cover 2nd edition

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To Hazel Fergus Bubar,

An amazing woman whose interest

in history made this possible.

R. M. Horne



This book is Pam's.

Hazel Fergus





These notes are on the bound thesis used for transcription by typing, since the old typewritten text (not a carbon copy) given to Aunt Hazel will not produce usable OCR text.


The 1982 family edition (reproduced from this same copy) has also been used for additions and a few corrections to the original text.


For this third electronic edition in 2005, a few minor changes and addition are included. With the event of spellchecking and automatic correction I hope I will be forgiven if I have chosen to respell those few words in the text that may have been typos or minor mistakes. I have tried to not let the program respell the words in quotes that are from the original source and are still intended to remain as they were originally spelled without any sic noted.


Since my patience is limited, I will apologize for not proofreading each and every word and number I have typed. I have tried to be accurate and look at my screen as I type a bit, and to watch for the programs flagging of suspect spelling or grammar. I would certainly appreciate notes sent to me to correct errors you see in my transcription!


The objective of this transcription is to make it freely available to all and without cost. It is also to make the text searchable so that anyone can find just what interests them about their part of the family.


The numbered footnotes have been moved to the correct spot in the text and the numbers removed. This is mainly because I prefer to read them this way; also because I find it a nuisance to superscript text and figure out how to make footnotes appear in the correct place in text files or on web pages. Often the text within the footnotes flow well within the paragraph and could have been originally written there.


The genealogy was very primitive and has been replaced with my collection of data of the family.


Charlotte Orr, great granddaughter, met with Robert Horne several years ago. "He is more than willing for us to use his thesis freely", as he is totally out of the history and the writing business. THANK YOU to Dr. Horne from all of us in the family!


James R. Dangel—Jim

Great, great, great grandson





         In order to pass on to the younger generations a portion of their heritage this 1982 edition of Robert M. Horne's work, "James Fergus: Frontier Businessman – Miner – Rancher – Free Thinker" has been prepared.


         Speaking of the James Fergus letters, and Robert M. Horne, K. Ross Toole, University of Montana, wrote in 1971 –


"—The consequence is that Dr. Horne has had unusually rich and varied material with which to work—and he has worked it with skill, meticulous care and sound historical judgement. So there emerges not just another account, but an account marked by unusual depth and sensitivity. It deserves to be read by all students of the American West."


         Included as additions are short biographies of Hazel Fergus, and Pamelia Dillin Fergus. Some errors in the text are corrected. [These corrections were made by Hazel and her children in conference and were made, for the most part, by pen.] It is intended to prepare for future distribution a corrected and more complete family genealogy than appeared in the original book. [This edition of the book got the transcriber interested in Fergus family genealogy, so I, James R. Dangel, will be including the descendants of James Fergus even if it is very large.]


         It is hoped that this record, by setting forth the accomplishments, trials and perseverance of James, Pamelia and Andrew will serve to strengthen the character of those who read it and bring them closer as a greater family.


         Acknowledgement is given to Charlotte Quigley Orr for her efforts in arranging for printing and preparations of this volume and also, to her children Melissa and Scott for their work in assembly.


         This edition is printed on both sides of the page to reduce bulk.


         This done in Bozeman, Montana June 27-29, 1982 by Fergus Family Associates, Hazel A. Fergus, Agnes Fergus Quigley Miedema, Pamelia Fergus Pittman, Andrew J. Fergus, Ethel Dean Fergus, Charlotte Quigley Orr.







         Pamelia Dillin was born in Pamelia Township, near Watertown, Jefferson County, New York, on June 22nd, 1824.


         Both branches of her father's and mother's families were originally from New England and were pioneers in the state of New York. Her mother Mahalah Bellows, was left an orphan at an early age, and was adopted into the family of General Jacob Brown, fulfilling a promise made to her father who was an intimate friend. After marrying William Dillin they lived in New York state some twenty years, where several children were born to them. The eldest was named Pamelia after Mrs. General Brown.


         They moved to Henry County, Illinois, with horse trains in the winter, a great undertaking in those days.


         Pamelia Dillin was married to James Fergus at Moline, Illinois, on March 16th, 1845, where he was engaged in the foundry and machine business, afterwards carrying on the same business at Rock Island. Mr. Fergus' health failing, they sold out and moved to St. Anthony Falls, Minnesota, in 1854, soon moving to Little Falls, where Mr. Fergus had bought a five-twelfth interest in the water power and townsite there on the extreme frontier. In 1864 Mrs. Fergus with her children, three girls and one boy, in company with others braved the then dangerous trip across the plains with ox teams, by way of Omaha, and after four months of hardship and suffering arrived in Alder Gulch on August 14th, where Mr. Fergus was engaged in mining.


         In the Spring of 1865, she moved to Last Chance Gulch, near where Helena now is, where Mr. Fergus was working claims. Anxious to have more room and be more independent they moved to the Prickly Pear Valley, where hey engaged in dairying, stock raising and improving a large ranch. Many old timers will recollect Mrs. Fergus' butter, which was always up to the standard, both in quality and weight. As the valley settled up, and their stock increased they were obliged to find more pasture. They bought what was known as the Malcolm Clark ranch, in the Little Prickly Pear Canyon, where Mr. Clark had been killed by Indians only a year or two before, and where they lived ten years, raising stock, improving ranches, and keeping stage station and public house, which many of our old timers will remember. Their stock still increasing, they were again compelled to find new pastures, and this time moved into the wilderness among the Indians and buffalo, north of Fort Maginnis and the Judith Mountains, where Mr. Fergus and his only son, Andrew, still live.* After living there three months without seeing a white woman, a man drove past with a covered wagon, camped at the creek near by , and came to the house for milk for a baby. Mrs. Fergus invited him to bring his wife to the house. Presently he came along with a full blooded squaw who could not speak a word of English. Pamelia Dillin was the child of pioneers. When she grew to womanhood she became attached to and married James Fergus, another pioneer, (who crossed the Mississippi and lived in what is now Iowa, before it was named), and from that time until her death aided him in helping to build on the frontier settlements, villages, towns and cities.


         How little we realize, as sitting in our easy chairs now surrounded by many comforts, what we owe to the pioneer women who have lived and died on the frontiers of our country, as it has been developed from decade to decade. Always in the front rank with a conquering spirit, they were only subdued by death. It is almost impossible to realize the dangers, sufferings and privations of their lives, especially among the Indians. But seeing and talking with them almost daily while in Minnesota, Mrs. Fergus became familiar with their habits, customs and characteristics, so that during the Sioux massacre, when the frightened women and children flocked into town, her courage and familiarity with the Indians helped to soothe and quiet their fears. Here also was developed another trait of her character, that of relieving the wants of the poor, the distressed and the unfortunate. "Her home was known to all the vagrant train, she chided their wanderings but relieved their pain."


         Mrs. Fergus died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. S. C. Gilpatrick, in Helena, on October 6th, 1886, after a lingering illness, the effect of a cancer. W. F. Sanders, another old timer, delivered an eloquent and appropriate address on the occasion.


         Her courage was great at all times, and some of the incidents of her life may be told here.


         In Little Falls, Minnesota, while a doctor was performing a dangerous surgical operation, his assistant fainted. No one else being willing to help him, he sent a messenger for Mrs. Fergus, who had assisted him before, and she helped him until the operation was completed. In Moline, Illinois, she was called to assist a woman doctor (who had diplomas from two medical colleges) in a case of childbirth. The doctor fainted and she had both doctor and patient on her hands at the same time.


         Many incidents might be told where she came in contact with roughs and Indians in Minnesota, on the plains, and in Montana.


         On one occasion, a war party of Crow Indians crossed the Missouri river at Cascade, in pursuit of a party of Flatheads, who they claimed had stolen some of their horses. The weather was cold. They claimed that at Rock Creek, where they stayed the night before they came to the Fergus ranch, they got nothing to eat but corn in the ear; so they were hungry, cross and ugly and wanted their own way, but by careful management and furnishing them such food as was to be had, they left next day after staying about thirty-six hours, in very good humor, and no one showed more tact, courage or good management during this critical period, than Mrs. Fergus, keeping them out of her kitchen and winning their respect. There were sixteen of them, all tall and fine looking Indians, well armed and mounted. At Rock Creek the people sent to Fort Shaw for troops, who came after the Indians left. At the Fergus ranch they were better treated, stayed longer and left in better mood.


         The memories of those pioneer women should be dearly cherished. They are part of the history of our country. Their lives are so intimately connected with each other that it is difficult to portray one alone.


* Mr. Fergus died June 25, 1902.


Mr & Mrs James Fergus 1879



[The same photograph without a title was used in the original Horne thesis, after the title page, and will not be repeated.


The sketch was printed on pages 188-191 (plus the photograph of Pamelia (Dillin) and James Fergus) in the book, Contributions to the HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF MONTANA, Volume IV.  Helena: Independent Publishing Co., 1903.


I replaced Dillon in the printed text as it is incorrect.  There is a town of Dillon in Montana, and it is not known now if the printer substituted the spelling Dillon, or if the author was ignorant of the correct spelling of her mother's maiden name Dillin, which I very much doubt.


The Township error of Panielia was from someone who could not read or type and has also been corrected. We have many letters written by Luella Gilpatrick and her handwriting is very difficult to read.


Mrs. S. C. Gilpatrick was born Frances Luella Fergus and married Stephen Collins Gilpatrick on January 1, 1867 in the Prickly Pear Valley—also commonly spelled Prickley Pear Valley everywhere.]


James Fergus signature










B.S. Valley City State College, 1959

M.A. University of North Dakota, 1964



Presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of


Doctor of Education






Reprinted 1982


Electronic edition 2005






         Hazel Fergus, wife of Andrew Fergus and daughter-in-law of James Fergus, was born in Presque Isle, Maine, 18 July 1889. She came to Central Montana with her family in 1898 where she attended grade and high schools. Her first employment after leaving school was as an operator at the Mountain States Telephone Co. Then the only long distance lines were to Great Falls, Grass Range, the Horse Shoe Bar and Fergus Ranches. Later employment was with the Power Mercantile Company as cashier and secretary to Mr. Simms.


         Andrew and Hazel were married August 1, 1909 at Steilacoom, Washington, returning to live at the ranch on Armells Creek. Three children were born to this union, Agnes, Pamelia and Andrew James (Buddy). The children were educated at schools at the ranch and Lewistown during winters.


         Andrew died in July of 1928. Mortgages on the ranch coupled with a series of drought years and the nationwide depression resulted in the eventual loss of the ranch and dispersion of historical effects gathered by the family over the years.


         Hazel spent years collecting and trying to organize the scattered James Fergus papers, not realizing the size and complexity of the task.


         Judge Leonard De Kalb recommended the University of Montana because of its facilities to do such research and compilation. Arrangements were then completed resulting in Dr. Horne's book "James Fergus: Frontier Businessman – Miner – Rancher – Free Thinker".


         Hazel, at 93 years, has traveled from Juneau, Alaska to contribute and advise on this edition.

Hazel signature

[Signed and dated Hazel Fergus Oct. 7/ 1982]


Hazel Fergus died in Juneau, Alaska, at the age of 106 years on November 8, 1995.


Her husband Andrew Fergus had died July 18, 1928 in Lewistown at the age of 78 years.


For 67 years she kept the memory of Andrew Fergus [and James Fergus] alive with the rest of our family. Many of us will never forget Aunt Hazel Fergus.


Great, Great, Great Aunt to James R. Dangel, who visited her often in Juneau and Sitka and other places.




         The phrase "no man is an island" is especially accurate when applied to graduate education; therefore, this student must acknowledge several individuals for their contribution to this dissertation. First, thanks go to my graduate committee—Dr. Linus Carleton, Dr. William Fisher, Dr. Milton Reimer, Dr. K. Ross Toole, and Dr. Robert Turner, who offered the needed advice and encouragement, and most of all for allowing this type of paper to be done in the School of Education. The blessings of Dean J. Francis Rummel were vital and greatly appreciated.


         Of course there would have been no biography of James Fergus if his daughter-in-law, Mrs. Hazel Fergus Bubar, had not provided years of care for his papers and ultimately placed them at the University of Montana. With her son, Andrew J. Fergus, she also provided other useful information, especially the family tree. University of Montana Archivist Dale Johnson and Acting Archivist Brian Cockhill provided invaluable assistance in cataloging the Fergus Papers and followed this with ready cooperation. Mrs. Hariot Meloy and John Coleman of the Montana Historical Society also offered much willing help.


         No effort such as this could achieve fruition without the understanding and moral support of the writer's family. Consequently, special thanks must go to my wife, Deanne, and my oldest son, Dan, who helped in countless ways.



         James Fergus literally wrote volumes. From his writings emerge a description of the period in which he lived and a picture of a man, both vital, colorful and a times surprisingly unusual. In the attempt to capture the flavor of events and personalities, the author has let James Fergus speak for himself. He and the others quoted in this paper have not been edited in any way, with the spelling and punctuation of all quotes reproduced in the original form. To avoid unnecessary repetition and annoying inconvenience to the reader, "sic" has been omitted in the text. However, the reader must remember that quotes appear as penned by the original writer.







[Page numbers omitted—334 pages in this copy + vi]

















1884 Constitutional Convention

1885 Territorial Council

Politics, 1886-1902:  Defeat – Bitterness - Withdrawal



XIII.   ARMELLS:  THE 1890's

The Man

The Ranch

Twilight Years:  Lonely and Worried







         By 1833 America proved to be a nation on the make. It had broken its bondage to Great Britain, survived another conflict with the mother country, and had moved into a general and steady growth pattern. To Old World citizenry it represented opportunity and potential for advancement. Consequently the shores of North America showed the footprints of millions who came expecting rebirth in a new and promising life. Young James Fergus represented this image. Born on Shawton farm, Glassford Parish, Lanarkshire, Scotland, the 8th of October, 1813, he left home alone and penniless at the age of twenty, bound for Quebec. [James Fergus to J. H. Rice, August 10, 1889, as reprinted in the Fergus Falls (Minnesota) Daily Journal, Box 21 Folder 4, James Fergus Scrapbook, pp. 80-81, James Fergus Papers, University of Montana Archives, Missoula, Montana. Hereafter cited as FP, UM.]


         Like many immigrants, Fergus came to improve his lot. Like many, he apprenticed to a master, learned his trade well, and soon acquired his own business. He assumed other typical American traits. Instead of locating in the settled East, he seemed inexorably attracted by the wilderness throughout his life, even at the advanced age of sixty-seven, when he moved to and conquered his last frontier in central Montana.


         This study will encompass the events and experiences of a young Scot who, during the last two-thirds of the 1800's, seemed to flow with the moving frontier. Always on the edge of civilization, he seldom stayed with one business or area more than a decade before looking to the next horizon. Yet he was atypical as pioneers go, for he neither smoked, drank nor cursed. He held high standards for himself and his business. He became an "infidel" with high morals, a Republican with liberal ideas, a legislator but not a politician, a frugal miner more concerned with his distant family than with self satisfaction, a rancher who wrote for a dozen newspapers and to hundreds of friends.


         The young man and young nation grew together—both vigorous in body and spirit, both containing the qualities of pragmatic skills tinged with liberal thought and steeped in education and progress. Before Fergus died he helped give shape to frontiers in Illinois, Minnesota, Colorado and Montana. He worked as a carpenter, millwright, dam and bridge builder, town speculator, miner, rancher, legislator, stage station owner, writer, elder statesman. He succeeded at most and, though failing in some areas, he never gave up nor lost confidence either in himself or his adopted nation.


         This, then, is the story of an unusual pioneer who in many respects reflected the temper of the age, but who contrasted sharply with the accepted image of nineteenth century frontier Americans.







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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Family Group Sheet


Name:                     Andrew FERGUS, GGGG Grandfather


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

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

Occupation:              Farmer, Portioner Of Shawton

Anst File#:               154P-J5G

Father:                     Andrew FERGUS (1748-1831)

Mother:                   Anne STUART (STEWART) (1753-)

Other spouses:          Christian HAMILTON

Marriage:                 23 AUG 1811           Campsie, Stirling, Scotland


Spouse:                   Agnes BULLOCH, GGGG Grandmother


Birth:                      7 APR 1780             Campsie, Stirling, Scotland

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

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

Father:                     James BULLOCH (1748-1833)

Mother:                   Isabel CALDER (1754-)




1 M:                       Andrew FERGUS, GGGG Uncle

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

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


2 M:                       James FERGUS, GGG Grandfather

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

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

Anst File#:               154P-J2T

Spouse:                   Pamelia DILLIN, GGG Grandmother

Marriage:                 16 MAR 1845          Moline, Rock Island, IL


3 M:                       Robert FERGUS, GGGG Uncle

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

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


4 M:                       Andrew FERGUS, GGGG Uncle

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

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


5 M:                       William FERGUS, GGGG Uncle

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

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


6 M:                       John FERGUS, GGGG Uncle

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

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


7 M:                       Charly FERGUS Charles, GGGG Uncle

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

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


Second Wife


Name:                     Andrew FERGUS, GGGG Grandfather


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

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

Occupation:              Farmer, Portioner Of Shawton

Anst File#:               154P-J5G

Father:                     Andrew FERGUS (1748-1831)

Mother:                   Anne STUART (STEWART) (1753-)

Other spouses:          Agnes BULLOCH, GGGG Grandmother

Marriage:                 6 NOV 1831             East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, Scotland


Spouse:                   Christian HAMILTON


Birth:                      1793                       East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, Scotland

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

Father:                     Hugh HAMILTON




1 M:                       William FERGUS, Half GGGG Uncle

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

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

Anst File#:               RHMX-DP

Spouse:                   Ellen (Helen) HAMILTON

Marriage:                 24 JUN 1862            East Kilbrideparish, Lanark, Scotland


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







         James Fergus moved to Moline with relative ease that spring of 1844, for he had few material possessions—a chest of fine tools, his personal belongings, some town lots in Sabula "and a good deal of general knowledge." [James Fergus to brother in Scotland (Robert of Andrew), February 20, 1876, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM.] Employed by Sears as a millwright that first year, Fergus soon demonstrated his worth and became a partner in the foundry. By November 1847, they invited Nathan B. Buford to join the company, and the three became equals in the Moline Foundry. Fergus considered himself to be doing well and on the way to prosperity. [Agreement between Sears, Buford and Fergus found in Box 13 F. 15, FP, UM. Porter Sargent to James Fergus, December 22, 1847, Box 9 F. 50, FP, UM.]


         Young Fergus remained a confirmed bachelor during these years of training, travel and hard labor. Much too busy working, studying and saving money, he had neither time nor funds to court, and avoided social activities. For example, while visiting Buffalo, some of his Scottish friends suggested he call on a family which included three "very estimable young ladies with a view to matrimony. To avoid this Mr. Fergus told his friends that would be impossible as he already had a squaw out West!" [Fergus sketch, MHSL.]


         This attitude underwent a sudden and drastic change, however, when he met Pamelia Dillin, "A very charming young woman of Scotch descent," at the George Stephens home in Moline during the 1844 Christmas season. Pamelia, born to William and Mahalah Dillin in Watertown, New York, June 22, 1824, had only recently moved to adjoining Henry County, Illinois. "The gentle dignified young girl charmed him at once and their friendship ripened into love." They were married March 16, 1845, just three months after first meeting. Typical of the ambitious Scot, "there was no honeymoon. The next morning found James Fergus busy in his foundry," and the pair settled into the routine of daily life in the small river town of about 350 people. [Ibid. Also, Sketch by Mrs. Hazel (Fergus) Bubar of Pamelia Dillin's family, n.d., Box 21 F. 5, FP, UM.  Johnathan Huntoon to James Fergus, February 24, 1875, Box 6 F. 45, FP, UM.]


         Within five years the union produced two daughters and a son, three-fourths of their four children. Mary Agnes, born April 11, 1846, and Francis Luella, arriving November 23, 1848, and Andrew, July 3, 1850, brought increased pleasure and responsibility to the young businessman. [See family tree in appendix. Supplied by Mrs. Hazel (Fergus) Bubar and her son Andrew. Mrs. Bubar is the daughter-in-law of James Fergus; Andrew is his grandson.]


         Consequently, these became busy years and James, doubling his normally strenuous efforts, immersed himself in the foundry, staying in the plant "late and early working on plans to improve his products. His wife complained that he was not giving attention enough to his home and children." [Fergus Sketch, MHSL] The Business prospered:


We soon had 40 workmen and strong opposition. We made everything. I kept our own books double entry, superintended everything over 16 [hours] a day and ate little. . . . This business, working in iron was new to me. Pattern making, moulding, finishing, black smithing had all to be learned. [James Fergus to brother in Scotland, February 20, 1876, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM.]


         D. B. Sears sold his interest to Buford of Rock Island, to which they transferred the foundry. By this time Fergus' health had deteriorated due to excessive work: ". . . too close attention to the foundry business had brought on indigestion and nervous complaints that threatened me with softening of the brain." In addition, he was becoming "quite bald and growing gray." [James Fergus to Dr. E. A. Wood, December 25, 1896, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM. James Fergus to father, July 17, 1853, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM. James Fergus to N. Rice, August 15, 1889, Box 11 F. 60, FP, UM. The exact nature of his illness is unknown. However, the symptoms suggest an ulcer and possibly severe emotional tension, necessitating a change of employment.]


         Failing health added to increasing friction with Buford over business policy led Fergus, late in 1852, to sell his interest. Buford purchased the share and James emerged from the foundry business with approximately $9000 after eight years of overpowering effort. [N. B. Buford to James Fergus, December 14, 1852, Box 1 F. 62, FP, UM. James Fergus to N. B. Buford, December 29, 1852, Box 1 F. 62, FP, UM. D. B. Sears to James Fergus, February 9, 1853, Box 9 F. 56, FP, UM.]


         After selling the foundry, Fergus cast about for new business potential. By early March 1853 he bought half interest in the paper mill of L. W. Wheelock for $6250. In addition, Fergus assumed half of Wheelock's $4000 debt to N. B. Buford and C. N. Smedly. [Agreement between L. W. Wheelock and James Fergus, March 4, 1853, Box 13 F. 15, FP, UM.]


         Fergus soon discovered, however, that he could not remain in this occupation, for "the doctors told me . . . to keep away from business if I did not want to die or go insane. So wealth is not always happiness." Therefore, armed with three letters of recommendation, he left in mid-July 1853 for a tour of eastern mills and foundries. [James Fergus to Wilbur F. Sanders, about 1892, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM. Fergus carried recommendations from: N. B. Buford, Box 1 F. 62; R. Graham, Box 5 F. 13; and William A. Nourse, Box 8 F. 50, all FP, UM.] James observed businesses in Chicago, New York, Boston, Springfield, New Haven, Conn., Patterson, N.J., and Lawrence; he toured the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. [James to Pamelia Fergus, letters of July 12, 1853, Chicago; July 22, New York; July 26, Boston; August 31, New York; August 16, Springfield, Mass. All in Box 17 F. 15, FP, UM.] During the six-week trip he wrote often and urged Pamelia to do the same. His greatest anxiety was about the children, though he informed her where his legal papers had been stored in case of an emergency. Unable to find a business or location that attracted him, Fergus returned to Moline early in August and sold his interest in the paper mill for approximately $9000. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, July 1853, Box 21 F. 3, FP, UM. James Fergus to person unknown, January 30, 1854, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM. Fergus indicated to this person he would take $8888.50 for his interest.] By January 1854 he had moved his family to St. Anthony Falls, Minnesota Territory, a Mississippi River village about 300 miles above Moline. [James Fergus to father, January 6, 1854, Box 11, F. 55, FP, UM.]


         Before casting his lot with the Minnesota frontier, Fergus refused several offers of business partnership and declined suggestions as to where he might locate. [Before choosing Minnesota, Fergus refused several business offers, including: W. C. Bradford, Memphis, Tenn., who urged Fergus to join his foundry (Bradford to Fergus, February 2, 1854, Box 1 F. 48, FP, UM); Robert T. Millis offered James his Muscatine foundry for $6,500 (Millis to Fergus, September 21, 1854, Box 6 F. 45, FP, UM); Edward Hoch urged him to settle in Iowa (Hoch to Fergus, January 15, 1854, Box 6 F. 45, FP, UM); and Porter Sargent wanted him to return to Savanna, Illinois (Sargent to Fergus, January 21 and 14, 1853, and June 24, 1861, Box 9 F. 32, FP, UM).] Distant frontiers beckoned. In fact, he and friend George Stephens thought of moving to California but did not go; instead James transferred his family to the head of navigation on the Mississippi River. [Thomas Roseborough to James Fergus, February 24, 1854, Box 9 F. 50, FP, UM.]


         Fergus' move up the Mississippi marked the end of a very successful period of his life. It had been a time of training, experience and gaining self confidence, all spiced with travel. His citizenship papers tucked safely in a trunk, he spoke with more authority. And he did speak, for during his Moline days he developed more liberal beliefs, mainly because of the break from strict Presbyterian dogma, a process begun in Scotland, nurtured in Quaker settlements, and broadened by French Canadian Catholics, whom his father viewed as the personification of evil.


         Reading, Bible study and questioning his elders convinced Fergus that he could not accept the tenets of Christianity or any other religion as practiced. He came to feel that man needed no belief save that of "trying to do good to others." Like Thomas Paine, he considered this to be man's highest duty and he found it "impossible for me [any] longer to adhere to the beliefs of my fathers." Instead, he became a confirmed agnostic, turning to science, nature and rational thinking. [James Fergus to William Fergus, August 28, 1891, Box 3 F. 32, FP, UM.]


         During the Moline years Fergus nurtured his liberal attitude by subscribing to and reading "Free Thought magazines and papers and joining a debating society that held meetings once a week in the town hall." [Fergus Sketch, MHSL.] He maintained this pattern on through the years, strengthening, refining and publicly broadcasting it, especially when unable to do physical work later in life.


         Of course, Fergus' 1844 move to Moline produced more than just business prosperity and altered religious beliefs. James met and married Pamelia Dillin, who remained his life-long companion and confidant. The union endured for over forty years and begat four children, three of whom—Agnes, Luella and Andrew—were born in Moline. Lillie did not arrive until December 28, 1857, after they had settled in Little Falls. Thus, the Fergus family moved up river to sparsely-settled Minnesota Territory. Surrounded by a family and equipped with new beliefs and adequate finances, James set his face to the north, ready to confront the future. He soon, however, found himself caught in the inextricable grip of a nation-wide financial depression. Fergus shared the fate of countless frontier businessmen.

Family Group Sheet


Name:                     James FERGUS, GGG Grandfather


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

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

Occupation:              Rancher, Foundries, Freethinker

Anst File#:               154P-J2T

Father:                     Andrew FERGUS (1780-1862)

Mother:                   Agnes BULLOCH (1780-1830)

Marriage:                 16 MAR 1845          Moline, Rock Island, IL


Spouse:                   Pamelia DILLIN, GGG Grandmother


Birth:                      22 JUN 1824            Pamelia Township, Jefferson, NY

Death:                     6 OCT 1887             Helena, Lewis & Clark, MT Age: 63

Anst File#:               154P-5F7

Father:                     William Thomas DILLIN (1798-1845)

Mother:                   Mahala Jane BELLOWS Mahalah (1804-1870)




1 F:                        Mary Agnes FERGUS, GGG Aunt

Birth:                      11 APR 1846           Moline, Rock Island, IL

Death:                     29 JAN 1920            Hilger, Fergus, MT Age: 73

Anst File#:               154P-570

Spouse:                   Robert Stavely HAMILTON

Marriage:                 23 MAR 1864          Rock Island, IL


2 F:                        Frances Luella FERGUS Luella, GG Grandmother

Birth:                      23 NOV 1848           Moline, Rock Island, IL

Death:                     26 FEB 1931            Helena, Lewis & Clark, MT Age: 82

Anst File#:               154P-JL5

Spouse:                   Stephen Collins GILPATRICK, GG Grandfather

Marriage:                 1 JAN 1867              Prickly Pear Valley, Helena, Lewis & Clark, MT


3 M:                       Andrew FERGUS, GGG Uncle

Birth:                      2 JUL 1850              Moline, Rock Island, IL

Death:                     18 JUL 1928            Lewistown, Fergus, MT Age: 78

Anst File#:               154P-JR6

Spouse:                   Hazel AKELEY

Marriage:                 1 AUG 1909             Steilacoom, Pierce, WA


4 F:                        Lillie B. FERGUS, GGG Aunt

Birth:                      28 DEC 1857           Little Falls, Morrison, MN

Death:                     6 FEB 1930              Forest Grove, Washington, OR Age: 72

Anst File#:               154P-JQ0

Spouse:                   Frank H. MAURY

Marriage:                 2 SEP 1876              Helena, Lewis & Clark, MT

Spouse:                   Scott SPARKS

Marriage:                 1919                       Forest Grove, Dilly, OR


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







         Fergus described Minnesota Territory as "a new country where I can buy land cheap and where I will commence some business for myself next Spring." Conceding "the situation is further north than I like but the opportunities for business are good and the chances to make money in property better than in older countries," he concluded that "Society here is also excellent—being removed from the influence of Slavery—our greatest fault here as a people are the love of money—common to Americans generally—and luxurious habits in dress and living." [James Fergus to father, January 6, 1854, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM.] James, perceptive as usual concerning society and business, soon discovered that national currents even affect the frontier, especially in the area of economics. His careful plans to escape slavery's influences and hopes for profit through speculation and appreciating property values soon crumbled under the weight of major national events.


         Though Fergus harbored no concrete business plans he did not worry, for he possessed adequate money to provide family necessities, or, if needed, to invest in a promising business. Of course, his skill as carpenter and millwright remained in demand and he could always mark time as a salaried employee until the right opportunity presented itself. Fergus continued flirting with the foundry idea, despite his doctor's warning. In November 1854, F. and J. B. Gilman, St. Paul, offered James their foundry and machine business, including fixtures, steam engine and building, for $6000. When Fergus declined, they later encouraged him to join their firm "as there is a prospect of a great plenty of business in our line the coming season." [F. and J. B. Gilman to James Fergus, November 6, 1854, and February 23, 1855, Box 4 F. 13 and Box 5 F. "G Miscellaneous," FP, UM. His thoughts leaned to the foundry business even before he sold his interest in the Moline Foundry, for late in December 1852, Charles M. Bonip, St. Paul, encouraged Fergus to join his business. Bonip to Fergus, Box 1 F. 67, FP, UM.]


         Fergus' activities between January and July, 1854, are unknown, but in mid-July he and a partner purchased "two rafts of logs bought of Stenchfield and Cormick, one to be delivered at the head of the Rapids for thirteen dollars per thousand and one in Lake _____ for nine dollars and fifty cents per thousand." Though cautious with his money, Fergus apparently preferred to speculate in timber rather than hold a salaried position. He maintained this pattern the rest of his life. [Legal Notice, July 1, 1854, Box 1 F. 67, FP, UM.]


         Marshall and Company of St. Paul pleaded with Fergus to join their furniture making business; strapped for money, they offered him fourth interest in the company if only he paid the interest on their loan. In addition, he could assume superintendency of the mill. He rejected this offer also. [Marshall & Co. to James Fergus, October 2, 1854, Box 7 F. 43, and October 3, 1854, Box 7 F. 41, FP, UM.]


         James considered and rejected one additional major project before moving farther up the Mississippi River. In December 1854, he considered a contract with Ramsey County, Territory of Minnesota, to lease Hennipin Island for twenty years, during which time he was to dam the Mississippi, build a containing pond for logs and a by-pass canal. Apparently Fergus would have built a sawmill and powered it with water. However, he also declined this proposal and once again set his face to the north. [Contract with Ramsey County, Territory of Minnesota, December 1854, Box 13 F. 15, FP, UM.]


         Fergus harbored other plans during the fall of 1854. In October he and C. A. Tuttle journeyed north to Fort Ripley and worked their way back towards St. Cloud on foot, searching out water power sites for industrial development. After locating a satisfactory river site they returned to St. Anthony, completed the arrangements and early in February organized the Little Falls Manufacturing Company. William Sturgis, Little Falls, Calvin A. Tuttle, Minneapolis, and James Fergus, St. Anthony, agreed to:


Associate ourselves together in co-partnership . . . for the purpose of operating and improving said property at Little Falls by making lumber, grinding grain, farming, cutting logs, making a town, selling goods, and doing any other thing or things, conducive to the benefit of said company in the premises. [James Fergus, Ft. Ripley, to Pamelia, October 6, 1854, Box 17 F. 15, FP, UM. Agreement between William Sturgis, Calvin A. Tuttle and James Fergus, February 5, 1855, Box 20 F. 7, FP, UM.]


         Sturgis, who owned the Little Falls property, sold two-thirds of it to his new partners, with Fergus buying five-twelfths and Tuttle three-twelfths. Each promised to do his best until the sum of $20,000 had been invested, in proportion to his share. Sturgis agreed to repair the dam, finish the flour mill, supply logs and encourage area farming. Fergus, who like Sturgis would live at Little Falls, agreed to manage he milling and lumbering operations, oversee principal business about town, and keep the books. Tuttle planned to remain in Minneapolis, help supply the town site, and provide advice. [Ibid.]


         The venture showed initial prosperity and James proudly wrote his father:


We have sawmills, a large farm—own a new town, a fine water power on the Mississippi, a good store have large public house good schools and ministers—employ about 60 men 19 oxen and 8 horses average daily expenses 20 pounds of your money. [James Fergus to father, March 8, 1855, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM. Fergus often wrote a longhand rough draft of his letters in which he was careless with punctuation. At that time one pound equaled about $5.00. For example, on December 5, 1868, Fergus received a receipt from a London bank for $247.50 or fifty pounds as one pound came to $4.95 then. See Box 12 F. 27, FP, UM.]


James explained that provisions had to be freighted up from St. Paul, about 110 miles south on the river; consequently, distance, high freight charges and scarcity drove prices to excess. At that time twenty-two families lived in Little Falls and the partners owned about two thousand acres of land in and near town, most of it undeveloped. [Ibid.]


         By the spring of 1855 the mill had not been completed; besides, money could be secured only with difficulty, and then at up to 5 per cent per month, Still, Fergus returned from a St. Anthony visit with a contract for one and a half million board feet of logs. [James Fergus to William Sturgis, March 17, 1855, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM.]


         A year passed, and Tuttle began worrying about lack of profits and excessive bills. He was being forced into mortgaging his Minneapolis property to finance the Little Falls operation. The mills had not been completed and he insisted they must concentrate efforts there and not on less profitable areas like the public house. [C. A. Tuttle to James Fergus, May 5, 1856, Box 10 F. 72, FP, UM.] Fergus ignored this advice, and through the spring of 1856 worked on the road, the upper mill and the dam. Tuttle labored to force a bridge charter through the legislature, simultaneously urging Fergus first to improve the mills, then to promote the store, which would help secure their lands, and third, to encourage farming; Tuttle considered the public house a luxury they could not afford. He also implored Fergus to hire a bookkeeper and keep business affairs in order, for he thought James spent too much time away from the main job—"to watch over the mill." James ignored the suggestion, probably because he wanted to save money and considered himself a competent bookkeeper, possibly because he wanted no one looking over his shoulder. [Ibid., February 24, 1856, Box 10 F. 72, FP, UM. Paradoxically, at about the same time Tuttle implored Fergus to give more attention to the mill, the two formed the town of Cakogun, "situated on Forrest Bay Mille Lace [Lake], Minnesota Territory." Tuttle served as president and Fergus secretary of the speculative venture. Fergus owned fifty shares of stock. Certificate of Stock Ownership, date blurred but in 1850-60 period, Box 14 F. 5, FP, UM. Nothing came of this.]


         With money scarce, debts piling up and the mill not yet completed, disaster struck the spring of 1856. The Mississippi flooded, carrying off $40,000 worth of logs. Already in debt, the three partners could not recoil from this staggering blow and they were forced to form a joint stock company, which Tuttle later darkly described as the "foundation of most of our troubles." [James Fergus to Dr. E. A. Wood, Sabula, December 25, 1886, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM. C. A. Tuttle to James Fergus, February 16, 1860, Box 10 F. 72, FP, UM.]


         Since the mill operation did not succeed, the company, early in 1857, leased it for five years to a St. Anthony firm which agreed to saw lumber and shingles for the Little Falls Company at reduced prices. [Legal Agreement, January 3, 1857, Box 20 F. 7, FP, UM. They leased the mill to Stuart Seely and Jonathan Dow of St. Anthony.] The three original partners, Sturgis, Fergus and Tuttle now worked for others as well as themselves. Fergus, however, became the company's principal representative in Little Falls "and as such [was] authorized to sell lease and convey the real estate of the Little Falls Manufacturing Company." [James Heal to C. A. Tuttle, April 6, 1857, Box 20 F. 22, FP, UM.]


         In addition, the company store in Little Falls floundered during these difficult years. Its manager, O. A. Churchill, also suffered in the early stages of frontier depression. By early January 1857, Fergus began questioning Churchill's business ability; they quarreled, and by that fall Fergus bought the goods of the defunct Churchill and Company, planning to run the store himself. [O. A. Churchill to James Fergus, January 16, 1857, Box 2 F. 12; also Fergus memo of 1857, Box 20 F. 7, FP, UM. Apparently, James planned to operate the store under the name of James Fergus & Co., Box 20 F. 1, FP, UM.]


         Tuttle, who remained in Minneapolis and seldom if ever went to Little Falls, became increasingly depressed, and wrote Fergus, "I was never more disappointed in my life than I am in the result of our operations up there." He brooded over company reports, concluding they would have at least $75,000 on hand with $30,000 in profits from trade. That, however, was not the case, much to Tuttle's dismay. [C. A. Tuttle to James Fergus, March 1857, Box 20 F. 31, FP, UM.]


         By 1857 the earlier frontier depression had receded to the east and grown into a full-blown national depression. With money very scarce and interest rates high in the East, frontier conditions became desperate—interest rates skyrocketed, ranging from 36 to 50 per cent. Business withered in the financial drought and property values plunged. Fergus wrote his father, "This panic bears very heavily on us and our prosperity. Property generally throughout the country has depreciated very much in value. Last spring my own property could have been sold for $50,000, and today I would willingly take $10,000 or even less." [James Fergus to father, September 30 and November 1, 1857, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM.] For example, "Lots on main street in Little Falls that had readily sold for $1000 [can] hardly be given away." [James Fergus to Little Falls (Minnesota) Herald, n.d., Oscar O. Mueller Collection, Montana Historical Society Library, Helena, Montana. Hereafter cited as: MC, MHSL.]


         Grasshoppers compounded the company's problems, for they devoured half the crops in 1857 and left nothing standing in 1858. "In that year there was not a bushel of oats, wheat, rye, potatoes or other vegetables raised in Morrison County." [Ibid.] Grain, needed to sustain both animals and men, had to be hauled 400 miles; inflated prices and higher freight charges made it terribly expensive. [James Fergus to father, September 30 and November 1, 1857, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM.]


         Even in this depression period, however, James could philosophize to his father:


A few years make great changes in any country and particularly in this and I often think of what use is the property of yesterday if it will not buy a dinner today. But myself and family are thankful for health and if our property in these hard times all goes to the dogs or to pay our debts we have able hands and willing hearts and we live in a country where industry will have its reward.


Thus Fergus prepared himself for the probable result and bravely expressed confidence in the future, especially when living in his opportunity-laden adopted country. [Ibid., November 1, 1857, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM.]


         Through the financial panic lessened in eastern cities, money remained scarce and interest high on the frontier. Still, the company struggled on and by the spring of 1858 Fergus had completed a wooden bridge across the Mississippi, some 210 feet in length and costing about $12,500. [Ibid., April 25, 1858, Box 11 F. 56, FP, UM.] That fall Fergus wrote old friend George Stephens, Moline, forecasting the loss of his Little Falls property. Stephens "consoled" his Minnesota friend by indicating the business depression also gripped Moline, for his company had over $20,000 in uncollectible notes. [George Stephens to James Fergus, October 28, 1858, Box 10 F. 23, FP,  UM.]


         During these depression years, Fergus, as he had earlier, encouraged his brothers to leave Scotland and join him. In 1853 he urged them to come, insisting that despite the major fault of slavery, America would certainly prosper, because of "the vast amount of uncultivated land the rapid increase of population the rise and increase of her cities all suspect for her to a great destiny." [James Fergus to father, August 30, 1853, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM.] At one point in the mid-1840's, older brother Robert almost seemed ready to break away: "It will not wonder me much to see us all in America if we can sell this place (us young ones). Father has got better." [Robert Fergus to James Fergus, January 7, 1846, Box 3 F. 30, FP, UM.] But they did not leave then, possibly because father Fergus became ill, or they saw promise in Scotland, or they lacked the determination and adventurous spirit James possessed; it might have been, as Robert mentioned a few years earlier that "Andrew and me are just working away as you left us . . . and the old man is very overbearing and will not allow us money sufficient." [Ibid., February 10, 1840, Box 3 F. 30, FP, UM.]


         During the depression of 1857-58, Fergus again urged Robert and Andrew to come, insisting it would be to their advantage as land values remained low and "a little money will buy a good deal of land." [James Fergus to father, November 1, 1857, Box 11, F. 55, FP, UM.] Still they clung to the Scottish soil; consequently, James began encouraging his younger half-brother William to join him in Little Falls. William, he maintained, could buy land for little or nothing; besides, if Fergus had to sell property to pay debts, "I would rather you had it at one fourth of its value than anybody else." Fergus insisted, ". . . with one half of the economy you practice in Scotland an industrious sound headed man can not fail to make money" in America. The possibilities interested William but he felt duty bound to his aged parents and chose to remain in Scotland. [James Fergus to William Fergus, August 1, 1858, and October 13, 1858, Box 11 F. 56, FP, UM. One reason Andrew did not come was that he felt obligated to care for their insane brother Charles, who lived with him and Robert.]


         Though William felt he could not leave Scotland, he did loan James money during those trying days, about $200, and probably more. William soon owned twenty-four lots in Little Falls and fifty shares of company stock. [William Fergus to James Fergus, June 23 and September 29, 1859, Box 11 F. 56; a Fergus memo, dated February 10, 1859, gives the status of his original 200 shares of stock, Box 20 F. 14, FP, UM.] In July 1859 William expressed interest in coming; James, his speculative bent undiminished, encouraged his half-brother to send money and he would "buy about 1000 acres for you and go on and improve it. We could divide it afterwards or sell it when improved and money more plenty at a good price and divide the proceeds." William, however, did not come at that time either. [James Fergus to William Fergus, September 29, 1859, Box 11 F. 56, FP, UM. William Fergus to James Fergus, February 8, 1859, Box 3 F. 31, FP, UM.]


         Company affairs became desperately tangled by 1859. Since early in the depression it had been forced to issue shares of Little Falls Manufacturing Company stock as security on loans or debts, and the creditors applied increasing pressures to recover their money. [Agreement between James Fergus and the Doan King & Co., January 1, 1857, Box 12 F. 16; Wm. P. Moore to James Fergus, December 3, 1859, Box 8 F. 25; C. A. Tuttle to James Fergus, August 31, 1859, Box 10 F. 72, FP, UM, give indication of this practice.] Of course, the company hoped to put its creditors off until "confidence is more restored amongst the trading community and money becomes more plenty, so that we can sell property for cash and collect our debts." [James Fergus to William Fergus, August 1, 1858, Box 11 F. 56, FP, UM.] James received increasing criticism from Tuttle and the board of directors on one hand and the Little Falls citizenry on the other, for he represented both in the community. He lamented, "The troubles . . . fell heavily on me as the middle party being cursed by all hands." [James Fergus to O. A. Churchill, December 18, 1859, Box 11 F. 56, FP, UM.]


         In January 1859 Fergus met with Tuttle and the board of directors about company problems. They reviewed accounts and discussed company debts, especially the bridge and dam problem, but accomplished little. Fergus insisted he "spent a good part of one day giving them Hell about their charges against me." The in-fighting among the directors disgusted James; Tuttle and President William Babbitt raged bitterly at each other. [James Fergus to C. A. Freeman, January 28, 1859, Box 11 F. 56, FP, UM. Freeman and Fergus, in March 1857, had become partners in "a general land agency business." Agreement of March 16, 1857, Box 20 F. 5, FP, UM.]


         Fergus returned to Little Falls and immediately resigned as a company director. He felt the others, led by Babbitt, had found excessive fault with his leadership, and though expressing themselves "fully satisfied with my honesty and integrity—they would not take any action to recall those charges [therefore] I consider it my duty to resign which I did." Fergus acknowledged mistakes but insisted his only concern had been for Little Falls:


I acknowledge my errs and short-comings but the greatest of these has been a too strong devotion to the interest and well-fare of Little Falls. I have sacrificed my own property and the property of the Little Falls Co. for its advance and now my property is gone and I have not even the thanks of the Directors (whom I elected) for my pains. [James Fergus to James Hall, February 9, 1859, Box 11 F. 56, FP, UM.]


         There followed a period of charges and counter-charges, with the company leaders blaming each other. Fergus tried to get the board to acknowledge some responsibility for the Little Falls disaster. He blamed them for not carrying out their agreed-upon goals, especially that of building a dam by the fall of 1857 to promote the city's main industry—water power for the mills. Since the board did not dam the river, Fergus and Tuttle built with their own money and later received much criticism but no reimbursement for doing so. [James Fergus to Directors & Stockholders of Little Falls Manufacturing Company, February 12, 1859, Box 11 F. 56, FP, UM.]


         The board of directors, for its part, charged Tuttle and Fergus with mismanagement and poor business practices. In addition, they felt the two had overcharged the company for services and materials in building the dam and bridge across the Mississippi. [Samuel Hidden, author of 1859 Committee Report, to Little Falls Manufacturing Co. board of directors, Box 20 F. 13, FP, UM. Sturgis seemed to be in the background in all of this.]


         Tuttle occupied his time worrying from distant Minneapolis. He knew where to place the blame, on Fergus and the board of directors, but especially on Babbitt, who "is not worthy of belief in anything. He is trying to do all the mischief in his power." Fergus, though not as emotionally depressed as Tuttle, also distrusted Babbitt, insisting, "I honestly believe [Babbitt] to be a bad man." [James Fergus to Aldrich, a company director, September 12, 1859, Box 11 F. 56; C. A. Tuttle to O. Rockwell, February 22, 1860, Box 20, F. 13, FP, UM.]


         Tuttle remained absolutely convinced the board was trying to swindle him out of the Little Falls bridge, which he helped finance largely by mortgaging his house and Minneapolis property. Ultimately, Tuttle became paranoid to the point where he believed everyone had deserted him. [C. A. Tuttle to James Fergus, February 16, February 25, 1860, and October 5, 1859, Box 10 F. 72, FP, UM.] He considered suicide, convinced he would lose his Minneapolis business, his house and all personal property, not to mention his self-respect:


If it were not that I have so many dependants mother and sisters all poor I should not be long in determining what course to pursue but as it is I do not see any other way only to do my best to take care of them as I best can and to do this I must save all possible. [Ibid., November 20, 1859, Box 10 F. 72, FP, UM. Concerning his mental state at the time, Tuttle would later confess: "The terrible condition of the country was in at the time and the Babbitt rascality made me crazy and afraid to move (business-wise)." Tuttle to Fergus, March, 1898, Box 10 F. 72, FP, UM.]


In the end, he claimed to have been swindled out of $70,000 plus profits. [W. D. Babbitt to James Fergus, March 8, 1860, Box 1 F. 17, FP, UM. That may have been his losses; whether he was swindled is debatable.]


         Tuttle could not acknowledge he had been partially victimized by forces over which he or Fergus had no control—a disastrous flood, a depression and two years of crop failure. Instead, he accused Fergus of misuse of company money, poor management and inaccurate bookkeeping; he suspected they had been "sailing without a compass." [C. A. Tuttle to James Fergus, January 5, 1860, Box 10 F. 72, FP, UM.] His greatest mistake, Tuttle felt, came in being too liberal with too much money and not exercising enough direct control. [Ibid., February 25, 1860, Box 10 F. 72, FP, UM.] Tuttle began to seriously question Fergus' honesty:


When I entered into the Little Falls business I had an ample fortune to last me through life. But I trusted my money to the care of what was thought to be an honest capable man. In this I have been most amply deceived for I am convinced he was neither to my everlasting sorrow; he has ruined me with his willful fool hardy deception and gone off with my money in his pocket. Mr. Freeman no man need tell me that the business at Little Falls has been honestly or honorably conducted there has been deception and deceit from the beginning. O Treachery.


I have been asked the question many times the past two years. Is Fergus an honest man? If so why does he do as he does? [C. A. Tuttle to C. A. Freeman, April 17, 1860, Box 20 F. 13, FP, UM.]


         Fergus anticipated Tuttle's suspicions, insisting:


I am completely discouraged Mr. Tuttle and would leave the country at once if I had anything to leave with. I have done my best since I have been at Little Falls, to be sure I have committed some erors but so have we all. I am willing to conceed that anything else is your constant complaining and fault-finding. . . . I would not say a word against it now but for this, that my silence might be construed into asserting to your complaints and your statements of the case. . . . Mr. Tuttle I never stole or took a dollar of the company's money, or property, and more I don't think that you believe I did, although you have often hinted so in your letters. [James Fergus to C. A. Tuttle, December 26, 1859, Box 21 F. 1, FP, UM.]


         Though Fergus claimed to be financially destroyed, he was too perceptive not to anticipate disaster and too much of an organizer not to salvage something from company ruins, even if he did not make his fortune. While losing the estimated 10,000 pounds sterling ($50,000), his worth in 1857, he managed to preserve at least $10,000, mainly by placing much of his property in his wife's name. Considering the scope of the disaster, Fergus thought this to be "not so bad after all." [James Fergus to William Fergus, September 29, 1859; James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, September 29, 1859, Box 11 F. 56, FP, UM; George Stephens to James Fergus, October 28, 1858, Box 10 F. 23, FP, UM.]


         Since company records are not available, it is almost impossible to assess with any degree of accuracy which individual, if indeed there is only one, who should shoulder major responsibility for its failure. The board of directors apparently did not comply with their initial agreement to dam the Mississippi; instead they engaged in constant fault finding. Tuttle seemed content to forward advice from a distance—perhaps he should have spent some time in Little Falls—such efforts may have improved communications with James and, at least, made his suggestions more relevant.


         Whoever deserved the most criticism soon became a moot point. The company floundered and ultimately failed. James Fergus, Little Falls Manufacturing Company manager and bookkeeper, the man in the center of the storm, inextricably became the focus of criticism from both within and without the company. It may be that he earned at least some of this criticism and a portion of Tuttle's mistrust. Perhaps he overextended his activities; instead of engaging in town speculation, managing a public house and general store, he should have concentrated exclusively on milling and lumbering, as Tuttle advised. Perhaps his bookkeeping was inadequate and money was misused—not dishonestly but to develop peripheral company interests.


         Still, the series of uncontrollable events (flood, depression, crop failures) received scant consideration as at least a contributing cause of the company's collapse, especially from Tuttle. Whoever or whatever produced this business disaster, Fergus emerged in considerably better financial shape than Tuttle. While it may not have been conceived in dishonesty, at some point in the company's decline, James transferred his assets to Pamelia, enabling them to salvage something from their shattered venture. Tuttle believed Fergus had purposely swindled him; Fergus insisted he had not. [Tuttle lost his Minneapolis property worth three to four thousand dollars and relocated to Two Rivers, Minnesota, where he did business as a "manufacturere of and dealer in all kinds of hard wood lumber." Mrs. C. A. Tuttle to James Fergus, April 15, 1884, Box 10, F. 73, FP, UM.]


         During these turbulent years other areas occupied Fergus' time in addition to business—politics, for example. In February 1855, just days after he and Tuttle initiated their partnership, they began lobbying the Minnesota Legislature for a townsite charter. The following year the three partners labored to establish Morrison County, with Little Falls as the county seat, [C. A. Tuttle to James Fergus, February 25, 1855, Box 10 F. 72, FP, UM. Wm. Sturgis to James Fergus, February 17, 1856, Box 10 F. 42, FP, UM.] while in the fall of 1856 Sturgis traveled to New York to sell Morrison County bonds and finance a court house. Sturgis also wanted to build a library and supply it with books; he expected Fergus to play a major role in the project. That same fall James was elected Morrison County Judge of Probate. [William Sturgis to James Fergus, August 21, 1856, Box 10 F. 42, FP, UM. Sturgis expected to suffer a 25 per cent discount in the East but had no choice if he wanted to sell the bonds. Election results, November 3, 1856, Box 13 F. 15, FP, UM.]


         The fall of 1857 Fergus ran for the state legislature from the 21st representative district, campaigning on the following platform:

Called by the partialities of my friends, for the first time to become a candidate for a seat in the State Legislature, I take this method of stating that, being pledged to no party, or set of men, if elected I shall do my best for the district at large, irrespective of party, creed, or location, whether they be citizens by birth, or citizens by adoption, and I come before you frankly, and openly, preferring defeat with honest votes, to success with dishonor. Neither have I any personal feeling against any gentleman, who is before you as a candidate. But I am opposed to the system of ‘log rolling' and whisky Electioneering practiced here, by some at the present time, I am also opposed to the system of special legislation for private purposes, that disgraces our statute books—to that system, that has burdened our county,—already too poor, to pay a single dollar of last years school tax with an additional $700 this year, of interest money on bonds, issued without the consent of the people, to build a Court House, unneeded, and so far unfinished.


         Gentlemen,—Minnesota calls on you, to elect men, to make laws for a people and not for a party,—to make these laws general, and not special, or for private purposes; give such men your votes, and above all scorn the man who would buy your votes, with whisky. Such men, are not fit for Legislators, much less, are they worthy the name of American Citizen. [Political Flyer: October 13, 1857, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM. Apparently Fergus was not elected as no further mention is found of this.]


         Earlier that spring, Fergus had been chosen Morrison County's delegate to the Minnesota Constitutional Convention by the Republican party because he "cherished the principles of true Republicans and was a strong temperance man. [S. Crosswell, Secretary of Republican Party Convention, to James Fergus, May 21, 1857, Box 7 F. 67 FP, UM. It is not known if Fergus was elected and attended the convention or not. He probably lost as it is not mentioned again.] In addition, James represented Morrison County at the state's first Republican nominating convention after Minnesota became a state in 1858. He helped nominate Alexander Ramsey for Governor and Ignatius Donnelly for Lieutenant Governor. [James Fergus to Helena Herald, n.d., (probably late 1870's), Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 24, FP, UM.] Besides serving as Judge of Probate, Fergus held at least one other Morrison County office—that of county treasurer from 1858 to 1860. [James Fergus to Fergus County Argus, n.d., Box 2 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 78, FP, UM.]


         Ignatius Donnelly, who later represented Minnesota in Congress as a liberal, sought Fergus' help early in his political career. James first met Donnelly in the late 1850's when the latter was "stumping the state in behalf of the new Republican party." Fergus entertained Donnelly, introduced him around Little Falls, and provided him an opportunity to address the community. [Newspaper clipping, n.n., n.d., Box 21 F. 5, FP, UM. Fergus wrote this soon after Donnelly's death in 1901.]


         After this first meeting, Donnelly relied on Fergus to supply information relative to his political stature in the Little Falls area. He asked this, for example, when seeking the Republican nomination for Second District Congressman in 1862. Fergus supplied the analysis Donnelly requested; Donnelly thanked James for the positive opinion and his "expressions of friendship and pledges of support." [Ignatius Donnelly to James Fergus, May 31 and June 12, 1862, Box 2 F. 61, FP, UM.]


         The war between the states closely followed the depression years of 1857-58. By 1860 Fergus was, as he described himself to his father, "tinged with the cares of business and the frosts of 27 years (in America) somewhat eccentric, to be sure, and wearing more hair on his face than Americans generally, but still independent, thinking and acting for himself, and following the dictates of no man or set of men." But James was also forty-seven and in poor health; consequently, though opposed to slavery he could not enlist in the army. [James Fergus to father, March 16, 1860, Box 11 F. 57, FP, UM. James Fergus to William Fergus March 5, 1862, Box 11 F. 57, FP, UM.]


         Since the War Department granted Governor Ramsey permission to raise the 5th Regiment, Fergus hoped to raise and command a company of young men from the Little Falls area and thereby help suppress southern rebellion and free slaves. However, he soon found that most able bodied young men had either already enlisted or had, because of the depressed state of the lumbering industry, moved to other areas. The dejected Fergus conditioned himself to watching from the sidelines: "I would like to serve my state and country in some capacity where I could be actively and usefully employed, but my age prevents my enlisting. So I suppose I must remain an idle spectator for the present." [Ignatius Donnelly to James Fergus, November 1, 1861, Box 2 F. 61, FP, UM. James Fergus to Ignatius Donnelly, October 30, 1861, Roll 9 Ignatius Donnelly Papers, Minnesota Historical Society Library, St. Paul, Minnesota. Hereafter cited as: DP, Minn. HS.] James tried but failed to raise a company and later expressed guilt that he had moved to "open an empire for civilization" instead of risking his life "for the preservation of our unity as a nation." [James Fergus speech, Helena Independent, August 30, 1885. Alexander Ramsey, Governor of Minnesota, to James Fergus, November 14, 1861, Box 7 F. 66, FP, UM.]


         Earlier, Fergus expressed his opposition to "war and warring in all its phases," a sentiment he later reaffirmed. [James Fergus to father, January 6, 1854, Box 11 F. 55, FP, UM. At this time, Britain, France and Turkey opposed Russia in the Crimean War. Also, Cornelius Hedges to James Fergus, January 25, 1901, Box 6 F. 18, FP, UM. The Spanish-American War had just ended in 1901.] Though Fergus opposed war, he apparently felt in 1860 that combat remained the only method of preserving the union, suppressing the southern rebellion, and extinguishing the evil influence of slavery, especially after the South seceded.


         James held strong opinions on one point concerning the military, however. Despite the necessity of conflict to preserve the nation, he opposed the election of military men to Congress, explaining:


The principle objection I have in sending . . . any officer to Congress is that war, warriors, large armies and navies are in opposition to the spirit of our Republican institution, that whenever we begin to pet our army or army officers we are adding power to a dangerous influence in our midst. [James Fergus to Ignatius Donnelly, June 8, 1862, Roll 10, DP, Minn. HS.]


Such sentiments reflect the obvious concern of a person bent on maintaining a republican form of civilian dominated society. Other generations echoed this feeling in the following hundred years.


         Donnelly agreed with Fergus' concern for "the tendency of our nation towards military rule." He felt "the great danger lies in that direction; and the longer the war the greater the danger, because so much the farther do the soldiers depart from their old characters as civilians and acquire the habits of a system more despotic in its nature and intrinsically anti-republican." [Ignatius Donnelly to James Fergus, June 12, 1862, Box 2 F. 61, FP, UM.]


         Early in February 1859, Fergus resigned as a director of the Little Falls Manufacturing Company. A year later he sought a final settlement with the board of directors. After presenting their claims, both he and the board felt the other owed about $43,000; therefore, they agreed to cancel each other's debts. [Agreement between James Fergus & Co. and the Little Falls Manufacturing Company, January 6, 1860, Box 20 F. 15, FP, UM.] That, however, did not terminate his troubled relationship with the company, for it began issuing stock assessments to reduce debts and improve the Little Falls operations, especially the mill and dam. Thus on January 30, 1860, the company informed James he owed it $500, an assessment of $10 a share. Fergus protested, saying not only did he lack the money to pay, but he should not have to pay since he believed the stock company owed him well over that amount. [John D. Browne, Agent, Little Falls Manufacturing Company, to James Fergus, January 30, 1860, Box 7 F. 17, FP, UM. James Fergus to E. Headderly, February 4, 1860, Box 11 F. 57, FP, UM.]


         The company ignored his argument, forcing him to either pay the assessment or lose his remaining stock. It is not known if Fergus ever paid this assessment to preserve stock of a doubtful value in a questionable company. He had not paid it by January 20, 1862. However, he did pay assessment on 85 shares for William Fergus, George Stephens, Nichols and James Dillin, shares used as collateral for money loaned to Fergus. [C. B. Ames, Secretary of Little Falls Manufacturing Company, to James Fergus, January 20, 1862, Box 1 F. 16, FP, UM. Memorandum: November 5 and May 25, 1860, Box 17 F. 36, FP, UM. The distribution: Wm. Fergus, 30; Stephens, 30; Nichols, 3; Dillin, 2. For some reason these were assessed only $5 a share.] Fergus held the stock at lest through February 1862, for he then tried to sell it. However, a Minneapolis adviser felt it would be "utterly impossible" to sell it then; "in fact, I question whether it could be given away subject to an assessment of $5 per share." The company seemed inactive and leaderless and no one appeared to know of its plans. [John D. Browne to James Fergus, February 14, 1862, Box 1 F. 67, FP, UM.]


         By early 1860 Fergus began seriously planning to leave Little Falls. He had considered leaving earlier, the spring of 1857, when he confessed to his father that ill health and poor business encouraged him to terminate relations with the company and move from Little Falls, probably in two years. [James Fergus to father, April 25, 1857, Box 11 F. 56, FP, UM.] At that time he planned on moving to Fergus Falls, a townsite laid out by friend Joseph Whitford that winter and named after Fergus, mainly because James provided the grubstake. Whitford, infected with town-speculation fever, a common affliction of those days, hoped to make his fortune in that fashion, and had claimed the site on his return from Grahams Point, then the head of navigation on the Red River of the North, where he also hoped to locate.


         Whitford stayed in Fergus Falls, dabbling in farming and logging but losing stock to the Indians for the next three years, waiting for Fergus to join him. Though James owned $2600 worth of lots there, he seldom saw the village. However, after visiting Fergus Falls the autumn of 1859, Fergus liked it so much he determined to move there the following spring. [James Fergus to N. Rice, August 15, 1889, Box 11 F. 60, FP, UM. James Fergus to J. H. Rice, August 16, 1889, reprinted in Fergus Falls Daily Journal, fall, 1889, Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, pp. 80-81. Also, John Whitford to James Fergus, November 18, 1859, Box 11 F. 36. FP, UM. Unfortunately, the Sioux killed Whitford during the uprising of August, 1862.]


         Fergus was also tempted with other possibilities. Early in 1857 Lyman Aymen worked to convince James to help finance and build a road from Little Falls to Grahams Point on the Red River of the North, and thereafter speculate in steamboating. [Lyman Aymen to James Fergus, January 7, 1857, Box 1 F. 16, FP, UM.] Fergus declined, but did visit the Red River area in the fall of 1858, liked it, and urged George Stephens of Moline to join him and develop lumber mills there. Stephens considered the offer but rejected it as he could not sell his Moline business. After thinking about the venture, Stephens decided that Fergus could make a "nice little fortune," if anybody could, by remaining in Little Falls. Besides, "Society is bad enough there, it is still better than none at all at Red River [where] you are about out of civilization and cannot expect to find or have schools for at least some time." He continued, ". . . now I know you love your children. Do not forget to consult their advantages before going into less refined society." [George Stephens to James Fergus, Letters of November 28, 1858, February 15 and 27, 1859, December 21 and 31, 1859, Box 10 F. 23, FP, UM.]


         Fergus apparently agreed in part. At least he did not move to the Red River, though he did later consider joining another frontier entrepreneur in a lumber and flour mill operation on that northern stream. He also repulsed the temptation to buy a Minnesota farm. [John Tait to Fergus, February 25, 1860, Box 10 F. 74, FP, UM. Wm. H. Fletcher to Fergus, February 28, 1860, Box 3 F. 47, FP, UM.]


         Thus Fergus considered possible alternatives in trying to break away from his Little Falls entanglements. Financially destroyed, in part by an unusual series of events over which he had little control—a disastrous flood, two years of locusts, a major depression—he still had spirit and looked to the future confident of success. Therefore, he asked brother Andrew to:


. . . tell father that although badly bent, I am not completely broke but bound to make something yet before I die. [While] it is difficult to say what business I shall go into, one thing is certain that I am going into some business just as soon as I get our old company matters settled up and I still expect to make money in my older days. [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus and William Fergus, September 29, 1859, Box 11 F. 56, FP, UM.]


         Like many American men of the time, the thought of quick wealth through the adventure of gold mining had probably lurked in Fergus' mind since news of the California strike electrified the nation. It undoubtedly became more attractive as business problems intensified, and by the summer of 1858 he expressed interest in a rumor of Iowa gold. [W. D. Babbitt to James Fergus, June 15, 1858, Box 1 F. 17, FP, UM.]


         Exactly when Fergus decided to replace the risk of town development for the gamble of a gold pan is uncertain, but by mid-March 1860 he was defending his decision to leave his family and cross the plains to Pike's Peak for the summer: "You might consider this a foolish move for me, but I am doing little or nothing here for myself. There I will see the country, probably lay the foundations for a future business, and if nothing else, I may be able with my own hands to dig the gold to pay you for the money you sent me." [James Fergus to William Fergus, March 14, 1860, Box 11 F. 57, FP, UM.]


         James Fergus had the habit patterns of a very organized man; therefore, before leaving he made detailed preparations and left written instructions to guide his wife in dealing with company business, the children, their land and livestock. He gave Pamelia the power of attorney over his property and company shares so she could act in his behalf. [Memo: James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, March 25, 1860, Box 17 F. 16, FP, UM.]


         James gave Pamelia advice dealing with the animals—which and when to fatten, slaughter, or sell—and about the land—what and when to plant and harvest. When it came to business matters she was to seek and accept advice only when absolutely necessary and to get receipts for all papers let out from his files. James hoped to lose no more of their property than absolutely unavoidable.


Last but no least you must take care of your own health, and the health of the children for none of you are overly healthy. . . If you have any more of those spells send the children for some of the neighbors at once. It might be well if your mother was to come, to keep one of the children from school, kept them all dressed warm, be careful about letting the girls wear low necked dresses when I go away, as they have not been used to them and will very readily catch chold. Keep Andrew out of and away from the water as much as you can, don't get angry with the children but reason with them, be firm but mild. . . . You must give them all good advice. You will find yourself as the head of a family with more responsibilities, and very differently situated from what you ever was before. I hope you will meet them as they should be met—you are pretty well provided for and if your mother comes up you should enjoy yourself (keep things up from under your feet) and keep your temper.

James Fergus

[Memo: James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, March 26, 1860, Box 17 F. 16, FP, UM.]


With such pompous advice to sustain his wife, James hurried away, leaving Pamelia the formidable job of holding the family together and fighting off an angry partner (C. A. Tuttle). In addition, James expected her to somehow preserve most of their property in a depressed community. All this was to be done through she apparently had been experiencing poor health. That she accomplished most of his goals is testimony to this remarkable woman. While it would have been unusual if Fergus had taken his family to the gold fields in 1860, Pamelia's contribution to his efforts proved invaluable, like the unmeasurable help of countless wives before and since. Perhaps James should never have crossed the plains at all, for he did risk his family's well-being in quest of highly uncertain wealth. In that position, however, he did not act alone, for in the mid-nineteenth century the women stayed behind—a task in many ways more difficult than the hardships experienced by their Argonaut husbands.


At any rate, Fergus left for Minneapolis to settle whatever company business he could before leaving the state. Evidently, the board again presented its accounts against Fergus and then dismissed them when he agreed to pay the assessments on one hundred shares of stock, give the board fifteen shares, forgive his accounts against them, and sell the balance of his stock to pay assessments. Fergus regretted "giving them pretty much their own way, but it was the best I could do, and I am glad it is done." But for the work of Babbitt, James felt he could have done at least $1000 better. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, March 30, 1860, Box 17 F. 16, FP, UM.]


About this time, Fergus waxed poetic, and dashed off a poem to his wife and children:


                  Farewell, dear wife, to distant lands

                  Where Kansas streams bear golden sands

                  I went my way through wet and cold

                  to dig for you, the hidden gold.


                  Farewell, farewell, my children dear,

                  Tis for your sakes I leave you here,

                  to buy for you with toils and pains

                  The golden dust on Kansas plains.


                  To buy for you no idle bread

                  Live place no finry on your head,

                  Tis to store your minds with useful lore

                  That I leave you whom I adore.


                  Thus children dear, when I'm away

                  Let not your youthful steps go stray

                  Obey your mother; the mith tell.

                  Dear Wife and children fare you well.


["The Pike's Peaker's Farewell to his Wife and Children," Box 20 F. 30, FP, UM.]


After which, Fergus responded with "A Reply to the Pikes Peaker":


                             Old bald headed "Peaker"

                             Old Stick in the mud

You'd like to go with us

Old spiller of "grub"


You judge us by yourself

And cry out bad luck

But, old eater of bones

We've got better pluck


We'll keep out the mud holes

We'll not be so cold

And come home in autum

With plenty of gold


O then your old eyes

Will but out a feet

You'll wish you'd been with us

Through wet snow and sleet


Then you'll think a peaker

With plenty of gold

Is a beautiful sight

If he's ever so cold


Old bald headed Peaker

Old stick in the mud

Just stay at home with you

We can go without you


["A Reply to the Pikes Peaker," Ibid.]


         Thus the emotional break was made, and armed with pictures of his children James turned southward toward Omaha and the jump-off point for Colorado. Before leaving St. Anthony, James left Pamelia one last bit of advice, namely: "Please preserve all my letters carefull on file as I put them up in a paper holder if you can find a spare one as I want to see those that are on business when I come back." [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, March 31, 1860, Box 17 F. 16, FP, UM.]







         With the nation edging out of depression and tottering on the brink of disastrous civil conflict, thousands of Argonauts surged to Pike's Peak in search of quick wealth. Fergus yielded to the temptation of "easy" riches and joined the tide. After reaching the best settlement possible with the company, he traveled south by steamboat and railroad to Omaha, taking about fifteen days. Supplied with $330 in cash, and furnished with $170 in equipment—teams, wagons, provisions—he pronounced himself ready to cross the plains. [James Fergus to William Fergus, December 1, 1861, MC, MHSL.]


         As usual, Fergus left Minnesota in control of as many variables as possible, for he and three others—O. J. Rockwell, Saul Bosworth, and James Dillin, Pamelia's brother—had organized the Pike's Peak Company of Little Falls. The three partners drove wagons to Omaha, where Fergus joined them. By April 29 they advanced about 300 miles up the Platte River from Omaha, half way to Denver with 100 miles beyond that to the mines—roughly thirty days of additional travel. James thought they moved ahead of most travelers since there were "probably not more than 1000 teams ahead of us." [Pike's Peak Company Record Book, James Fergus, secretary, March 1860, Box 17 F. 16, FP, UM.]


         The Fergus party consisted of the four partners and four travelers. James described the party: "We have three yoke of cattle, and a load of over 4500 lbs. on our wagon, being 9 blls of flour, 350 lbs. of side bacon, 100 lbs. of dried beef, beans, sugar, tea, tools, clothing, bedding and cooking utensils." After informing Pamelia he would not write again, because of a lack of mail service, until they reached the mines, he added "we have to walk all the way and after walking 20 miles helping about the teams fixing tents looking for grass and water hunting a little etc. we are generally tired." [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, April 13 and 29, 1860, Box 11 F. 57 and Box 17 F. 16, FP, UM.]


         After reaching the mountains, Fergus and his party explored the diggings and finally bought two claims for $400 in cash, cattle and flour "on the west side of the Snowy Range or Pacific Slope." [James Fergus to William Fergus, December 1, 1861, MC, MHSL. James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, June 10, 1860, Box 17 F. 16, FP, UM.] James calculated it cost them about $500 in time and money to locate. Next they secured town lots in Breckenridge and built a cabin.


         Trying to improve their probability of success, the partners, during June and July, fanned out and staked claims in promising lodes. By September, Fergus served as recorder for the Cannon Mining District on Clear Creek, Utah Territory. [James Fergus: Little Falls Co. Notes and Accounts Notebook, July 13, 1860, Box 24 F. 6, FP, UM. Lodes included: Peterson, Rockwell, Dillin, Randall, Fall River, Fergus and Minnesota. Fergus had claims in most of these. Also, recorder's notes, September 12, 1860, Cannon Mining District, Clear Creek, Utah Territory.]


         James had been there only a short time when he could see that too many had come from the states. Many, in fact, turned back before getting to Denver; numerous others left the mines, disappointed and broke. A very few realized $50 a day per man. Fergus remained bravely optimistic for "I may be disappointed but I came here to make money and I mean to do it before I go back if possible. It will only require time, patience and some energy." [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, June 10, 1860, Box 17 F. 16, FP, UM.]


         Mining, Fergus soon discovered, required more than casual amounts of time, patience and energy. "The fact is it is confounded hard work picking and shoveling gravel all day in this confounded cold water." Also, unless one partner stayed at the cabin to cook, they had to rustle food after putting in a long, hard day. Before quitting in disgust, Fergus reported that "my clothes are about all worn out except my shirts, but I still have hopes of making my pile. I am working very hard as much as 16 hours a day Sundays and all." [Ibid., January 30, 1861, Box 17 F. 18, FP, UM.]


         Even by early July of that first summer the mountain streams remained so full and swift that they could do little panning. James quickly identified fall as the best season to mine and concluded, "It is very uncertain whether I shall come home this winter at all (if I do it will be late) unless compelled to by business. I came here to make something for my family and I will do it before I leave the mountains entirely." [Ibid., July 1, 1860, Box 17 F. 16, FP, UM.] Thus Fergus, like so many others before and after, even though mining only a few weeks, realized quick wealth would take some time and considerable energy, determination and luck. He reluctantly told his disappointed family, therefore, that what he had intended to be a summer's adventure would require at least a year more than anticipated.


         The problem, of course, was not just locating and extracting gold from rushing mountain streams or quartz veins, but it meant overcoming the physical and emotional obstacles. Hundreds of miles from the edge of civilization, the men struggled with crude tools, temporary housing and just enough food to keep them strong enough to swing a pick, for physical necessities remained secondary to the flurry and excitement of getting rich. When they first arrived, Fergus confessed:


We are now reduced to bread, bacon, and beef, varied by corn cake, beans, rice, etc. We would like a few potatoes, some pudding and milk, pies cake so forth, but they are not in our bill of fare. So we content ourselves by cooking what we do have, better than the women do, and make the rest up in keen appetites. [Ibid., May 12, 1860, Box 17 F. 16, FP, UM.]


         Later, after settling into the mountain routine, Fergus described their menu this way:


The principle living here in the mountains is bread and bacon, or bread and beef. Those who live in the thickly settled part of the mines or in the towns can get plenty of beef at a low price, from 8 to 14 cts, but those who live on the frontier, or are prospecting, have to depend principally on bread and bacon. Sometimes a few dried apples stewed. Occasionally we get some corn meal and make mush, and fry it again when cold. Sometimes we have beef soup, and again bean soup, and those living in Denver or at the Gregory Diggins get all the vegetables they want now. They were raised on the Platte Valley last summer and are quite plentiful and of good quality. [Ibid., September 28, 1860, Box 17 F. 17, FP, UM.]


         The isolation led to other problems, including erratic mail service, which led to depression among the men. When they first arrived at Denver letters had to be carried by express, expensive at twenty-five cents each. Consequently, James encouraged Pamelia to send fewer letters but to write more in each. A year later it would be more reasonable at ten cents a letter. [Ibid., May 12, 1860, Box 17 F. 16, and June 10, 1861, Box 11 F. 57, FP, UM.]


         But the cost became secondary to the concern created by irregular and undependable mail delivery. Unlike most miners, Fergus wrote his wife often and expected her to do the same. When he received little response he worried; consequently he worried a good deal that first summer and fall. By late July he still had received few letters from home, complaining "another week has passed away and still no letters from home. My letters to you may share the same fate but still I wrote." [Ibid., July 30, 1860, Box 17 F. 16, FP, UM.]


         The situation continued to be frustrating, with sporadic delivery of letters through the fall. Pamelia complained of similar problems in Little Falls. She wrote George Stephens, who relayed the message to Fergus, that she had received no letters in a month and was worried. James responded:


Without keeping an account of the number I think I must have written you over twenty letters since I left home, having written you when convenient one letter each week, and in no case that I recollect has the time exceeded two weeks. I have had the same kind of experience in receiving your letters, having been weeks without receiving a letter and then receiving several at a time months after they were written. [Ibid., November 23, 1860, Box 17 F. 16, FP, UM.]


Thus the problem existed on both ends, worrying each party of the other's well-being. James considered it his duty to keep his family informed of his activities and health, and despite his fatigue or multiple tasks, he found time to write at least once each week.


         Some families left in Minnesota were not as fortunate, for many other men did not write as often, if at all. One distraught Sauk Rapids wife pleaded with Fergus to provide information about her non-communicating husband because:


I do not know what has become of my husband. I have not heard from him since last September, then he told me he would start home the first of October. I am in a suffering condition without anything to help myself with. My children are sick and destitute and as you know how I must feel, I hope you will lend me aid in trying to find where he is, as I am afraid he is dead, but if he is in the land of the living, I should be very glad to know of it. [Mary A. Paul to James Fergus, Fall 1861, Box 9 F. 3, FP, UM.]


         Indians constituted another serious problem, at least psychologically, and while miners were not often under attack, the constant threat remained. The observant Fergus held much respect for the plains Indian:


One great trouble is the Indians which although apparently peaceable and friendly are very different from our Minnesota Indians. They are in their own country here, in their own native plains and mountains, while the whites are trespassers. They are well mounted on active Mexican and American horses, are well armed and altogether sassy fellows. They don't go (so far as I have seen them) in small bands but in large companys, and from there constant use of the saddle and rifle I think 100 of them could whip 500 of our miners many of whom scarcely ever fired a rifle in there lives. When we left Omaha the first Indians we saw were the Pawnees, then the Omahas, then the Souix, then the Cheyennes, then the Arrapahoes and now the Utes in the Mountains. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, July 1, 1860, Box 17 F. 16, FP, UM.]


         When Fergus considered moving his family to Red River of the North the winter of 1860, friend George Stephens urged him to review the needs of his children, for that frontier held little culture or formal education. When it came down to facts, however, Little Falls did not provide an intellectual smorgasbord either. James had been in the mountains only a month when Pamelia urged him to send the two older girls, Agnes and Luella, to school in Moline for "our little children must get all the learning that is possible. We have school about six weeks here then we will probably have no more until winter." Pamelia thought Agnes could, if they stayed with the George Stephens family, help Mrs. Stephens for her board; if not, James could pay the expenses. [Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, June 10, 1860, Box 3 F. 25, FP, UM.] Fergus agreed, writing Stephens who took the girls "as a matter of course" to board and educate for a year; during that time he promised to treat them as his own. [George Stephens to Pamelia Fergus, September 2, 1860, Box 17 F. 31, FP, UM.] Pamelia wrote James expecting him to agree, for she knew he approved of education. As early as 1855 Fergus had been active in forming a common school district in his developing city of Little Falls. The following year he sought advice and presumably helped raise money to build a school house for the school district. Partners Tuttle and Sturgis supported the action. [Taylor Dudley to James Fergus, December 12, 1855, Box 2 F. 69, FP, UM. W. G. Babbitt to James Fergus, December 1, 1856, Box 1 F. 17, FP, UM.]


         Pamelia, too, believed in educating their children to improve them and "give them a chance to know for themselves and have confidence in themselves. I feel as though if I only had half the mathematics that you has I would be very glad but it understands you must make arrangement for them children." [Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, April 14, 1861, Box 3 F. 26, FP, UM.]


         Sending the girls to Moline that school year proved to be a wise choice, for the Little Falls school met only sporadically. Andrew, about ten years old, received little education that year, which did not bother him much as he considered it less than exciting. [Ibid., February 16, 1861, Box 3 F. 26; June 2, 1861, and September 6, 1861, all Box 3 F. 26, FP, UM.] Of course Lillie, being too young for school, remained at home keeping her mother company.


         In Moline, Agnes and Luella attended what they considered to be a good school and liked it, studying geography, arithmetic, composition, reading and spelling. The teacher lived with the Stephens family, which all considered advantageous. [Agnes Fergus to James Fergus, May 14, 1861, Box 5 F. 24, FP, UM. George Stephens to James Fergus, October 18, 1860, Box 10 F. 24, FP, UM.] When James did not bring his family to the Colorado mountains the summer of 1861, Agnes and Luella returned to Moline for additional education. They again stayed with the Stephens and attended dancing school in addition to their normal classes. [Agnes Fergus to James Fergus, December 2, 1861, Box 5 F. 24, FP, UM.]


         After Fergus returned from Pike's Peak he tried to pay Stephens, at least for the extra expense incurred for boarding the girls. George refused, indicating he would accept it late as Fergus' financial condition improved. Two years later, in January 1864, James sent Stephens $64, planning to send more in the future. [George Stephens to James Fergus, January 26, 1862, and January 18, 1864, Box 10 F. 24 and 25, FP, UM.]


         Before Fergus left for the mountains, George Stephens, D. B. Sears and William Lee, all of Moline, talked of forming a company to mine gold and recover it in quartz mills. They planned to send James to the Peak and report back concerning the potential of such a venture. [Ibid., January 26, 1860, Box 10 F. 24, FP, UM.] James had been in the mountains only two months when he became increasingly convinced of mining's highly unstable nature, but if Stephens sent money for a quartz mill James agreed to initiate such an operation. Stephens encouraged such thinking and urged Fergus to buy a mill from a discouraged miner saving freight charges; in fact, he thought it would cost less than the freight charges. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, July 22, 1860, Box 17 F. 16, FP, UM. George Stephens to James Fergus, August 22, 1860, Box 10 F. 24, FP, UM.] Stephens, however, expressed concern for the venture and encouraged Fergus to investigate carefully before buying a mill because "you had better be fully satisfied as to the richness of the quartz so that there may be no failure, but a sure thing of any arrangements that we may go into." [George Stephens to James Fergus, September 2, 1860, Box 10 F. 24, FP, UM.]


         James considered it a good investment and in December bought one-third interest in a six stamp quartz mill, paying $1000 down and promising to pay the remaining $833.33 as the mill started paying. He agreed to manage the mill that winter but thought he could make more if he owned it alone. Stephens thereafter sent the promised $1000. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, December 1, 1860, Box 17 F. 17, FP, UM. George Stephens to James Fergus, January 1, 1861, Box 10 F. 24, FP, UM.]


         Fergus and Stephens discovered, however, that wealth did not necessarily follow, even if "fully satisfied as to the richness of the quartz." Fergus offered this description:


The next claim to ours was the discovery (that is the claim or place where the vein was first found—claims are 100 ft on the vein) and yielded over $600 to the cord of quartz. My friends thought I had a good thing, several of them wanted to take an interest with me. Well instead of ours yielding over $600, the greatest yield we got was $17½, which resulted in my losing my $1000, $100 that I had left of my own and five months very hard labor, often working 18 hours out of the 24. [James Fergus to William Fergus, December 1, 1861, MC, MHSL.]


         Thus Dame Fortune again turned on Fergus. Though optimistic in February 1861, when he wrote Pamelia that "I have made no money yet but the prospects ahead are far better than any time since I came to the mountains. . . . I am pretty sure certain now of making my pile before leaving he mountains for good," by spring he yielded to pessimism when failure seemed imminent.


I never worked so hard in my life nor lived so poor and I will not do it any longer if I never make anything. I have not complained any of what people usually call bad luck but some times I think my cup of misery and misfortune is full. And that not being able to get any lower, every change I make must be for the better, which makes me hope on. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, February 10 and April 25, 1861, Box 11 F. 57, FP, UM.]


         George Stephens became increasingly concerned about the quartz mill operation and though Fergus discouraged him from coming, George crossed the plains, arriving in early summer. He found the mines depressed and the mill in debt, so returned to Moline shortly thereafter. [Ibid., April 16, 1861, Box 11 F. 57, FP, UM. James Fergus to William Street, July 21, 1861, Box 11 F. 57, FP, UM.]


         By this time, Pamelia had been without James, raising their children and wrestling with company problems for over a year. Though the two older girls spent much of the year in Moline, Andrew, aged 10, and Lillie, three, remained at home. [James Fergus to William Fergus, December 1, 1861, MC, MHSL.] Pamelia's mother came to help, and while they lived in a secure house with adequate food and money, Pamelia soon complained of poor health and mental depression, though she realized that "in reality we had not ought to complain. Other husbands go away and leave their familys destitute and not even write once in three or four months that is worse than my troubles. We have a plenty at present and a good warm house and plenty of wood." Her income seemed to come from several sources: what James left, debts others paid her, selling butter and eggs, income from the store. [Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, July 4, December 23 and December 28, 1860, Box 3 F. 25-26, FP, UM. Also, undated letter from Pamelia to James, Box 3 F. 29, and May 1860, Box 3 F. 25, FP, UM.]


         James had not yet reached the mines when he informed Pamelia of his plans to leave Little Falls, probably within a year. Therefore, he urged her to sell what lots and shares she could at reasonable prices, vote against any increased assessments, and tell no one of their potential move. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, May 12, 1860, Box 17 F. 16, FP, UM.] That fall Fergus indicated his desire to bring the family out the following spring. He then planned to stay about three years as "I don't see how I can make much money short of that time," and wanted the children to see the scenery for "the mountain air will do them good." [Ibid., November 25, 1860, Box 17 F. 17, FP, UM.]


         Despite Pamelia's efforts, the company assessed all stock once again and she raised the money to pay it, then worried to James who tried to reassure her. He insisted his absence was to her advantage as it would increase her self confidence. He tried to encourage her and rationalize his absence.


Although you have done different probably from what I would in paying the assessments, you have done the best you could and I think have managed first rate. My going away has and will be a great benefit to you, by throwing you on your own resources and leaving you to do business for yourself if in no other way you can see how where the little business I left with you caused you so much trouble, how you ought to have looked over and accounted for my pecularities of temper and disposition amid such a press of business and losses that I had to bear at Little Falls. Do not fret and worry your self about business. Do the best you can, use your own judgment, then if necessary consult your friends. Then do as you think best [but] don't let everybody know your business. [Ibid., October 10, 1860, Box 17 F. 17; Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, April 22 and August 18, 1860, Box 3 F. 25, FP, UM.]


         Though James wrote often giving Pamelia advice concerning land, livestock and children, he insisted "I cannot give you advice about any particular thing, because it is so long before I get your letters and you get mine." Thus, Pamelia was thrown on her own resources which bothered her considerably. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, November 23, 1860, Box 17 F. 17, FP, UM.]


         By February 1861 Pamelia's problems had not lessened, even though she had her mother and sister living with them. She confessed her loneliness to James, who responded "you may think your lot hard, if you was here you would find it harder." [Ibid., February 10, 1861, Box 11 F. 57, FP, UM.] Later that spring Pamelia, after relaying information concerning the stock assessments, debts collected, the children and their financial situation, insisted to James she cared more for him than potential wealth, therefore ". . . you must come home next fall and make a home for us in Illinois or Iowa and we never can spare you to [go] back their again as Bosworth has done it." Clearly, Pamelia did not want James to continue risking his health and the family's well-being for illusive riches. She opposed additional prospecting and preferred to have him rejoin the family and remain with them, whatever their status. She probably hoped to relocate the family in a more civilized area such as Illinois or possibly Iowa, certainly not further west onto the spacious plains. In addition, she cautioned him against overwork:


Now father don't work so hard the day is quite to long for you to labor in your old age don't get to much business on hand. I cannot bare the idea of you leaving your bones their you say you still hope to make your pile if you should happen to find a streak of luck don't be to gready and never get home you are very energetic and don't seem to think or time is short here at best now I want to enjoy you and our little children riches I do not want enough to be comfortable is all I ask. . . . Now Fergus get you some warm cloths try and be careful of your health you say your cloths are about worn out. . . ." [Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, March 2, 1861, Box 3 F. 26, FP, UM.]


         While ill health had forced James out of the Moline foundry and he had left Little Falls partially for the same reason, Fergus seemed to rejuvenate in the mountains. Despite the fact that he abused himself with punishing sixteen to eighteen hour days and an imbalanced diet, he suffered little sickness and his health improved. His only illness came that initial fall when he became sick for three days and nights; his friends insisted it resulted from a 45-mile walk the previous day; Fergus blamed too much bread and bacon compounded by lack of good fruits and vegetables. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, October 10, and November 23, 1860, Box 17 F. 17, FP, UM.]


Of course, Pamelia expressed concern and suggested her cure: get "some mustard and grate it into some fresh lard or seed oil. This is what cured you in a short time when we were in Rockland. Be careful about lifting heavy things." She later urged him not to save all his money if it meant going without for them. He should get warm clothes as his family valued his health more than money. [Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, November 22, 1860, and April 7, 1861, Box 3 F. 25-26, FP, UM.]


         After returning to Minnesota, James insisted, in relation to his health, that:


In every respect except making money it has been beneficial to me (the Colorado trip), in that most summers when I went away my system was prostrated by too close an application to business. Now my health is excellent. I can stand almost any amount of fatugue. Although I have done some of the hardest work I ever done in my life, fared the hardest, slept much of the summer time out of doors in the open air, often on the mountains among the snows, carrying from 20 to 70 lbs of provisions, tools, blankets, etc. for days. [James Fergus to William Fergus, December 1, 1861, MC, MHSL.


         By the summer of 1861 Fergus had been in the mountains over a year and both he and his wife were becoming very discouraged. In many ways Pamelia bore the heavier burden, for she shouldered the responsibility of raising the children and trying to salvage something from a splintered business though understanding little of its operation. The problem must have seemed enormous to her at times, for example when C. A. Tuttle raged into Little Falls shortly after James left, accusing him of robbery, demanding the company books and immediate compensation; or when the Mississippi flooded again, tearing out the southeast corner of the mill and washing it downstream. [Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, April 17 and June 10, 1860, Box 3 F. 25, FP, UM.] In addition, there were assessments to pay, debts to collect, town property and livestock to manage—all this with the constant, nagging uncertainty as to her husband's whereabouts and well-being let to worry and loneliness, despite the presence of mother and sister.


         James took note of this and tried to reassure Pamelia: "I see that you are somewhat discouraged and have the blues . . . but keep up good spirits, advise yourself as well as you can." [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, May 25, 1861, Box 17 F. 18, FP, UM.] Still, Pamelia exploded:


Now Fergus I do not know what to say about your business here in your town. Our county taxes are not payed yet nor won't be if I do not watch it. You had better come home and do something with this property it is good for nothing. The taxes are $40 and the whole thing is not worth that amount.


And later she wrote, "I know you hate to put your hand to the plow and look back but I don't see anything here to live for not even a school," indicating again she preferred leaving Little Falls, hopefully for an area that at least had schools. [Pamelia Fergus to James Fergus, July 8, 1861 and June 25, 1861, Box 3 F. 26, FP, UM.]


         James had little to celebrate either, as the spring sun melted the snow in 1861; the previous winter had proven their quartz vein to be worthless and surrounding mines did not produce enough to enable the mill to profit. Besides, though Pamelia wrote faithfully, mail remained irregular; late in April Fergus had received no letters for two weeks, disappointing him and leading him to confess that "I feel a little lonesome." [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, April 25, 1861, Box 11 F. 57, FP, UM.] Mining activity usually quickens with spring warmth but that year their quartz vein spawned little activity and the mill stood idle. Production determined value. Since the property brought no yield it had diminished worth and could be sold for little or nothing, if at all. Fergus put it this way in describing the rise and fall of Mountain City, Utah Territory:


During the preceding eight months a large town had grown up with some 10 stores two hotels theatre Masonic Hall. Six quartz mills in the two months after I left it was all deserted and not one man at work on that quartz vein. Such is gold mining in the Rocky Mountains. After losing all I had . . . in this milling and mining operation I went off west some two hundred miles to the Snake Mountains. [James Fergus to William Fergus, December 1, 1861, MC, MHSL.]


         Fergus became increasingly disgusted, for he found no trace of quartz in the Snake Mountains. Still, he expressed an interest in returning the following year. "But the longer I stay here the poorer I get. I believe there are more broken men in these mountains than in Minnesota, at least one out of every four mills are laying idle." [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, July 10, 1861, Box 17 F. 18, FP, UM.]


         If Fergus possessed one characteristic in abundance, it was persistence. Late in July partners William Lee and George Stephens, discouraged with the entire situation, left for the states. They encouraged Fergus to return, offering him free transportation, with the idea that he could clear up his Little Falls problems. He refused, and though he planned to return later that fall, James wanted to remain through the good mining months and allow every potential for discovery. [Ibid., July 24, 1861, Box 17 F. 18, FP, UM. Stephens later refused to accept James' repayment of the $1000, insisting that he had worked very hard in Mountain City and Blackhawk City. While Fergus did not strike it rich and return the investment, it had not been his fault. George Stephens to James Fergus, March 23, 1875, Box 10 F. 26, FP, UM.]


         By early September James became increasingly lonesome; though he had promised to come home that fall, and planned on doing so, he still flirted with the idea of staying that winter:


I have received but one letter from you in four weeks, that was two weeks ago and none from George Stephens or the children (in Moline) since George left here. That together with no prospects of me making anything before it is time for me to come home makes me feel rather lonesome. I could do something I think if I was to stay here this winter but I promised you I would come home and I will. [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, September 1, 1861, Box 17 F. 18, FP, UM.]


         Broke and discouraged, James had to abandon prospecting and work as a millwright to earn money for his return trip. Still, he hoped to return to the mountains the following year for:


I have made up my mind that unless business is better in Minnesota than I think it is, or that I can get into something there that I can make something at I will try and get back here next season either with or without my family and go into some steady business with some of my friends or if I can't do that to go into mill [work].


While a return to Little Falls would alter these plans, Fergus kept his promise to Pamelia and left for home by mid-September. [Ibid., September 8, 1861, Box 17 F. 18, FP, UM. It might be noted that Black Hawk Point, if the same town as today's Black Hawk, is adjacent to Central City, Mountain City, Gregory Gulch, all in Gilpin County, which later yielded gold after liberal application of foreign capital and knowledge mixed with scientific training. Fergus lacked both so failed, though he had claims in the area. Rodman W. Paul, Mining Frontiers of the Far West: 1848-1880 (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1963), pp. 114-134.]


         On his way back to Little Falls, James stopped in Moline to visit the Stephens family and pick up Agnes and Luella, who had returned for additional education. The three lingered in St. Paul to spend the day with Ignatius Donnelly, then the Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota. [James Fergus to Fergus County Argus, n.d. (shortly after Ignatius Donnelly died in 1901), Box 2 F. 5, FP, UM.] Thus Pamelia and James were reunited after being separated for a year and a half; the entire family came together again for the first time since the spring of 1860. This sweet unity lasted only a few months, however, for the lure of mountain gold drew Fergus across the plains again the following spring, this time to the Northern Rockies.







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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


         The party arrived at Fort Benton September 5, having traveled 61 days, averaging 13.6 miles per day for 830 miles. [Ibid., pp. 26 and 36. They averaged 17½ miles a day for the 367 miles between Forts Union and Benton.] Captain Fisk later explained the expedition's success:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


         Teams, etc.       


3 good covered waggons

1 from L. F. Balance from Iowa

One suit of good clothes for myself including hat and boots

9 yoke of good cattle

3 from L. F.  Balance from Iowa

1 every day coat

1 cow

2 pr every day pants

1 tent

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


1 pr good boots


1 doz pr good socks

600 lbs flour

1 pr good undershirts

300       meat

1 pr good woolen overshirts

  50        beans

2 pr good drawers

100       rice

2 pr woolen mittens

2  bbls crackers

12 pr good every day shoes for yourself and girls

300       bacon

1 pr good boots for each

200       hams

4 prs good shoes for Andrew

  50        dry beef

Shoes for Lillie

  50 cheese (lbs)

Stockings for yourself and girls

  50 butter

      "     for Andrew

400 lbs sugar

      "     for Lillie

  20 gallons syrup

Woolen shirts for family

  50 lbs black tea

     "      drawers for family

100 lbs coffee

dresses or dress stuffs

400 lbs dried apples

clothing or cloth stuff for              Andrew

100 lbs dried peaches


  20       salt

         Sewing Apperatus

  40 dessicated veg.

1 good strong sewing machine


  with assortment of needles


needles assorted

        pepper spices

thread       "

       vinegar to use on the road

yarn          "

       cod fish

Buck skin needles


Pins assorted



Your feather beds (packed)


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

2 reams good white letter paper

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

1     "      fools cap       "        "


½ doz memorandum books

         Cooking Apperatus

$5 worth stamped envelopes

Camp stove

2 large bottles ink

camp kettles

2 gold pens for girls

tin reflector

    box  steel pens & holders

frying pans

    school books and slates

large cook stove for use here

    form book (Plus forms)

gold pans

    reading books

bread pan

    one or two good maps

milk pans

2 doz lead pencils

table dishes

    extra for use on road



½ doz good brooms

ox shoes and nails


tongue bolts

         Washing Apperatus

yolk and chains

1 wash tub

waggon grease

1 wash board


2 flat irons

spirits of turpentine


whiskey for poisened cattle and to make vinegar here

concentrated lye to make soap







My tool chest & tools. The

1 pr gold scales

    chest may be used as a

candles 1 box

    mess chest on the road

5 gal. kerosine oil

1 shovel to use on the road

2 lamps with durable chimneys & some extra chimneys

1 pick   "   "     "     "      "

side saddle

1 hoe

5 boxes pistol cartridges for my pistol

½ doz hand saw files

1 pr spectacles

1 fat files

some padwilks

1 buck saw (not wood)

looking glass


garden seeds


flower seeds


2 half boxes window glass


2 kegs assorted nails

candle molds

a few papers assorted screws

     "      wicks

1 lb. shoe tacks

sausage cutter


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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






         One of the first steps Fergus took upon arriving in Last Chance Gulch in April 1865 was to serve public notice of his intent to homestead 160 acres of gulch land. He also staked out claim number 15 in the mining district, now Helena's main street. [Public notice by James Fergus, April 25, 1865, Box 13 F. 16, FP, UM. Helena Independent, January 2, 1927.] By Christmas of that year, however, he discovered two critical facts, leading him to abandon both the homestead and the claim: his claim contained only "a trace of gold and no silver," and the "best of the land is being dug up or has been built on by miners." Since he could neither mine nor farm the land he gave public notice, vacated the 160 acres in Last Chance Gulch, and cast about for a potential livelihood. [Charles Rumley, Helena Assayer, to James Fergus, December 18, 1865, Box 9 F. 42. Public notice by James Fergus, December 20, 1865, Box 13 F. 16, FP, UM.]


         Fergus must have anticipated problems, for he received, during this period of limbo, offers of business partnerships from old friends McGuire, Rockwell and George Stephens who considered entering the "mill business, saw mill and a wool factory." McGuire, as well as the others, obviously respected Fergus, for he wanted to know "if you would have an interest in any such a thing here if we have a company [in Des Moines]. I wish it to consist of honest men." Rockwell encouraged Fergus to come back and gain wealth in wool mills. He greatly respected Fergus' intellect and courage for:


. . . if you had not got more courage than common men you wood get discouraged but I now you didn't now what that means it seam to me that if a man ever propserd from hard work you out to but furges you work too hard with you musels you out to seat that head machean to work and not let the musels rest if I had that head of yours on my shoulders my musels wood have but littell to do. [O. J. Rockwell to James Fergus, February 24, 1866, and October 9, 1867, Box 9 F. 21-22, FP, UM. Rockwell should have had an ample amount of capital, for he claimed to have taken $15,000 in gold to Chicago, trading it for $1.47 in greenbacks per dollar. George Stephens to James Fergus, February 11, 1866, Box 10 F. 25; James J. McGuire to James Fergus, January 1, 1866, Box 7 F. 26, FP, UM.]


         Despite the flattery, Fergus declined to return east to manufacturing, probably because leaving his Moline and Minnesota business had improved his health to such a great extent; the mountains seemed to agree with him, and he functioned well in the dry air in spite of much hard work. If it had been left to Pamelia, on the other hand, she probably would have opted to return to Moline or Des Moines. [James Fergus to Ignatius Donnelly, November 13, 1871, Roll 45, DP, Minn. HS.]


         At this point in his life, James apparently considered entering the newspaper business, either as an owner-financer or as an owner-editor, for he inquired about buying the Montana Post in Virginia City. Ben H. Dilles planned to sell the paper and printing office for "fifteen thousand dollars cash, in gold dust (bankable) at the rate of eighteen dollars per ounce." Fergus had until January 17, 1866, to decide. He abandoned this idea, however serious it had been, and turned to the soil as he had begun in Scotland some thirty-five years earlier. [Ben R. Dilles to James Fergus, January 9, 1866, Box 2 F. 60, FP, UM.] James claimed 160 acres of land, by public notice, on the south bank of Ten Mile Creek in Edgerton County (location probably close to Helena). But for some reason he held this less than a month and late in January 1866 sold it to S. Collins Gilpatrick, Luella's future husband, unless they had married by then, for $200. [Public notice by James Fergus, January 10, 1866, Box 13 F. 16, FP, UM. Bill of Sale, James Fergus to S. C. Gilpatrick, January 29, 1866, FP, UM. If Luella was not married then she could have been very quickly [she was not married till January 1, 1867 in the Prickly Pear Valley], for James received an inquiry from a Deer Lodge Valley swain who needed help in milking 75 cows that spring. Apparently from J. A. Clark, January 14, 1866, Box 2 F. 17; also found in Box 11 F. 50, FP, UM, with comments by Mrs. Bubar.]


         By that fall James relocated on what was previously called the Hundley and Prewitt ranch, which he purchased from Best; he lived there about five years. He planned to sell some hay, raise $600 and buy ten more milk cows and sell butter that winter. By the following year James had ten acres of grain and vegetables under irrigation, plus hay and grazing land, for a total of 60 acres. [Deposition by James Fergus, June 11, 1896, Box 13 F. 20, FP, UM. James Fergus to R. S. Hamilton, September 9, 1866, Box 11 F. 57, FP, UM. Fergus borrowed $400 in gold dust from Hamilton to begin ranching. Hamilton to Fergus, October 1, 1866, Box 5 F. 30, FP, UM.]


         James struggled a good deal those first seasons in the Prickly Pear Valley, especially the summers of 1866 and 1867, for grasshoppers attacked the area. His initial hard luck at farming led one friend to comment, "The grasshoppers seem to have a spite for you. I think you are too much of a miner to do well at farming." [H. B. Bailey to James Fergus, September 21, 1867, Box 1 F. 19, FP, UM. William Sturgis to James Fergus, September 23, 1866, Box 10 F. 42, FP, UM.]


         Of those who knew James Fergus, no one ever said he had failed in business, town speculation or mining because of lack of effort, energy or ambition. The same held true in the Prickly Pear. As he planned, James bought additional cows, and instead of idling his winters away, made and peddled butter to Helena miners and businesses. He also raised chickens for eggs and meat. Beginning in the spring of 1867 he worked with S. Collins Gilpatrick, who married Luella. Gilpatrick operated a retail store and Fergus supplied him with potatoes, eggs, fresh vegetables, butter, cheese, and whatever else he could raise for profit. This relationship continued until Fergus left the valley in 1880. [S. C. Gilpatrick to James Fergus, June 21, 1867, Box 5 F. 6, FP, UM. Numerous other letters indicating this business relationship can be found in Box 5 F. 6-10. They apparently dissolved the business some time in 1883. Gilpatrick to Fergus, December 12, 1883, Box 5 F. 10, FP, UM.]


         Fergus also sold produce to area ranchers. Much of his goods went to Fort Benton and the T. C. Power and Company, from whom James bought a considerable portion of his manufactured goods and groceries. For example, in April 1876, C. Boissonneault, Fort Benton, paid Fergus $12.93 for 30 dozen eggs, shipped in oats by wagon to Benton, [T. C. Power & Bro. Co. to James Fergus, January 24 and March 17, 1874, Box 8 F. 79, FP, UM. C. Boissonneault to James Fergus, April 19, 1876, Box 1 F. 44, FP, UM.] In 1874 Fergus noted a portion of the crop would include "about 7¾ acres mixed peas and oats on the north side then about 1¼ acre wheat on the south side and upper and about three acres of potatoes and one acre in carrots, rutabaors, corn mangle winter garden peas, etc." These were fairly small amounts but planted because "the grasshoppers were eating up our other crops." James also sold, during this period, small grains for feed, hay, beef for meat and some hogs. [James Fergus Day Book, 1872-78, May 16, 1874 Crop Memo, Box 24 F. 1; James Fergus Notebook: Grasshopper Diggins, etc., 1862-1869, pp. 74-77, February 1868-October 1877, Box 25 F. 2; James Fergus Notebook, 1868-70; James Fergus Notebook, 1870-71, Box 23 F. 2, FP, UM.]


         In addition to selling produce, meat, grain and hay to area businesses and friends, Fergus marketed much the same items to the several military posts in the Montana Territory, especially during the mid and late 1870's. During the decade, and in varying amounts, he did business with the following military installations: Camp Baker, Ft. Benton, Ft. Ellis, Ft. Maginnis, Ft. Missoula, Ft. Shaw. [Box 11 F. 2-9, FP, UM.]


         One inclination Fergus exhibited almost immediately after arriving in Last Chance Gulch, and especially after he abandoned mining for the soil, dealt with fruit trees. In December 1865, thinking to the following summer, he sent to distant Salt Lake City for fruit trees, which had to be shipped in by wagon, sometimes for as much as 75 cents a pound freight. Apple trees, one year from the bud, sold for $50 to $75 per 100; two-year-olds for $100 per 100. Plums, apricots and pears were scarce. A good two-year-old pear tree sold for $2.50. [R. S. Hamilton to James Fergus, March 22, 1866, Box 5 F. 30, FP, UM. W. C. Stains to James Fergus, December 10, 1865, Box 10 F. 16, FP, UM.] Unfortunately, he received damaged trees which did not grow well that summer. James also asked Moline friends George Stephens and D. B. Sears to forward fruit and flower seeds so he could beautify his ranch and provide fresh fruit. [W. C. Stains to James Fergus, June 19, 1866, Box 10 F. 16, FP, UM. George Stephens to James Fergus, February 11, 1866, Box 10 F. 25, FP, UM.]


         James continued ordering fruit trees when he needed them. By the early 1870's he could be supplied from Helena, an indication that the city had matured somewhat from its gold camp days of the 1860's. In 1872, for example, Fergus ordered 11 currant and gooseberry bushes, 50 currant cuttings, and two top varieties of potatoes from D. W. Curtiss, Helena, "Grower of and Dealer in Choice Potatoes, Asparagus, Rhubarb, Currants, Gooseberries, etc. Strawberries a Specialty." [D. W. Curtiss to James Fergus, April 24, 1872, Box 2 F. 39, FP, UM.]


         Fergus planted these and more, but within a year grasshoppers destroyed much of it, especially the strawberries and currants. James did not quit the effort to develop an orchard, however, and after moving to central Montana in the 1880's, he also continued the struggle of raising fruit in a semi-hostile climate, a frustration he encountered in Minnesota some years earlier. [Ibid., June 12, 1874. L. M. Ford to James Fergus, April 22, 1856, Box 3 F. 47, FP, UM.]


         James' only son Andrew, twenty years old by 1870, proved to be a great help to his father after they settled in the Prickly Pear Valley. In fact, this prosperity James came to enjoy during the decade of the 1870's and thereafter in central Montana could be traced back, in large part, to the help provided by Andrew, though of course James also contributed a great deal. Though they worked together on the same ranch and then ran two or three, they apparently had no formal agreement until 1878, when James sold Andrew "one undivided one third (1/3) of all the cattle, or cattle stock now owned by me, whether branded or not . . ." for one dollar. [Agreement between James Fergus and Andrew Fergus, April 23, 1878, Box 13 F. 17, FP, UM. James may have negotiated this liberal agreement with his son a this time for fear of losing Andrew, who at the time considered medicine as a profession. David Hilger to Andrew Fergus, February 15, 1878, Box 15. FP, UM.] In 1870 Fergus bought the Prickly Pear Valley ranch of Malcomb Clark, killed by Indians two years earlier. [Mrs. S. C. Gilpatrick, "Biographical Sketch of Mrs. James Fergus," Contributions, IV, 188-189. An unidentified and undated newspaper clipping related it this way: Clark had married an Indian of the Blackfoot tribe and "certain Blackfeet entertained a deep grudge against Malcom and one night in 1868 they visited the Clark ranch, called him out and shot him, killing him." Box 21 F. 5, FP, UM.] At this juncture father and son operated two ranches totaling 480 acres, on which they ran 19 horses, 9 ponies, 248 cattle, and 50 calves. [Lewis and Clark County, Assessment List for 1870, Box 13 F. 17, FP, UM. The land was located in Section 36, Township 11.]


         Two years later they owned three ranches, operating two and renting the other. James noted their progress, assets and liabilities in a July 14, 1872 memo:


We that is myself and family own 640 acres of land in Prickly Pear Valley in this county. We own three ranches here not entered. We own over two hundred head of stock, two large mares with colts six work horses six pony horses in all, besides waggons and farm tools in all valued at $14,000.


James concluded by noting others in the Helena area owed them about $1100 and their crops would bring them $1000, making $16,000 in assets. They owed others about $3800, giving them a balance of $12, 300. The "Ranch here with improvements" of $2000 brought it to a $14,300 total. Even though paper figures, it marked quite an increase from the spring of 1866 when they borrowed money to buy additional cows to make butter. [James Fergus Day Book, 1872-1878, memo of July 14, 1872, Box 24 F. 1, FP, UM. James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, March 8, 1872, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM.]


         James projected ahead, as he usually did, and felt by collecting what others owed them and paying what debts they could, by the end of that year they still would be about $1000 in debt. His goal—to manage better in the future and to "get out of debt by selling hay and stock. If we cannot get out of debt now let us get as near out as we can now and the rest just as soon as we can." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, March 8, 1872, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM.]


         Two years later James realized this ambition, at least temporarily, when he noted "we have this day paid up A. L. Randall's notes in full [and] this is the last debt we owe," but for $20 to a Helena blacksmith. According to Fergus' meticulous bookkeeping, during the previous two years they had expended and taken in $10,850, broken down as follows:


Notes for borrowed money and for labor in all






paid for labor


paid for living; clothing, food, etc.


for lumber and incidentals


for a threshing machine








Received from this:


from old place


stock sold


grain and hay sold


butter, etc. to Helena


balance taken in here or meats, horse feed, eggs, butter, potatoes, oats, beef, etc.







As an afterthought Fergus added: "More expended for Lillies schooling, for books, papers etc. and we have as much due us now and in money as we had two years ago say $1000.' [James Fergus Day Book, 1872-1878, memo of June 20, 1874, Box 24 F. 1, FP, UM.]


         By 1876 James and Andrew worked 250 cattle valued at $3100 and 95 calves at $380. He listed their total valuation at $10,565, and noted again, "we are out of debt now and the different prospects to spend money on are already numerous. Viz:"


Enter our land


New house




Mother to states


Lillie     "      "


2 good bulls


a good horse




A pretty good sum




James continued, "this will take us at least two years besides the above we have new celler and spring house to build. The land must be entered, the house built, the rest will have to come after except the stables." As usual in rural situations, luxuries for the wife often had to be postponed: in this case, Pamelia's trip back to Illinois to visit friends and relatives. James, however, did always try to provide a good functional house for his wife; this became especially true when he crossed into central Montana. [Property list, July 26, 1876, Box 13 F. 17, FP, UM. James Fergus Notebook, 1874-1876, memo of June 20, 1876, Box 23 F. 2, FP, UM.]


         James and Andrew continued to prosper through sound management and hard work. By the spring of 1877 James estimated his assets to be just over $14,000, with $8,690 in cash and debts owed them, over 300 head of cattle at $3600, over 20 head of horses at $1800, an estimated $3000 in crops and about $800 worth of improvements. [James Fergus Notebook, 1876-77, memo of June 10, 1877, Box 23 F. 3, FP, UM.] At this time he apparently considered a move to the Pacific, for James wrote friend Robert Millis, Folsom, California, inquiring what one could do with $14,000 in that area of he country. At sixty-four Fergus had not yet thought of retirement. He would not for another twenty years, and then only when forced to slow down by deteriorating health. [Robert T. Millis to James Fergus, April 26, 1877, Box 7 F. 62, FP, UM.]


         Earlier that winter James sold the "ranch in the valley" to Mrss. Birch and Tarleton for $4500, with $1500 down and the balance to be paid by 1880 in $1000 amounts; one per cent interest would be paid on the remaining amount per month until paid. [James Fergus Notebook, 1876-77, memo of February 28, 1877, Box 23 F. 3, FP, UM. James later described the sale: "In the Prickly Pear Valley 8 miles from Helena I sold 640 acres of good land with water right and entered with more and better buildings than I have here [at Armells] with 6 miles of No. 1 fence posts . . . and 200 tons of hay yearly and 240 acres of bluegrass pasture the rest plowed and sold the place for $4500 on time." James Fergus to Theodore Lindsay, 1884, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM.] Two years before he began renting another Prickly Pear ranch to R. S. Clark for $800 a year, with Clark obligated to keep the place in good repair. [James Fergus Notebook, 1874-75, memo of February 9, 1875, Box 23 F. 2, FP, UM. R. S. Clark to James Fergus, February 16, 1875, May 15, 1875, August 12, 1876, and December 8, 1876, Box 2 F. 18, FP, UM. Clark had trouble meeting the payments.]


         One of the priorities James outlined in 1876, after again emerging from debt, had been to purchase "a good horse for about $1000. This ambition rose not just from the love of fine horses or the pride at owning and racing such an animal at the Helena fair, but because of stud fees he had been paying for a quality stallion: $25 initially and $15 more if a mare foaled. [S. F. Larable to James Fergus, April 5, 1876, Box 7 F. 4, FP, UM.] Consequently, Fergus bought two blooded stallions for $3,000, a large amount for the time. Thus James used the stallions with his stock, to secure breeding income from Fayette Mambino and "Don A", and also raced one or both at the fair. One wonders what Pamelia must have thought when the family budget allowed $3,000 for two horses while remaining inadequate to finance her Illinois trip to see her mother and friends. [James Fergus note, September 29, 1877, Box 12 F. 37, FP, UM. A. T. Allen to James Fergus, letters of August 15 and 21, 1877, March 11 and January 6, 1878, Box 1 F. 3, FP, UM.]


         Unfortunately for Fergus and area horse raisers, "Don A" became ill and died the spring of 1878. It marked a calamity for all western Montana and Fergus received dozens of sympathy letters after the disaster. One person considered the animal to be worth $5000 at its death. Silas S. Harvey, Clancy, Montana, expressed sentiments typical of those who wrote. He called it a pecuniary loss to Fergus but "also a very great loss to the stockmen of the whole territory of Montana." Harvey had planned to breed several Kentucky mares, which had not yet arrived, to Fergus' stallion. [S. K. Larable to James Fergus, March 13, 1878, Box 7 F. 4, FP, UM. Fergus Sketch by Mrs. Allis B. Stuart, B.F. 35, FC, MHSL. Silas S. Harvey to James Fergus, May 7, 1878, Box 6 F. 45, FP, UM. Some confusion exists here. Mrs. Stuart talks of only one horse that Fergus bought for $3000. She may have been confused, unless Don A and Fayette Mambino were the same horse, with Don A a nickname.]


         During the 1870's Fergus had more than just a business involvement in the affairs of Lewis and Clark County. As in previous communities, country leaders soon recognized him as a man of action, a person who held interest in and gave thought to community affairs, and who did not hesitate to speak or pen his thoughts. Consequently, in the spring of 1869, Fergus was appointed to the vacancy on the Lewis and Clark County Commission, after L. P. Stirlling resigned. [Official notice of Fergus' appointment, June 17, 1869, Box 13 F. 16, FP, UM.] James held the office most of the following decade, often as chairman of the commission. [Fergus acted as chairman in 1873, 1874, 1876 and 1877, before resigning. Letters from John N. Heldt, Clerk and Recorder, Lewis and Clark County, to James Fergus, December 31, 1873, February 5, 1874, April 8, 1876, Box 7 F. 10, FP, UM. James Fergus to Ellison Beach, March 11, 1877, Box 21 F. 1, FP, UM.]


         Earlier, in 1866, James lost his bid for a seat in the Territorial Council. He ran fifth in a field of six from Edgerton County. [Ellis L. Waldron, Montana Politics Since 1864: An Atlas of Elections (Missoula: Montana State University Press, 1958), p. 17.]


         Fergus did not serve with political ambition, but more from a sense of duty and a desire to protect the taxpayer, himself included, from the governance of directionless men. In 1872 he confessed "I am tired of going up town and of this county commissioners business. We have enough to do of our own and I would like to get rid of it if I could, but I don't see how it can be done." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, March 8, 1872, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM.]


         James seldom hesitated to speak his mind or fight for what he considered right. Consequently, he often worked in the center of controversy; if others considered his actions dishonest or taken for personal gain at public expense, he quickly resigned, thus forcing the party and the public to either support or condemn him by ballot. On the other hand, his opponent probably considered this more of a grandstand play, spite, or the "if you won't play the game my way I wont play" attitude. Such was the case in June 1873, when Fergus supported an issue, received criticism, and resigned. The chairman of the Republican county committee pleaded with him to remain on the commission because "the Committee unanimously endorses your action as member of the board and believe your withdrawal would be a serious calamity to the clients of L and C County." [L. H. Cavanne, Chairman, Republican County Committee, Lewis and Clark County, to James Fergus, June 16, 1873, Box 7 F. 8, FP, UM.] Fergus could not be dissuaded and resigned, only to receive a year later "unanimous renomination by acclimation for county commissioner" by his party. That fall the voters again returned him to the commission, where he remained until 1877. [John N. Heldt to James Fergus, June 28 and August 13, 1874, Box 7 F. 10 and Box 12 F. 33, FP, UM.]


         Fergus considered himself to be a "liberal Republican" who though elected to the commission on that ticket, received support from "almost all the business Democrats in Helena." Critical of the national Republican party, especially the actions of President Grant, Fergus could be embarrassingly blunt and candid on the local level as well. When reelected to the commission on the People's Ticket in 1874, Fergus pledged to reduce the waste of county funds, especially the $1000 a year printing bill, possibly the source of his earlier resignation. He wrote the Governor, Benjamin F. Potts, of his thoughts.


. . . so far I have failed to see those promises carried out by other commissioners as they should be. I am sorry to say it, but I make the candid confession that I believe the Democrats administered the affairs of the county as economically as the Republicans are doing taking all the circumstances into consideration. [James Fergus to Governor B. F. Potts, June 13, 1874, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM. James Fergus to William Butler, March 20, 1875, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM.]


         Two years later Fergus led a two pronged fight to equalize taxes and place county advertising and printing out on bids, saving the county money. Again embroiled in controversy, Fergus came under much pressure because, as his son-in-law said, he remained "outspoken and . . . while others stand in the background you had to bear all the blame and do your own and their fighting." [S. C. Gilpatrick to James Fergus, February 13, 1876, Box 5 F. 7, FP, UM.] The year before James urged the grand jury to investigate the construction of their country jail, which led to charges of partisan politics. Fergus insisted he had moved as a citizen, not as a strong Republican, and moaned "is the everlasting politics always to control us?" [James Fergus to John Hones, February 15, 1875, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM.]


         If anything kept Fergus in politics it was his ambition to keep public expenses to a minimum, hopefully by reducing public salaries, certainly by holding the line and opposing increases. In the mid-1870's he insisted, "Now we are a settled community, all the products and profits on capital are comparitively low, and fees, salaries, and services performed for the public should be, but have not been materially reduced." He urged beleaguered taxpayers to use their influence with the legislature, encouraging them to "do all in their power to reduce expenses and relieve our over-burdened people from such heavy taxation." He conceded the task to be formidable, for strong lobbies opposed reductions: each office holder considered his job vital and sought more money, each legislator either sought a public office or had a friend or relative who did. The remedy, Fergus thought, was to:


. . . give every officer a fixed salary in proportion to the tax or population of his county, all fees to go into the county Treasury. This will be cheaper for the public, better for the officer, and the county business can be settled in much less time and with more satisfaction."


The problem, Fergus acknowledged, was to keep fees as low as possible while still attracting good men to public jobs. [James Fergus to Helena Herald, November 1876, Box 21 F.4, Scrapbook, p. 19, FP, UM.]


         Later the Helena Herald supported raising the county commissioners' pay from $5 to $10 a working day. Fergus naturally opposed the effort, just as he opposed other increases in public pay. He insisted the commissioners should improve their organization, for careful planning would expedite county business; in addition, they could handle private matters in town, thus saving later trips to Helena.


         James believed most commissioners to be foisted on the taxpayers by "King Caucus." These men gained experience at public expense; they ultimately cost taxpayers additional expense by paying items which had often been refused by experienced commissioners. The higher the commission turnover, the greater the expense.


         There is no doubt that many of our commissioners throughout Montana are paid higher wages at five dollars a day—and learning public business at the same time—than they ever earned before in their lives, or ever expected to earn. No, Mr. Editor, let our legislature cut down fees where they need it, but raise nothing. Our taxes are high enough already. [James Fergus to Helena Herald, n.d. (late 1870's), Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 19, FP, UM.]


Receiving high wages became secondary to the experience gained, according to James. Also, too many men of small ability earned more as commissioners than in private life. Increasing the pay would only attract more weak candidates, not stronger ones. Fergus implied that low pay attracted those, like himself, who served for the public good, not for monetary gain.


         By January 1877 Fergus had served on the Lewis and Clark County commission for over seven years. However, he resigned in a financial dispute, this time for good. James insisted at least $35,000 had been spent on items and projects outside the legitimate business of the county, even though he opposed these actions more than any other commissioner. While James resigned for reasons of health, he noted that "no commissioner of this county was ever villified and lied about as I have been by the opposition press and no Democrat raised his voice publicly to stop it." [James Fergus to Cornelius Hedges, January 25, 1877, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM. James Fergus to Ellison Beach, March 11, 1877, Box 21 F. 1, FP, UM.]


         When leaving office, Fergus observed that "those who would make good commissioners don't want it and those who want it would not make good commissioners." In addition:


Few men are fit for the office of Commissioner that are willing to take it. It is a thankless office at best. Businessmen in our towns don't like to have it—it interfers with their business and makes enemies; and being accustomed to large profits themselves they are generally disposed to be too liberal while doing business for the public. Farmer—sometimes supposed to lack brains and education for this position, although we send them to our legislature—are accustomed to active out-door exercise. Close confinement in a court room, poring over accounts day after day—added to other demoralizing influences of city life—deranges the system, fevers the blood, the head aches, the temper becomes irritated, and he is consequently unfitted to perform the duties required of him satisfactorily to himself or the public. Again, like the county mouse in the fable, he is too apt to look up to, act as, and pay deference to his town cousin. [James Fergus to Cornelius Hedges, January 25, 1877, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM. James Fergus to Helena Herald, n.d., Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 7, FP, UM.]


         By the latter part of the decade Fergus also rose to the state level of government. He built to this slowly, working within the Republican party, though his goal had not necessarily been to achieve election to the state legislature. Thus in 1873 and 1875 he served as a Republican precinct chairman and was sought out by various individuals for political support. [J. P. Woolman to James Fergus, June 23, 1873, Box 11 F. 46, FP, UM. W. C. Gillette to James Fergus, July 31, 1875, Box 4 F. 12, FP, UM. Henry Dildine to James Fergus, January 30, 1879, Box 2 F. 54, FP, UM. John Heldt to James Fergus, June 12, 1873, Box 6 F. 45, FP, UM.]


         By 1878 Fergus had achieved a reputation as an outspoken advocate of accountability and reduced public spending, one who did not hesitate to stand for what he believed. Few questioned his honesty, though some disagreed with his opinions. Therefore, the Republican party nominated him to represent Lewis and Clark County in the Territorial House of Representatives; he consequently won a seat in that body, his first position in Montana state government. Good friends Granville Stuart, W. F. Sanders and Ellison Beach also represented the county in the House. [O. R. Totten, Clerk of Lewis and Clark County, to James Fergus, November 13, 1878, Box 13 F. 23, FP, UM. Helena Daily Independent, January 14, 1879.]


         As a freshman representative, Fergus received appointment to the committees on Territorial Affairs, Grazing and Stock Growing, and Indian Affairs. [Helena Daily Herald, January 15, 1879.] James introduced few bills during the session; as expected, those he sponsored dealt with regulating the salaries of county clerks, treasurers, sheriffs and county assessors, presumably to lower them, or at least to produce greater efficiency in government and less cost to the taxpayer. Though supported by Sanders and Beach in this effort, the bill relating to assessors was the only one to pass during the session. [Helena Daily Herald, January 16, January 17, January 24, January 28, February 7, February 4, 1879. Surprisingly, the state did not print a House Journal for the 1879 session, thus these accounts are from newspapers. Also, it is impossible to ascertain if Fergus planned to lower these salaries. In addition, the assessor's bill may have been modified before passage.]


         Speaking in support of his legislation, Fergus maintained that excessive county fees had much to do with the depressed condition of state ranching in general and himself in particular, therefore:


. . . the time has come when we must do it all it wants is just a little back bone, and to say my friend I am willing to vote you and all other men a reasonable compensation but not one penny more. There are two parties to this contract. He who has to pay the money and he who receives it. You the receiver are here like the horse leach crying give, give, the taxpayer depends on us to protect and do him justice let us be true to our trust. [Handwritten Fergus Speech, 1879, Box 14 F. 4, FP, UM.]


         While Fergus remained relatively quiet concerning most legislation introduced during the session, he expressed vocal opposition to at least one other issue—that of the net proceeds tax on the Territory's mining industry. The bill proposed to tax only the net proceeds, not the value of Montana mines. Fergus would tax all mines as other property—at least appraised value. If the assessor could not determine the value of a mine, a jury of experts could. Besides, "those in favor of taxing net proceeds had proven conclusively that mines yielded no net proceeds. Then what did they propose to tax?" he wondered. [Helena Daily Herald, February 11, 1879.] His opposition remarks included these sentiments:


A pays $1.25 per acre for his farm, and the assessor puts it down at $5, its true value. B pays $2.50 per acre for his mine, and the assessor puts it down at $2.50, while its true value may be $100. Miner says it has no certain value—it may be worthless. So may any other species of property be worthless. There are risks in everything—in the ships at sea, the steamboats on our rivers, trains on our railroads, buildings on main street have gone in an hour; grasshoppers have eaten our crops; still, all these species of property are just what they will sell for, and so is the mine. Some of this placer ground below Helena is worth thousands of dollars for building purposes alone, and should be taxed like other property at its true value. [James Fergus to Helena Daily Herald, n.d. (probably early 1879), Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 17, FP, UM.]


         To point out the unequal nature of the net proceeds tax, Fergus, in a facetious gesture, though he may have been deadly serious, introduced a similar bill for the livestock industry. Under his bill, each rancher would report the gross proceeds of stock income between the 1st and 10th of August each year. After determining all costs they would be required to pay a tax on the net proceeds of the sales, not on the assessed value of the livestock. Referred to the committee on ways and means, the bill did not even emerge for debate. [Ibid., February 6 and 7, 1879.]


         Though Fergus voted twice against House Bill 20, the net proceeds bill, it passed both houses of the territorial legislature and became law. It plagued the territory and later the state for years to come. [Ibid., February 14, 20, and 22, 1879. For further coverage of this tax controversy see: Lewis Levine, The Taxation of Mines in Montana (New York: B. W. Huebseh, 1919) and Toole, Montana: An Uncommon Land, Chapter X. Toole also discusses it in his new book, Montana: A Twentieth Century Portrait (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971).]


         During the 1870's James and his son had another source of income, worry and irritation. In the fall of 1871 Andrew received a restaurant license for his establishment on the road between Ft. Benton and Helena, commonly called the Benton Road. [Receipt from Auditor, Territory of Montana, to Andrew Fergus, November 1, 1871, Box 16 F. 64, FP, UM.] James may or may not have encouraged Andrew, but the following summer James borrowed $1986 at 2 per cent per month from son-in-law R. S. Hamilton and purchased a "restaurant Keeper" license himself, presumably to assume the operation of the business Andrew initiated.


         Thus, in addition to ranching and raising produce, the Fergus family received income from the restaurant and hotel business, usually called a stage station, during the decade. While little is known about this operation, Pamelia undoubtedly became involved, either as a cook or as a hostess for the hotel, or both. Located on the Benton Road, the hotel functioned as a rest stop for stage lines between Ft. Benton and Helena, in addition to other carriers such as the Sun River Stage. Unless an overnight stop, brief halts were needed to feed passengers and change horses. No doubt it kept Fergus busy managing his several activities. [Hotel license receipts issued to James Fergus by the Territory of Montana for the years 1875 to 1880, Box 12 F. 34-36 and 38. Box 13 F. 23. Wm. Rowe, Sun River to James Fergus, August 20, 1878, Box 9 F. 38, FP, UM. As of March 16, 1879, the following rates were in effect from Helena to the Fergus ranch, assumed to be close to the stage station and about eight miles from Helena: passenger fare, $2.50; freight, 1½ cents a pound; packages, "reasonable." Wm. Rowe, Superintendent, Benton & Helena Stage Company, to James Fergus, March 16, 1879, Box 1 F. 40, FP, UM.]


         In the spring of 1878 James took Andrew in as a partner, giving him one-third interest in all his stock for one dollar. Prior to this arrangement, Andrew had been providing his father with much help but apparently no formal business understanding had been in effect, save that Andrew received his board and room with occasional spending money. Thus the 1878 agreement was designed to get Andrew started in his own business in a semi-independent fashion. Andrew developed business talents and enough capital to work his own interests, while working with his father and using his equipment.


         Late in 1879, however, this arrangement became inadequate and a new contract developed. James sold to Andrew, for $3,000, one-fourth interest:


. . . in all the personal property held by me in my name, consisting in part of about 1000 (one thousand) head of cattle, about 60 (sixty) head of horses, about three thousand and three hundred dollars ($3,300.00) in monies and credits—Together with the same considered interest in all the hay, grain, waggons, horses, machines, tools, and all other farming and household utensils now owned and used by me at the ranch on the Benton Road on the Little Prickly Pear where I now reside. . . . [James Fergus memo, December 30, 1879, Box 13 F. 17, FP, UM.]


         At this time James and Pamelia operated the stage station and their ranch while Andrew applied most of his time and energy to another ranch "above Prickly Pear Canyon" caring for several hundred top grade stock cattle. James raised some fifty head of quality brood mares and six thoroughbred stallions, the latter costing at least $1000 and some twice that. [Fergus Sketch by Mrs. Allis B. Stuart, B.F. 35, FC, MHSL.]


         The following spring James noted one of the grim realities of ranching in that area, something that probably helped him decide to sell and find greater space and better range—he "had 50 branded [cattle] die with blackleg mostly yearlings and 33 unbranded calves die from cold and starvation, of course we did not find all. 39 cows died to date." [James Fergus Ledger, Personal 1872-1883, entry of May 1, 1880, p. 123, Box 24 F. 4, FP, UM.] Lack of adequate range, especially for Andrew, led them to consider leaving the Prickly Pear. With his summer range diminishing, Andrew had to feed his stock "too long and too much," increasing cost and effort. Father and son looked east of the mountains into central Montana, where free range beckoned and water ran plentiful. Besides, friends had already moved onto the plains—T. C. Powers, settling south of the Missouri, and Granville Stuart, locating near the foot of the Judith Range, and Henry Brooks. "Tall grass, good water, plenty of timber and no civilizations with constant worries. There was hay meadows where he could cut all the wild hay he would need. A country already made. All he would have to do would be to occupy it." [Fergus Sketch by Mrs. Allis B. Stuart, B.F. 35, FC, MHSL. James Fergus account of the move, about 1900, Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM.]


         In 1873 Fergus discovered another fact which prohibited individuals from claiming choice homesteads in the Prickly Pear. The township in which Fergus had located:


. . . is all inside of railroad limits . . . therefore there cannot be a homestead made in that township to exceed 80 acres—except by a discharged soldier, nor to embrace any portion of an odd section, no homestead can be made on any odd numbered sections under any circumstances, nor upon either sections 16 or 36, no matter when settled. [L. B. Lyman to James Fergus, May 6, 1873, Box 7 F. 19, FP, UM.]


Though Fergus did enter claim to 80 acres that spring, and while he did acquire 160 acres of entered land before leaving the Prickly Pear, he could see little possibility of acquiring large tracts of range land. Thus the vast spaces of central Montana looked especially appealing. [Recorder's Office, Helena, receipt dated June 5, 1873, for S½ of S.E.¼ of Sec. 8 in Township 13 North of Range 4 West. Box 12 F. 32, FP. UM.]


         Fergus held another very practical reason for leaving the valley, at least for disengaging from the stage station: it had become a "nerve racking affair." Since James and Pamelia, by necessity, located their station on a well-traveled road, and because loose stock bothered the country, Fergus experienced much extra work caring for this stock until reclaimed. The mail often contained inquiries about lost animals, asking Fergus to catch and feed the strays until they could be collected. "This was a custom of the country that you look after any stray stock and notify the owner of its whereabouts, but situated on a main traveled road this alone became one man's job and did not pay for the feed alone not to mention the annoyance." [Fergus Sketch by Mrs. Allis B. Stuart, B.F. 35, FC, MHSL.]


         Of course all these factors combined could not have induced James to leave an established ranch located within a few hours of the territorial capital if it had not been for one other factor—James Fergus, from his youth, had seldom remained on one place more than a few years at a time. In fact, his stay in the Prickly Pear Valley constituted his longest residence in any one general location, and he moved several times within the Helena area. At age 67 Fergus still believed greater opportunity waited across the mountains. Free grass, water and timber all symbolized the "pile" he had never made. That the country held few others, that they would be isolated and struggling to carve a ranching domain from virgin land held by buffalo and Indians seemed to matter little, for opportunity attracted like an irresistible magnet, forcing certain adversity into the background.


         By spring 1880 Fergus had heard enough of central Montana that after spring branding he, Andrew and a hired man loaded a wagon and took their horses to search for new range. On May 13 they pushed north for the Tetons, then crossed the Muddy River area, passed the Chouteau-Meagher County boundary, the Carrol and Sun River Road, swung through the Judith Gap and passed near the Moccasin Mountains before returning to the Prickly Pear. After a 24-day trip covering about 500 miles they returned in early June to prepare for the move to a new range north of the Judith Mountains on Armells and Box Elder creeks. [James Fergus Notebook, April 1, 1880-November 20, 1880 (Book No. 3), entry of May 13, 1880, FC, MHSL. James Fergus letter to person unknown, n.d. (about 1900), Box 11 F. 58, FP, UM.]


         Upon returning, James arranged the sale of his ranch and stage station to Martin Mitchell. He later described his property as "a good stage station on the Benton Road 160 acres entered 900 acres fenced plenty of water and a fine spring and range stable and buildings . . . for $2750." Fergus also sold much of his household and ranch goods to Mitchell for $438.75. Apparently he wanted to re-equip his ranch with partially new equipment, or else the goods were not worth moving. [James Fergus to Theodore Lindsay, 1884, Box 22 F. 59, FP, UM. James Fergus Memo, June 30, 1880, Box 12, F. 39, FP, UM.]


         With the land and property sold, James organized the family for another move, this time for a shorter distance and with approximately one thousand head of livestock—900 cattle and 100 horses. He sent Pamelia to Helena for more than a year's stay with daughters Luella and Agnes, and he and Andrew pushed across the mountains to the Judith with cattle, wagons and equipment. Fergus' thoroughbred horses remained in the Prickly Pear in care of Thomas Shea. The stock grazed on their new range by August, soon to be fat and healthy, feasting on bunch grass which stood "two feet high on the Armells ranch and it waved in the wind like fields of grain." [James Fergus Notebook, April 1, 1880-November 20, 1880, entry of July 25, 1880, FC, MHSL. James Fergus Ledger, Personal, 1872-1883, entry of June 9, 1880, Box 24 F. 4, FP, UM. Fergus Sketch by Mrs. Allis B. Stuart, B.F. 35, FC, MHSL. The youngest daughter, Lillie, had married Frank Maury in 1873.]


         Pamelia's feelings on leaving the proximity of her two daughters and crossing the mountains into isolation are not known, though without question she did not radiate the enthusiasm of James. Though she may have pleased to leave the stage station and its numerous problems, she probably was less than enthusiastic about living among buffalo and Indians with the nearest neighbor a distant twenty miles. She had lived on the frontier, with and without her husband, since their marriage. Before they left she may very well have asked him why they could not remain close to Helena, close to their two daughters, and close to the nerve center of the territory during their last years, enjoying some of the fruits of civilization. However, being the kind of woman she was, she undoubtedly placed duty to husband and son before her own desires, accompanying them to Armells to establish their new and final home on the plains.


         If Pamelia posed such questions she did not puzzle alone. A. L. Randall, a Fergus friend from Whitehall, Montana, put it this way:


I suppose Mr. Fergus is satisfied now he has got off down in that wild lonesome country—He will go there and work as long as he can get one foot before the other and when he gets everything fixed all right he will pass away, but if he aint to work all the time he is as uneasy as a fish out of water. Anyone would naturaly think a man that has done as much hard laborious work as he has and of his age and indisposed in health would take it easy as possible the rest of his days. . . . [A. L. Randall to person unknown (possibly S. C. Gilpatrick, Helena), September 5, 1880, Box 9 F. 4, FP, UM.]


Wilbur Fisk Sanders, James' good friend from Virginia City days, also expressed concern about the move, though he had a more personal interest in encouraging James to remain near Helena—he missed the intellectual exchanges they once enjoyed. Fergus had been in the Judith about two years when Sanders confessed:


I have never been reconciled to your going to the Maginnis Country and sought to prevent it for it seemed to me that after a life of long and successful work you were entitled to some leisure and that a man of your intellectual activity and political usefullness could best enjoy yourself here or somewhere else in a larger place. In my effort I confess there was a motive of selfishness too for I could then see you often and in this country where so few people take an intelligent interest in public affairs in questions of science revelation religion politics and social science I confess to a hunger for someone of mutual tastes and faiths and so I do greatly desire you here. [W. F. Sanders to James Fergus, April 1, 1882, Box 9 F. 47, FP, UM.]


Some twenty years later Sanders still tried to get James back to Helena and the few old friends still living. Sanders indicated that "I was in hopes you would return here to your old home and take life leisurely the rest of your days." [Ibid., May 27, 1901, Box 9 F. 47, FP, UM.]


         Except for business and politics, visits to his Helena daughters, and occasional pleasure trips, James Fergus threw his considerable energy even at 67 years of age, into the development of the ranch. But for his wife, it became the center of his life, his main source of pride and his principal worry.







         James Fergus directed the move to the Fort Maginnis area of central Montana at an age when most men have either retired or dream of a relaxed future. Approaching seventy, he had made and lost considerable money in business, town speculation and mining, yet he approached their future on the plains with optimism. "If we can build up a good place there and secure the hay land it will be worth a good deal some day." He admitted, however, that their task would not be easy, for "I have just been settling with the bank. Our expenses have been very heavy. It is a good thing we did not buy sheep. It will take all we have before we can make anything there." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, December 16, 1880, Box 14 F. 44, and January 4, 1881, Box 14 F. 44, FP, UM.]


         After selling the Prickly Pear property, James sent Pamelia to Helena and helped Andrew move livestock and equipment across the mountains, arriving late in July, "with so little loss and all safety." As with Granville Stuart, one of the few ranchers in the area at the time, Fergus planned to bring his family out in the spring. [S. C. Gilpatrick to James Fergus, August 9, 1880, Box 5 F. 9, FP, UM. James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, November 26, 1880 Box 14 F. 44, FP, UM. Granville Stuart mentioned that Fergus located at Armells the summer of 1881. This is but partially true, for they moved the cattle over in August 1880, and Andrew stayed during the winter; James came the following spring. Paul C. Phillips (ed.), Forty Years on the Frontier As Seen in the Journals and Reminiscences of Granville Stuart (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1925), II, 163. Hereafter cited as Phillips, Forty Years on the Frontier.]


         James, Andrew, Eugene Townsend and three other men built a cabin for Andrew and one for the help; they also erected stables and corrals, and fenced the hay meadows, all before cold weather arrived. [Fergus Sketch by Mrs. Allis B. Stuart, B.F. 35, FC, MHSL. James Fergus to unknown newspaper, n.d., Box 21 F. 4, FP, UM.]  After helping Andrew prepare to survive that first winter, James returned to Helena, where he purchased and forwarded from 6000 to 8000 pounds of oats to sustain the stock. He also sent a plow with extra share, a keg of nails, hinges, a saw, four ox bows, two bread pans, three revolvers with ammunition and two compasses. Sent by freighter, the transportation cost came to 5¼ cents a pound for the grain and 3 cents for the materials. The explicit instructions James gave Andrew indicate his care with money and willingness to dispense advice, either sought or unsought:


You will hang up your beam weigh the oats one sack at a time set down the weight, add it all up multiply it by 5¼ cts the freight at 3 cts on the other stuff but you must first take out the weight of the rope on every sack, for instance I have furnished him 50 sacks if the rope weighs a pound then you must deduct 50 lbs from the weight before multiplying with 5¼, after all is done deduct the $200 which I paid in advance. [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, November 15, 1880, Box 21 F. 1, FP, UM. How Andrew received such advice is unknown.]


         With this assistance rendered, James and Pamelia settled in Helena for the winter, leaving Andrew on the plains and alone for Christmas. While James never seriously considered remaining in the Prickly Pear Valley, he apparently gave it some thought that winter, for he noted "Breck has been offered $11,000 for our old place but every kind of property is too high about Helena now at least for mother and I to buy or build would rather come down there." [Ibid., December 16, 1880, Box 14 F. 44, FP, UM. Luella Gilpatrick to Andrew Fergus, December 1880, Box 15 F. 1, FP, UM.]


         James stayed in Helena that first winter but did not like it, even though the relative inactivity and forced rest probably did him good. In mid-December he had been helping on the Mitchell place, where they wintered their thoroughbred horses and cattle with Thomas Shea, when his back began bothering again. James confessed, "I can't do much, my back hurts me so I don't think I will ever be able to do another good days work." James soon tired of doing little around his two daughters' houses in Helena, for they needed only so much wood chopped, there were only so many horses to feed, a limited number of books to read or friends to visit. He soon indicated his desire to be with Andrew, saying, "I wish I was out there, everything is pleasant here, but it is not our own home, and we both feel lost." Though his back had bothered him earlier, and his health remained good, he still did not feel in top mental or physical condition when not working. "All is well with me [but] my; health is not so good as when [I am] out there." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, December 5 and 16, 1880, January 9 and 13, 1881, Box 14 F. 44, FP, UM.]


         James' lack of constructive, and in his opinion, useful work gave him more time to use his mind, a two-edged sword for a man like Fergus. While he liked mental activity, such as scientific reading and writing to newspapers or friends, he also had more time to worry about things undone. Since he had a fetish for organization and planning he did much of this, but one can only plan to a certain point at which time action must replace thoughts. Fergus was a man of action, but of course he could not act that winter. Then too, he worried much about son Andrew alone, but for a handful of men, on the plains caring for their stock.


         Fergus had reason to be concerned about his son's safety that winter, for it proved to be the most extreme since the country had been settled. "On the third of December it begun to snow, and it kept on until the snow lay three feet deep on the level in the Prickly Pear Valley." Helena's streets quickly became impassable, with temperatures dropping to 46° below zero, remaining there for three days. Impassable roads in every direction prevented the Benton stage from arriving for a week at a time; ranchers reported cattle and horses dying in the valley. Stock not fed and sheltered perished, though the Fergus' thoroughbred stock survived quite well under Shea's care. "I think," James wrote Andrew, "as many as 40 or 50 stray cattle are in the streets living as well as they can on horse manure and stealing from hay loads. They probably followed hay wagons from the valley." [Ibid., January 24, 1881, Box 14 F. 44, FP, UM. Fergus Sketch by Mrs. Allis B. Stuart, B.F. 35, FC, MHSL. For Granville Stuart's comments on the winter of 1880-81, see Phillips, Forty Years on the Frontier, pp. 149-50.]


         James, witnessing such conditions in the Helena area, worried a great deal about his son, especially when communications halted or slowed to a trickle. For example, late in January, James received a letter from William Fergus, his Scottish half-brother, which had taken only one day longer than the seventeen days needed to send a letter from Andrew near Fort Maginnis. Pamelia must have trembled at the thought of such future isolation! [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, January 24, 1881, Box 14 F. 44, FP, UM.]


         Unable to remain idle in Helena with Andrew on the plains, at one point James determined to leave for Benton; only a  severe attack of the grippe kept him from starting. Granville Stuart did leave, almost losing his life before arriving at Maginnis. His hired man perished on the journey. [Fergus Sketch by Mrs. Allis B. Stuart, B.F. 35, FC, MHSL.]


         In addition to his concern for Andrew, James expressed pessimism about their stock, though he realized losses would have been much more severe if they had remained in the Prickly Pear.


         The bad weather still continues. It is the worst winter that has been in this part of the country since the country was settled and is bad all over the East and South. Our cattle are costing us a great deal, but if we had them on the old place we would loose nearly all of them. I expect we will loose the most of the stock cattle and probably some of the steers. [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, January 9, 1881, Box 14 F. 44, FP, UM.]


         Andrew had plenty of his own problems on the range that winter. Since their stock did not consist of "Texas rangers" but of "doggies", semi-domestic cattle, they required more attention. Rangers drifted when struck by a storm, trying to locate food while eating rye grass, twigs, hay or whatever available to survive. Doggies tended to huddle in the thick brush, remaining until the sun came out or they smothered. Andrew put it this way:


         We have been around getting the cattle to grass so much as we could finding some of them every day drifted in and have to tramp a trail out for them. A great many of them nearly starved to death, the bad weather held out so long and the snow so deep. [Fergus Sketch by Mrs. Allis B. Stuart, B.F. 35, FC, MHSL. Andrew Fergus to James Fergus, January 18, 1881, Box 3 F. 20, FP, UM.]


During the rough weather Andrew and men also spent days in the saddle keeping the cattle from airholes in the streams, for if the doggies ever slipped in they would drown. Later, as it warmed in mid-April, slush formed in the moisture-laden gulches and coolies. Consequently, the cattle had to be kept from these areas or they froze to death. [Ibid.]


         During that winter's harsh weather common jobs assumed difficult proportions, mainly because of the deep snow, low temperatures and high winds. The work oxen and horses suffered in temporary shelters; Andrew was also reduced to existing at times for:


         We have no wood ahead at either place or hay at the lower place only enough for 2 days. In ones mind it is a small job to get these things but ice flood snow drifts and all hinder so that one is working all the time to such a disadvantage. our hay is getting drifted in so it is hard to get near them it is to the top of the tallest one but not so bad on the little one . . . if it does not get better [soon] we will have lots of hides in the spring.


Such conditions makes one thankful for commonplace things, and Andrew closed with, "well, I am thankful I am alive and hope everyone is the [same]." [Andrew Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, January 13, 1881, Box 17 F. 14, FP, UM.]


         By late January, with the weather severe and no relief in sight, James came to believe moving the cattle had been correct but selling them would have been even better:


As the winter turned out we would have been ten or twelve thousand dollars better off if we had sold our stock last summer; for besides the great expense you are to there, we will lose all our stock cattle here, some probably of the beef steers, and maybe some of the horses, and I can buy stock cheaper next spring than we could have sold for, but then we did not know all this and now we must do the best we can. [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, January 24, 1881, Box 14 F. 44, FP, UM.]


As events materialized, their losses proved to be relatively low, though losing one-third of a 900-head herd is considered severe in a normal year. When compared to the extreme depletion of herds in the Prickly Pear, however, this seemed slight. [James Fergus to Senator Thomas H. Carter, n.d. (about 1890), Box 21 F. 1, FP, UM.]


         Andrew's winter troubles appeared to double when his hired hands proved lazy, save for one, for they worked little unless constantly watched and prodded. "I would get rid of a couple of hands now but may find that I will have to get cattle out of small bottoms. . . ." Earlier, Andrew noted that "I think I will cut down the wages of Mike and the cook and perhaps Bill. They do not do enough when I am not there to tell them everything if they do not like it they can go where they can do better." By March the cook had either quit or been fired, for "I have no cook now, everybody has to cook as it happens." That spring Andrew had only one good man left and he planned to leave. Andrew worried about securing good men because of the isolation. "I donot know how it will be getting men this summer but think it will be hard to get good men here. There is always plenty of sons . . . to hire here but they are bad ones." [Andrew Fergus to James Fergus, January 13, 1881, December 19, 1880, March 12 and 4, 1881, Box 3 F. 20, FP, UM.]


         James, noting Andrew's problems with the hired hands, thought some jobs could be contracted, thereby improving the quality of work. However, "the main advantage in having men by the month is that you have more help in case of Indian troubles." A few days later James again expressed his concern about Indians: "I hope you can save the most of those cattle we have there, but if the weather gets bad with you I shall be more afraid of the Indians than of the bad weather." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, January 8 and 13, 1881, Box 14 F. 44, FP, UM.]


         His father had cause for worry. Andrew had more to occupy his energy than labor problems, keeping cattle from the river and survival through severe weather. Throughout the long winter Andrew kept his anxious parents informed about the weather, the hired men and the Indians, who camped nearby and who had not adjusted to the whites on their range. Andrew first mentioned them about Christmas, writing, "I could here the Indians drum last night at 11 oclock. I expect they were having a dance their drum sounds plain here 3 miles distance." [Andrew Fergus to James Fergus, December 23, 1880, Box 3 F. 19, FP, UM.] Thereafter Andrew reported numerous incidents such as the following, involving Townsend, one of his best men:


Townsend has gone below the Indian camp. They are getting hungry and run the cattle about some. Townsend caught one at it and came down a little coulee where he Townsend got down and picked up a club the Indian seen him just then and run T. after him. Indian pony fell in coulee in snow but did not lose much time crawling on again and made for camp.


Andrew apologized for the predicted frequency of his Indian news, for he thought his parents "will be tired of this kind of news [but] we have nothing else to rite. The latest Indian roomer says the small pox is in Sitting Bull's Camp." He continued:


We will get those cattle back on the range if possible so we can work them on account of Indians. The buffalo are laying ways off and these Indians have hardly horses to move a distance this time of year. One wanted to trade robes for a steer and Townsend told them we did not now. We mite trade if we had time. It takes time to do anything with them. [Ibid., January 1, 1881, Box 3 F. 20, FP, UM.]


         James knew of the danger, for "Henry Brooks says he is afraid the Indians will kill your cattle when the snow is deep and the weather cold. He did not say much about that last summer when he wanted to get us on Armel Creek." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, January 4, 1881, Box 14 F. 44, FP, UM.]


         Years later James insisted nearly two thousand Indians and almost as many buffalo wintered in the area, though Andrew never mentioned those amounts. By January 11, Andrew reported:


Our Indian village has dwindled down to 7 or 8 lodges of Bloods. The Pegans have started for home in preference to having the soldiers come after them as they did last year and horzed [probably harassed] them so that their poneys most all died. The Bloods and Black Feet have not gone out of this part as they talked of but scattered out north and east towards Flat Willow where Indians are as thick as the grass and the buffalo is some thinner. [Andrew Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, January 11, 1881, Box 17 F. 14, FP, UM.]


As indicated, the Indians did not move far, compelling Andrew to "traid the Pegans some beef steers for robes not a profatable traid for us directly but better than having them kill them enyway as they had to have meet. The snow was too deep for them to get out." Andrew had enough "savvy" to trade them robes for beef in an attempt to keep the starving Indians from stealing cattle. Though he showed traces of compassion for the Indians, there were too many of them to feed. The incidents continued, and Andrew expressed concern: "We are almost sure to loose our horses this spring as they the Ind. will have to have horses to get buffalo when the snow goes off." [Andrew Fergus to James Fergus, January 18, 1881, Box 3 F. 20, FP, UM.]


         Brushes with his hungry neighbors continued, which must have caused Pamelia to worry about her son's safety:


I came here today and found that someone had been after the horses and the dogs made such a fuss Townsend got up and looked out. Saw an Indian at the stable door. The Indian heard him and ran he firing two shots he stubbed his tow on the bars and fell but got up and run. They got up in the morning but could not find any blood. Now we get along with the Indians all rite and I donot rite these things to excite you and would not say anything about such things but you may be better posted and have some influence in getting these Blackfoot and Bloods moved and with a force that will make it tolorable safe for man and horses on the roundup. I have considerable fears that this horse stealing will bring blood before troops will be able to get here should they get such an order. [Ibid., February 5, 1881, Box 3 F. 20, FP, UM.]


         By early March horse stealing increased as the Indians scavenged the needed mounts for their spring and summer actions. Andrew talked with five men from the Musselshell trailing horses stolen by Blackfeet and Bloods, who had just passed Armells. These men reported two hundred horses stolen from whites and Pend d'Oreilles. Andrew noted "there are between 30 and 60 tepees of Bloods camped near here yet but they expect to go immediately." With losses rising, Andrew and hired hands gave more attention to their horses, turning them out three or four hours in the afternoon.


I watch them and then get them in after the Indians all get by. I will keep them up all the time the way it looks now it would not due to bring the mares here but if these Indians are kept out of here it may due by building extra good corrals and stables. [Ibid., March 6, 1881, Box 3 F. 20, FP, UM.]


         Thievery continued, moving several area ranchers to file complaints with the military at Fort Maginnis. "We three [Granville Stuart, Andrew and another] went and saw Maj. Parker who was slow to do anything but finaly agreed to send an officer with four soldiers." Little improvement could be seen. Therefore, Stuart, six of his men, Andrew and another, Sam Ficiale, the scout, plus an interpreter, planned to visit the Indian camp, and "simply to demand horses belonging to white men and if refused not to fite simply to demand and threaten . . . and tell them the consequences."


         Andrew did not go, however, for he had lost only one horse. In addition, the ranch was thrown into confusion as the night before leaving for the Indian camp Andrew discovered the upper cabin had been vandalized, with about $40 in goods stolen. He suspected Indians.


         While suffering occurred that winter in the Indian camps, on the whole Andrew thought they had come through the severe weather quite well.


         The Indians in these parts as a whole are very fortunate this hard winter but many small parties have no buffalo and they have lost so many ponys that they can't move and only four ded cattle and of corse some lives ones they wood starve to death they starve as it looks thinner it is easily seen in these few camps that are here. [[Ibid., March 9, 1881, Box 3 F. 20, FP, UM.]


         After visiting neighbor ranchers Henry Brooks and Granville Stuart, Andrew considered his losses due to weather tolerable, though he suspected Indians got their share of his cattle:


Our lose as far as those we were able to keep on the range is not heavy and we have found nearly every one of them but I think now that something like 200 head got away they have been on as good range as could be found but I am very suspicious that the Ind. have killed a good many. They hide everything but the dung so it is impossible to tell or ketch them. These cattle were near where they, the Ind. were in the last days of January.


Andrew had made several multi-day trips searching for missing cattle and planned to make more. Indian presence caused other problems too, for "The Ind. going thru the center of our range has scattered the cattle good deal here and it will take a day or two to get ready and straightened out." [Ibid., March 10, 1881, Box 3 F. 20, FP, UM.]


         Plains Indians did not confine their horse stealing to whites, for it was both necessity and sport to increase the number of one's horses via other tribes. Thus Andrew noted that "the Indians that were camping here had 28 head of their horses stolen night before last and they moved yesterday on to Dog Creek. I expect the Crows go them." After losing their horses, the Indian band reacted fairly typically, for Andrew observed the "Indians were most all drunk . . . I came through at dark and they were going then for whisky. I called at several tepees and was no young men." [Ibid., March 12, 1881, Box 3 F. 20, FP, UM. In January James mentioned that Capt. Parker of Ft. Maginnis feared an outbreak. The Helena marshal considered appointing Andrew his U.S. Deputy Marshal but both James and Andrew considered it best if he did not accept. Also, the legislature, then in session, heard the Governor speak "about the whiskey trade with the Indians in the neighborhood of Maginnis in his message, and ask the Legislature to make better laws to stop it." James to Andrew, January 13, 1881, Box 14 F. 44, FP, UM.]


         It must be pointed out, however, that at least one Indian did at least some work for Andrew that winter. During the big storm Andrew and hands struggled to reduce starvation by driving cattle from the gulches to prevent bunching and smothering. Andrew noted that "Townsend had gone with an Indian to shovel snow on the hill this side of the big gulch was to haul some hay by keeping on the prarie all the way from their the road will not be so very hard." Unfortunately, nothing is known of this Indian. He may have been a half breed and rejected by those camped nearby. [Andrew Fergus to James Fergus, January 22, 1881, Box 3 F. 20, FP, UM. It would seem that Andrew and the long suffering Indians could have worked out a mutually satisfactory agreement. They could have helped him keep more cattle alive in exchange for enough beef to relieve suffering. Neither probably trusted the other enough. The Indians, in their pride, probably balked at "squaws work" while Andrew may not have wanted to start a practice which might have gone beyond his control. There were probably too many Indians to even consider the idea.]


         Despite the fact that "We had to carry guns on our mowing machines hay wagons and everywhere we went" the following spring, the Ferguses, father and son, managed to accomplish the necessary work to keep the ranch going. James returned to help with branding and to plant small grain and a garden. He also built a ranch home for Pamelia, who came from Helena after its September completion. [James Fergus to Senator Thomas H. Carter, n.d. (about 1890), Box 21 F. 1, FP, UM. Fergus Sketch by Mrs. Allis B. Stuart, B.F. 35, FC, MHSL.]


         The Fergus family had survived that first trying winter at Armells, both physically and emotionally, in many ways the most difficult they endured, especially during the following six years. Their choice of range proved good, with stock losses relatively light when compared to those of their old range in the Prickly Pear—the move had been well timed in that respect. The Indians proved to be more of a threat than an actual danger, though none knew that, as the frayed nerves of James and Pamelia would testify.


         On the whole, despite the problems Andrew experienced that first winter, the ranch moved into the future from a good base. In fact, the difficult winter, coupled with Andrew's success at managing the situation, greatly enhanced his self confidence. Up to that time the thirty year old son had, for the most part, labored in his father's shadow. Tested by hostile climate and Indians, he emerged much more his own man with the ability to assume more of an equal position as his father's partner in the operation. Andrew's performance that winter also pleased James, for with increasing age and decreasing physical stamina, he needed Andrew to manage the ranch, while he kept books and helped organize.


         With Pamelia back caring for her men that September, the three member family unit once again joined. Together they carved Armells from the stubborn plains, increasing its size and their prosperity through much hard work laced with determination. The next six years at Armells proved to be their best, for they had finally sunk roots and declared this home.







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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

D. H. Weston, Recorder of Brands"

Box 13 F. 17, FP, UM.]


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


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


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


50 men at $50 per month each



65 horses per month



provisions, ammunition, etc.








per month



for three months


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




He owes a private debt of




Interest on 3224.50 for 1 year




Total next fall




He will take in from herding until next Oct.




His half of wool say












Deduct 500 lambs at 3












He will have his 1000 sheep worth




His place worth








Balance above




Allowance for living








Leaving balance of





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


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


It cost us to hold his ranch say


Going after him to Claggett


Haulling lumber and timber


2 horses wagon and harness


saddle poney


2 cows


tools and use of tools etc.


brothers and Andrews expenses to Benton and back







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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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








         By 1880 James and Pamelia Fergus had been married thirty-five years. As the wife of an active, independent and strong-minded man like James Fergus, Pamelia received blessings and burdens, mixed in amounts which other women did not experience or possibly tolerate. As with many couples, the first few years of their marriage were not all honeymoon; in fact, there was no honeymoon of the traditional sense, for the day after they married in March 1845 Fergus returned to his struggling foundry, a pattern he maintained those first years. James later described their developing relationship to a daughter:


         Mother and I were both human neither of us were saints. She had been the family pet. I had just gone into a new business (in Moline) where I had to learn to make contracts, to be a moulder, machinest, furnace man, blacksmith, patternmaker, bookeeper, shipper and collector, had to work Sundays or post books [consequently] no time was left for petting. Mother could not understand it I was quick tempered. She was stubborn and unyielding . . . but was refused nothing, always had all she wanted.


This extreme capacity to and devotion for work created family tension. In addition, "Our ways were different I was a book worm she wanted petting and had pets." [James Fergus, penciled rough draft of letter to a daughter, undated, Box 11 F. 65, FP, UM.]


         Their combined maturity and a growing family kept them together during these trying years. James' devotion to work brought prosperity but forced him to sell the foundry to preserve his health. They left the relative comfort of Moline and within two years settled in Little Falls on the Minnesota frontier. Pamelia struggled the rest of her life on frontiers of varying refinement, for she had married a restless man who felt tied to no area and sensed opportunity just over the mountains or across the plains.


         Financial problems placed increasing burdens on Pamelia during the Little Falls business failure. By the spring of 1860 James extricated himself from the company and headed for Pikes Peak, leaving his wife in charge of four children. While never suffering physically as many women in similar circumstances, Pamelia experienced mental anguish. James left her to raise the children, manage the house and livestock and try to salvage something from a foundering company. She was to carry out these assignments with little or no apparent income; in fact, James urged her to sell some of their town lots to provide money, despite a depressed economy. All of this agonized the inexperienced Pamelia; in addition, she worried about her distant husband's welfare, like any concerned wife.


         While in Colorado, James noted his wife's torment and did his best to console and build her self-confidence. He insisted, "My going away has and will be a great benefit to you, by throwing you on your own resources and leaving you to do business for yourself." [James Fergus to Pamelia Fergus, October 10, 1860, Box 17 F. 17, FP, UM. Pamelia also suffered through the 1862 Sioux uprising while James mined in Montana. She never mentions experiencing any physical harm. Actually, she did not discuss it with James, unless those letters have been destroyed. Considering this magnitude of the danger (at least the potential danger) and what terror Little Falls probably weathered, one would expect her letters to be saturated with such an event.] As things turned out James proved at least partially right, for Pamelia's Little Falls burdens provided the steel she needed to survive the Montana frontier. However much James expected of his wife and however much he complimented her by entrusting her with business and family, he assumed a dangerous risk. A lesser woman might have been crushed under the weight of these overbearing problems. That Pamelia was not is mute testimony to this remarkable woman's inner strength. Nonetheless, Pamelia rejoiced when Fergus returned after a disappointing eighteen months in Colorado.


         Within six months James again left his family in Minnesota, this time for the Beaverhead gold mines and ultimately
Alder Gulch. Pamelia was left to manage alone once more and suffered the trials of an Indian uprising without her man. As in Colorado, James wrote faithfully regardless of his exhaustion; but this time he could send more money, for he prospered instead of failing. By the winter of 1863-64 Pamelia had been separated too long, and though she yearned for the comforts of civilization, she loaded their children and belongings and left Little Falls for good, pointed towards the Montana mining frontier.


         The glue which held the Fergus family together those first twenty years was devotion—Pamelia's devotion to James, though she would have chosen a different life, and James' devotion to his family, in business and while in the mountains. Unlike many men, when he left his family for the mines he did not forget them but kept wife and children in the center of his being, a primary concern. [For example, in 1875 John Alt died. Alt left his family in Minnesota and headed for the mountains. Unlike Fergus, he never provided for them or returned. Fergus commented: "Poor John has made a great deal of money in this country, he ought to have had his wife here and been well off but he has lived fast, been always in debt, spent his money in eating, drinking and with women. I think he thought a great deal of his wife, but with him it was out of sight out of mind. In her last letter to us about two years ago she said she had not received a dollar from him since he left Minnesota." James Fergus to William Butler, March 20, 1875, Box F. 58, FP, UM.]


         According to James, he and Pamelia never really grew close or learned to understand each other "until we worked together or had interests in common or rather until she had her own way with the Butler Stage Station." Before that their relationship had been more of a restrained partnership devoted to their children. [When exchanging letters between the mountains and Minnesota, James usually addressed them "Dear Wife," and closed with "James Fergus." She addressed him "Dear Husband," and closed with "Your Wife," or "Pamelia."]


         Like on many other issues, Fergus held very definite views on marriage. His oldest daughter, Mary Agnes, married R. S. Hamilton while Fergus mined in Colorado [sic, should be Montana]. Before he learned of their intent they had married, though he opposed it because "I never knew two persons less fit to live together in my life." Both were hot tempered and quick to find fault. They soon had troubles, prompting these words of advice to Agnes the fall of 1866:


         You must not receive visits from John Ross or any other man during Robert's absence (I have written Ross to stay away) don't talk back so much to Robert. When he abuses you with his tongue let him go on. When you want money to buy shoes or any thing ask him for it at once. Get what clothes you need. Learn to be economical in cooking, lay aside your novel reading and learn to write a decent letter one that your friends will not be ashamed of. Keep your house neat and tidy. Everything in its place and your husband whatever may be his faults will think more of you and will have less cause of complaint.


James agreed with his tempestuous daughter that her husband should be home more but "unless that home is pleasant and his wife takes pains to make it pleasant he may have some thought or reason for staying away."


         Neither did Fergus hesitate to write his quick tempered son-in-law, scolding him for failing to provide his daughter with adequate clothes. He encouraged Robert to stay home more often and thus encourage Agnes to do the same for "a man's place in his spare hours is at home with his family as well as a woman's" [James Fergus to Agnes Fergus Hamilton, August 23, 1866, Box 11 F. 57, FP, UM. James Fergus to R. S. Hamilton, September 9, 1866, Box 11 F. 57, FP, UM.]


         Of course James issued this advice based on his own marriage. James spent his time either at work or at home with his family. He neither smoked nor drank. [The only record of a James Fergus drinking bout surfaced in 1859 when numerous St. Anthony Falls, Minnesota, notables invited him to help celebrate the Robert Burns centennial. Speeches became more bearable when washed down with several tubs of Scotch whiskey. Fergus sat across from an old Scotsman who "took good care to fill my glass as often as empty, which unfortunately to be fashionable in such a gathering was not seldom, and to tell the truth I drank more than I have in many years and probably as much as any man their. A few could not navigate when I left and I was sober as a judge and stranger still next morning I had no head ache and have had none since." This bragging was done in a letter from Fergus to C. A. Freeman, January 28, 1859, Box 11 F. 56, FP, UM.] When working closely with Granville Stuart in the Moccasin Roundup he encouraged the elimination of whiskey and gambling in the field, probably without success. Stuart agreed, though he did not think it a problem on his ranch, insisting he simply fired any cowboy caught drunk. [Granville Stuart to James Fergus, April 10, 1885, SC, YUL.] Fergus considered swearing vulgar, especially in women, and opposed novel reading as a waste of time.


         James may have been home when not working but he was, by his own admission, not an affectionate man. He viewed kissing, other than with his wife, as "repugnant." [James Fergus to Luella Gilpatrick, October 16, 1887, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM.] Though he loved his children, James tried to inculcate self discipline, a trait he considered most valuable and of which he was quite proud; as might be expected from an orderly man, he encouraged more reading and less rough-housing. Luella, his second daughter, later viewed it this way:


         We were not allowed to talk to our mother never. But everything is changed and different [now]. You speak of the young people today being noisy and rough. The real fact is father we Children were very quiet more so than the generality of children in our day and you have never been accustomed to a lot of noisy boys and girls. [Luella Gilpatrick to James Fergus, January 17, 1894, Box 4 F. 25, FP, UM. Luella then raised a question plaguing every older generation: "And then too I think that even city girls and boys are noisier and ruder than they used to be. The fashion of saying rude things thinking they are smart is quite the fashion even among those from whom you expect better things. This running around dancing and card playing is being carried to extremes in both city and country. There are dances every night here in town but it is considered more fun to go out in the country to dance and not get home until morning."]


         The Fergus children apparently had few parties, and those Pamelia organized. Still, though he did not approve of excessive frivolity, he loved his children enough to leave work and briefly visit these gatherings. Luella reminisced: "I could not help but think of our parties and that Father was never to busy that he could come over from the office and see us at the table, and have something to say to the children. [Luella Fergus Gilpatrick to Andrew Fergus, December 1, 1875, Box 15 F. 1, FP, UM.]


         For Pamelia the 1870's came to be a decade of something more than hard work on ranch and stage station. These years brought them closer together. By the end of the decade the girls had all married and left home, while Andrew spent much time working another ranch in the Prickly Pear Valley. But Pamelia achieved her greatest contentment in the 1880's, though again she labored for her remaining family. She knew Armells represented their last move and she grew secure in this knowledge.


         They both worked hard. In 1883 James described himself as "the Old Man [who] is doubling up fast, though always busy, always walking with a cane and sometimes two." He pictured his wife as the "Madame [who] fails less than I do, works hard, doing nearly all the work for nine men, makes butter, raises chickens, has flowers and plants indoors and out and is always busy." [James Fergus to "Friend Mills," May 7, 1883, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM.]


         Armells may have been her final home, but it was lonely on the plains for the gregarious Pamelia. Her nearest neighbor, the Granville Stuart family, was twenty long miles toward Maginnis. With her youngest daughter married and in Oregon, she was often the only woman at Armells. In addition, Pamelia "never left the ranch unless the men folks were going some place on business." She never lacked things to do, however, for like the rancher, his wife's work is seldom done. She raised chickens, cared for the garden and flowers, made butter and cooked for the men. She sewed rags for carpets, braided rugs and pieced blocks for patch-work quilts during the long winter evenings, while James read aloud to her. [Fergus sketch by Mrs. Allis Stuart, Manuscript Case, B.F. 35, FC, MHSL.]


         A friend described Pamelia as "very industrious, a fine housekeeper and a natural home maker, always cheerful and helpful." In addition to looking after her household, she found time for books and kept well posted, prompted by the interest James held in current events. Her "gentile sympethetic nature" brought love and respect from all. "The men that worked on the ranch one in all loved Mrs. Fergus and would do anything for her, and was careful not to do anything that might displease her." [Ibid.]


         Pamelia endured trying times on the ranch, however, even though "once settled at Armells she was very happy." After reaching Montana, Pamelia gained recognition for her "courage, tact and cheerfulness," and on occasion needed all she could muster to survive. Though she had known Indians from childhood, living in the isolation of Armells, twenty some miles from Fort Maginnis and military protection, proved unsettling at best. Armells sat astride traditional hunting grounds and Fergus needed the first few years to determine who would control them, the ranchers or Indians. Worse still, Pamelia seldom had women available in whom to confide fears or apprehensions; her first summer at Armells she did not see a white female for three months as Granville Stuart had not yet brought out his family. [Fergus County Argus, December 18, 1908. Actually, she may not have seen a white woman even then for Granville Stuart married an Indian.]


         One potentially explosive incident illustrates her courage and tact. With James and Andrew absent, some sixteen Crow warriors stopped at the Fergus ranch. Mistreated in their last encounter with whites, the angry Indians remained for what seemed like days—fully thirty-six hours, but Pamelia handled them "so cleverly, that, while they remained at the ranch . . . they were friendly and grateful when they left, and no collision of any sort had occurred. They had come demanding food and good treatment and were in an angry mood, ready to destroy any who didn't provide both." [Ibid.]


         James and Pamelia grew closer with age, increasingly dependent on each other. James acknowledged their close relationship in the years at Armells:


Our Children being all married but Andrew he seldom at home and me an invilid we were always together and thought far more of each other than we did when we were young. I think people of good sense generally do, having lived so long together they become forgiving and one becomes as it were a necessity to the other, I know it was so with us. [James Fergus to Mrs. Harding, n.d. (probably late 1887). Box 11 F. 65, FP, UM.]


         By the fall of 1886 Pamelia experienced "shooting pains in her right side," which she first thought to be a cold and then rheumatism when it grew worse. As her condition deteriorated, James became alarmed and "looked up all the medical books in the house and came to the conclusion it was cancer." Andrew at once took his mother to Helena for medical aid; James made plans to send her to the states, possibly accompanying her, for additional help. [James Fergus to Mrs. D. P. Shafer, February 1887, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM.]


         Pamelia stayed in Helena with Luella that winter, receiving available medication. She spent the spring at Armells to have the last few months of her life with James:


She endeared herself to us all but particularly to me during the past year on account of her sufferings which were such that how-might it greave us to part with her for her own sake we were reconciled to some extent when they were over. The sufferings of our nearest and dearest and our constant care and efforts to relieve them creates a sympathy and kindness that nothing else can. [James Fergus to Mrs. Harding, Box 11 F. 65, FP, UM. Though Luella vowed to her father on March 12, 1887 (Box 4 F. 21, FP, UM) after Pamelia had breast surgery, "never mind the money matters so long as Collins or I had a cent she would have every chance that medical aid could give her," the cancer had spread, within a few months, to the point where little could be done. As her doctor said, "al that could be done was to palliate the pain as much as possible and to keep her comfortable." Luella to James Fergus, October 3, 1887, Box 4 F. 21, FP, UM.]


         Late in September Pamelia returned to Helena to receive what medical comfort she could. James saw her the last time as he helped her on the train: "I went to the railroad 125 miles with them with my own conveyance expecting to follow them in a few days after I got home but on reaching Helena she died within three days after she got there," on October 6, 1887. [James Fergus, rough draft in pencil, to a Glasgow, Montana, friend, 1888, Box 11 F. 60, FP, UM.] Following a lawyer's advice, just before she died, James had Pamelia deed all her land to him so they would not lose it. He worried especially about the desert land claim as it contained the orchard and lay adjacent to the main homestead and house. [James Fergus to Luella Fergus Gilpatrick, October 4, 1887, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM.]


         The family held a small funeral four days after Pamelia died, which Andrew could not attend. He accompanied Fergus cattle to Chicago before his mother went to Helena and did not learn of her death until later. Even in his sorrow James thought of his absent son, writing him before and after the funeral services—it almost seems as though James found comfort in writing:


         I write this while friends are gathering for mothers funeral. She lies in a gorgeous coffin surrounded by satins and flowers which are in marked contrast with her thin cold emaciated face and surrounded by her sorrowing children and friends. Lewis Randall crying like a child. T. C. Power, A. M. Holter, Judge Hedges, Robert Barnes, Culbert and some other that I can't remember. Yes it is a joke Feldbert, acting as paul bearers. Sanders makes some remarks, will finish this when the funeral is over. [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, October 10, 1887, Box 4 F. 3, FC, MHSL. Andrew Fergus to James Fergus, Box 3 F. 20, FP, UM.]


         As James himself described the funeral to the Mineral Argus, "due to the wishes of the deceased, no religious services were held. Col. Sanders made appropriate remarks." ["A Friend" to Mineral Argus, October 11, 1887.] James requested Wilbur F. Sanders, for years a close friend, to give some non-religious comments. Sanders readily agreed, closing with some thoughts Fergus wrote:


         Friends—the dead wife, mother and friend who lies here belonged to no religious sect, believed in no religious dogma and desired no religious services over her remains. The wishes of the living will be kept as a sacred contract with the dead. While she could not understand how she could live after death, or locate a heaven or a hell, she clearly comprehended the duties appertaining to her station in life and in their performance was an obedient child, a faithful wife, a loving mother, a true friend and an honest woman, performing her full duty in all stations in life, beloved by all, leaving not an enemy behind. When our end comes may as much be said of us. [Helena Independent, n.d., Box 21 F. 5, FP, UM.]


         As services concluded and friends left, James returned to Luella's and finished his letter to Andrew:


5 oclock. funeral over had a moderate attendance owing to no paper being published today, but it was select, mostly friends. Col. Sanders delivered a beautiful and appropriate address. The coffin was covered with wreaths of beautiful flowers and lots strewed on the grave. The girls cried themselves sick.


James then resigned himself to the situation, acting like the stoic he tried to be. "So poor mother is gone. It is but a mater of time when we will all go the same way." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, October 10, 1887, Box 4 F. 3, FC, MHSL.]


         Though Fergus expressed less outward sorrow than his daughters and most friends, he missed Pamelia more than any other. As Luella wrote Andrew, "Poor old Father it was a hard blow for him but he seems resigned now." [Luella Fergus Gilpatrick to Andrew Fergus, October 12, 1887, MC, MHSL.] James did not like undue fuss nor being the center of affectionate attention; nor did he enjoy Helena but for short visits. Besides, he had a large ranch to manage, and with Andrew in Chicago, James returned to Armells, however lonely, six days after the funeral. Even then he took the time to thank his daughters and friends for their help during the funeral. Though not an emotional person, James came as close to emotionalism here as he ever did, though of course it emerged on paper and not verbally:


         Everything is as usual but no Mother here. How I would like to tell her about my trip and how she would like to hear it. How I started in a snow storm. How you waited for me to get there. How Collins and Sanders met me at the depot. How I was met with kisses formerly so repugnant to me, but tolerated and rendered pleasant by the friendship and warmth with which they were given. How by the exercise of a mistaken duty I was not allowed to enter her room, of the sympathizing friends the beautiful casket, the more beautiful flowers which she so much admired and loved, of the absence of religious services according to her wishes, of the beautiful words spoken by Mr. Sanders, of who was pall-bearers about the pleasant burial plot, away from unsightly stones and to oneside, of the delicacy without being hinted at of leaving a space outside of hers for Father, if need be as if to protect her if needed in death as in life, and of the general sympathy and kindness among all classes,


         But Mother is beyond all that, she has fulfilled one of natures laws; she and us following the same laws will soon be forgotten. Still while she was but little to the world she was wife and mother to us and will live in our memories while we live, through a long life I have tried to be a stoic and philosoper, but this has brought me down to humanity, and here alone I can pour out a flood of tears, which of itself will be a tribute of love. I know that you children have only done what you believed to be your duty. Still as a father you have all my heartfelt thanks for your kindness and in this to me the greater affliction. And to Collins in particular for the delecate and judicious manner in which the whole was conducted. [James Fergus to daughters and friends, October 16, 1887, Box 4 F. 21, FP, UM.]


         With Pamelia gone James' life at Armells changed, though he continued to work with the ranch for fifteen long years. Pamelia had been, for over forty years, the core of his life, his companion and trusted confidant. With her gone James had no such person at Armells, where he remained almost constantly, with whom he could candidly "talk." Andrew shouldered an increasing share of ranch management but left often; then too, they did not always agree on policy. Thus James dearly missed his wife, especially during the late 1890's, when he consumed hours worrying of ranch management and dividing his property among the children.


         That December James and Andrew remained at Armells for Christmas. Though lonely, neither felt much like celebrating in Helena; possibly they were somehow drawn together without Pamelia. [Luella Fergus Gilpatrick to James Fergus, December 28, 1887, Box 15 F. 1, FP, UM.] Two years later Luella paid tribute to her mother. Luella, in her maturity and having, to her, serious problems while living in the comfort of a city, marveled at her mother's ability under primitive conditions.


                  Mother was not one to tell of her experiences so we may not know many of them. I often wonder how she worked as she did all through the change [of life] and no doubt many times hardly able to keep up but never complained. The older I get and know what she did I think her a remarkable woman. Her energies of brain and muscle went in her work and she had the time to use her brain in other directions without so much muscular or physical labor she would have been remarkable in some other line but she did what was given her to do and did it abley. [My work] seems a drop along side of her daily work. [Ibid., March 24, 1899, Box 5 F. 2, FP, UM.]








1884 Constitutional Convention


         On May 26, 1864, Montana became a territory in its own right. It did not become a state, however, until 1889, mainly because Montana reflected to an amazing degree national political currents. During the Civil War a large contingent of Southerners flocked to the Rocky Mountain gold camps, including Bannack and Virginia City. But as a territory, administrators were appointed by the national government, which from 1860 to 1884 was dominated by the Republican party—hence eastern Republicans flowed to Montana, confronting the southern Democrats and paralyzing the government. Thus an 1866 constitutional convention aborted stillborn.


         By the early 1880's the Montana political scene moderated to the point where extremes blunted. In addition, its citizens protested bitterly at being governed by eastern and foreign politicians: the stage was set for another attempt at statehood. The chances brightened on the national scene too, for the radical Republicans' iron grip on Congress loosened and in 1884 the country elected Grover Cleveland president, the first Democrat in the White House since pre-Civil War days. Consequently, the territory issued a call for a constitutional convention to be held at Helena early in 1884. [Toole, Uncommon Land, pp. 95-112.]


         James Fergus, by the summer of 1883, had been living in Meagher County of central Montana for two years. That October the Republicans nominated him as one of three to run for a seat in the upcoming convention. A friend correctly predicted, "If you run you undoubtedly will be elected." [Louis Rotwitt to James Fergus, October 25, 1883, Box 7 F. 56, FP, UM.]


         Fergus succeeded; but, curiously, he then expressed second thoughts. For one of the few times in his active life James worried about his age—he was seventy at the time—but probably more than that he hesitated to leave Andrew to manage the ranch alone. The editor of the Rocky Mountain Husbandman urged James to lend his wisdom to the convention; besides, the change would do him good and Andrew could manage without him. Fergus attended the convention, much to the delight of the Helena Herald, which exclaimed:


His election . . . is a fitting tribute to his experience as a legislator and a compliment to the constituency that elected him, and it is eminently proper to say that a convention to form the State of Montana would not have been complete without the contributing presence of James Fergus. [W. H. Sutherland, Editor, Rocky Mountain Husbandman, to James Fergus, November 28, 1883, Box 9 F. 23, FP, UM. Helena Herald, January 1884, Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 27, FP, UM.]


         The convention opened January 14 in Helena. Its forty-five members included nineteen of Northern birth, twelve from the South and the remainder foreign born. Political division numbered twenty-five Democrats, twelve Republicans and one Independent, with the majority having lived in the territory a long time. [Toole, Uncommon Land, p. 112.]


         Delegates spent their first few convention days organizing its structure and setting operational procedures. A small hassle developed over the pay per diem for clerks, stenographers and other convention help. Fergus, true to past convictions, supported a reduction in pay, considering it vital to control "exhorbitant salaries to importuning office seekers," to benefit the territory. They consequently reduced these salaries from eight to about six dollars per day. [Helena Herald, January 16, 1884. The Delegates served without pay.]


         Convention leadership appointed Fergus on the Ordinances Committee, the Corporations other than Municipal Committee, and made him chairman of the Agriculture, Manufacturing, Commerce and Immigration Committee. [Proceedings of the Daily Sessions of the records of the Montana Constitutional Convention of 1884, Office of the Montana Secretary of State, Helena, Montana. Hereafter cited as: Proceedings: 1884 Convention, MSS. Helena Daily Independent, January 18, 1884.] After the convention had been in session for a few days, James commented with some disgust, "we have been in session a week and done nothing except organizing, voting big pay to clerks and other employees and appoint committees." He confessed that his chairmanship of the committee on Agriculture, Commerce, Manufactures and Immigration sounded "big on paper and would be enough for four legislative committees, where practical laws have to be made, but in a constitution which is only a set of rules to govern our legislatures, there is not much for such a committee to do." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, January 19, 1884, Box 14, F. 45, FP, UM.]


         During the first week Fergus' most appreciated comment dealt with the meeting hall. James observed that in a city such as Helena there must be a better place to conduct the business of a constitutional convention. He termed the acoustics so dreadful that members often did not know what issue was being considered, causing confusion and ill chosen votes. "I would also suggest that the officer having charge of the ventilation of this room give us a little more fresh air—about the only thing in Montana (besides our service) that is free!" [Helena Herald, January 16, 1884.]


         One of the most explosive issues before the convention dealt with mining taxation—that is, whether to provide the mining industry a tax break. Fergus opposed such a provision unless all state industry and business received similar consideration. For example, if a house could not be rented, as a non-producer it should not be taxed. Likewise, there should be no tax on cattle or livestock as this business involved an inherent risk and their exact value could not be determined. Unproductive farms should not bear a high tax assessment. Mining property, Fergus insisted, should be assessed at cost; if it cost $2.50 a share it should be taxed on that basis. The same would apply to a $100,000 piece of mining property bought on speculation. In other words, Fergus opposed the concept of the net proceeds tax on mining property. [Ibid., February 5, 1884.]


         The pro-mining press, such as the Butte Intermountain, attacked Fergus for his stand on the mining tax issue. James, never one to retreat from a confrontation, quickly responded in the Butte Miner; he considered a tax break for mining property to be unconstitutional. Besides, the argument that mining capital would avoid the state without special consideration swayed him not at all:


         All right, let foreign capital stay away. Your mines will be worked out soon enough. Look at poor Nevada, where is the great Comstock? Worked out and the Mackays and Floods are spending the proceeds in Europe. Our minerals are as much the wealth of the country as the grass or the timber and why should we allow foreign corporations to carry off much of this wealth and not tax them on their investments the same as on other property. The writer asked a leading mine owner or manager in your city how long it would take to work out his mine? He said he hoped it would last ten years—say twenty—when Butte will be a second Virginia City, worked out, the bulk of its wealth in Europe and these foreign corporations must be petted, favored and pay less taxes than other industries, while they are carrying off our wealth our capital that can never be replaced. [James Fergus to Butte Miner, March 21, 1884. Toole develops this thesis, noting Montana struggled under a colonial economy in mining, lumber, agriculture, cattle raising and power. See Uncommon Land.]


Thus Fergus, the former miner, looked beyond immediate gain to the long-range building of a solid Montana based state. But his resistance was swept aside and Montana sped toward colonialism in another area of the economy.


         Another issue which aroused Fergus but remained minor to most delegates involved the mention of God in the constitution. As an outspoken agnostic, James carefully watched his Christian friends to protect the rights of non-believers. For example, when arguing against the tax break for mines, he also suggested removing the non-taxable status enjoyed by churches. His reasoning: this continued exemption placed an unequal tax burden on non-church going citizens. [Helena Herald, February 5, 1884. As a Lewis and Clark County Commissioner in the 1870's, Fergus would have taxed Helena church property and income. Helena Herald, n.d., Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 14, FP, UM.]


         By early February the delegates considered a preamble and bill of rights. The committee report included the first article with this devout passage:


We, therefore, the people of Montana, acknowledging with grateful hearts the goodness of the Great Legislator of the Universe, in affording us, in the course of His Providence, an opportunity, deliberately and peaceably, without fraud, violence or intimidation, of meeting into an original, explicit and solemn compact with each other, and of forming a Constitution of civil government for ourselves and our posterity; and devoutly imploring His direction in so grand and interesting a design, do agree upon . . .


This immediately aroused the ire of agnostic Fergus, who responded with a carefully written speech justifying the exclusion of God from the Montana Constitution. While he stood almost alone on this delicate issue, the speech does reveal parts of his philosophy and marks him as one of the most well-read delegates in attendance, contrary to the image held of typical ranchers.


         Mr. President; I move to strike out all in the preamble between the words ‘people of Montana,' and ‘do agree upon.' A member on this floor has remarked that this Constitution is to endure through all time. Time, sir, is but the measure of eternity. Time always was and always will be. Man came on the earth, as it were, but yesterday, yet in that short time, nations, languages and religions have had their infancy, their maturity and their decay. It is an inexorable law. Our Government, our language and our religion will in turn be swept away by the scythe of time, and the place that knows them now will know them no more forever. Space, too, is everywhere, it is without limit. Our sun is but one of the millions of stars, and our earth but one of its smoothest satellites (and a poor one at that), rolling from side to side, burning us in summer and freezing us with its winter blasts. If there is a God—an impartial God—He must divide his time amongst this great universe, and Montana's share cannot be worth asking for. Therefore, in regard to the passage I move to strike out as only an incumbrance to our fundamental law.


         If he guides and protects us, I have looked for this protecting power in vain. The cars rush together and there is no God to warn. The engineer asks not God to stay their mad career, but applies the air brakes; the invention of a fellow-man. The steamship sinks in mid-ocean and no helping hand is there; the shrieks of the helpless are borne on the winds until they are buried in the insatiate sea. The earthquake, the cyclone and the volcano, following inexorable laws, destroy the just and the unjust, and nature neither pities nor rejoices, neither loves nor hates. If man is saved, he must save himself; if he is hungry, he must feed himself; if he is cold, he must warm himself. Our prayers are unheeded; no Diety puts forth his helping hand. Then why bemean our manhood by inserting a lie in this our fundamental law?


         Jefferson, in a more superstitious age, and the framers of our National Constitution, pandered not to popular prejudice. Yet the nation lives, our own people have ever ruled themselves; if Montanians cannot do the same thing they are unfit to be a free people.


         I have heard it said on this floor that we don't want moss-backs or old fogies. In this case, sir, some of the old fogies are in accord with the spirit of the age. Henry Ward Beecher said in Denver not long ago that Adam never fell, that he began at the bottom, and if he fell at all he fell up. Dr. McCosh, President of Princeton College, has published a pamphlet upon the same subject; and Bishop Hever, I think it is, of England, has also placed himself on record in favor of evolution. Had these men uttered such sentiments 200 years ago, they would have been burned at the stake.


         But the world moves, except the Constitutional Convention of the Territory of Montana, which goes back to the Constitution of good, old, Massachusetts, just after she had burnt her witches, for stale, worn out adulation to an imaginary being, who is supposed to be floating around in our uncongenial atmosphere, while we are enjoying ourselves in warm apartments.


         I venture the assertion that neither the people of the United States nor the people of Montana are in accord with the spirit of this passage which I ask to have stricken out. It is simply clinging to old traditions. A very intelligent gentleman on this floor has well said that man is only half developed, and to prove his assertion, he sits enveloped in the smoke of a poisonous weed, clinging to the superstitions of an ignorant age and race.


         Mr. President, about this matter I have no pride of opinion; but I think the declaration I have excepted to is unnecessary, uncalled for and only an incumbrance. Old, with one foot in the grave, I still love and honor the man who stands up to his convictions without fear, favor or affection, at all times and in all places. One whose hell is to do wrong and whose heaven is found in well doing. Whether for or against this measure, I hope to be able to love and honor all here.


Only one delegate supported Fergus' motion to keep religion in its proper sphere. Only two voted with him, "probably to relieve the gentleman from Meagher of his feelings of loneliness." [Butte Semi-Weekly Miner, February 13, 1884. James thought "other members believed as we did but did not have the courage of their convictions." Fergus to Fergus County Argus, n.d., Box 21 F. 4, FP, UM. James also opposed allowing 21-year olds to run for the State House of Representatives on the grounds that they would be too inexperienced. His amendment lost, however. Proceedings: 1884 Convention, 26th day, February 8, 1884, MSS.]


         Shortly after this speech the Butte Intermountain attacked Fergus for his stand on the religious issue. At the same time, James observed, "with a very few exceptions I was the only consistent member of the Convention." Their vote acknowledged the existence of a supreme being. Yet when Samuel T. Hauser, President of the Helena and Jefferson Railroad, invited the delegates to the Helena Reduction Works at Corbin, they not only accepted the free ride but went on Sunday. Only Fergus and two others voted against going on a Sabbath.


         James noted with disgust that most delegates went and had a lively time, oiled by free whiskey and champagne. Consequently, "much of their conversation sounded more like the yells of a band of drunken Indians than a party of Christian Constitution makers and when they got home some of them looked like anything else than if they had been keeping the Sabbath." Fergus concluded sarcastically: "Now my own opinion is that there was not one stanchly religious man in the convention. Not one even in full accord with the modifyed religious spirit of the age unless possible Hedges." [James Fergus to Louis Rotwitt, n.d., MC, MHSL. Helena Daily Independent, January 26, 1884. Ironically, Fergus was one of three appointed to arrange the trip. On February 5 the Independent noted the special train "well equipped for the comfort and entertainment of the excersionists [sic, excursionists]."]


         While Fergus raised the ire of some delegates and press for his opposition to a tax break for mining and his unorthodox stand on religion, he did not lack for editorial support. In mid-February one Meagher County paper took issue with the Butte Intermountain's broadside on "our venerable delegate." The editor thought Fergus aroused partly by section four of the Constitution which exempted church property from taxation; hence the paper mounted a scathing attack on James' detractor:


Still, he has the right and the courage to speak his views on all questions, and is entitled to consideration and respectual treatment, however much others may differ from his conclusions. Such recognition has been shown him except in this instance, which was probably the slimy emittings of a bowlegged idiot, who, like the name of his paper, wears his hair parted in the middle. Thanks to the Miner for its defense of our aged but clear-headed delegate. [Lewistown Democrat, n.d. (about mid-February 1884), Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 28, FP, UM.]


         While Fergus probably welcomed editorial support in his right to express his opinions no matter how controversial, at least one editor thought James could more than hold his own against most politicians, noting "it is our opinion that Hon. C. M. Goodell is making a serious mistake in engaging in a controversy with the Hon. James Fergus, as the latter gentleman is too well equipped for the average politician to tackle." [Unidentified clipping, n.d., Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 89, FP, UM.]


         Later that month the Helena Herald also commented on "the harsh criticism . . . made concerning the attitude of Mr. Fergus on questions before the Constitutional Convention." The paper insisted, however, that those who criticized him did not know the man for "He is a man of strong character, who has read and thought much, who has the moral courage under any and all circumstances to say and do just what he thinks is right, and whose integrity no man can question." The editor felt certain that "the opinions of such a man, even when he is believed to be wrong, are entitled to respect, and no man in the Convention stood higher in the estimation of his associates. It is well that James Fergus sat in the body to frame a Constitution for the State of Montana." [Helena Herald, n.d. (late February 1884), Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 28, FP, UM.]


         The convention made quick work of its business, adjourning February 9, having been in session only since January 14. The Helena Independent praised the group and placed its special stamp of approval on the favorable mining tax; certainly this would encourage mining development and benefit the entire territory. [Helena Daily Independent, February 10, 1884. Waldron, Montana Politics, p. 43.]


         On the whole the deliberations had been earnest and mostly harmonious. "The discourse of North versus South had dwindled to a whisper, and there was no widespread Republican opposition to statehood." Though the people approved the Constitution by almost a four to one margin—15,506 for and 4,266 against—there was opposition. [Toole, Uncommon Land, p. 113.] James Fergus and the editors of the Rocky Mountain Husbandman resisted its passage, mainly on the mining tax issue. They urged Fergus to write several articles on the topic during the campaign to secure approval of the Constitution. Later that fall the paper wanted to print 20,000 extra copies of their issue opposing the Constitution but could not afford the expense. Fergus apparently did not work actively for the defeat of the document he helped construct. [Rocky Mountain Husbandman to James Fergus, April 5, 1884, and September 28, 1884, Box 9 F. 23, FP, UM.]


         During the convention James and Pamelia stayed upstairs in their oldest daughter's house—with the R. S. Hamiltons. Pamelia had been there less than a month when she tired of visiting old friends, though she enjoyed this immensely. But like James she quickly yearned for the privacy of their own home. Thus by late January James wrote Andrew, "Mother says tell them she is tired of staying here, wants to go somewhere, would prefer to go home! Too much noise, too many houses, too many people and too many locomotives howling around, would rather hear the cayotes." [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, January 27, 1884, Box 14 F. 45, FP, UM.]


         After the convention adjourned, James and Pamelia indulged in one of the few luxuries of their Spartan life, an extended trip to the Pacific coast. They stayed in the Portland area for a few days, visiting C. A. Freeman, an old business associate from Little Falls, and their youngest daughter Lillie. By the 18th of February they arrived in San Francisco after a difficult ship passage down the coast. Both became seasick despite the advice to "wear a sheet of writing paper over our chest next to our skin as a preventative of sea sickness." Nonetheless, "mother and I ate nothing and keep our bed all the way we were both pretty sick and tired of the sea." [Ibid., February 18, 1884, Box 14 F. 45, FP, UM.]


         California presented the elderly tourists with interesting sights, many of which James described in numerous letters to his Montana children. Unfortunately, their vacation excitement was dimmed by discomfort—they found San Francisco "chilly"; Pamelia had a cold and James' back hurt from the jostling sea journey and lack of physical activity.


         One product of their visit to San Francisco—a great respect for the Chinese—came as a result of a Chinatown tour. James expressed admiration for most oriental habits, urging whites to follow suit:


         On our way back we met a Butte man who took us through Chinatown. They have fine stores filled with every imaginable thing in their line and most of them a grat curiosity to us, dried and preserved birds, fish and vegetables in all conceivable shapes and sizes and formes. The overalls, boots, etc. that come to us from this coast are nearly all made here by Chinese, in immense factories. While laboring men can be seen lounging round the [streets] we have not seen an idle Chinese loafer since we have been here, and I shall leave California with a far higher opinion of the Chinese than I entered it. We see few of the Tartar population we used to see in Montana, but mostly all of the true Chinese race and intelligent looking people. California would have been a very different state today but for these. They have built the railroads and done nearly all her hard work. [James Fergus to Luella Fergus Gilpatrick, February 28, 1884, Box 17 F. 44, FP, UM.]


         The Ferguses returned from their month-long Pacific Coast trip by way of Salt Lake City. By mid-March they arrived in Armells, happy to be back on the plains. James had been home only a few days when he penned fond praises of Montana, which he considered the best place to live. The acclaim given his adopted territory could easily grace a twentieth century chamber of commerce brochure:


. . . California is no doubt a good country for wealthy people to spend their days in, but for poor people or those who work for a living, Montana heads the list. In Oregon or Washington territory one has their choice of clearing a farm out of the timber or out of the sage brush. In Idaho or Nevada there is little or no choice, unless it is between sage brush and grease wood. Here we have a rude climate and a long winter, but our clear, bracing atmosphere gives us the vigor to stand it. We have no ague, few feavers, and I for one am willing to spend the remaining years of my life here rather than in a warmer climate where nature has done so much that man becomes enervated and is hardly willing to do the little that nature has left for him to do. [James Fergus to Rocky Mountain Husbandman, March 18, 1884. While James thought the Mormons had many faults such as plural wives and false beliefs, he admitted they had made the desert bloom and were an "industrious, economical and thrifty people," qualities he admired. Ibid.]



1885 Territorial Council


         By early July 1884 Fergus struggled to determine, in his own mind, if he wanted to declare himself a candidate for the 1885 legislature on the Republican ticket. Convinced that he could secure the nomination, he also believed he would win by securing "two thirds of the vote in eastern Meagher county." But Fergus hesitated. As he confided to his old friend Wilbur F. Sanders, "as I have often said before if there is one thing I never was intended for it is legislating." James also considered his age and poor health. He concluded only to accept the nomination if the constitution was adopted and he would have an opportunity to vote for Sanders for the United States Senate. Fergus still opposed the mining tax break but overlooked that to promote Sanders as the state's first Senator. [James Fergus to W. F. Sanders, July 5, 1884, Manuscript Case, B.F. 38, FC, MHSL.]


         Sanders thanked his friend, indicated he still held no opinion on the mine tax issue, and encouraged Fergus to enter the legislature. Sanders insisted, "I know no person who in the legislature has more usefully served his people than have you. I see nothing but good to come to Meagher County from your presence in the legislative assembly." [W. F. Sanders to James Fergus, July 18, 1884, Box 9 F. 47, FP, UM.]


         Fergus apparently suppressed his doubts, allowing his name to be entered at the Republican nominating convention that fall. His motive is unclear, though several possible reasons can be advanced. He wanted to support Sanders. From his action in the legislature, it is known he had strong feelings on dividing Meagher County and holding the line on public salaries—perhaps he truly felt he would be the most effective in these area. The prestige factor can be considered less important in this case, for James seldom actively sought recognition—he felt it would come to those most deserving. At any rate, James allowed his name to be submitted to the convention and received the Republican nomination for the Territorial Council "without opposition." [W. Sutherland, Rocky Mountain Husbandman, to James Fergus, September 28, 1884, Box 9 F. 23, FP, UM.]


         Receiving the nomination did not displease nor surprise Fergus; but he was jolted by the discovery that he would oppose good friend and fellow rancher Granville Stuart for the upper house. After learning of this, James wanted to withdraw, for he had pledged to Stuart he would not oppose him. The Republicans, however, refused to accept his withdrawal, for they considered him the only man in the county who could possibly beat the Democrat Stuart, whom many considered the most popular man in the territory. They urged Fergus to reconsider and oppose his good friend.] W. Sutherland, Rocky Mountain Husbandman, to James Fergus, September 28, 1884, Box 9 F. 23, FP, UM.]


         Individual Republican friends, like Louis Rotwitt of White Sulphur Springs, also prevailed upon James to remain in the race. Like Fergus, Rotwitt did not relish the situation, for he preferred seeing both men at the legislature, one in the upper and one in the lower house. He agreed with Fergus that Granville Stuart "is as strong a man as walks in the Territory today." The outcome of a Stuart-Fergus race was unpredictable. "In short it would be nip and tuck. . . . You are both old timers—both old infidels and neither cares a d__m what he says." Rotwitt concluded, "all I can see to do is to put your name on the ticket and run you just as if nothing had happened, and no matter who is elected Granville or yourself we can all feel satisfied that Meagher County is in good hands." [Louis Rotwitt to James Fergus, October 8, 1884, Box 7 F. 56, FP, UM. William Wallace, Utica, felt the same way: "Neither need or will feel any chagrin at being defeated by the other and you must both take your medicine as public martyrs, so that in any event we may be well and honorably represented in the Council." September 26, 1884, Box 11 F. 23, FP, UM.]


         Neither Stuart nor Fergus wanted to oppose the other, initiating a campaign unusual, if not unique, in political history. Fergus appreciated the honor but considered it "too much like runing against a member of his own family." Stuart felt much the same way. The Helena Herald noted this peculiar circumstance and believed neither to be working a sham, calling both honorable, respectable men. "Stuart is also thoroughly honorable and a life-long Democrat, but his friendship for Fergus was stronger than his political ambition, and the two perhaps furnish the only instance on record of opposing candidates working for their own defeat." [Helena Herald, November 14, 1884.]


         Fergus won the council seat by 127 votes, somewhat to his surprise and despite the fact that "I preferred Mr. Stuart's election, voted for him and never asked a man to vote for myself." Because of the peculiar situation neither campaigned actively and Stuart in particular remained silent on issues. The county knew James' views on several questions, however, which may have promoted his election: he opposed the tax break for mine, high public salaries, and strongly splitting Meagher County. The Mineral Argus considered this last position decisive, one which brought Fergus support from the northern and eastern sections, including the Maiden-Lewistown areas. [James Fergus to friend in Sabula, Iowa, MC, MHSL. Fell and Vrooman, proprietors, Mineral Argus, to James Fergus, November 15, 1884, Box 7 F. 64, FP, UM.]


         Shortly after the election Fergus confided in friend W. F. Sanders, expressing a combination of surprise and hesitation, though pleased a Democrat would not represent Meager County:


Well I am elected over Granville Stuart much to my surprise and more to my regret. My only consolation is in having helped to redeem Montana from the control of the original advocates and supporters of slavery. Old, unfitted by nature, habit and education for the performance of Legislative duties I would have preferred home, work, and good books to a trip in mid-winter at my age to the capital and a month or two's excitement there.


James acknowledged, however, that some of the unpleasant tasks would be mitigated by seeing old friends "among whom none stand higher than W. F. Sanders," from whom Fergus planned to seek advice concerning his legislative duties. [James Fergus to W. F. Sanders, fall 1884, Box 11 F. 59, FP, UM. The principal factor keeping James in the race probably concerned Stuart's political affiliation. This concept is illustrated in the following imaginary interview of Fergus after the election:


         "Reporter:  I want to know how you got elected over Granville Stuart who is so popular.


         Fergus:  I got the most votes.


         Reporter:  But that is just what I want to know how you came to get the most votes.


         Fergus:  Montana is becoming Republican. More Republicans have come into the Territory since the railroads have been opened and the left wing of Prices Army is relatively weaker. Granville Stuart is an excellent man or he would not be a leader in our church [of infidels] but he is human and has one great fault.


         Reporter:  Have you any objection to saying what that fault is?


         Fergus:  Not in the least. He is a Democrat."


A handwritten note to himself by James Fergus, Box 3, F. 6, MC, MHSL.]


         Fergus arrived in Helena before Christmas and occupied the holidays visiting friends and relatives. [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, December 23, 1884, Box 14 F. 45, FP, UM. Pamelia probably accompanied him to Helena.] With the opening of the legislature Fergus was appointed to the standing committees on Federal Relations, Public Lands, Grazing and Stock Growing, and the Committee on Agriculture. [Helena Herald, January 15, 1885.]


         James believed a good legislator best served his constituents by "the oftener he voted no and the fewer bills he introduced." Therefore, he introduced only two major pieces of legislation during the session—a bill resulting in the division of Meagher County, supported by most of his constituents, and a series of bills to reduce public salaries, one of his pet complaints.


         Councilmen introduced several bills to divide counties during that session. Fergus initially proposed the establishment of a commission to study the territory, thereby dividing it into appropriate counties according to natural boundaries, population, and other determining factors. [Butte Semi-Weekly Miner, January 24, 1885. The Miner supported the Fergus plan as the most sensible, but the Ft. Benton River Press opposed it, urging the Council to wait until the Indian reservations were opened to whites. January 28, 1885.] By the end of January, however, Fergus withdrew his omnibus bill, mainly because he did not want to interfere with the several individual counties seeking division. Instead, he introduced his own bill to divide Meagher County and create Judith. The new county would comprise the eastern portion of the parent body, extending north to the Missouri River, absorbing a small strip of Chouteau County. Lewistown was to be the temporary county seat; the initial officers were to be appointed with each party to be allotted half the positions. [Butte Semi-Weekly Miner, January 31, 1885. Helena Herald, February 4, 1885. Granville Stuart, Wm. Berkins and E. J. Morrison were named in the bill as the first county commissioners. Territory of Montana, Council Journal, Fourteenth Regular Session, Assembly of 1885, p. 68, January 29, C.B. No. 27. Hereafter cited as: 1885 Council Journal.] Both Cottonwood and Maiden protested naming Lewistown the county seat, as they desired the center of government themselves. [Louis Rotwitt to James Fergus, January 18, 1885, Box 7 F. 56, FP, UM. N. M. Erickson to James Fergus, May 1, 1885, Box 8 F. 75, FP, UM.] But most of the county residents, especially in the north and east, supported Fergus and division. By February 9 James received supporting petitions signed by over six hundred voters. Most petitions cited inconvenience as the reason for splitting the county, since old Meagher County extended some 300 miles from the Missouri River to the mouth of the Musselshell. As the north and east settled, the vast distance rendered county government ineffective. White Sulphur Springs, the county seat, nestled in the southwest corner, creating hardships for many of its citizens. [Butte Semi-Weekly Miner, February 14, 1885. Helena Herald, February 9, 1885.]


         Shortly after Fergus introduced the bill to create Judith County, the committee as a whole suggested renaming the new county Fergus, in honor of their fellow legislator. "This was made on the motion of Buck, seconded in an eloquent speech by DeWolfe, and adopted in spite of the protests of the venerable member himself." [Butte Semi-Weekly Miner, February 14, 1885. The bill passed by a unanimous vote, save for Fergus who abstained. 1885 Council Journal, pp. 68, 93, 98, 100, 107, 235, 236.]


[Click on the following image from the thesis to get a better copy with better resolution. I could not locate an original to scan or a better image.]

Montana Map 1885


         The following year the patriotic Fergus urged Lewistown's civic leaders to plan early and well for their first July 4th celebration in the new county seat. They subsequently invited him to make appropriate remarks, the introduction to which follows:


         It were fitting that some young and abler man, some one with more time and a better memory, should address you on this occasion, but like the aged soldier when he hears the sound of battle, grabs his musket, forgets his infirmities and feels like falling into line, so in contemplating this occasion, my patriotism got the better of my strength. I forgot I was a wreck and unequal to the task. I come before you therefore, with only a few statistics to show what strides we have made, and are making under a free government, in all that conduces to human happiness. It is fitting, however, that this, its seat of government, and in advance of its organization, that old Fergus should welcome the new; that the invalid old man, ready to step into his grave, should welcome the new country containing 200 townships, 7,524 square miles and more than 4,815,000 acres, with its large and increasing possibilities. Then, Fergus County, all hail! [N. W. Erickson to James Fergus, May 11, 1866, Box 2 F. 81, and June 1, 1886, Box 8 F. 75, FP, UM. Mineral County Argus, n.d., Box 21 F. 5, FP, UM.]


         During the 1885 session, Fergus opposed granting special tax consideration to the mining industry, just as he opposed it in the 1884 Constitutional Convention and at the 1879 legislature. James repeated his previous argument that "I am in favor of taxing mines and all improvements thereon the same as I would tax any property . . . and would tax mines at their actual value," using a jury of experts to determine such. He did not worry about failure to entice foreign capital to the territory, in fact he considered it a questionable action. He noted, "friends of this bill claim the mines here generally do not pay expenses, that is that they yield no net proceeds and yet they bring in a bill here to tax the net proceeds, that is to tax that which they themselves claim does not exist. Then why bother the legislature with the matter at all?" [Handwritten
Fergus speech "On Taxing Mines" delivered to 1885 Territorial Council, Box 14 F. 1, FP. UM.]


         The Butte Semi-Weekly Miner, which often supported Fergus' right to be heard and considered him "a reasonable and just man—one who would not willingly impose onerous or unjust burdens upon any class of laborers or who would not lend his voice or vote to cripple any industry in the Territory," considered Fergus to be misinformed on mining taxation. It considered $25,000 invested in cattle to be certain and taxable; $25,000 worth of mining property, however, could soon be worthless; therefore the mine's net proceeds should be taxed—only the profits. [Butte Semi-Weekly Miner, March 11, 1885. The laws remained unchanged.]


         As in the 1879 session, Fergus also opposed the Sunday Law prohibiting labor on the Sabbath, which he termed contrary to public sentiment and totally unenforceable. More important, it acted in opposition to the United States Constitution, which prohibited Congress from establishing a religion or interfering with any citizen's religious choice. The bill would force everyone to conform to the religious practices of those who introduced the measure, depriving opponents of fifty-two work days a year.


Now with me labor is a duty as sacred and probably as acceptable to the diety himself, if there is a personal God, as attending church. It provides food, clothing and shelter for myself and my family. These are sacred duties that no good man will ignore; and who shall say, and who has a right to say when where and how I shall perform that duty and when it shall be most convenient for me to do it. . . . We do not say when or how the advocates of this bill shall go to church or what church they shall go to or whether they shall practice virtue and morality. . . . Such laws are contrary to the spirit of the age, are but a remnant of the old blue laws of Connecticut, where, I believe a man was forbidden to kiss his wife on the sabbath—a sacred and religious duty. [James Fergus, handwritten speech to 1885 Council, Box 14 F. 3, FP, UM. In 1879 Fergus used the same kissing argument and helped defeat the measure. Helena Daily Independent, January 26, 1879. Fergus later chastised his friend W. F. Sanders, U. S. Senator from Montana, for voting to close the world's fair on Sunday, calling the closure hypocritical. Fergus to Sanders, n.d., Box 11 F. 65, FP, UM.]


         One of the most controversial bills introduced during the 1885 session concerned the legalization of gambling. Fergus, by his very nature, opposed this as an unmitigated evil and stood four-square against the measure. James labeled the gambler:


. . . a parasite fastened and feeding on the body politic, he neither delves in our mines, extracts food or other products from mother earth, or changes these into things useful to the human family. Still he lives, wears fine clothes, his white hands covered with jewels and all this is wrought from the hard earned toil of half developed humans whose habit or desire for sudden wealth has led into these seduction dens. [James Fergus, handwritten speech opposing gambling delivered to the 1885 Council, Box 14 F. 1, FP, UM.]


         Fergus observed gambling in numerous places but much of it at "church fairs and fairs in behalf of charitable institutions." He also blamed churches, indirectly, for "sending many to the saloon and gaming house." Young men raised in good, moral, Christian homes in rural states came west to Montana for adventure and employment. He worked as cowboy or miner, was laid off in the fall and came to town. Although raised to attend church and avoid saloons, he can neither find a "private boarding house or a temperance Hotel," nor is he welcomed in church without his Sunday clothes which he left behind:


If our churches and moreal influences would take some pains to establish temperance hotels and boarding houses where such men could spend their spare time and where they could find congenial homes they would do more towards shutting up our gambling houses than all we can do by legislation. [Ibid.]


         Besides, Fergus insisted, the question centered on standards of conduct which must be set by the individual, something which could not be legislated. It amounted to "nothing less than whether we shall force ourselves to be good, or be good without force, whether we shall retain as much as possible of our personal liberty, raise the standard of individuality, or surrender it, and have the whole mass compel the separate atoms to behave."  The legislators themselves should set a personal example.


         "Therefore I believe all reforms must begin at home, begin in the family, in the individual." In addition, "we depend too much on churches and laws to make us good, where we ought to be good ourselves, to know that goodness has its own reward and the time to be good is now, that it does not lie in the beliefs and creeds but in doing right." [Ibid.]


         Fergus, however, opposed a bill which seemed to have considerable popular support. "I am sorry too sir to be in opposition to the ladies who I am told are generally in favor of this bill and whom I believe are also generally at the front in every good work, but the first duty a man owes is to himself and his own convictions." Someone then hinted James would not hazard to resist the ladies and their church fairs. Fergus responded in no uncertain terms. "Sir about not daring to vote against this bill. I dare to vote against any bill that is not right, anything that I do not believe is right. I would rather have the approval of my own conscience than that of all the world beside." [Ibid. Fergus did not always oppose what he considered inappropriate. In the 1879 legislature he reversed his position to support H.B. 31 which would have subsidized a railroad to Helena. He supported it because his Lewis and Clark constituents petitioned for the measure. Helena Herald, February 19, 1879.]


         In opposing this attempt to legalize gambling, which despite all its sound and fury failed, Fergus enunciated his belief in a personal morality instead of institutionalized religion, in the home as the most important single source of reform, and that his conscience acted as his guide, not the fickle sway of public opinion.


         Keeping with his belief that a good legislator should usually vote no and introduce few bills, James presented only one other major bill to the 1885 Council. In early February he introduced what came to be known as the Fergus Fee Bill, designed to generally reduce the salaries of county officers about 25 per cent and to limit the total any county official could earn to $2500. All fees earned above that amount would be paid into the county treasury. This, he declared, would prevent officials from becoming "wealthy" at public expense. Certainly, those foolish enough to spend $1500 securing election to county office should not expect a $3000 salary, for the public can not pay election bills. [Butte Semi-Weekly Miner, February 14, 1885. Helena Daily Herald, February 10, 1885. James Fergus, penciled notes to himself, Box 3 F. 15, FC, MHSL.]


         A lively controversy developed through the pages of the Rocky Mountain Husbandman after Fergus declared $1500 to be adequate, if not excessive, for county assessors. From his observations, it appeared to be about six months of work and no more. The Husbandman insisted Fergus' bill would make Meagher County salaries lower than any other in proportion to the work performed. James responded, "admitting this to be the case it does not follow that they (salaries) are too low. It may be the others are too high; we have been so long accustomed to paying county officers enough to make them rich in a few years that a fair salary looks small." [James Fergus to Rocky Mountain Husbandman, April 9, 1885.]


         Fergus explained the difficulty in lowering public salaries. When the territorial government rested in Virginia City James had tried to lower salaries. But a legislator observed: "Nearly every member had been a county officer, expected to be one, had some particular friend in office, or had been nominated by a county ring and not less than seven members aspired to the position of delegate to Congress." [Ibid.]


         The Husbandman, and particularly Sam Snyder, Meagher County assessor, defended an increase in county salaries and attacked Fergus for his efforts toward reduction. Fergus responded in print, convinced their comments did little to prove that $1500 was not a fair salary, the only issue at hand. "Labor . . . like everything else, is worth just what it will bring in open market—what competent men will do it for." James insisted plenty of good men would assess for that wage and "that ought to settle the whole question. If other counties pay more for their work than it is worth that is no reason we should." [James Fergus to Rocky Mountain Husbandman, n.d. (probably late April-early May, 1885), Box 21 F. 4. For the controversy, see pages 46-49 of the Fergus Scrapbook, FP, UM.]


         W. F. Sanders offered moral support to his friend in trying to "reduce the compensation of officers to reasonable limits." Sanders considered it "painfully sickening . . . to witness in matters of this kind where the interest of all the people are on one side and a few officers on the other." He thought Fergus had the support and sympathy of "every intelligent citizen even if the newspapers blackened you and open their columns to the petty nobodies who want to fatten at the public crib." [W. F. Sanders to James Fergus, May 9, 1885, Box 2 F. 9, FC, MHSL.] Fergus agreed for he believed "the people of these United States are governed too much and taxed too much." He listed the descending levels of government, from the federal through township, "wheels within wheels, all paid for and supported by the people." The amount of government must be reduced, as must the cost, James insisted. [James Fergus to Mineral Argus, 1885, n.d., (probably early March as James reported legislative matters through its columns), Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 41, FP, UM. It is probably fortunate for James he did not live to witness the county division craze which swept Montana early in the 1900's leading to the present excessive governmental division and suffocating costs. Also, Fergus thought taxes were high then, but they would go higher. In 1891 James Fergus and Son paid $408.03 on $24,050 assessed valuation. Box 3 F. 11, FC, MHSL. In 1896 the company paid $1015 on $47,096 assessed valuation. Box 19, F. 48, FP, UM.]


         Despite the controversy, the legislature passed instead the Potts' Salary Bill, which allowed slightly higher salaries. But Fergus received a certain amount of satisfaction, for the Meagher County assessor's salary was set at $1500. [Territory of Montana, Laws, Resolutions and Memorials Passed at the Fourteenth Regular Session of the Legislative Assembly, January 12 to March 12, 1885, pp. 62-69. James Fergus to Governor-Elect R. B. Smith, December 23, 1896, Box 11 F. 63, FP, UM. James worked for lower public expenses even in the 1890's. He insisted his 1885 fee bill would then be law but it and the Pott's bill came to the Council the same day for final passage. Unfortunately, "the clerk picked up the salary bill first and it passed."]


         During the Council session Fergus' sharp tongue sometimes softened into a dry sense of humor. Such was the occasion on March 3 as James both honored and chided the Democratic members of the Council with this resolution:


         Whereas, A Democratic President is to be inaugurated today in the national capital, an event that has not occurred in a quarter of a century; Now to give the Democrats an opportunity to witness so rare an event, and further believing that before night our Democratic friends will be so happy that they will be willing to vote for any bill good or bad to the immenent detrement of the public good,


James urged the group to adjourn until the following day. The motion received Council approval. [Helena Daily Herald, March 4, 1885.]


         The next day Fergus again aroused the Council's mirth, for after reading the journal of the previous day he moved to amend by striking out the words "Prayer by the chaplin," and insert, "Political appeal to the Lord." James thought the chaplain had made a "remarkable prayer" during which he saw fit, in addition to much political news, to inform the Deity that 100,000 men were trembling in their shoes for fear of losing their offices, and 100,000 others waited anxiously to take their places.


         Fergus supported the motion with these characteristic remarks, noting, "I think he varied the routine just a little too much, and gave us a political address, and as I am a truthful man, preferring to hear a spade called a spade, I would like to have it so recorded." Remarkably, the Fergus motion lost by only one vote. [Butte Semi-Weekly Miner, March 7, 1885.]


         Earlier in the session James rose and made this startling offer. Since churches paid no taxes and hard times plagued the territory, he offered to serve as the Council's chaplain, reading the prayers and performing other chaplain-like duties. He would either work for nothing or donate his pay to the poor:


I think it is time that the people were exempt from paying for prayers in our behalf; but if a majority think otherwise I suggest that we buy a prayer book, which will cost but a trifle, and let the clerk read the prayers. Should the clerk not consider it any part of his duty, I offer my services to your honorable body. I will read the prayers faithfully and to the best of my ability, and donate the per diem to the poor. [James Fergus to Boston Investigator, n.d. 1885, Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 38, FP, UM.]


         At the close of the 1885 legislative session, the Butte Semi-Weekly Miner offered a description of James Fergus, including both his mental and physical attitude. The correspondent called Fergus "thoroughly western" in every respect, one who nearly all his manhood days had battled with "the wild surroundings of Western counties." This experience, combined with his "naturally determined and not offensively obstinate disposition adds to his manner a flavor of positiveness if not aggressiveness" usually found only in men with a frontier background.


         Exposure and age, the correspondent noted, had "bent his form and whitened his locks and long flowing beard," causing James to move slowly, leaning on his cane. Still, he "looks every inch the Patriarch that he is, and the stranger, as he looks into his bright and kindly eyes and listens to the tones of his strong but pleasant voice, that he is in the presence of a remarkable man." With tongue in cheek, the paper observed that Fergus had given several speeches, some of which were "not strictly orthodox" from a religious standpoint. However, to the reporter, this indicated the "fearless and positive character of the man." [Butte Semi-Weekly Miner, March 12, 1885.]



Politics, 1886-1902:  Defeat-Bitterness-Withdrawal


         James Fergus returned from the 1885 Territorial Council the patriarch of a new county named in his honor. The honeymoon, however, lasted only slightly more than a year, and before the decade closed, James withdrew in tempered bitterness. The decade of the 1890's found him a respected observer of the political scene, though not totally detached, for his biting pen continued to prod both politicians and public on various issues. After receiving the honor of presenting the first July 4th speech in the Fergus County seat of Lewistown, James helped organize the new county's republicans. His name headed a list of thirty calling for Republican voters to meet in Lewistown to select delegates for the Republican county convention on July 24, 1886. [Fergus County Argus, n.d. 1776 (probably June), Box 21 F. 5, FP, UM.] Thereafter, James served as a member of the Fergus County Republican Central Committee and precinct leader for Armells, both until at least the end of the decade. [Isaac D. McCutcheon, Chairman, Republican Territorial Central Committee, to James Fergus, September 29, 1886, Box 9 F. 8, FP, UM. Frank E. Smith to James Fergus, April 18, 1888, Box 3 F. 12, FP, UM.]


         That fall, the Republican party persuaded Fergus to run for the Territorial House of Representatives, ironically, again in opposition to Granville Stuart. Fergus suffered defeat, finishing a poor fourth in a race of four. He somewhat bitterly analyzed his thumping in the Husbandman, insisting he did not wish to run in the first place but wanted the two Fergus County parties to unite in support of Granville Stuart.


But the Republicans would not have it and on the recommendation of Col. Sanders [I] was put on the track as a kind of forlorn hope, and in the end it was best, as it is doubtful whether any Republican from the new county could have been elected under the circumstances, and better beat an old man who has always been at the front and can afford to be beat, than a young man just coming into notice. [James Fergus to Rocky Mountain Husbandman, n.d. 1886 (shortly after November elections), Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, pp. 62-63, FP, UM. There is some confusion surrounding this election, but apparently the Fergus County Bill in the 1885 Legislature did not provide for representation, thus forcing joint elections in the old and new counties. The Fergus County candidates, Stuart (D) and Fergus (R) lost. However, Fergus would have lost even if only the Fergus County votes had been counted.











Fergus Co.





Meagher Co.
















From undated 1886 clipping, unidentified newspaper, Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 57, FP, UM.]


         Shortly after the election the White Sulphur Springs based Husbandman commented that "Mr. Fergus ran rather slow" in the recent contest. As usual, James did not allow public chiding to slip by unchallenged. Admitting he had run slow he observed the track was not to his favor and several handicaps proved detrimental. James thought the Meagher County assessor had worked against him for two years because James slashed his salary from "over $4000 to $1,500 a year for six months work." Fergus also considered his tally reduced by angry Cottonwood residents who wanted the county seat, angry Maiden miners misinformed that five dollars would be withheld from their wages for the poor and road tax, for which they blamed Fergus, and residents angry with the boundary line drawn in 1885. In addition, James thought area sheepmen voted against him for supporting stockmen too much, though in 1885 they gladly accepted his assistance.


         But paradoxically James considered his biggest handicap to be the county name of Fergus which he did not seek in the first place. "Two years ago they wanted something done which they believed the Old Man could do. Now they don't need him and, like an old shoe, he is cast aside." James terminated this response, so saturated with self-pity, claiming he was also rejected because "if one gets a little ahead of his neighbors in this world there are always plenty ready to pull him back." [James Fergus to Rocky Mountain Husbandman, n.d., Box 21 F. 4, FP, UM.]


         Shortly thereafter David Hilger, friend and fellow rancher, though a Democrat, reacted to the Fergus articles. Hilger considered Fergus' interpretation of his defeat to be incorrect, insisting many of James' democratic friends voted their party and thus supported Stuart, who in addition was a younger man, for "to fulfill the office of a legislator is no primrose affair and it will tax the energies of a young man physically." Hilger, chairman of the Democratic Central Committee, insisted James remained "just as much respected today in this county as you was two years ago." Personally, "I know of no one whom I would have greater respect for or whose opinion and advice I would put more dependence on than on yours." [David Hilger to James Fergus, December 28, 1886, Box 6 F. 29, FP, UM.]


         By 1888 the national political climate created conditions favorable for the admission of Montana to statehood. That fall Republican Benjamin Harrison had been elected President and the lame-duck Democratic administration sought political credit for admitting Montana and three other western states—North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington. Territorial Delegate Joseph K. Toole presented Montana's case to Congress in January 1889. The following month a conference committee provided for the admission of the four states, but required each of these territories to convene new constitutional conventions. [Toole, Uncommon Land, pp. 113-114.]


         During the spring of 1889 Montana held elections to select delegates to the fall constitutional convention. James Fergus, despite his advanced age of seventy-seven years and his physical impairments, longed to represent his county. Unfortunately for him, he was not selected, leaving W. F. Sanders indignant, for he still thought highly of his longtime friend. [W. F. Sanders to James Fergus, June 28, 1889, Box 2 F. 9, FC, MHSL.]


         After confessing he was not a speech-maker and felt inferior with legislators, Fergus revealed to Sanders his bitter disappointment in not being chosen to represent Fergus County. "I would rather have been insured a seat in that than in heaven (if there is such a place) because in the convention I know I would be among friends and what I had to do." James cast about for the causes of his defeated ambition. Jealousy "about the county being named after me" rose to the front. Also, he suspected his good friend Granville Stuart of being "a snake in the grass" who, if he could not go, prevented James from going. [James Fergus to W. F. Sanders, July 9, 1889, Box 11 F. 60, FP, UM.]


         James listed other factors, including "my vote in favor of taxing mines in the constitutional convention of '84," which brought mining opposition; "my efforts in the legislature to reduce fees to a fair living rate," and "that I done nothing on my own behalf." Besides, "my son did not want me to be a candidate and did all he could to prevent it." While Fergus recognized multiple causes for being overlooked as the Fergus County delegate, including his own lack of effort and Andrew's active opposition, he ascribed his rejection more to certain unnamed individuals in the nominating convention, vowing that "death alone in this case will prevent me from getting ‘even' with one or two" of those delegates. [James Fergus to J. W. Moe, n.d., Box 11 F. 60, FP, UM. Fergus put it this way: "As I said to you before, the people have a right to employ whom they please and while I have a highly nervous temperment I am possessed of enough philosophic spirit which has been trained by adversity to take everything as it comes, being neither cast down by adversity or elated by prosperity but while full of this philosophic spirit I am no saint, never turn the other cheek, but generally move in a spirit of performing a duty than in that of revenge have always tried to get ‘even' and so far have been very successful and death alone will prevent me from getting ‘even.'"]


         Granville Stuart, upon hearing Fergus believed he acted shabbily during the campaign, quickly wrote his old friend because "I don't want you, one of my most valued friends, to think that I worked against you." Stuart insisted he had not worked against James, in fact had voted for him. Certainly he never spoke in opposition to Fergus, though he did say once in his own home that the session might be hard on James physically. [Granville Stuart to James Fergus, October 29, 1889, Box 10 F. 39, FP, UM.]


         That fall Fergus attended the state Republican nominating convention in Butte which nominated T. C. Power for Governor and Louis Rotwitt as Secretary of State. Both were long-time friends of Fergus, with Power from Ft. Benton and Rotwitt a Meagher County official. For several years Power and W. F. Sanders had vied for leadership in the territorial Republican party. Whenever Power ascended, Fergus viewed it with disgust as a case of money besting ability. Thus later when the Council selected Sanders as one of the first United States Senators to represent Montana in Congress, Fergus rejoiced, for he had great respect for Sanders dating back to their Virginia City days. Sanders exerted the stabilizing influence in the rip-roaring Bannack mining camp threatened by Henry Plummer's road agents:


         Those of us who saw W. F. Sanders face and dare the road agents from a platform in the open air at the trial of George Ives, one of their members, for murder, with a dozen cocked pistols drawn on him and his continued prosecution of them without fee or reward until law and order was established believe that above all other men he is entitled to the highest office in the gift of the state.


Besides, Fergus insisted, "Wilbur F. Sanders is a statesman in the highest sense of the term, the peer of any man in the Great West." [James Fergus to Helena Herald, March 14, 1893. When Fergus wrote this he was upset that Sanders had not been appointed to the U. S. Senate, but that Lee Mantle had, "not that we loved Mantle less but we loved Sanders more." James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, August 24, 1889, Box 4 F. 3, FC, MHSL. Though this is uncertain, the Fergus Falls Daily Journal reported that James chaired this nominating convention. Undated clipping, Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, pp. 80-81, FP, UM.]


         The following month the party encouraged Fergus to vote a straight Republican ticket. James never responded well to pressure and often reacted in opposition, being naturally independent and strong minded. He reminded the promoter of his membership in the Republican party ever since its inception which in no way bound him to vote for every party candidate. While he enjoyed good friends within the party, "I owe them nothing and ask nothing from them." In a particularly feisty mood that day, James smoldered, "If the voters of Fergus County had another county to divide with every thing against the division but a few petitions then I might be useful. Oh you got paid for that with your name. I did not want the name and got it from the Democrats, not the Republicans. So you see I am still a Republican but independent." [James Fergus to "Friend Erickson," October 13, 1899, Box 3 F. 4, FC, MHSL.]


         A short time later James wrote a legislator friend, chiding somewhat, admitting his contentment at not being in the legislature:


         What a lot of scalawags you legislators are. Still I am sorry for you and glad I am not one. You know I am not a politician. In all home and county matters generally vote for the party that I think will make the best officer and never thought the Republicans were all saints and the Democrats all sinners." [James Fergus to J. C. McNamara, December 7, 1889, Box 3 F. 4, FC, MHSL.]


         A year later, the fall of 1890, James responded to Sanders' query as to why he did not seek some county or state office. Fergus insisted he made no effort to secure nomination because most knew he would not accept it. Besides, James did not think he could be nominated even if he desired it. "The Republicans threw off on me the last time I ran for office mainly because I recommended Granville Stuart on account of local interest and while I am as good a Republican as ever I have more friends among the Democrats." [James Fergus to W. F. Sanders, October 19, 1890, Box 11 F. 61, FP, UM.]


         A few days later James apologized for being unable to promote Sanders for the U. S. Senate. He had expressed little interest or participation in county politics the previous two years:


1st I am growing old and prefer leaving such matters to younger hands; 2nd the party treated me mean the last time I was on their ticket and they don't appear to have a faculty of now wanting their best men or else they have not got any where as the Democrats nominate popular men.


James expressed disgust with the local Republican situation but offered to help by talking privately with a few area voters. [Ibid., October 29, 1890, Box 11 F. 61, FP, UM.]


         Fergus held underlying distrust, at best suspicion, of most politicians and both political parties. As he confessed to friend Sanders, part of this stemmed from the fact that:


I am always looking for the perfect man, for the man who we can send to our legislatures and put on our judicial benches and at the head of our government who can set down calmly and wisely and do what is best for his fellow man. But that man does not exist he is human with human imperfections he is always in contact with other imperfect men differences arise. Men take sides this leads to political armies. This leads to the expendation of time and money in Congress and out of it, one party trying to ‘down' the other, lies are told about honorable men. The leaders that are in office want to stay in those that are out want to get in the herd follow, all coming out of the pockets of the worker at cash. I am no anarchist. Still there is much in what they advocate that is good. I might rather be called a fault finder because so much is taken out of my pocket directly and indirectly that I get nothing for. [Ibid., October 19, 1890, Box 11 F. 61, FP, UM.]


         Fergus had cause to suspect certain politicians, especially in Montana during this period when Marcus Daly and William Andrews Clark struggled for political control of the state. One facet of their fierce competition emerged in 1894 as the citizenry prepared to vote on the location of a permanent capital. Daly marshalled money and men behind his company town of Anaconda; Clark supported Helena, the temporary capital since the 1870's, if for no other reason than to frustrate his arch rival. A multi-million dollar battle erupted as the copper kings warred for prestige and power. [Toole, Uncommon Land, pp. 182-83.]


         By early October Luella Gilpatrick, James' second daughter, reported Helena to be fearful of losing the vote as it "has so many enemies that she will need every vote that she can get." Luella could not understand how Montanans might even consider voting for Anaconda, because "if Anaconda gets the capital all of Montana will be under Daly's thumb. Can't people see and figure it out as he owns the whole town." [Luella Fergus Gilpatrick to James Fergus, October 8, 1894, Box 4 F. 25, FP, UM.]


         Led by their patriarch, the Fergus clan, like much of the Helena area, vigorously opposed Daly, motivated from fear and self-interest. Robert Hamilton boasted, "we are making the Daly men sick and we will make them sicker." James urged Andrew to "register all the boys that will vote for Helena if you can," while attacking the Daly forces in the press. Luella noted that one Fergus letter "has made them sick or worried them or they would not have made such a fuss about it." [Ibid., September 16, 1894, Box 4 F. 25, FP, UM. On November 16 Luella noted the Chinamen in Helena had raised $1000 to support their city. James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, October 8, 1894, Box 14 F. 47, FP, UM.]


         Just before the capital vote James wrote in support of Helena to the Helena Herald, unleashing a blistering attack on vote-buying, including those who stooped to such depths. Fergus insisted the capital should stay in Helena because of its location and accessibility—two-thirds of the state lay east of the mountains; also it had more conveniences. However, the principal reason for retaining Helena lay in its diversified investment base, including cattle, sheep, horses and mines, but "not a dollar of Anaconda capital." Fergus hoped:


. . . the people of this county will show by their votes that they are not serfs, but American freemen, whose votes cannot be bought or controlled by wealthy capitalists, American or foreign. These are trying times; government by the people is on trial; let us not aid by our votes in its overthrow. [James Fergus to Helena Herald, November 28, 1894.]


         As he had for years, James continued criticizing men and corporations that extract Montana's precious metals, scattering them only for the profits involved. But that this type of money would be employed to buy votes, influencing a vital issue such as locating a capital, infuriated the principled old man. Uncertain which he considered more despicable, those who used mining profits to make drunkards of youth and sots of old men, or those who accepted money and whiskey for their vote, James vilified both. "A true American will not sell his vote for love or money, much less for the rotgut whiskey that flowed here like water. From my standpoint this whole business is a sin, a crime, a curse and a disgrace to our American civilization." James opposed forgiveness for those involved but instead said he would "boycott every man who voted for Anaconda, be he rich or poor, native born or naturalized, whose vote was bought, directly or indirectly, by Anaconda influence or ‘boodle,' and hope all liberty-loving citizens will do the same." [Ibid.] After the election James proudly told Andrew that Fergus county "gave over 900 majority for Helena," which retained the capital in a 27,028 to 25,118 vote. [James Fergus to Andrew Fergus, November 21, 1894, Box 14 F. 47, FP, UM. Toole, Uncommon Land, p. 183.]


         Even before this exhibition in political manipulation James had expressed doubts concerning universal manhood suffrage. Earlier that decade he observed, "manhood suffrage is beautiful in theory, but when a loafter whose vote has been bought by whiskey, and who never paid a dollar in taxes in his life, walks up alongside of you at the polls to kill your well considered vote, the theory goes to pieces and it don't look so nice." [James Fergus to Fergus County Argus, n.d. 1892, Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 76, FP, UM. After the capital fight Luella echoed the same sentiment. "This sufferage business should be a property qualification then there would not be so much buying and selling of votes and people would vote for their own interest or conviction." Luella to James, June 19, 1895, Box 4 F. 26, FP, UM.] James observed that elections often bring out the worst in certain citizens. He looked to the day when the public conducted their elections with less passion and more equity, for "calling a man an ass does not make him one, and as a general rule personalities do not constitute facts, prove arguement or add anything to the good breeding of those using them." [James Fergus to Fergus County Argus, n.d. 1892, Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 76, FP, UM.]


         Toward the end of the decade Fergus still held the view that "politics in Montana is very corrupt." Their high taxes could be traced directly to crime, corruption and excessive public salaries. James made an open suggestion to reverse all this:


         Now, then, my plan to get rid of this bribery and these debts is to elect our senators by the people, as we do our other officers. Have legislative sessions every four years in place of every two; have thirty-day sessions in place of sixty; reduce the per diem to $4 and the members of the lower house and the employes of both houses by one-half; all fees and salaries, except jurors and witnesses, 50 per cent, and reduce the $1 a day and limit the number of witnesses in all trials.


What did James see as the result of this drastically frugal action? "We would have just as good laws, have them just as well administered, and have less briberies and lower taxes." Finally, burdened with exasperation and age, Fergus sighed, "between extravagance, saloons, unemployed men, strikes, trusts, wars, briberies and murders I don't know what this country is coming to." [James Fergus to Fergus County Argus, n.d. (about 1899), Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 113, FP, UM. Some years earlier he suggested saving about 100 million in federal, state and local elections by enacting a six-year term for the president of the U. S. Letter to Fergus County Argus, n.d. 1892, Box 21 F. 4, Scrapbook, p. 76. Also, George W. Beatty to James Fergus, December 10, 1900, Box 1 F. 32, FP, UM.]


         Despite his concern with corruption and monied influence at all levels of government, James was not ready to abandon his Republican party. Instead, he spoke of the need to "educate to get good men" into the system. On the other hand, his friend Henry Gardner of Forman, North Dakota, tried to convince James that "thoroughbred" men could be rascals too. Gardner's remedy: certainly, "if we had laws as proposed by the Populists our Government would yet be—of—for—and by the people in place as now only for the Trusts." [Henry O. Gardner to James Fergus, January 11, 1895, Box 4 F. 6, FP, UM. Neither was James ready to abandon the defense of his state, for in the late 1890's he challenged a Truthseeker article: "You say in your issue of Oct. 6 that Governor Roosevelt was mobbed in Montana and hit with a stick. I think this is a mistake. We stand at the head of all the states on the bribery question, but stop at mobs and sticks. Don't make us worse than we are." Fergus to Truthseeker, n.d., Box 21 F. 4, FP, UM.]


         Though Fergus avoided active participation in county politics during the 1890's he still, according to one aspirant to county office, exerted "great influence in shaping the policy of your party in this county." Accordingly, as in the 1870's and 1880's, Fergus received numerous requests for political support, if only in the form of a letter of recommendation or a word to appropriate leaders. Cal Dickenson, seeking office as Fergus County clerk and recorder in 1894 inquired of Fergus, "I hope I am not presuming too much in asking if you will lend me your influence in the coming campaign." In 1900 A. L. Hawksworth of Great Falls, trying to secure appointment as chief boiler inspector for the state, hoped James would lend him support. "If it would not be asking too much of you, I would suggest that you write a letter of recommendation to Governor Toole in my behalf, knowing full well that a letter from you would have considerable bearing on the Governor and in turn would aid me immensely." [Willard E. Beau to James Fergus, August 21, 1894, Box 1 F. 33. Cal Dickenson to James Fergus, August 8, 1894, Box 3 F. 91. A. L. Hawksworth to James Fergus, December 7, 1900, Box 6 F. 13. Other examples casually noted include: Thomas J. Pounds to Fergus, January 13, 1885, Box 9 F. 3; Judge Dudley DuBose to Fergus, March 31, 1893, Box 2 F. 63; Richard Stuart to Fergus, January 5, 1895, Box 10 F. 45; Rudolf Von Tobel to Fergus, September 26, 1900, Box 11 F. 20, FP, UM.]


         While most seeking Fergus' help had to actively search James out, some did not, such as luminaries like Wilbur Fisk Sanders, whom James eagerly promoted. It seems James sought to support at least one other type, for when Scottish rancher Donald Fowler of Highfield, Montana, fell on hard times and wrote for advice, James urged brother William: "Let us do what we can for our brother Scot. He writes a good hand composes a good letter has a good education is in difficult circumstances has a sick wife and needs it." Fowler subsequently found work in a county office at Lewistown, and by 1901 was county assessor. [Donald Fowler to James Fergus, January 18, 1896, March 4, 1896, October 6, 1898, and September 25, 1901, Box 3 F. 44, FP, UM.]


         Despite his political withdrawal and biting pen state political leaders from both sides of the isle considered James Fergus a respected state builder and honored him during the 1890's. Thus after Helena beat out Anaconda's attempt to claim the state government in 1894, James received this special invitation to the celebration:


While we are extending only general invitations to our Capital Celebration next Monday night we feel from your long personable and honorable association with our territory and state that we should make an exception in our case and hereby send to you a most cordial invitation to join us in celebrating our glorious victory. [J. P. Woolman and T. A. Marlow, Chairmen of the Capital Committee, to James Fergus, November 9, 1894, Box 6 F. 21, FP, UM.]


         Likewise, Fergus was invited to attend the reception and ball in Helena January 7, 1901, honoring newly elected Governor Joseph K. Toole. That fall, after President McKinley was assassinated, Governor Toole appointed Fergus a member of the McKinley Memorial Committee. Though Fergus declined because of ill health, Governor Toole nominated a replacement but did not accept James' resignation, urging him to "continue to serve as a member, whether you are able to attend a meeting or not." [Invitation to Governor's Ball, Box 14 F. 6. Joseph K. Toole, Governor, to James Fergus, November 14, 1901, Box 8 F. 4, FP, UM. Fergus contributed $10 to the Lewistown McKinley Memorial fund, the largest individual contribution. G. W. Cook to Fergus, January 22, 1902, Box 2 F. 28, FP, UM. One Helena paper, reporting that Fergus had given $10 to the fund, observed "That was very much like James Fergus. There isn't a more patriotic man in the northwest that this pioneer. I know when he was a resident of this county he was foremost in every patriotic enterprise. One must travel far indeed to find a more patriotic, public-spirited citizen than James Fergus, the pioneer." n.d., n.n., Box 21 F. 4, loose clipping, FP, UM.]


         By 1900 Wilbur Fisk Sanders and James Fergus were both old men who had helped Montana develop from a raw mining camp to a more diversified western state. Throughout the 1890's they both worried over the degenerating condition of Montana life and politics. Sanders believed most problems to be linked to a lessening of public morals and individual backbone. The state could certainly benefit form the experience of a man like James Fergus, "and above all of your splendid independence. One sickens at the cowardice which stifles the knowledge and opinions of the average Montana politician, editor and preacher in this riot of bribery that is now playing to crowded houses in Washington." Sanders continued his dim view of society: "Of course a man who will bribe or accept bribes will commit perjury. Of course a man who will buy an office will sell our laws. The sate that sells its honor is bankrupt of honor and commits hari kari." [W. F. Sanders to James Fergus, February 1900, Box 9 F.48, FP, UM.]


         Two years later, only a few months before Fergus died, Sanders suggested to his good friend that he would greatly aid the state by informing the new President, Theodore Roosevelt, of the state's sordid political mess. McKinley had been appraised of Montana's problems but was killed before he could act. Therefore, Sanders thought, "the trouble is to get the facts before the new President. We have done so in a degree. But if you with all your years and infirmities could cross the country and tell him the situation it would be the most impressive and effectual spectacle of the generation." [Ibid., February 9, 1902, Box 9 F. 48, FP, UM. Sanders wrote from Chicago where he was recovering from eye surgery.]


         Fergus' response is not known, but he may have been too infirm to be able to make the trip even if he had agreed with Sanders. It would indeed have been impressive, however, to have the 89-year old Fergus, bent and crippled from age and hard work, journey to Washington. That a plea to help cleanse the state from political corruption even from this old pioneer with the flowing white beard, would bring results, on the other hand, is conjecture. Of course, the state labored under the shadow of outside interests well past the mid-century mark. [Toole, Uncommon Land, Chapter XII.]










         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