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.
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. PAGE PAGE 1
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