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John Franklin Lewis: POWDER RIVER COUNTRY in 1920

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John Franklin Lewis: POWDER RIVER COUNTRY in 1920

Posted: 18 Jul 2010 2:12PM GMT
Classification: Biography
Surnames: Lewis, Shorty, Sunday, Waters, Camplin, Fredericks, Wild Bill Hicks of Powderville, Miles, Dahlman, Custer

THE FREMONT COUNTY HERALD. December 9, 1920. "LIFE ON FRONTIER ON POWDER RIVER. J. F. Lewis Write Interestingly of the Fast Disappearing Wild and Wooly West". -- J.F. Lewis writes from Montana and tells of the Powder River country, the wildest country on earth, where the picturesque cowboy is making his last stand.

"A wild two days in the wildest country on earth. Bring your tents and roundup bed and sleep on the banks of Powder river," read a poster announcing the annual roundup at Broadus, the county seat of Powder River county. Many followed instructions and numerous tents dotted the valley. Many didn't need any bed -- they danced all night at "Shorty's" garage, which was packed to the doors.

Powder River county, in southeastern Montana, has a name that will live in a story, a name suggestive of things wild and picturesque and one which at least at the present time, fits the country which has not a single mile of railroad nor an incorporated town within its limits of 54 miles in width and 60 miles in length. Broadus, on Powder river,is 90 miles by stage from Miles City, the railroad point from which all mail and merchandise is hauled overland. The surface of the country is broken and hilly and it is essentially a cattle country.

Powder River is the home of the bucking bronco and the dashing, fearless cowboy who meets him in mortal combat. Wild west stunts are staged in the east, but they are merely staged. In the Powder River country one can see the real thing, which is something altogether different from the staged imitation in the wild west shows.

Wild steers and wild horses that were bad actors, without number, were turned loose in the arena and the boys rode them or tried to. Many were thrown and some were carried unconscious from the field. When the announcement was made that "The next horse will be rode by the Broadus preacher," it made the visitors sit up and take notice. Expressions of surprise were heard -- not because a preacher was going to mount a wild bronco, but to learn that Broadus had a preacher. He appeared in full costume with spurs and chapps and all the regalia. He rode bareback and the horse plunged and bucked with the wildest abandon, but the sky pilot proved to be a stayer and won the plaudits of the multitude. Billy Sunday, the baseball evangelist, is not in it with the Broadus preacher. Baseball is tame and mild in comparisson with riding an outlaw bronco.

This preacher whose name is Waters, is a live wire and typical of the community. He runs a picture show through the week, and preaches in the same hall on Sundays and during the roundup had the hall filled with cots for the accommodation of those who could not get sleeping quarters elsewhere. "Boys who have always instinctively avoided preachers think Waters is allright and pay him what they consider the highest words by saying, "Why, you wouldn't know he was a preacher."

Broadus is a husky yearling. On January 1, 1919, before Powder River county was created, all there was to the town was a little country store and a few other buildings, mostly log shacks. Now there are two banks, two general stores with big stocks of goods, grocery store, drug store, restaurant, flour mill, lumber yard and various other lines of business. There are two doctors and two lawyers. The newspaper, the Powder River County Examiner, is run by Hugo Camplin, a real newspaper man. The office has a linotype and is well equipped, generally. The Powder River hotel, under the management of O. Fredericks, would be considered a first class hostelry in a city of five or ten thousand. It is a handsome two story bulding with twenty rooms and modern throughout, and was erected at a cost of approximately $25,000.

They have city water from artesian wells, the deepest being something less than 500 feet in depth, and the water cannot be beat. It is soft and tests almost 100 per cent pure.

Broadus claims to be the champion long distance town. It is a sort of wild-westry, the spirit and atmosphere of the west prevailing. If you like the west you will like Powder River county and the people you meet there, the average citizen, the preacher, and the poetess, and "Wild Bill" of Powderville, who drives you to the railroad and tells tales of the olden days, and you will be influenced by the "Call of the Wild."

Powderville, 30 miles below Broadus, is the oldest town on the historic river. It was a stage station between Deadwood and Miles City over 40 years ago. Here the curious passer-by standing beside the score or more of unmarked graves on Boot Hill, muses on the town's wild and gory past. Some Kipling of the west would find here a fertile field for many a lurid tale.

Powder River county lies just west of our county of Carter. They are making new counties here every year. Eight years ago, Carter county and all the adjoining counties were part of Custer county, and Ekalaka and Powder River were in the same county, Miles City being the county seat. It was named for General Miles, who was stationed there 44 years ago to keep the Indians in subjection after the Custer massacre in 1876.

I went over to Powder River to make some photographs and get material for some newspaper article. When I was ready to depart I cast about for some way to get back to headquarters. I learned that a fellow named Bill Hicks was going to Miles and I engaged passage with him. Just as he came sailing up the street a friend said, "Do you know who that fellow is and why he's going to Miles City?" That's "Wild Bill" and he's going to Miles to see his partner who is laid up with a couple of broken legs in a hospital, the result of Bill's reckless driving last week while under the influence of white mule." My friend told me this, I suppose, so I would enjoy my 90 mile ride through the "wildest country on earth". Just then Bill pulled up at the curb and I jumped in and away we scooted to the tune of "Powder River, Let 'er buck!"

Think of riding 90 miles inone afternoon without seeing a town or a railroad. The road most of the way ran through an unfenced country. Houses were not numerous and most of those we saw were log houses. These houses being unpainted, in a few years take on a ancient appearnance and you can't tell whether they are ten of forty years old. We saw a few small tracts of cultivated land.

I heard a fellow in Broadus telling about some tourists from town who were going through the county in an auto. A woman in the party asked "What are these little brown animals we see running about?"

"Oh, those are dogs. Prairie dogs."

"Well do they ever attack anybody?"

The fellow said he had never heard of their doing anything like that. The next question was, "Well, do they damage the crops?"

"No, we never have any crops," was the answer, which was not so very far out of the way. Powder River country is a cattle country , a range country and one often hears it said that it will never be anything else. The rugged, rocky buttes make one think of "Caledonia, stern and wild, Mete nurse for a poetic child."

Wild Bill said he had lived in Montana forty years and had seen it in its maddest days, and had witnessed many shooting afrays which terminated fatally and added to the pupulation of Boot Hill, where they buried the men who died with their boots on. Bill came from Texas, originally trailed a herd of cattle through. He used to punch cattle with Him Dahlman, Omaha's once famous cowboy mayor.

Before he had gone far Bill pulled out a pint bottle containing a clear looking substance, and asked me if I had ever seen any pure corn whiskey. I looked at the stuff, smelled of it, tasted it, and enquired if it was any relation to white mule. "That's the real animal," said Bill, "made right down here on Powder River." We picked up two of Bill's accomplices when within about sixty miles of Miles City and they rode in with us. When we got to the outskirts of the town the poor white mule was at death's door and passed away before we got into town. We made the trip all right on seven gallons of gasoline and seven dollars worth of white mule.

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