1838 - 1934






    I was born in Augusta, Maine, the 8th of June, 1838. My parents moved to Buffalo, New York, by the way of the Erie Canal in 1842, and later moved to Galena, Illinois, by the way of the Great Lakes to Chicago and by stage to Galena, Illinois. From there to White Oak, Lafayette County, Wisconsin.

    On May 12, 1863, in the company of my uncle, George O. Collins, and son Newhall, a boy of about fourteen years of age, we left St. Louis. Our destination, Salmon River, Idaho, where we were to meet Edward, another son of my uncle. We left St. Louis on the American Fur Company's boat "Alone", which was under the charge of Charles Choteau. He must have been the head of the fur company at that time. On this boat was Father DeSmet and two Belgian missionaries (Brothers); Major Dawson, head man at Fort Benton, and Major Maldrum, head man at Fort Union; John Powell, for whom Powell County was named. There was one lady passenger, Miss Worden, a sister of Frank Worden, who was under the care of Major Dawson and John Powell, and who later married a Mr. Higgins of Missoula; Malcolm Clark and his fourteen year old son, Horace. Horace joined us at Council Bluffs. He had been attending school at Notre Dame, Indiana.

    I became acquainted with many of the passengers who went into business here in the territory. To recall the names of the passengers, I tried to get the manifest of the boat, "Alone", but was unable to do so.

    The returning pioneers had gone down to St. Louis in mackinaws the previous fall with freight, which consisted of buffalo robes and fur pelts and I was told they amounted to twenty thousand, supposed to be a year's collection from different forts. At the time of our starting St. Louis was under martial law, owing to the Civil War. Mr. Choteau, had a permit to take passengers and their supplies on the boat. On arriving at Jefferson City, which was under martial law also, the boat was detained there for examination and a squad of soldiers with a cannon was put on the boat against Mr. Choteau's protest. What Mr. Choteau was afraid of was that we might be attacked by guerillas (gorillas) (seeing the cannon on board), who a few days before had held up a boat and killed a number of negroes and he was afraid the same thing might occur again, thinking it was an armed boat.

    When we came into the long straight stretches of the river, the banks of which were heavily wooded on both sides, the soldiers fired into the woods as the boat moved up. They remained with us until it was decided the danger points had been passed. The passengers were all armed and varied the monotony of the days, by shooting at birds or anything that offered. When we arrived in the buffalo country, the Captain ordered all those who wanted to shoot, to go to the roof of the boat because shooting from the lower deck, some one might let their gun go off and endanger those on the upper decks.

    After we passed the wood-yards, the boat tied up and the crew went on shore and cut and sawed logs in lengths that they could handle on the boat. When we reached the big bend of the Missouri, the Captain said that it would take the boat all day to go around and if any of the passengers wanted they could walk across, and some of us did so, and it was reported that a couple of days after, that General Sibley had a big fight there with the Sioux Indians.

    At one of the lower forts, a Cree Indian, his wife and little girl, twelve or thirteen years of age, came aboard the boat as passengers. The child was working on a pair of moccasins, decorating them with porcupine quills. One day she was reported missing, the alarm was sounded and the boat was thoroughly searched for her but she was never found. Her mother said she could swim like a duck and could not drown in the river. The boat was backed down the river but no sign of the missing girl could be found. She was very bright, spoke Cree, French and English.

    Our progress was very slow on account of many sandbars, as the river was very low and the boat was lightened by loading freight in yawls and rowing them up the river. A hauser was made fast to a "dead man" on the bank, then resounded the cry of the mate, "Go ahead on the nigger". The little nigger was geared up with a capstan on the bow of the boat. The passengers would get off and walk up the river where the boat could take us on again as she came along.

    At Fort Union, Major Maldrum left us. Many friendly Indians had come into this fort to meet Major Maldrum and Major Dawson and a feast of corn meal mush and niger-head molasses was provided for the principle Indians, served in the cabin of the boat, in large bowls. Immediately after serving this lunch, the boat cast off and moved up the river. Here was my first knowledge of the bull-boat, a boat made of the rawhide of a bull buffalo, which is very heavy and stretched over a willow frame, the form of a large tub. I have seen pictures of the same kind of a boat in some of the older countries. I witnessed a squaw crossing the river in one and it was a surprise to me to see her paddle across sitting down. After landing it was turned bottom side up to dry the hide.

    The boat finally landed a short distance below the mouth of Milk River. We could go no further on account of low water. The boat was tied up there and the entire cargo was being discharged and the passengers made permanent camps and pitched tents to wait for land transportation from Fort Benton.

    McKenzie, and one of his friends, came down from the fort at the mouth of the Marias River, met Malcolm Clark on the boat and the altercation between them resulted in the death of Owen McKenzie. The same evening, Clark with his son Horace, on horseback, left the boat and struck north to avoid McKenzie's friends. A hostile Indian on horseback came into the camp, one day, and we were alarmed by the cry of "Indians, Indians!" Many of the passengers grabbed their guns and rushed out of the tents. Father DeSmet kept calling to us, "Don't shoot, Don't shoot". He put on his black robe and went out to the group of Indians on horseback. They knew him by his robe and I was told that the Indians seldom attacked a priest. Being "pilgrims", we were naturally alarmed as the other side of the river was lined with Indians going up the river. Father DeSmet returned and told Major Dawson and Mr. Powell that the Indians wanted tobacco and sugar, which Father DeSmet carried to them. Everyone began to carry boxes, freight, etc. to the edge of the camp to make a fortification. We cut the brush and dragged logs and anything that wold help to make a barricade and some lumber, a part of the cargo, was used. As evening approached, a call was made for guards, which was kept up till morning and were relieved but we all got a good scare but the Indians did not return.

    A runner had been sent to Fort Benton to inform Matt Carroll and George Steele who were in charge of the fort of the situation. George Steele and a man by the name of Charlie Davis, and Jerry Potts, the Fort Benton hunter, came into camp. They had been attacked and chased by a part of the same band of Indians and had come to a woodchopper's cabin where they took refuge. George Steele stood on the one side of the door and Potts on the other side, shooting at the Indians and Davis was firing from an opening between the logs. In the night they escaped and came to our camp, bringing a black horse that he had noticed an Indian riding when they came to our camp. I remember well the time as I was guard in the night, mind you, I was a "pilgrim", it was so lonely the rustle of the leaves or grass would startle one for fear the Indians might attack us at any time. It is a wonder I escaped these Indians as I had been down the river about a mile, looking for a horse which we had bought and had just come into the camp when the alarm was sounded. The boat remained here for some days.

    We were happily surprised one day when Miss Worden (an aunt of Mrs. Dixon, wife of Governor Dixon), whose tent was near us, presented my uncle (who was an old Californian with white whiskers and bald head) with a buffalo-berry pie. It certainly tasted fine. We had some great experiences along the eating line. Sage-hens that we could knock over with a stick, cat-fish that we made into fish-chowder. Some times we had guests at our tent to whom the chowder was a luxury and a novelty. I often think with regret of the time that I did not eat "Dog" when the opportunity came, that in after years I could boast that I had eaten roast dog. We had friendly Indians of the American Fur company in our camp. I had noticed for several days a fat pup running around camp and one day we met a squaw with it in her arms with the hair singed off and toes cut off and she made signs for me to come and have dog-meat with them.

    I will say that my uncle, Cousin Newhall and myself all fared very well as we had an opportunity to hear much that was taking place in this upper country. My uncle talked with Major Dawson, Mr. Powell and Malcolm Clark and I listened. For myself, I wanted to know about the Indian's life, their habits and mode of living, their buffalo hunting, and how they cured the meat and skins for their use. We were supplied with fresh buffalo meat. We had the tenderloins, which is considered the choicest cut. Transportation was send down from Fort Benton, the wagons drawn by oxen and most of the passengers rode horseback.

    At Fort Benton we bought horses and packed a portion of our outfit, leaving the balance at Fort Benton until we returned for it. We had a three years' supply with us. At Benton our party was joined by Louis Garcine and Antone _______, two Frenchmen, who were later residents of Helena. Antone died here and Louis went back to Paris, his home.

    Alder Gulch was discovered while we were on the river and we decided to go there instead of the Salmon River diggings. We followed what was known as the "Old Trail", part of the Mullan road over Medicine Rock, and Lyon's Hill, cross the Little Prickly Pear, at the upper end of the little valley, now part of the Sieben & Grimes' ranch and the ranch owned by Philip Chevellier, up Willow Creek, over the Red Hills into Prickly Pear valley, across the valley to Montana City, up the Prickly Pear into Boulder valley, and on to the head waters of White Tail Deer Creek, across the Jefferson River, up what was called, "Stinking Water", now known as Ruby River to Virginia City, Alder Gulch, arriving there September 1863. I went to work on German Flats, while my uncle looked for mining claims. From there my uncle and his sons, Edward and Newhall, and myself went to Bevins Gulch and worked there during the winter, 1863-64. After the water froze, my cousin Edward, and I, with a party composed of W. C. Gillette, Mr. Seesman (Seaman), who was in charge of Fort LaBarge, a mile above Fort Benton, and two other men went to Fort Benton for our supplies, and some that Mr. Gillette wanted to bring from there. Sixty degrees below zero weather, halted at Sun River Crossing, where there were two Catholic Brothers, and by them advised to remain there until the weather moderated.

    On our return with pack animals, and a light wagon, drawn by four horses, purchased by Mr. Gillette, we experienced many difficulties. We had our pack and riding animals but all stayed together to help one another. The wagon tipped over many times but we arrived safely at Virginia City over the same trail that we had first traveled.

    While we were in Bevins Gulch, some one came up the gulch, asking for someone to make a coffin for a lady who had died. This party had just driven into the lower part of the gulch with their teams and the lady died. When he came back, we asked if he had found someone to make the coffin and he answered, "No". He told me that he had some sluice box lumber and I went down with him and made the coffin, lined it with a sheet and covered it with a black wagon (riding) sheet. I cannot positively recall her name but think it was Dalton. She was a woman of middle age.

    In the spring of '64, we left the Bevins Gulch claim and wandered down the Jefferson River, prospecting as we traveled across the foothills of the Madison River, up Meadow Creek, to the junction of what is known as Washington Gulch. At the mouth of this Spring (stream), we were joined by a man by the name of McClure and John _______ which made six in our party. McClure and I whip-sawed lumber for, I think the first bed-rock flume run in any of the camps. The discolored water below brought a stampede upon us. My uncle was named recorder, ground was allotted us, a claim for each for discovery, and the gulch was staked to the mountains. Among the stampeders was my old friend, Hugh McQuade (McQuaid), whom I had known in the lead mines in Wisconsin and Illinois. He was afterwards associated with the old "Gazette" (Rocky Mountain) and the "Independent" newspapers.

    While in Washington Gulch, McClure and I followed a stampede to Silver Bow, and also to Emigrant Gulch on the Yellowstone River. On our return reported to our companions that every claim was taken. After we broke up, I went to work and sunk a fifty foot shaft on a mining claim on the bench owned by Mr. James Fergus. He was accompanied by his daughter Luella, who three years later became my wife and is now sitting opposite me, a white haired old lady and a grandmother, writing this sketch at my dictation.

    Ground did not pay in Washington Gulch and we went "broke". The belt of English sovereigns that I had brought with me was gone together with three years' supplies which we had brought with us.

    From here I went to Virginia City, where I worked underground until the spring of 1865. A few days before I left Virginia City, what was known as the "flour riot", originated by the miners and men of Nevada City. They came up the gulch to Virginia City with an empty flour sack on a pole carried by their leader. It was not a riot but a long orderly procession, consisting of hundreds of men who wanted to regulate the price of flour. The merchants asked $125.00 per sack as there was a scarcity of flour at that time. They entered all the stores, gathered all the flour they could find, even going to private families and inquiring how much flour they had. They found a quantity of flour hidden in a hay stack near where I was living. The flour was paid for at the regular price to them from whom it was taken. It was carried into an empty building on Wallace Street and there it was sold to those who had none. A single man was allowed ten pounds and a married man according to the number in his family and was sold for 25 cents a pound. I secured ten pounds and was glad to get it.

    I started for Gold Creek, got my dunnage on a wagon going in that direction and drove the four horse team part of the way. I met my uncle and his two sons going to Last Chance Gulch, where Helena is now located. From Last Chance we went to Confederate Gulch and on the edge of Montana Bar witnessed a sight that I shall never see again. A gold pan and metal bucket partially filled with gold which had just been cleaned up and as we stood on the edge could see the gold nuggets on the bed-rock which was very shallow there. Went up Montana Gulch, over into Thompson Gulch but found nothing there. There I left my party and came back to Helena. I worked in Dry Gulch and it was noon before we could get water to sluice the dirt that we had taken out. After that was worked out, came back to Helena and went into the Oliver Express company, where I found Warren Witcher, an old Galena boy. Here I met Mr. Bryant, who was correspondent for the Montana Post at Virginia City and he had a small stock of pens, ink, pencils and paper over in one corner of the room. During the lull of business, we talked it over, and decided to buy that wheel-barrow load of stuff and go into business for ourselves. That was the origin of the first book and stationery store in Helena. Every merchant who came into this country brought an assortment of goods, laces, ribbons, paper, pencils, thread, groceries, etc. By he purchase of these papers, pens, nuts and candy we kept our store supplied. The first newspaper that we carried was the "Montana Post" and we also went into the newspaper and magazine business. We received fifty cents for every newspaper we sold. We had Daily Virginia Enterprise of Virginia, Nevada, the paper on which Mark Twain and some of the greatest Western newspaper men worked. Our newspaper orders stood about like this: 10 copies of Virginia Daily Enterprise, 250 copies Sacramento Union, 100 Alta Californian, 100 Missouri Republican, 50 San Francisco Bulletins, New Orleans Picayune, Harpers' Magazine, Waverley's Magazine, London Illustrated News, and New York Police Gazette. These papers were all weeklies except the daily Virginia Enterprise, and the monthly magazines and these were sold at $1.50 and $1.25 respectively. We also carried Spanish, French and German papers. These papers and magazines came by mail to Virginia City and from there in private small mail sacks to Helena. At the time we expected the coach, bringing the mail, and the express, we sent some one on the hill, now occupied by the St. John's hospital to watch for the coach. On the arrival at the express office, our sacks of mail were thrown off and mail assorted and the boys whom we had carry the papers were loaded and sent around the city. Later other boys on horseback were loaded with papers and magazines and sent out to the principal gulches where we had regular customers for our papers. One summer we had a shipment of peanuts which came on the last boat to Fort Benton, four sacks of five hundred pounds each which were sold for two dollars per pound. At this time four of us were batching, we had two boys who were carrying magazines and papers for us. We bought a kitchen stove and paid $125.00 in gold for it, when we separated I took the stove. This stove has been in constant use and cooked our wedding anniversary dinner for forty-six years and would have cooked the fiftieth had it not been in our mountain cabin. This relic has been moved nine times.

    In early days we had a club similar to the one in Helena to which Colonel Sanders, Governor Hauser, Colonel Smith and others whose names I do not recall, belonged and were members. In the late seventies, Major Walsh, Colonel McLeod from the north Canadian country, visited Helena and were entertained at the club.

    The first history of the Vigilantes of Montana was written by Prof. Thomas J. Dimsdale, who was teaching a private school on Jackson Street in Virginia City and was a frequent visitor at Mr. James Fergus' home, who lived nearly opposite the school and we have one of the first editions of his book and, no doubt, was the first book published in the Territory by the Virginia City Post.

    As this is a reminiscence for our children, I will say that I have been Assessor, Deputy Assessor, Public Administrator and Sheriff of Lewis & Clark county, and have been a Trustee of the Historical Library and have been on the City School Board, and I was also appointed a Commissioner, under an Act to incorporate the City of Helena, approved Feb. 22, 1881.

Helena, Montana
604 Dearborn St.,
November 30, 1923

Reproduced from collections in the Montana Historical Society Archives. There are two similar versions there, and this is a combined version because the previous typists were not consistent nor completely accurate in retyping.

James R. Dangel
1504 Sawmill Creek Road 
Sitka, Alaska 99835 USA

Phone:    907-747-3348


Hiding my address underneath to avoid getting spam and unsolicited viruses has not worked very well. You will have to type in my email address from the picture file above. Perhaps you will also have to verify that you are a real person and not a robot if you are not in my mailing list. I apologize, but I know of no other good way to limit the junk mail.

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