STEPHEN COLLINS GILPATRICK
1838 - 1934
MONTANA HISTORICAL SOCIETY (LIBRARY)
STEPHEN COLLINS GILPATRICK.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Return to Jim's