his mind. [James Fergus to James H. Gilpatrick, March 8, 1894, Box 11 F. 62, FP, UM. James Fergus to Robert Fergus, December 4, 1894, Box 11 F. 62, FP, UM.]


         As the depression eased and Congress appeared ready to approve a 6˝ per cent tariff on wool James again considered reducing their range cattle and buying sheep. [James Fergus to MacNamara, December 26, 1895, and January 13, 1896, Box 11 F. 63, FP, UM. F. E. Wright to James Fergus, January 2, 1895, Box 1 F. 22, FP, UM. In 1894 John Rowley offered James 2500 ewes in lamb for $3.50 and 2800 dry sheep for $2.50. March 23, 1894, Box 9 F. 39, FP, UM.] Instead, the corporation plunged into the sheep business while simultaneously expanding its cattle herd. By 1900 they had 9000 sheep worth an estimated $30,000. [Fergus Memo, "Something About Our Business," in 1900, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM. In 1902 the corporation realized $7897.77 from 199 bags of wool—some 57,788 lbs. Hallowell, Donald & Co. to Fergus, Box 19 F. 53, FP, UM.]


         In 1896 Fergus expressed regret with the company's decision to increase their cattle holdings because of a "crowded range, our business being mixed with that of others, and having cowboys around." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, 1896, Box 11 F. 63, FP, UM. Lazy cowboys proved extremely irritating to Fergus. In 1883 he detailed the case of two ranch hands who not only did not care for their horses or clean the stables but watched James work: "They saw me in the afternoon take the light wagon to the straw pile take in a load to Don's stable, heard me move the wagon to the small corral, which I cleaned putting the dung in the wagon, also cleaned the chicken house the same way, and never offered to help. After this round up they go and whoever works for us they will be hired to work and will or be discharged. I am tired of working and paying men for doing nothing cow boy or no cow boy." James Fergus Ledger and Daybook, 1882-86, entry of September 15, 1883, p. 108, Stuart Collection, MHSL.] In addition, "hard winters and wolves are reasons with me for wishing to get out of the cattle business." During the 1890's James struggled unsuccessfully to secure a state bounty of at least ten to twenty dollars. When Governor Rickards vetoed a $10 bounty in 1895 Fergus criticized such paper savings. A $10 payment per wolf scalp would actually be a savings, for every wolf killed many more than one $40 steer each year. Texas, he observed, had a $20 bounty. [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, 1896, Box 11 F. 63, FP, UM. James Fergus to Helena Herald, March 14, 1893.]


         In 1893 James noted that wolves had "killed 140 sheep out of 400 and killed a herder's horse. Worse across the [Missouri] River." That year he spent at least $40 on poison and could not hire wolfers even at $5 a pelt. James gladly provided poison and paid wolfers but could not persuade either the Governor or the Stockgrowers Association to implement state-wide wolf control. Consequently, he struggled along and the wolves remained a plague during the decade. [James Fergus to Helena Herald, March 14, 1893. James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, June 28, 1893, Box 14 F. 47, FP, UM. See Box 13 F. 2, for examples of bounties paid by Fergus in 1891. Fergus to Will A. Hedges, November 23, 1894, Box 11 F. 62. Fergus to Senator T. C. Power, January 8, 1894, Box 11 F. 62. Fergus to Governor Elect R. B. Smith, December 23, 1896, Box 11 F. 63. Andrew Fergus to State Board of Examiners, May 25, 1891, Box 16 F. 56, FP, UM. Andrew noted that the local roundup had done little. He offered $2 a wolf scalp but then had to provide room and board to wolfers. He urged the state to pay an adequate bounty. For a more thorough discussion of the topic, see Edward E. Curnow, "History of the Eradication of the Wolf in Montana" (unpublished Master's thesis, Department of History, University of Montana, 1969).]


         Canadian Indians provided another source of irritation during the 1890's. In 1890 Fergus urged Senator W. F. Sanders to acquaint the proper federal department with the problem. "With a military post at Assinaboine, we don't think it is right to allow those British Indians to come over every winter to steal our horses and live on our game and cattle, and keep our own American Indians on Reservations on short rations." [James Fergus to W. F. Sanders, December 28, 1890, Manuscript Case, B.F. 38, FC, MHSL.] Two years later James made similar complaints to Governor J. K. Toole, informing him that "twenty lodges of Canadian Cree Indians camped on Doe Creek last night. Traveling South. Killing game. Please remove them." Toole in turn placed the matter before the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who promised to put them on a reservation, condemning their actions. Thus, while Indians offered less trouble in the 1890's they still supplied occasional irritation to ranchers. [James Fergus to Joseph K. Toole, August 31, 1892, Box 11 F. 62, FP, UM. Toole to Fergus, April 6, 1892, Box 10 F. 59, FP, UM. Toole to Fergus, January 11, 1892, Box 8 F. 4, FP, UM. In 1893 James told Andrew that "half-breeds have killed over a hundred" deer. "I am afraid they will kill cattle when the deer are gone. October 8, 1893, Box 14 F. 47, FP, UM.]


         Granville Stuart continued to rage at the army but in the 1890's he also fumed at "Indian sympathizers." Like Fergus, he wanted something done about Canadian Indians who drifted down from above the border "raiding all over the country burning the poor settlers homes and killing and driving off all their stock." Condemning the "idiotic policy of our Government . . . which will I think always cause us to suffer great loss," Stuart held his greatest wrath for those "damned . . . Indian sympathizers, both in Congress and out." This group raised such a howl when the army killed an Indian that officers were frequently threatened with court martial and loss of command.


         Stuart would put such sympathizers "in the places of the poor unprotected white settler in the vicinity of those reservations." Because of eastern pressure on the army, he considered the only solution to gather twenty-five or thirty men from the Fergus-Chouteau County area, search out the "savages, and when found at once convert them into good Indians, for you can count on no assistance from the military and civil authorities." [Granville Stuart to James Fergus, July 11, 1892, Letterbook Number 2, 1890-1892, James and Granville Stuart Papers, Archives, University of Montana, Missoula.]


         When James first entered Montana in 1862 transportation was a major problem, thus a major expense. Missouri River steamer to Ft. Benton and freight wagon to the gold fields became a popular route; another snaked up from Salt Lake City, again to the tune of the freighter's bullwhip. Either route was expensive, jacking the cost of goods twice as high as those in St. Louis. Thus, as the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railways inched across the plains, the ranchers, like other Montana citizens, hoped for a future of reduced prices and easier travel.


         But the railroads provided many with good cause to both bless and curse them. True, reaching Seattle or Minneapolis was easier, and driving a heard to Big Sandy for loading proved closer than before, but railroad mistreatment, real and imagined, offered new frustrations. Since Andrew usually accompanied their cattle to market, he initiated most claims against the carriers. After reaching Chicago in 1890 Andrew reported, "the railroad treated us raskely, with neglect, and damaged the train $300 worth lost one outright and left one of my own at St. Paul to sell for what he would fetch. Eruit left all his cows there to sell at $2.25 and save freight on one car." [Andrew Fergus to James Fergus, October 21, 1890, and September 20, 1892, Box 3 F. 21, FP, UM.] During the 1890's it proved to be an unusual year if Andrew did not feel the need to file a damage claim against the railroad, usually the Great Northern. [Rosenbaum Bros., Chicago, to Andrew Fergus, November 15, 1894, and March 27, 1899, Box 16 F. 26, FP, UM. Rosenbaum to James Fergus, September 28, 1899, and November 4, 1899, Box 19 F. 33. Andrew Fergus Memo, October 27, 1894, Box 16 F. 58. James Fergus to F. E. Draper, GNRR Agent, December 8, 1894, Box 11 F. 62. Draper to Andrew Fergus, June 7, 1895, Box 18 F. 52. Rosenbaum to J. Fergus. October 26, 1898, and April 24, 1898, Box 19 F. 33, FP, UM.] While a common claim involved stock mistreatment resulting in lowered weights or death, a more serious loss could result from delay in transit. An unusually slow trip meant weight loss and reduced income; it could be more disastrous, as indicated by this 1899 report from Fergus' Chicago commission merchants:


You will note the shipper's statement that it was between 10 and 11 o'clock before these cattle arrived at the Stock Yardes and by the time they were yarded and ready to be offered for sale, the cattle market was virtually over and we were obliged to sell these steers for 10˘ per cwt less and the cows for 15˘ per cwt less than we could have obtained for them earlier in the day. The buyers have the advantage of us when range cattle arrive late and particularly on a Friday, when, if they are not sold they will have to be held until the following Monday. [Rosenbaum Bros. to James Fergus, November 4, 1899, Box 19 F. 33, FP, UM.]


Such delays cost Montana ranchers considerable income, sometimes determining economic success or failure for the year. The following report by a shipper in charge of Fergus Company cattle illustrates the maddening delays cattlemen endured:


         I left Big Sandy Oct. 19 at 3:10 P.M. with 12 cars of Fergus Livestock Co. cattle. was delayed an hour and a half at Boxelder on account of a cylinder blowing out and was delayed at Havre 2˝ hours on account of not having crew to take us out, was 12˝ hours going from Havre to Glasgow owing to disabled engine, we were nearly 15 hours in going from Glasgow to Williston, and ten hours from Williston to Minot and arrived at Minot at 7:30 A.M. Oct. 21st and was delayed on track 2˝ hours at Minot before unloading and it was about 1 A.M. before stock was unloaded. I ordered power for 2:30 P.M. and power was not furnished me until 8 P.M. I arrived at Twin City yards at 9 A.M. Oct. 23rd and was unloaded at 10 A.M. and was unable to make Monday's market and did not reach Chicago until Tuesday morning Oct. 25th. [H. B. Lewis to James Fergus, October 25, 1898, Box 19 F. 44, FP, UM.]


The Fergus Livestock and Land Company, probably like other ranchers, remained noticeably unsuccessful in securing damages for such inefficiency. The only recourse was through the courts, an expensive, drawn-out and highly uncertain process. Cattlemen, consequently, fumed in frustrated silence.


         Despite the adversities of storm, depression, wolves, and marginal health, the Fergus Livestock and Land Company substantially expanded its holdings during the 1890's, especially in land and sheep. From an Armells nucleous of homestead and desert land claims in the early 1880's, the ranch mushroomed to 8600 acres of deeded land with water rights, plus 2500 acres rented from the state. As James expressed it in 1897, "we have about 4000 acres, all on the streams. By controlling and fencing up the water, we control the range. Water is worth more here than land." [James Fergus to Judge Richardson, September 3, 1897, Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 97, FP, UM. James Fergus Memo, "Something About Our Business," 1900, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM.] Like other western ranchers, James and Andrew acquired this land in various ways: homestead and desert land claims, buying established ranches outright, and buying pre-emption, homestead and desert claims. In addition, they leased state land and simply controlled open range by dominating its lifeline of water. [James Fergus, Desert Land Certificate No. 251 and Homestead Certificate No. 1317, March 21, 1889, Box 13 F. 18, FP, UM. Their largest purchase of an entire ranch was in 1896—Eugene Townsend's 1000 acres with all equipment and 4000 sheep, 60 horses, 125 cattle. Agreement, April 1, 1896, Box 19 F. 59, FP, UM. Other references for land expansion can be found in: Box 1 F. 67; Box 24 F. 40, Box 10 F. 39 and 46; Box 11 F. 13 and 65; Box 14 F. 46; Box 16 F. 64; Box 18 F. 53; Box 19 F. 44, 50 and 51, all FP, UM. Also, Box 1 F. 2, FC, MHSL.]


         By 1900 the company also had some 2500 cattle valued at $75,000, 1000 horses worth $15,000, and 9000 sheep at about $30,000. James estimated their tools, grain, work horses, and other equipment to be worth $2500, bringing the total to $101,500. He considered their deeded land to be valued at $60,000, raising the company's holdings to $161,500 at the close of the decade. [James Fergus Memo, "Something About Our Business," 1900, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM. In 1895 he estimated it at $115,935, with $40,259 in debts for $77,676. See Box 19 F. 47, FP, UM. Interestingly, his 1900 "Copy returns of property to Census Bureau" listed different figures: 9000 acres of deeded land, $90,000, and 2560 in leased land: cattle—2563 at $78,445; sheep—8500; horses—1300 at $26,000. Box 19 F. 52, FP, UM.]


         Of course this $161,500 did not represent debt-free property or assets. The same year James estimated the company's liabilities to be $77,500, including $48,500 in 1899 (including mortgaged owed) expenses, "wages $10,000, store bills $5,000, taxes $3,000, interest $3,500, total $73,000. Then it will cost $4500 to enter our unentered lands, grand total $77,500." Now, James asked himself, "what have we to pay this with? Say $7000 in bank, $16,000 for beef, $5000 for wool and possibly $2000 for horses, Total $30,000, leaving us in debt $47,500 on the last day of this year" of 1899. Thus the elderly Fergus, patriarch of the family-owned company, worried his way out of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Unfortunately, concern about ranch and family, reinforced with loneliness, became the dominant pattern of his remaining years. [James Fergus Memo, "Something About Our Business," 1900, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM. In his report to the Census Bureau James listed $18,000 as expended for wages, but his included wages and board for 30 men.]



The Twilight Years:  Lonely and Worried


         In 1900 James Fergus penned one of the many memorandums to himself, thinking on paper as had been his habit for years. Reviewing the previous twenty years of struggle produced some distressing conclusions. James recalled they had migrated to Armells in 1880 with about $32,000 in assets, including livestock, equipment and cash. If they had used this $32,000 base, adding ten per cent each year until 1900, they would have achieved a total of $214,128.10, according to James. Still, "the above does not include mothers, Andrews and my work. I leave that to cover the taxes. So our property ought to bring after paying our debts about $80,000 less than the above." The draining work and worry of ranching hardly seemed worth it about then. [James Fergus Memorandum, 1900, J. Fergus financial records, FC, MHSL. In 1889 he did the same, beginning with their initial 1866 ranch. After 25 years of ranching he thought they would have been $17,212 ahead working for others. "We worked some of the time as slaves, had the advantage of the rise of property—neither drunk smoked or gambled and have the reputation of being careful and economical." Box 12 F. 48, FP, UM.]


         James expended much energy answering "why we done so much worse than some of our neighbors; we were here first and had the best opportunity for locating." It especially bothered him that by 1898 William and sons had 15,000 sheep and nearly 10,000 acres of land, while relatively free of debt. [James Fergus Memo, October 27, 1898, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM. James conceded, however, that some neighbors had done much worse, including Granville Stuart, who "did not stay home and tend to their business, Stuart has nothing." About then Fergus may have regretted not joining George Stephens' Moline implement company—Stephens urged James to join in 1860. By 1901 Stephens employed 900 men in four shops, trading with South America and South Africa. His payroll amounted to $10,000 a week with managers getting $10,000 to $15,000 yearly. Stephens to Fergus, October 7, 1860, August 8, 1896, June 16, 1898, November 5, 1899, January 12 and 30, 1901, April 27, 1901, Box 10 F. 24 and 26, FP, UM.] James believed "this running about and neglecting our business next to our raising horses has been one of our greatest drawbacks. Next selling our sheep both times when we are paying too much for everything we buy." [James Fergus Memo, 1898, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM. In 1900 James estimated they had paid at least $13,700 too much for land, cattle, sheep, etc., over the years. "Something About Our Business," 1900, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM.]


         For years, but especially in the 1890's, James and Andrew had been at odds over ranch management and fiscal policy. James opposed expanding the ranch, believing "the only way we can get out of debt is to spend less." On the other hand, Andrew "is ambitious and wants to do a big business." As James recounted in January 1899, Andrew "bought out one of our neighbors. He bought out another the day before. . . . The week before he bought 50 head of cattle, altogether this month he had bought 1200 acres of land." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, December 17, 1892, Box 14 F. 47, FP, UM. Fergus to George Stephens, n.d., FC, MHSL. Fergus to Stephens, January 28, 1899, Box 11 F. 64, FP, UM.]


         Though he usually opposed buying additional land, James found it difficult to dissuade his son, and usually gave in to his ambition. Still, by the mid-1890's he implored Andrew to retrench, for "wages, interest and taxes are all higher than circumstances will warrent. We do all the fussing all the worrying and in the end get little for it [but are] working for the bank and those we employ." He pleaded with Andrew, "don't get angry over this, but let us get out of it as soon and as quietly as we can to advantage." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, December 9, 1896, Box 14 F. 48, FP, UM.]


         Andrew had been ranching with his father for years. The two worked quite well together until soon after Pamelia's death when Andrew assumed increasing management duties, and the aging James kept books. While the strong-willed James may have dominated his son during their early ranching years, he respected Andrew as a "no. one man himself or to manage a small party." [James Fergus to R. S. Hamilton, November 9, 1885, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM. In 1889 James was still correcting his thirty-nine year old son's spelling, admonishing him to do better and to include more news in his letters. James to Andrew Fergus, February 1, 1889, Box 14 F. 46, FP, UM.] However, James did not consider Andrew "a first class man to manage men on a drive, or even on the range." Besides, Andrew could not keep books and it not "appear to know the value of money when from home." The frugal James considered his son to be quite frivolous, buying too many unnecessary items, not to mention the excessive land purchased at inflated prices. Thus in 1892, James admonished Andrew "to buy nothing we can get along without. I have been looking over our books since you went away and our expenses are even more than I expected." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, December 17, 1892, Box 14 F. 47, FP, UM.]


         James believed both Andrew and George Gilpatrick spent too much time away from their ranch duties:


. . . staying too much in Lewistown, too much going to parties and not enought work. I have studied this matter over the years. Andrew and I are at antirodes in our ways of doing business. I want to keep out of debt, pay nothing more for anything and buy than it is worth. Andrew wants land and pays from two to four times what it is worth. [James Fergus, "Memorandum About Our Business," January 1, 1901, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM. James also felt they wasted money on ranch operations because they employed excessive help for the amount of work being done. "So much help eats up all the profits." J. Fergus, "Things As I See Them" August 14, 1900, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM.]


         In some respects James became like the father he despised in his youth. Domineering and in some ways self-centered, he always had kept close account of his money. This tendency magnified with old age, leading to a stream of demands on Andrew to spend less, save more and work harder. In addition, James had never been an affectionate person. When combined with disagreements about ranch management, it acted to wedge the two slowly apart during the 1890's. While James may have exerted considerable influence over Andrew during the 1880's the situation soon changed. As James' health deteriorated Andrew assumed increased independence as he took more managerial duties. During the decade Andrew's health suffered from back troubles, stomach problems and gallstones, making him at times as irritable as his father. At any rate, the son asserted himself to the point that in 1899 James despaired because "he won't take advice." [James Fergus to Luella Fergus Gilpatrick, March 27, 1899, Box 11 F. 64, FP, UM. James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, September 2, 1893, Box 14 F. 47, FP, UM. In 1901 Andrew spent much time in Chico Hot Springs, Box 3 F. 23. In 1896 James wrote brother Robert that "my son's health is also very poor for a man of his age (46). He was very ambitious and done too much work for a man of his size when he was very young has had horses fall on him several times on the range hurting him very bad." February 7, 1896, Box 11 F. 63, FP, UM. Luella thought Andrew had gallstones, as James indicated to Andrew on August 3, 1901, Box 11, F. 49, FP, UM.]


         James worked to retard their land expansion and clear company debts; he also became increasingly disturbed over how to distribute his property. As early as 1882 James began searching for methods of avoiding probate. In 1899 lawyers advised James to transfer his company stock to the children if he wanted to escape a one per cent inheritance tax and avoid processing a will. As Fergus worried about an equal distribution among his children, he came to believe the easiest and most equitable method would be to sell the property and make a cash dispensation. [Cornelius Hedges to James Fergus, March 17, 1882, Box 6 F. 18, FP, UM. Elbert D. Weed to James Fergus, September 7, 1899, Box 11 F. 50, FP, UM. Lillie Fergus Maury to James Fergus, November 11, 1900, Box 7 F. 48, FP, UM.]


         James felt lonely and extremely concerned about their bleak financial condition. This orderly man preferred to manage his affairs with confidence and precision but now faced the possibility of dying before achieving solvency. "You see I am preparing for the end I would rather commence on the property here and get out of debt what I have been trying to do for years but there is nobody to help me, it keeps getting worse and I expect I will have to die and leave it all in confusion much to my regret and to the injury of my children." [James Fergus Memo, n.d. (late 1890's), Box 14 F. 4, FP, UM. In the same memo, the methodical Fergus wrote an account of his death and instructed the children where he wanted to be buried.] Ranch problems increasingly permeated his being, reaching the point that he could think of little else. "When young I had will power enough to lay all business aside when I left the shop and not think or dream about it nights, now I can't do that and I am so sick of it that it is the subject of my dreams when asleep and awake." James exploded to Andrew about a year before his death that "I am so tired of it, so tired of being behind our neighbors, of losing money in place of making it, that I feel as I wanted to leave, to go away and never see it again and but for your sisters I would do it tomorrow morning." [James Fergus Memo, October 17, 1898, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM. James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, July 13, 1901, Box 14 F. 49, FP, UM. On June 5, 1892, Fergus wrote Mr. Cleland of his poor luck in business affairs: "We have always been unfortunate in selling when property was low, in having horses and cattle die and in selling our sheep and keeping cattle." Box 11 F. 62, FP, UM.]


         Two months later, in August 1901, James told Andrew of receiving twenty-one letters in the last mail, most of them bills. He exploded:


I don't see where we are to get the money to pay for them, to pay all these men and all the other bills that are coming and why we need so many goods and why I was not consulted about buying them. Our horses don't pay, we have few steers to sell and all our income comes from our sheep, which will not pay one half of our expenses, interest and taxes. It nearly sets me wild. [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, August 3, 1901, Box 14 F. 49, FP, UM. Earlier, James had threatened to take the business in his own hands and hire a manager if Andrew and George did not spend more time with the ranch business; otherwise, "in twelve years and probably less the company will not own a dollar." James to Andrew Fergus, February 6, 1901, Box 14 F. 49, FP, UM. Also, in the mid-1880's James blamed the unethical Christians for his debtor position: "While our Christian friends have been cheating each other and us poor infidels, I have kept myself comparatively poor by always doing as I would be done by." J. Fergus to J. R. Monroe, November 14, 1885, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM.]


         Late in the 1890's James confessed to daughter Luella that:


For the first time in my life I have what is called ‘The Blues.' Away Down here on the prarie among cattle and sheepmen with whom I have little in common growing old. Old friends dying off out of touch and sympathy with the young Brother a bigoted Christian, Andrew little at home only three months out of the last four and when at home I can do little to suit him scold because I do to much and because I don't do enough. [He is] pleasant and petted abroad but takes little interest in things at home is dissatisfied to do what I will and thinks I don't do by him as I ought. I tell him take all the business under your own control and stay at home and take charge of it. No I will not agree to stay at home as you do well then dont find fault with me when I do the best I can in your absence. [James Fergus to Luella Fergus Gilpatrick, n.d. (late 1890's), Box 11 F. 65, FP, UM.]


In addition to his family, several old friends expressed concern about James' self-imposed isolation. W. F. Sanders wrote, "I have read and reread your two letters to me and more and more rebel that you are so isolated over yonder where we cannot see you." Cornelius Hedges encouraged Fergus to live in Helena as:


It seems to me with your love of reading and enjoyment of the society of thinking men, you ought not to be spending your days in voluntary exile on the ranch. You ought to live here in town. How pleasant and profitable for a few like Sanders, Granville Stuart, Judge Knowles, and like kindred spirits to discuss the great problems as they unfold. [Cornelius Hedges to James Fergus, November 5, 1901, Box 6 F. 18, FP, UM. W. F. Sanders to James Fergus, February 1900, Box 9 F. 48, FP, UM. Sanders wanted Fergus to come because "you are not seen or known personally by this vast throng which has come to the land you, more than any other one man, opened to the enterprise of the new era which a generation ago burst upon these mountain fastness where the Indian and the wild beast hid from men."]


         While James was relatively isolated from neighbors and family, by 1899 he at least enjoyed telephone connection with area ranchers and Lewistown. After considerable persuasion over a period of years David Hilger convinced Fergus to finance the fifty miles of telephone line to Armells. [David Hilger to James Fergus, January 7, 1897, Box 6 F. 29, January 28, 1898, Box 11 F. 13, FP, UM. James Fergus to George Stephens, January 28, 1899, Box 11 F. 64, FP, UM.]


         The fall of 1899 an old friend tried to convince James to winter in Helena, for "we have too little of the good old Scotch nobility of character of which you represent the best"' besides, "the lonesome life you are living alone will surely shorten the balance of your days." He encouraged James to come to Helena "and we will all be glad and do all we can to liven things up for you." [T. A. Marlow to James Fergus, October 27, 1899, Box 7 F. 42, FP, UM.] Though James did not spend that winter in the capital, he did visit during the winter of 1900-1901, staying with Luella, visiting several old friends. [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, February 7, 6, 9, 25, 1901, Box 14 F. 49, FP, UM. James remained in Helena about a month and saw friends including Judge Hilger, John Potter, W. A. Clark, T. C. Power, MacNamara and Kon Kohrs. Sanders and Hedges were out of town. He and Luella planned a trip to Butte, Anaconda, Great Falls, Fort Benton and home but had to cancel as both became ill. Also, James Fergus to George Gilpatrick, February 8, 1901, Box 11 F. 64, FP, UM.]


         James had been trying to convince Andrew to sell their cattle since the mid-1890's. Andrew finally agreed it best late in the decade to put the property "all up at auction." Consequently, the following advertisement appeared in local and distant papers:




         On account of old age and ill-health, will sell about 10,000 acres of land in Fergus county, Montana, nearly all on tributaries of Armells creek, on the north side of the Judith mountains; has 30 miles of irrigation ditches, 80 miles of fences, nine homesteads or sets of ranch buildings, together with about 2,000 good cattle, 9,000 well bred sheep and 1,200 horses, originally bred from grandsons of Mambrino Patchen and other good stallions; 6,000 bushels of oats, several hundred tons of hay, two blacksmith shops; one-third interest in 55 miles of the phone line and some private; 200 acres in crop this spring; an interest in sheep shearing sheds and apparatus, and all the necessary implements for running such a ranch, including a postoffice. Fergus Livestock and Land Co. James Fergus, President, Armells, Fergus County, Montana. [James Fergus, advertisement sent to unidentified paper, 1900, Box 21 F. 5, FP, UM. Fergus advertised in the Drover's Journal, Box 19 F. 44, and the Chicago Daily Journal, Box 2 F. 40, and probably in Canadian papers such as the Calgary Herald, since he had previously advertised horses there. Fergus Memo, n.d. (late 1890's), Box 14 F. 4, FP, UM.]


Earlier, James enumerated the reasons "why I want to sell," and included the following:


1.        My Age

2.        Andrews health

3.        Grandsons out of their place (in ranching)

4.        Debt

5.        Range fed off

6.        Time for a hard winter

7.        Time for a slump in prices

8.        Too expensive to work our cattle alone

9.        We are not making interest

10.    Our fences will be rotting soon

11.    None of us are traders

12.    Money is easier divided than property.

                           The above ought to be enough.

James Fergus

         [James Fergus Memo, February 12, 1900, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM.]


         Though James preferred to sell the entire property en masse, the company did not succeed, possible because no one interested in the ranch could raise the necessary $265,000. Instead, they began to dispose of it piecemeal, first selling 3075 beef, including 50 bulls, to neighbor Oscar Stephens for $65,000. [A. C. Winterfield to James Fergus, April 26, 1900, Box 11 F. 50, FP, UM. A penciled note on the bottom of this letter indicated Fergus wanted to sell all the land in one transaction for $200,000. C. B. Towers, Livestock and Real Estate Broker, to James Fergus, November 2 and 27, 1900, Box 19 F. 44, FP, UM. A dispute erupted after the sale as Towers insisted he deserved a 1 per cent broker's fee. Fergus denied it but reluctantly paid the fee to avoid a court fight and save trouble for his children.] After selling the cattle Fergus advertised their horses, again in local and distant papers, including the Kootenay Mail (Revelstoke, British Columbia) and the Calgary Herald. The company planned to accept $20 per head for the 800 to 1000 range horses. As James expressed it earlier that summer:


         I think it would be as well to give our horses away as to have from two to three men breaking them for a month. . . . We have had an average of four men handling horses for three months that is a years work of one man besides pasture use of hay, grain, etc. say $1000 altogether and what have we got to shew for it. Keeping stallions over winter, taxes, interest and etc. [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, July 26, 1901, Box 14 F. 49, FP, UM. Calgary Herald ad found in Box 19 F. 45. The Kootenay Mail ad of September 29, 1901, in Box 6 F. 72, including the following terms:




Owing to the old age (88) and infirmities of our president, and the continued ill health of our manager, the Fergus Live Stock and Land Co. of Armells, Fergus Co., Montana, hereby offer for sale from 800 to 1000 range horses, mostly mares and young stock, weighing from 850 to 1400 lbs when grown, at $20 per hd., cash down if taken this fall, stallions and last springs colts counted in.]


         While the company sold its three thousand cattle the fall of 1900, it failed to dispose of horses, sheep or land by December 1901. James could easily have traded Montana land for property in Chicago or Missouri but he wanted to avoid trading one set of headaches for another. [Samuel H. Smith to James Fergus, June 14, 1900, Box 10 F. 45, FP, UM. William Courtenay to James Fergus, July 6, 1900, Box 2 F. 30, FP, UM. William D. Harwood to James Fergus, May 5, 1900, and L. C. Laser to Fergus, June 15, 1900, Box 19 F. 44, FP, UM. Austin W. Warr, Cashier in the Bank of Fergus County, observed on October 30, 1901, that Fergus had "sold nothing whatsoever this year." Box 19 F. 4, FP, UM.] Consequently, at a special meeting of the Fergus Livestock and Land Company, the stockholders authorized the following action: Company land, stock and equipment were to be appraised by May 1902 and offered for sale at public auction. All unsold land could then be reoffered below the appraised valuation, but "horses cattle sheep and all other company property to be sold the same way giving Andrew the preference when there is a contest all debts to be paid first the rest to be divided between my children according to the views of my will." [James Fergus Notes, special meeting of the Fergus Live Stock and Land Company, December 2, 1901, Box 19 F. 58, FP, UM.] However, by the following May their horses remained unsold, and James' health deteriorated to the point where he became the family's main concern. [F. M. Robertson to James Fergus, May 11, 1902, Box 9 F. 42, FP, UM.]


         James' physical condition had been a dominating factor of his life since the early 1850's. Partnership in the Moline foundry produced extreme tension and overwork, necessitating the sale and move to Minnesota. Ill health did not prove to be a major cause of the Minnesota disaster and his eighteen months in Colorado, despite the harsh conditions, strengthened his physical condition. Of the post-Moline years, the Colorado, Virginia City, Prickly Pear experience found James in the best health, during his latter forties through late sixties.


         After moving to Armells early in the 1880's James' physical health seemed to decline. Hard work and the aging process combined to produce frequent ailments. Then early in the decade James injured his back in an accident, preventing him from maintaining his usual good posture. As the years passed he became increasingly bent, almost doubled. He frequently described himself as an "old and broken down man." [James Fergus to Janet Simpson, January 4, 1900, Box 11 F. 64, FP, UM. On March 26, 1882, S. C. Gilpatrick, in commenting on James' back injury, thought "something must have broken like a tendon, near your backbone." Box 5, F. 9, FP, UM.]


         In 1882 a weary James Fergus declined to answer in kind an angry letter from son-in-law R. S. Hamilton because ". . . I am getting too old Robert to quarrel at least with convictions; am also laboring under a chronic disease that is holding me on the brinck of the grave and making the number of my days very uncertain." As fate would have it, instead of crossing the brink to death in 1882, Fergus remained amazingly active for another twenty years, though at various times he felt certain his time had come. [James Fergus to R. S. Hamilton, April 8, 1882, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM. In 1889 James felt he would not live long so prepared a Memo for Andrew dealing with ranch business, Box 4 F. 3, FC, MHSL. James made a will in 1882, inserted major revisions in 1887 and several changes until his death in 1902. Box 13 F. 18 and 21, FP, UM. James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, August 3, 1901, Box 14 F. 49, FP, UM. In 1897 Fergus wrote David Hilger that the "odds is against me getting well." June 19, 1897, Box 11 F. 63, FP, UM.]


         Though suffering variously from numerous ailments during the last twenty years of his life (grippe, ague, intestinal and bowl troubles, a serious back problem, and heart troubles, besides common ailments as colds and flu), James neither avoided hard work nor feared death. As he explained to George Stephens in 1888, his nervous system required physical exercise, otherwise he had too much time to think of the absent Pamelia, old friends and poor health.


Still the world goes on and I am alone left by the way. There is only one place left for me and that is the grave. None in my condition should regret or be afraid to go there. I shall not be. Where there are no wants or activities, no likes or dislikes, no hopes or fears, federal and confederate, Christian and infidel, Jew and Gentile are laid side by side and there is peace between them forever. [James Fergus to George Stephens, February 28, 1888, Box 11 F. 60, FP, UM. Luella observed in 1894 that chopping wood seemed to be James' best medicine as his personality required him to be active. Luella Gilpatrick to James Fergus, December 26, 1894, Box 4 F. 25, FP, UM. In 1888 James wrote George Stephens that "I might go to Helena and be with my daughters who would do everything for me and where I have hosts of friends but what can I do there. I cannot keep still. My health demands active exercise again we all like to be independent and have a home of our own, and again by going to Helena I could not get away from my own sad self." Box 11 F. 60, FP, UM. And in 1896 he wrote his Scottish brothers that "my life has been such an active one since I came to America that I am compelled to work about six hours every day to be able to live at all." Box 11 F. 63, FP, UM.]


         Daughter Luella, with whom James corresponded most frequently, expressed amazement at her father's vitality in the mid-1890's:


Oh, Father you are a wonderful man for your age. Almost a cripple yet active and insight intellectually and a memory that a much younger man would enjoy. And the amount of reading and writing you do too. It is a pity that none of your children inherited some of your intellect and brain, but we are born as we were born and if we do our best it will help to make you happier. [Luella Fergus Gilpatrick to James Fergus, January 9, 1895, Box 4 F. 26, FP, UM. In 1890 Luella thought "Grandpa Fergus suffers more in twenty-four hours than most men do in a year." Luella to James, February 18, 1890, Box 4 F. 24, FP, UM.]


         Despite his several ailments, from the mid-1890's James steadfastly refused to allow a doctor to examine him. "Have had no doctor and want none, only advice," he informed Luella. Fergus once "tended a course in medical lectures, have plenty of doctors books and have generally doctered myself." Luella could send medical advice if she wished, which she often did, but James remained grimly independent. [James Fergus to Luella Fergus Gilpatrick, January 15, 1895, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM. T. H. Monahan, M.D., to James Fergus, January 26, 1895, Box 8 F. 1, FP, UM. In 1880 Luella consulted her own medical book, King's Family Physician, and diagnosed James' current problem as "parakgsis" and sent what a doctor suggested. Luella to James, April 25, 1880, Box 4 F. 17, FP, UM.]


         Early in 1895 a rumor of such astounding proportions circulated in Lewistown that it carried across the mountains to Helena. The agnostic Fergus hovered close to death and had actually sent for a priest! His doctor, daughter and son-in-law all reacted with indignation and attempted to trace the falsehood to its source. Luella wrote, "now to ofset this we want to know 1st has there been a priest or preacher in your house in the last month—2nd have you by word or writing had any communication with any priest or preacher in this time—3rd have you sent any message?" [Luella Fergus Gilpatrick to James Fergus, January 17, 1895, Box 4 F. 26, FP, UM.]


         James rushed into print to refute such an outrage, insisting:


         I came into this world without my own consent and expect to leave it the same way. I am only obeying a law of nature that all must comply with. But in going am not in need of priest, preacher or other ‘middle-men,' prefering to do my business,—should I have any, with the powers that are supposed to be—with first parties. [James Fergus to Fergus County Argus, January 1, 1895.]


         James' health fluctuated until 1901 when he became seriously ill for six months, so ill in fact that he could not write letters, a drastic condition for him. As James put it, "I am near my end but still rustling, I get very little sleep most of that in a chair and eat very little." [James Fergus to George Galbraith, July 28, 1901, and James Fergus to J. B. McHose, April 15, 1901, Box 11 F. 64, FP, UM.] However, he did write some letters, as the following to Cornelius Hedges:


         To make matters worse my only son Andrew has been sick all summer, at Chico Hot Springs, Lewistown and other places, the result of a horse falling on him some twenty years ago. He has had horses, carriage and a man nurse all the time. This leaves all our bookeeping and the general direction of our business for me to do. [James Fergus to Cornelius Hedges, October 31, 1901, Cornelius Hedges Collection, MHSL.]


         While James was ill he wrote W. F. Sanders, reminding him that thirty-five years earlier in Virginia City he had agreed to speak in a non-religious fashion at Fergus' funeral. Sanders replied,


         I have always kept it in mind. I confess it has oppressed me ever since for it has seemed to me the world would be lonesome without you and that your existence even though it be away from the hearts of the multitude is an assurance of sobriety of action in public affairs. [Wilbur Fisk Sanders to James Fergus, May 27, 1901, Box 9 F. 48, FP, UM. During Fergus' illness David Hilger scolded James for overworking and offered a life style for better living: "I suggest that you do as most of the old timers in Helena, take it easy, don't work unless you have to, eat three times a day, and insist that the ‘grub' is poor, drink stimulants as often and long as you can, tell what a ‘hell of a man' you were when you were young, comment on all of the pretty women as they go by, vote every chance you get and on every proposition, but under no conditions perform any work, and let the other fellow work and be darned for all you care, and you will have better health." March 27, 1901, Box 2 F. 28, FP, UM.]


         The following year James again suffered serious illness, a combination of improper circulation and breathing difficulties. News of the malady reached Lewistown, whose rumor mill, stimulated by Fergus' isolation, soon pronounced James speechless, if not dead. Luella appeared in print on March 17 to affirm that James still lived, though a Fort Benton paper reported he could not speak and a Minneapolis paper had him dead. Luella wrote, "He wishes his friends to know, while seriously ill, that he is not dead." Andrew reinforced these sentiments, also through the Lewistown Democrat. [Luella Fergus Gilpatrick to Lewistown Democrat, March 17, 1902. Andrew Fergus to Lewistown Democrat, n.d., Box 14, F. 3, FP, UM.]


         Wilbur Fisk Sanders, in Chicago indefinitely for eye surgery, knew he could not return for the funeral unless James lived for some time. Sanders sensed that his friend fluttered near death and regretted he could not return to deliver the funeral address. Therefore, Sanders requested Fergus' son-in-law, R. S. Hamilton, to keep the service non-religious as per the Fergus-Sanders pledge of some thirty-seven years before. [Wilbur Fisk Sanders to R. S. Hamilton, March 7, 1902, Manuscript Case, B.F. 38, FC, MHSL.] As Fergus often said,


. . . one of the most important things I wish to impress on the minds of my descendents is the fact that [I am] an unbeliever not only in the Christian faith which I believe to be the biggest humbug in the lot but in all other religions and that in that disbelief I have lived without a waver. I [will] die hoping also that my descendants will have the good sense to do the same. [James Fergus, rough draft to unidentified friend in Scotland, n.d. (probably late 1890's), Box 14 F. 3, FP, UM.]


         James died on June 25, 1902. According to his wishes, he did not have a religious funeral, with the service conducted from the home of daughter Luella Gilpatrick. His children and friends sang no hymns, said no prayers amid the floral tributes, but instead listened to a funeral address by E. D. Wood. [Helena Independent, July 1, 1902. W. F. Sanders could not attend.]


         The service being almost totally devoid of religion would have pleased "infidel" Fergus in every respect but one:  The funeral card bore this verse, which probably would have evoked James' criticism:


James Fergus:     Died June 25, 1902

                           Age 87 years


A precious one from us has gone,

         A voice we loved is stilled;

A place is vacant in our home,

         Which never can be filled.


God in his wisdom has recalled,

         The boon his love had given;

And though the body moulders here,

         The soul is safe in heaven.


[The funeral card is found in Box 14 F. 6, FP, UM.]


         Thus the old pioneer passed away and was buried in Helena beside his beloved Pamelia, whom he had missed for twenty-five years. Some thirty years later friends and relatives erected a monument to Fergus near Armells with the following inscription:











[Lewistown Democrat, October 8, 1936. Helena Independent, July 1, 1902.]