Arthur Lesie “Art” Montgomery
Art began life near Wood River in Hall County, Nebraska. When he was four his family joined several others to travel by team and wagon to North Dakota. Men, women and children battled blizzards and every hardship imaginable before settling 45 miles south of Dickinson. Winters were terrible and they lost a lot of livestock before moving back to Scoop Town (present day Sturgis, SD) where his father and a partner ran a freight business to and from Deadwood.
Art started breaking horses and working on roundups at the age of 17, in 1889. His parents moved to Horsehead Creek near Oelrichs in the southern Black Hills in 1898 and the young man ranged from there across northeastern Wyoming learning the cowboy trade from older hands and tough experience. He covered a lot of range and many watersheds when nobody knew or cared how far they rode each day. The important thing was for a man to learn fast, become skillful, know how to save his horse and himself and get the job done no matter what. One day Art knew of when accurate mileage was available he rode 80 miles. Getting from camp to camp day to day probably entailed 50 mile averages.
In the early 1900’s Art rode on horse gathers whenever possible. He also rode with roundup crews for brands like the Diamond Bar, MW, LAK, M Bar, AU7, Flying Circle, 4W and many others. Cattle gathered for most of these brands were trailed to the S&G Ranch, now Dewey, SD, the nearest shipping pens and railroad loading center serving most of that country. Most were shipped to Omaha, Nebraska.
The young cowboy met Grace Lillian Allen soon after the turn of the century and, with marriage in mind, filed on a place and began proving up near the Wyoming line north of Edgemont, SD in 1905. He cut logs and built a home and then married Grace at Oelrichs, South Dakota in 1906. The following year he started some of the first range conservation practices in the region, putting in dams, diversion ditches, etc. on their land. Their son Kenneth was born in 1911.
Art was engaged in livestock dealings with both horses and cattle across a large region. In the course of his travels he was taken with Weston County, Wyoming’s rich grasslands, and bought Mike Coy’s homestead on Lodgepole Creek about 35 miles SW of Newcastle. He moved his family there in 1917 and that became his headquarters. Since his heart was never the settled heart of a farmer but rather the wandering heart of a horseman adventurer always wondering what lay over the next hill, he was most often gone to, from, or on a roundup somewhere, following either cattle or horses.
In his reminisces Art’s recollections of 1917 tell us, “I had visions of getting the land on the creek bottom seeded to Alfalfa as it was only about ten feet to water so proceeded to break up about thirty acres which I planted to corn. . . I started to break a couple of four year old colts to ride but hadn’t ridden them more than a half dozen times until I sold them to Bert Warren who was running the AU7 outfit . . . About the first of July Bert had to go to Upton to get a bunch of steers and wanted me to go down as far as Edgemont and throw back any cattle I could find that belonged west or north and he would come down . . . I had only been working three or four days after getting to Edgemont until he met me at McElhaneys. He bought an unbroke horse off Mc. and after halter breaking him we started on up the river (Cheyenne) throwing back anything we found south of the River . . . Bert persuaded me to go on working for the AU7 at $75 per month with time off to take care of things at home.”
Later that summer he wrote, “After I got my corn cut and a little hay up Bert got word that “Dub” C.P. Meeks wanted him to run a wagon and gather his cattle as he was closing out. About the middle of September as near as I can remember . . . Bert and I got up to Meeks and he sent Bill Baird . . . and myself over to Keelines, the Flying Circle Ranch to see if we could get a mess box. It was about twenty five miles over there. George Keeline said they had one at Ham Baker’s we could have so we came back there where we stayed that night but the mess box was not worth hauling any farther as it had been on too many roundups. When we got back to Meeks’ we fixed up a sheep wagon with which we started out”
“We started working on Buffalo Creek west of Upton. Bert picked up lad in town to wrangle horses . . . We worked down Buffalo Creek and then across onto Four Horse Creek and camped at the mouth of Mexican Draw . . . We worked to the head of Four Horse then across to Raven Creek working the country between the pine ridge and the Belle Fourche River up even with Keelines Ranch (in Campbell County), then swung south past their ranch where George let us have a good roundup outfit with mess box, a big tent and stove. We sure needed it because more riders were falling in with us all the time. We made one drive on Black Thunder from the mouth of Bacon Creek as far west as Keeline’s Ranch (in Weston County) then pulled over the divide to Little Thunder camping at the mouth of School Creek, down Little Thunder camping at the mouth of Piney from which camp we worked Little Thunder to where it ran into Black Thunder.. . From the mouth of Piney we pulled on over to Buck Creek just below the Ekwall homestead.”
“Whenever they made a roundup, as there was nearly always some unbranded calves, they would build a fire and brand them before working the roundups. From there we worked the country west to Bacon Creek on which Dad Jones lived . . . The day herd was getting pretty heavy. We had somewhere between 1500 and 2000 head with a large number of what we called “Minnesota round heads”. . . mostly two-year-old steers that had been shipped from Minnesota dairies and were always looking for a milk bucket. You could drive them into the herd and they would turn around and follow you bawling for another drink of skim milk, so that it made a lot of hard work herding them.”
Art, Grace and son Kenneth all nearly died from Influenza in 1918, after being visited by a homesteader reporting the death of another, and then coming down sick himself. Art notified the coroner of the first death; was first to fall ill in his household, and was delirious for three days before Grace started to get sick. Kenneth sickened soon after Art. They refused entrance to all neighbors who came to help, for fear the disease would spread and kill still more. Grace collapsed with a 103 degree fever just as Art was able to get up a little so he could care for her and Kenneth who was still down. Using the doctor’s advice to “take lots of Aspirin and drink lots of water” they all survived
In spite of intelligence, experience, guts and determination it was hard to prosper in the livestock business as shown in these reminisces of Art Montgomery’s. “The 30th of April 1919 I went to Newcastle. While there I got to talking with Al Nichols and others, who had formed a company called ‘The Newcastle Cattle Loan Co.’ doing business through the Newcastle National Bank. They had shipped in a lot of Mexico steers, supposedly three to five years old. I stayed at the Antlers Hotel that night where I met Ed Bennett. He thought he would take on possibly 500 head of these steers and I decided to take 200 at $90.00 a head. All we had to do was sign on the dotted line, no money down, and a year to go broke . . . which they neglected to mention. We had to go home to get our saddle horses and were to be back the first day of May to get the steers. When I got home my wife was very much upset to think I had agreed to take any of them. I explained to her we were going to make a killing as steers like that had been clearing a profit of $100.00 and more in one year and if they should go down and only net us $50.00 profit per head we would be sitting pretty anyway.” A raging May 5 blizzard hit them between town and their ranches and most of the rest of the story involved disastrous loss.
Art worked the MW Roundup starting July 15th. Two days after it ended the Pool Wagon roundup began and he was riding with them. It got totally flooded out, with every creek uncrossable. Art wrote, “Working this herd was the hardest job I ever saw. These three rains coming so close together after being dry so long, the ground was full of big cracks which took the water so fast, and as soon as the herd was bunched it was no time till it was just a lob lolly and our horses had to work in mud halfway to their knees. These were the first rains we had since the 5th of May and the last moisture we had until the Blizzard. They didn’t seem to make any difference as far as grass was concerned as there was a cow standing there waiting for every spear that showed up….”
In 1920 Art partnered with another Weston County rancher Eben Spencer to round up the great bands of horses that ranged free along the Rochelle Hills. These equine entrepreneurs broke some of them to ride making them salable for good money. Some were trailed unbroke to Dewey, South Dakota and shipped out; some were sold private treaty, broke or unbroke. W.I. “Red” Bennett (who participated in some of those roundups and later served as a Brand Inspector in Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado and for years in Texas so knew something about livestock numbers when he was looking at them) said he knew he’d sometimes watched a thousand or more horses pour down the draws and gullies and out onto the prairie below and East of the Rochelles as the cowboys pushed them out of the timber and down the steep slopes away from escape during one of those roundups.
Art Montgomery was known as a good neighbor, a fine horseman and a savvy stockman. A hale and hearty man even in old age he boasted a crushing handshake, a shock of white hair to match the full-blown snowy moustache and far-seeing eagle eyes surrounded by weather creased lids below heavy white brows. Those eyes pinned you with the assurance he was a man to ride the river with. Along with his Wyoming ranch holdings he acquired summer country on his Pass Creek Ranch southwest of Custer and his Elk Mountain Ranch east of Newcastle, bought in 1945 so his granddaughter could be close to school. He continued to have livestock connections across a wide region of Wyoming and into South Dakota for many years. He and Grace moved to Chadron, Nebraska after retiring in 1951.