MILESTOWN has had several eras, each marked by its own peculiarities and intermediate intervals when the new vogue mixed with the old. First we had the military condition, for the exemplification of which the town was founded. The soldiers, officers and civilian employees of Fort Keogh aggregated about a round thousand, which was more than the town could muster at the start, so the military element dominated for a while. Presently there developed the buffalo hunter. There was never enough of these to make an impression on the life of the community but relatively few as they were, they have a big score marked up against them. They are the men who put the buffalo "out of business.'' It is doubtful if the world's record shows any such inexcusable slaughter of a harmless and useful animal. Scores of fifty and more a day were made by hunters and the winter of '82-'83 saw the last of them. The cowboy followed next and be put a mark on Old Milestown that clings to it yet, though the only recrudescence of those early days and ways we have now is during the Fourth of July Round-up when the "boys" are given partial freedom of the city and can give way to some of their horse-play. Gradually as we left the "swaddie" and the "bull-whacker" and the "mule-skinner" behind and quiet and orderly people came in, we commenced to 'pinch off' the cowboys' privileges. First we made him put his "gun" away on entering town. Next we deprived him of his time-honored privilege of announcing his arrival by a furious gallop up Main street, whooping and howling and occasionally taking a shot at a street lamp. We tried to enforce the same rules of conduct for departures but as these were never as hilarious as the incomings and as the culprits were out of jurisdiction in a few jumps, the discipline lapsed and in time the comings and the goings of the cowboy were as quiet and orderly as could be desired. And now we are a railroad town and in a fair way to forget that we were ever anything else. It will not be difficult for those who located here in the ten or fifteen years past, to do this, but for the rapidly diminishing "old guard" who were part and parcel of the strenuous days covered by its first fifteen years, there will be innumerable memory cells that will refuse to be plugged up or marked "vacant." Faintly and even dimly illustrative of the daily current of events during these eras when Milestown was in the making, there comes to mind a few of the incidents that kept us up to concert pitch all the time; ready and appreciative of the most unusual performances.
Main and Park was a lively corner in those days; lively in the daylight hours because of the concentration of business and traffic thereabouts and warming up as the shades of night began to draw and the evening meal had been disposed of. As dusk fell in the long summer evenings, the bands of the several variety shows -- there were rarely fewer than three of them -- would start out, marching around and blowing their best and loudest in harmonious competition to assemble the crowds that were to take up the risks and pleasures of " the night shift. " And it may be pertinent to note in this connection, that there were individuals living here who were rarely if ever seen in daylight; not because they were "leery" of the greater publicity that is entailed by such exposure, but because they had to sleep, sometime, and as their business prospered better at night, they chose to waste their least profitable hours in sleep. This peculiarity would be exposed whenever there was a night fire. For mutual protection everybody turned out to help fight fires and there the man who worked in daylight and slept at night, would meet many fire-fighters equally as industrious as lie, who were total strangers to him. These night-birds were mainly "gains" and "bar-keeps." "Gains" who "sat in" for a full night session at "stud" and the boys with the white aprons, who ministered to their occasional wants. Gambling was as open as selling popcorn is now. Every saloon had its games of stud, faro and roulette, with black-jack or chuck-a-luck and such like to tempt those who hadn't the nerve to go against the real thing. At times there would be a keno room started but these never lasted long; the rake-off was too heavy and the sports couldn't see what became of their money. "Stud" was the stand-by with faro and roulette patronized principally by the fleeting crowd that liked to keep on the move taking "a flyer" here and there as they roamed at will. The men who played stud were stayers. They "sat in" early and they stayed late, unless perchance a bad guess on the other fellow's "hole card" caused a retirement from the game, but such retirement was only temporary. The discomfited one would come back in a short time with another "stake," which he had either borrowed or "dug up" and resumed his courtship of fickle Pate. One learned in studying these characters that the gambling instinct in its full development, is not dominated by a greed for pelf. It is a test of nerve and skill, the continued strain of which makes the game as serious a problem to the player as the possible strain that may be put upon a new construction, is to an architect or a bridge-builder. If there is a display of temper when money is lost, it is not because of the loss of the money but because of the loser's failure to correctly size up the other fellow's strength.
Gambling is a great developer of character, but the trouble is, it develops traits and faculties that have no useful purpose. There were to be seen in Miles City in those days, some men who had the keen eye, the determined lower jaw and the faculty of quick thinking that belongs to the successful soldier or business man but they failed to make a success even of their chosen profession, for it is written "Fortune is fickle."
In the early days when the buffalo were plenty, sun-dried buffalo tongue was a great delicacy -- as indeed it would be yet if there was any to be had -- and every "gam" carried a chunk of it about with him and it went far toward sustaining life and vigor, during the long sessions at stud. The last of this delicacy disappeared along about '84. All this is a part of the story of Old Main street, as is also a more extended reference to the fire-fighting of the early days, for the conditions of wooden buildings closely packed together and no water supply except that obtained from force pumps attached to driven wells, made it a first obligation with every citizen to drop everything at the sounding of the fire alarm and take his place in the fighting line. It was "man the pumps" and "get on the bucket line" for all who were not more dangerously employed in carefully toting out feather-beds and throwing mirrors* out of the windows. But it most always happened that the fire run its race and most of the early fires cleaned up whole blocks. The alarm was primitive. Whoever first saw a blaze pulled his gun and emptied it upwards. That brought others similarly equipped to like service and the alarm was communicated quite as quickly as now, though the territory was much more contracted. The bucket-line was the main reliance as the pumps were primarily intended for the protection of the property in front of which they stood and were never equipped with more than a hundred feet of hose. Of course this kind of fire fighting was more conspicuous for its whole-hearted goodfellowship than for results, and whether day or night the fire was soon over and then began the assembling of the fighters at the various places of good cheer and the details were related from all the differing angles; if in the daytime, the rest of the day was a holiday and if at night, the exercises probably lapped well over into the next day. We were a careless, happy people in those days and the temptation to fraternize and be sociable was improved on every occasion, even if business did have to wait.
Our mails came intermittently, whenever the stage from Bismarck could dodge the Indians and make the high-water fords and we didn't feel as if we had anybody to care for but ourselves. We were a pretty well-behaved community, too. True, there used to be some delightful shindies at the dance-houses when the "Diamond R" gang, headed by Big Sandy Lane, Jim Kennedy and Charley Northrup ran afoul of a bunch of swaddies from Keogh feeling their oats, but it was all fists and boots and never a shot fired or a knife used. "Sandy" was a giant and in his twenties and Northup and Kennedy, though small men, were worthy of a ton of "iron crosses" each. To be sure these affairs were disturbances of the peace, but-what could our one nightwatchman do, had he been inclined to mix in, which he wasn't. And then, there was a sort of a "town and gown" feeling as a casus belli. The students at the military institute at Fort Keogh were inclined to be offensive when congregated in any considerable number and the bull-whackers and the mule-skinners of the "Diamond R" could always be mobilized for an argument with the "sogers."
Two other features of Old Main street on a summer's afternoon, remain to be mentioned. One of these was the "water-fight" that was staged about once a week between the Savage gang and the Burleigh gang, made up of the young men employed in each of these establishments. Burleigh's place was about where Lakin's store is now and Savage's was at the corner, where the First National is. Each had a four-man force pump in front and with these pumps fully manned and about three or four valiant pipe-men at each nozzle, the boys would "go to it" and the sidewalks would be lined on each side of the street cheering and urging the contestants on. With George Savage captain of one gang and Lute Dear of the other, it was a case of absolute exhaustion on one side or the other before a score was gained. Then, on other nice afternoons there-would be a football brought out and without choosing sides everybody present took a kick at it as it flew backwards and forwards and the game lasted until some big window was smashed and then a collection would be taken up to replace the damage. Old timers will remember "Teddy the Lepper" -- a bar-keep he was -- who used to perform prodigious feats of kicking, hoisting the ball once on top of the old First National building, now Furstnow's. It was a round ball that was used in these games, not the oval, and everybody took a kick at it as it came along and business was generally suspended while the sport lasted as was also the case with the pump-fight. We were a village community in those days. Very simple in our tastes and with no aloofness of caste. It was a practical realization of the conditions that blossomed out of the French Revolution; liberty, fraternity and equality. Brothers all in our hours of relaxation, free to do as we pleased and no one better than his neighbor.
Another sport that would take possession of Main street at intervals was horse racing. Whenever the conditions were favorable; weather and track, and the necessary difference of opinion that makes horse races possible, the street would be cleared from the court house westward, as far as the horses were to run by mounted cowboys stationed at the intersections of the streets and waving people off the roadway. Then, with a "yipping" and a howling that was typical of the contest, the supremacy of some cow-pony would be established for the time being and the race would be ridden over again at sundry bars. This feature came with the cowboys. Before that, say prior to '84, we had only the swaddies and freighters to add variety to our simple life.
Speaking of freighter, it was surely a sight when a "Diamond R bull-train" pulled into Main street en route to Keogh from Glendive or Buford, loaded with government freight. With from eight to twelve yoke of "bulls" to a team, hauling two and often three wagons loaded to the top and with a real " bull-whacker " walking along back by the wheelers, a, pageant was paraded to the life, of a phase of civilization that was just then passing off the stage. Ranking with the experts in any vocation, the professional bull-whacker in action was a most satisfying sight, and the "pull" up Main street was their dress parade. With a whip, the stock of which, about six feet long, had been carefully fashioned out of properly tough timber and with a lash that would reach four or six yokes ahead, and a "popper" on the end that would bite out a bunch of hair wherever it landed, the dirty, tousled pilots of the creaking, swaying craft would wake the town with their sonorous and melodious warnings to their teams, punctuated continually with the sharp "spit" of the popper as it landed on some poor, patient brute's hide and jumped away, responsive to the backward swirl of the lash, deftly imparted by the expert twenty or thirty feet away. There were old fellows in those trains who had never done anything else but "whack bulls" all their lives. They had started in when the Union Pacific was building across the continent just after the war, freighting to points beyond, and when the railroad took their job away they found it again freighting from rail points into the north, but finally the railroads had beaten them back to this strip of "No Man's Land" in the Yellowstone valley; that the Indians had held supreme control of until a year or two before. Here the faded glory of the "bull-train" was for a time restored and here it vanished. for good and all. The mule-train, a companion picture, was never as interesting or as picturesque as the bull-train. The "mule-skinner" rode a "wheeler" and guided his team with a jerk line. Any loafer could do that, but it took an artist to pilot a string of bulls along a side-hill road with a top-heavy load and the trail wagon pulling dead against you. It was a dog's life as far as the comforts and amenities went. The menu rarely went beyond black coffee, sour-dough bread and "sow-belly" fried in a skillett in its own grease thickened with flour and of camp-shelter there was none for the men were too tired at night to arrange any but the most primitive protection and they "pulled" too early in the morning to do any "breaking camp." Summer was bad enough but the slow and uncertain creep of a bull-train on the road in winter was an experience to be endured only once by anyone but a real bull-whacker. Why he endured it he probably could not explain but there was possibly an element of personal pride and ambition in it that had its brief display on the occasions mentioned, when the train rolled into town and the fine points of the profession were shown. It was a fleeting glory though, for an hour after the train had been parked all hands were too drunk to tell their own names and were swallowed up in the swirl that eddied around the "Diamond R" corner and by pure centrifugal force were one by one thrown off into "the park," there to lie and sleep off the overpowering effects of the dope they had taken aboard.
Although Milestown did not lack for the theatrical entertainment in the early days, there being three and sometimes four "music halls" in full blast every night, the advent of the drama was delayed and of slow growth when it started. It was largely a man's town at first and the taste that was catered to by the music halls was not notable for its delicacy, but this condition changed when the railroad got through and made it possible for traveling companies to get through to the coast. Therefore the territory west of Fargo was unknown to the "profession" and only "barn-stormers" ventured beyond St. Paul. The extreme northwest had been served scantily in this line by way of the Union Pacific, but when the Northern Pacific got through and not only opened a new trail to the coast but began settling up the country in between, theatrical and operatic companies began to make the route and Milestown was found to be "on the map" for all that came along. By this time the variety shows had petered out and the buildings occupied by them had been turned to other uses so that even the limited and crude equipments that served the early demand for entertainment, were not available and the first shows that came along had to put up with the most primitive accessories. I remember attending a performance of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," given in Charley Brown's place -- chosen probably because it would hold a good many people -- on a stage constructed of two-inch plank supported on beer cases. The outfit carried its own scenery, such as it was, so that it was possible to give that once famous play a measure of stage glamour, but the nerve-thrilling passage of Eliza over the ice-flooded river had to be cut out, all except the blood-hounds which were held at one side of the stage while they bayed at Eliza, who at the other side flourished a rag-baby as evidence of her safe-crossing and which was no doubt the hound's "cue" to bark. These visiting entertainers very seldom gave any prior notice of their coming but would drop in on us quite unannounced and proceed to bill the town for an immediate performance. Any vacant store-room that was available was used, but this handicap was abated when a public-spirited citizen -- Perkins Russell by name -- put a considerable bit of money into the construction of the Rink. We have had rinks a-plenty since, but never one that filled the public demand that this did. It was when roller-skating was all the rage in "the states" and the main incentive for putting up the building was no doubt to introduce that pastime to Milestown, but the projector looked further ahead than this and had his building fashioned for a theater also. The building was 50x150 feet, fronting on Pleasant at the corner of Eighth -- now occupied by the Y. M. C. A. building -- and extended back to the alley. It had a truss roof so that the interior was unbroken by posts or pillars and the rear twenty-five feet was cut off and fitted up with a stage and dressing rooms and equipped with curtains and scenery. Here, until it was destroyed by fire, we enjoyed much that was high-class in the way of theatricals by actors and actresses who were then notables or later became such. In these days we not infrequently enjoyed a pleasure and a privilege that would be inconceivable now. It sometimes happened, either through poor business or failure of remittance, that a company would reach here "busted" and though contemplating only one night here would be compelled to remain for a week, may be, before funds sufficient to move on could be accumulated, with the result that the actor people would get pretty chummy with the townspeople, the great craze of the strangers being to ride a cow-pony, and as it was always easy to fix them out with a real cowboy escort, acquaintance was of quick growth and unshackled by any of the restraints of society. Of course when a company was marooned in this way they gave performances every night to help pay expenses and with audience and players in such friendly touch there resulted an appreciation and a general state of mind that is not to be enjoyed by those who are patrons of the drama under present conditions.
But one wild September night with the wind blowing a gale out of the west, a fire started in the Rink and before our then inadequate fire-control could be brought into action the Rink was in ashes as well as the frontage on both sides of Main street from Eighth to Ninth. Then we were up against it again for a place to have shows. And here the fire department -- regretting no doubt their inability to save the Rink, came to the rescue. The department had money in its treasury and it conceived and carried into execution the plan of leasing the brick building at Bridge and Park -- originally constructed for a music hall but for years used as a warehouse -- and re-converting it into a play-house. It was a great change from the spacious stage and roomy auditorium of the Rink and it was made to serve for several years but labored under so many disadvantages -- intolerably hot in summer and impossible to heat in winter -- that the patrons of the drama were ever on the alert for something better. This appetite was finally appeased by the erection of the present Empress theater by a stock company capitalized locally and of which the fire department was again the "good angel," giving the enterprise a favorable send-off by subscribing for a large block of the stock.
The Rink during its existence was notable for many activities other than being the show house. During the first year it was thronged nightly -- when not in use for other purposes -- by the whirling devotees of the roller-skating craze. Everybody skated; that is, everybody who could maintain an equilibrium, and many sedate and grey-haired men and women still enjoying the inestimable privilege of life in Milestown will, at this mention, recall the pleasure and excitement of those nights when dignity and reserve were cast off like outer garments and the mad race entered into, just as if they were kids. It would hardly be true to say that these occasions were not boisterous, but it is the unimpeachable fact that there was no rudeness or loose behavior.
Another occasion when the Rink was filled with a gay and happy throng was the dance given for the purpose of raising a fund to equip a Miles City brass band. This is an ambition common to all new and small communities and it was proper that we should be filled with it. A feature of this dance was the "stepping of the minuet" -- which was never "danced," always "stepped" -- by a dozen couples of local young people, who went into training for the event weeks before. The minuet was the dance craze then popular in the east and nothing was too good for us, so we had it, and had it right, court costumes, powdered wigs and all. That is another function some of our comparatively middle-aged people can look back at with a fond memory. It is worth remembering. Another feature of this dance was the refreshments, principally sandwiches and punch. The sandwiches filled one large-sized wooden wash tub and the punch another. There was a sufficiency of both. The receipts totaled $700, which was invested in silver-plated instruments and for a while we had a band, but one by one the performers left for other parts, never failing to take their instruments with them, so that in the course of a year or two there wasn't a horn of that outfit in town, and in a smaller way, the public has since contributed toward a similar object with like results.
On another occasion the Rink was the arena of a long-distance walk. It was during the period when such affairs were popular in the east and as a result of the gab-fest concerning what could or could not be done in that line, Sam Pepper obligated himself to do a stunt of that nature; so many miles -- the total not now remembered -- in twenty-four hours. A track was prepared in the Rink, fifteen laps to the mile, and the affair duly started at noon of a Saturday. Although a one-man affair and with nothing of any consequence pending, it attracted quite a concourse of people and except during the early hours of Sunday morning was at all times an interested crowd cheering the lone pedestrian on his way and from time to time joining him in his weary tramp for a few laps to help him forget the monotony of his task. Whether or not "Pep" accomplished his task cannot here be recorded as the details have faded from memory, but the incident is recalled as but another instance of the communal instinct that pervaded and permeated the town in those days, when prejudices were not rampant. During its life the Rink also housed the annual meetings of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, whose meetings were attended by many distinguished visitors, among whom was "Teddy" Roosevelt, then in his " 20's, " and running a bunch of cattle near Medora, N. D., and it will be remembered that he was the same aggressive and assertive leader then as now.
"The Park" -- the unchristened -- was, during the open season, a public lodging house and a retiring room for every wayfaring vagrant who had reached that stage of uncleanliness that a change of attire in whole or in part was a stressing necessity, and its surface was cluttered with deposits of discarded raiment, empty whiskey and beer bottles and an assortment of kindred rubbish. Being a part of the military reservation, the civil administration of the county -- there was no town government then -- was without authority to abate these nuisances and the military authorities did not consider it worth while as to do this properly and effectively the park would have required "policing" every day. Its legal status as being a part of the reservation led to many nice questions of law which the bench and bar of that day chewed the rag over vigorously, for it was only necessary for an offender against the civil law to step across the imaginary boundary between street and park and impudently defy arrest. Such defiance rarely counted for much, however, as the representatives of the law in those days were men who took no back talk and generally got their men, leaving it to the lawyers to decide the question of asylum. With offences committed on park territory, it was different. These were rarely taken cognizance of by the civil authorities and in consequence fights to a finish were quite often pulled off there, though these were generally impromptu affairs growing out of a clash in one of the nearby resorts, and adjourned to the park to be free from arrest, for civil justice was on the alert for disturbances of the peace, as the constables and the J. P.'s had to live and fines were much surer to follow arrest than imprisonment.
The park -- now known as Riverside Park -- has a history of its own. While always a connubal center, it was not a part of Milestown until granted to the city for park purposes, by Act of Congress, along in the '90's, through the efforts of Senator "Tom" Carter, who always had a warm spot in his heart for Old Milestown. Originally all of the town as it now exists was a part of the Keogh military reservation, and " Old-town, " as it came to be known afterwards, was located on the Yellowstone river close up to the northern boundary of the reservation as first laid out, just below where "the slough" opens into the big river. That location was handy enough then for the troops were quartered in a cantonment just across the Yellowstone, while Fort Keogh was building at its present location and a fairly reliable ferry plied between the cantonment and the town. But the time came when it was not so convenient; when the troops had been moved up to the fort and the intervening space had lengthened to between four and five miles. Not much of a trick when going after "a load" but very wearysome when it came to carrying it back. And so it came about that in March, 1878, a presidential order was issued abolishing the reservation on the east side of the Tongue and Yellowstone rivers, excepting a sufficient area for a ferry or bridge landing on the east bank, and that "exception" is now the area of Riverside Park. Whoever laid it out did so with no regard to the points of the compass and that is the reason why all the streets in the town that grew up around it run slightly "squegee." The lines of the park were followed in the lines of the streets, a plat of the proposed town filed and a townsite company formed which made a fairly equitable distribution of the lots at nominal prices to cover costs of administration, and building began and was pushed rapidly, particularly along Main and Park streets, fronting the park and when these locations were all taken there was much talk of getting the government to content itself with a smaller area for bridge and ferry purposes, so that the park frontage could be utilized for business purposes. This yearning led to one of the most exciting incidents that the young community had yet experienced. It happened along about a year after the town was fairly settled around the park that a rumor gained swift circulation that the park was going to be "thrown open." Somebody had "seen it" -- the order-lying on the adjutant's desk, awaiting signature, and that somebody had done the Paul Revere act to town and when asked "what's the rush" yelled back as he broke for the timber that he "was goin', after logs to lay a foundation in the park." Frontier custom was that whenever a man laid four logs in a square on an otherwise unclaimed piece of land, it was his; the act was accepted as his having built a house. As the report spread there was a general foray for logs. As those were the days of log construction, building logs were reasonably plenty and soon the park frontage was about all taken up in twenty-five-foot building lots. That was as much as custom would allow and even at that some were forced to go without. Among the "trailers" came Simon Basinski with four logs in tow. He had a man and a team and the team was "snaking" the logs, but there was no place to put them. Simon was eager but law-abiding and the unwritten law declared that four logs laid in a square held the land and he was about to give up in despair when someone tipped him off to a locator who had only two logs "in position" and was off after the other two. Here was a plain case of lax performance which Simon felt sure the law would recognize and he lost no time in getting his four logs "in position," inside of the two that were already there. Wisely he did not move these as the represented personal property and he was afraid of inviting any complications that might involve the question of title to the realty, which was slender enough as it was. Though firm in the belief that the unwritten law would sustain his claim, he carefully avoided raising collateral issues. Another feature of the case was that Simon was a non-combatant and he knew the man whose claim he had "jumped" was of that same school so he had no anticipation of anything more serious than a heated altercation, followed possibly by a suit at law, so, with his logs in position he determined to hold the fort. Presently the original claimant came back with his other two logs, and found Simon, not only in possession but apparently of a mind to resist trespass. Asserting his claim as the original locator he was met by Simon's cool but firm insistence that "two logs counted nothing," thus for his side, closing the discussion, but he had never calculated on the other fellow making a "gun play." With anyone else he would certainly have taken this probability into consideration but not with this man. But this assumption proved to be a house built upon sand, for before Simon could expound the points of the law and the fatal laxity of placing only two logs in position, he was looking into the muzzle of a deadly weapon in the hands of a desperate man and without succeeding in joining issues on technical points he was forced to vacate the premises. The man who had driven him off had never been known to appeal to force before and Simon -- who was one of the most affable and genial members of the community -- never could figure out whether it was because it was he, or whether the other chap would have pulled the gun on anyone. He had never gone to that extreme before or since, though still a resident here, and that is one reason why he isn't referred to by name. But it was all a hoax after all. Vacation of the park was not contemplated and when the military heard of the "invasion" -- as they did during the course of the afternoon -- a squad was sent down from the fort and the invaders hustled off with scant ceremony.
The park at that time was much larger than it shows for now. The deep curve that the Tongue river then took in front of the city resulted year after year in the scooping out of ten, fifteen or twenty feet of bank each year, so that in the course of years the whole city frontage, including the park, lost by this erosion all of two hundred feet and numerous fine old cottonwood trees. About 1897 the situation looked so serious that the city government caused the construction of three wing-dams for the purpose of turning the current away from the city front. This was the first public improvement of any consequence the city undertook, and considering the limited resources of the city at that time it was quite an undertaking. It cost about seven thousand dollars, but it was worth the money. The scheme was enirely successful in protecting the river front from further erosion. The remains of these piers can still be seen: one at the end of Main street, one about midway on the park front and the third further up stream. The level of the park is about what the grade of the whole town was in the early days and it was not an uncommon sight during the spring break-ups to see the water and ice lift up and flow over the town when there was a gorge below.
Floods from the overflow of the Tongue river at the time of the spring break-ups were in the early days an annual apprehension though not always an annual occurrence. An early thaw to the south of us would start the water in the upper reaches of the Tongue and its tributaries which when it reached us would lift and move the ice here, but if the ice was heavy it would gorge in some one of the bends of the river near town and the flood followed. The first of record is the flood of '81, made memorable by the fact that the then existing conditions made for a bigger excitement than was really warranted. Then no part of the town had been graded up from the original level and the water had a wider sweep; and there were no previous experiences to guide public opinion. Traditions there were to be sure, but they were very alarming. The scarred condition of the bark on the old cottonwood trees in the park was reported to be the result of erosion by cakes of floating ice and there were even those who held that the gnarled branches of these trees, thirty or forty feet up, were further evidences of what Tongue river ice could do "on a bet." That winter ('80 and '81) was one of very heavy snowfall. It lay two feet deep on a level all over the country hereabouts but was partially "chinnooked" early in February and the river "broke" only to freeze up again a few days after and make new ice, thick and solid. Then about the first of March the flood-water started from up the creek, reaching here about the third. A gorge formed in the bend just above the present location of the N. P. railroad bridge and the water poured over the low banks and through the town. This is the flood depicted in one of Huffman's pictures, taken from the Diamond R corner and showing a whole river pouring along Main and Fifth streets, with Charley Brown's place and the Cottage saloon as a background. Because of the dire anticipations based upon the evidence of the old cottonwoods, about two hundred people, mostly women and children, vacated their homes in favor of tents pitched upon the inhospitable sides of Carbon Hill, where they lived a cheerless life for about a week while the town fairly rioted in the new sensations. It didn't take long to convince those who stayed on the job that the old cottonwoods were liars if they ever said so and what with the novelty of going about in boats and a general suspension of business, the first flood was a water-carnival pure and simple, and few there were who did not join in the unusual festivities. This custom was followed in all succeeding floods and the first indication of an overflow was the signal for all good men and true to don their old clothes and their hip-boots and to sally forth to the rescue of the distressed. Having since been present at a carnival. in Venice, on which occasion the Kaiser was the guest of honor, I am qualified to state that the Venetian achievement, while possibly surpassing ours in the matter of outward display, fell far short of ours in whole-souled enthusiasm and personal initiative. There was nothing perfunctory about our observances of these occasions. Action ruled supreme and whoever had an idea, no matter bow whimsical, found a following ready and willing to carry it into execution. And these outbursts were not all whimsies either. Unprepared as we were by experience for the first flood, twenty-four hours had not elapsed before we had as numerous a navy as the conditions demanded, including one big flat-boat that would carry a hundred passengers, which made frequent trips up and down Main street under the pretense of rescuing some marooned castaway, but as these were always found in the vicinity of a House of Cheer, the presumption was admissable that rescue-work was not the main reason for leaving a safe harbor and braving the terrors of the deep. This first flood established the fact that the town was in no danger of serious results from these visitations and thereafter, when one came it caused no apprehensions except in the very nervous of the newly-arrived. As a matter of fact no flood ever cost a life or did any material damage here, though lives have been lost and serious damage done to stock at Glendive, where they have the mighty Yellowstone to contend with: Since the straightening of the channel of Tongue river above and below town and opposite, there has been no more floods and for the past half dozen years the breaking up of the rivers has barely received mention in the daily papers and yet it was an occasion that in expectations awakened the liveliest anticipations in the minds of the populace. Tongue river has left its bed and left the bed in our keeping, but we are not taking very good care of it. We have allowed the weeds and brambles to grow up in it and the mud to fill it up, but it is still possible to clean it out and let the water into it, and thus give our park a pretty water front for boating and bathing in summer and skating in winter.
The city was legally incorporated by an election held in September, 1887. There had been spasmodic movements to that end from time to time ever since the vigilante days of '83 but the idea did not gain impetus sufficient for action until some four years later. Singularly enough, it was in the first year after the "hard winter" when the material fortunes of the town were at their lowest ebb that we decided to take on the costs and expenses of a municipality, but there were many good reasons for taking this step. We had been suffering heavily through lack of fire protection and we needed water for lawns and trees; we needed sidewalks which could not be secured -- in many cases -- except through authority and we needed a system of street grades. No doubt an influential factor in the incorporation movement was the interest that stood ready to install an electric light and water plant if a franchise was obtainable, and so we went at it. The preliminary step was a census showing a population of more than 1,500. We showed a slight margin over that minimum by reason of having a very expert enumerator, who -- it was charged by the opponents of the move -- had spent some of his time in the cemeteries. However, the county commissioners certified to the accuracy of the count and we became a "city" automatically under the law. We gained our chiefest desire through it, as the electric light and water plant materialized and though limited in capacity for a score of years it was the germ from which our present admirable service grew. The water supply had the hardest job in keeping up with the demands of a constantly increasing population. First it was a well twenty feet deep and of about the same diameter, which, if left alone, could accumulate about ten or twelve feet of water. This well was sunk on the premises now occupied by the light plant. Later another well was added, located on the right-of-way where the old N. P. ice-house stood. Then in response to increasing demand a big well was dug where the Wilkinson lumber yard now is, the marked depression in the lay of the land there being the remaining evidence of this big work, for this well was something like 80x200, and promised an ample supply, but this promise failed and it then became evident that we would have to go to the river for our water supply. The first move in this direction was the laying of a sewer-pipe conduit from Tongue river to the big well, the pipe being laid with open joints so as to collect water from the ground along its route, as well as from the river. The course of this pipe line is still discernable across the stretch of the lowland in Riverside Park. But this failed too at times of low water and an auxiliary pumping station was set up in the park, about where the Antlers Hotel now stands. But this was only temporary, the decision having been reached to "go to the river" with the main plant and this plan was carried into execution in the pumping station and settling well that stood for years at the hither end of the Keogh wagon bridge and which did duty until the new plant on the Yellowstone was installed. The electric light plant had an equally rocky and much mort costly road to travel in trying to keep pace with the public demands, but in asmuch as pre-eminent success has been attained in each case, those of us who suffered these trials and tribulations of the past, can look back at them as things of only momentary annoyance. Nor do I think there remains now any remnant of the opposition that once existed to the municipal ownership of these plants. We started out, as I have related, under a franchise granted a private corporation for a long term of years at rates for fire-plugs and street lights, that would have been an intolerable burden if we had continued under it and attempted anything like the street lighting and fire protection of the present day. But it so happened that the panic of '94 crippled the owners of the franchise so that they could not operate the plant and give the service required and so it went on the bargain counter and was taken over by the city for $17,000, and the drain on the city treasury for street lights and fire-plugs ceased. There was opposition to the purchase at the time and it never ceased to crop out whenever a break-down or failure of service caused adverse criticism and more than once it was in danger of slipping back into private ownership but the volume of public opinion was always in favor of keeping what we had and in the darkest days of its history here, municipal ownership was able to weather the storm. And there were dark hours -- literally, for the light service -- and many of them. The plant was bearly "junk" when we bought it and all that was in sight did not appear to be worth anywhere near what the city paid for it, but the merit of the purchase was in getting released from the bondage of the franchise, and there was several thousand dollars of value in the water mains then laid which are still in service today.
It would be a great injustice to dismiss this topic without a reference to Berthold Ullmann, who was the original and persistent advocate of light and water service. He was an undeveloped genius in this branch of mechanics and eager and willing to work for almost nothing if he could induce some customer to install something out of the ordinary in the pump line. I recall one barber shop on Park street that pumped its water with an Ericson condensing motor, which Ullmann had persuaded the proprietor (Chris Hehli) to install, and it worked all right too. Ullmann's constant advocacy of city light and water, together with the assurance of a franchise from the newly incorporated city, induced capital to take hold of the scheme and there was no happier man in town than Berthold Ullmann during the months the plant was being installed and no more excited or nervous than he, on the day of the test of the water system. The test required four streams, two hours, and the supply depended on the well first above described. To the great satisfaction of everybody, the well stood the test, but Berthold told me afterwards, "there wasn't an inch to spare." Staunch old friend of Milestown that he was, he never dreamed that in time we would have the mighty Yellowstone river subject to our instant demand.
One institution that is almost coeval with the birth of Milestown and which is still an indispensable adjunct of the social life of the community, is the Miles City Club. It was founded in the fall of 1883 by a small group of young business men who felt the need of a place of social resort not otherwise obtainable. It proved to be a wise and happy suggestion. The membership grew apace and a home found for it in the Stebbins block (now the Commercial State Bank block), which was then approaching completion, and a suite of rooms on the Main street front was especially arranged for the uses of the club. Here it remained for a time but a rapidly increasing membership, principally of range stockmen making their headquarters in town, demanded more commodious quarters and a lease was taken of the entire second floor of the Leighton block, where it remained domiciled until moving to its present quarters in the Wibaux block about fourteen years ago. Immediately after its organization the club demonstrated its indispensability to the town and its progress by affording a place of pleasant sojourn while in town, to the very considerable number of cattlemen then utilizing our ranges, who coming here as strangers found a cordial welcome in the club and an easy way of getting acquainted with our business men. Naturally it took on the flavor of a stockmen's organization and its red-letter days were the three days in April of each year when the annual convention of the Montana Stockgrowers Association met here and discussed matter of business. On these occasions the club set forth every day of the session a royal banquet of "roast pig" and appropriate "trimmings" that gave the town fame and prestige all over the country. I recall a personal incident illustrative of this fact. I was in New York City a visitor in the office of a railroad official, accompanying a friend of mine resident in New York. Merely as a matter of courtesy I was introduced to the official, as of Miles City. The name of the town evidently brought something to mind and he said, reflectively, "Miles City; let's see. That's the place where they have the roast pig, isn't it?" I said that it was, very much pleased to know that our fame and hospitality had traveled that far and had made such an impression.
One incident that occurred in the club while still domiciled in the Stebbins block, which I am moved to relate, because it is so typical of the men and the customs of the times -- though verging slightly on what might be deemed personal and confidential -- is connected with a game of pin-pool played in the club rooms by "Joe" Leighton and Paul McCormick, expert players, each of them, and liable to meet in friendly rivalry whenever occasion served. During the progress of this game, it being Paul's shot, he surveyed the lay-out and announced that he would try for a ramps."
"Hundred to one you don't make it," said Joe.
"Take it," said Paul.
Two hundred to two; three hundred to three; four hundred to four; five hundred to five, all offered in quick succession as Paul was settling himself for the shot, and as promptly taken. Then he shot. It was a difficult stroke but there was an expert behind the cue and as the balls sped around on their mission everybody present was silent. Then as the white pins fell over, one by one under the impulse of the moving balls, leaving "the nigger" upright and alone, the pent-up breath of the bystanders was noisily exhaled, accompanied by such expressions as "By George, he made it" -- or words to that effect -- and for a moment Paul was the winner of the long end. But only for a moment. One ball was still moving and though traveling very slowly it was on the road and knew where it was going. It had just "legs" enough to reach "the nigger" and leaned against it just hard enough to knock it over. Then victory was reversed and Joe was winner but before the changed condition had been realized by the onlookers, Joe Leighton's voice rang out in the declaration, "Paul, you don't owe me a damned cent."
It wasn't so much the reaction between losing fifteen hundred and winning fifteen, all in the shake of a lamb's tail, but the establishment of the accuracy of his judgment, that impelled his action. And Paul took his defeat as merrily as he would have accepted victory, for he had demonstrated that his cool judgment was all right but his stroke was a shade too hard.
It is no idle boast to say that the Miles City Club was largely instrumental in retaining the annual meetings of the association during the thirty-two years that Milestown held on to it, in spite of numerous vigorous assaults made upon us during the past ten or twelve years, in the interest of other towns envious of our well-earned prestige, but with the range interest dwindled to a mere shadow of its old-time splendor the stake was no longer worth fighting for and last year we pleasantly acquiesced in changing the place of meeting to Great Falls for 1918, content to rest upon our laurels which -- as I have said -- the Miles City Club aided largely in the gathering. The convention is gone, but the club still flourishes and seems likely to live forever. Aside from its social features and the pleasures it affords its members, it fills a place that cannot be left unfilled in any community that is progressive in that it affords suitable accommodations and surroundings for the proper reception of any visitor we may have whom we wish to compliment with a reception. During its life the Miles City Club has thus complimented many distinguished citizens of the nation and in this respect has always been a public institution.
No story of the early days in Milestown would be complete without some mention of the Macqueen House, a hostelry enshrined in the fond recollections of all who shared its hospitalities, whether resident or transient. Its reputation was honestly earned and zealously maintained through a long term of years by Major Macqueen, a most affable and genial gentleman from St. Louis, whose southern lineage had bred in his very bones and marrow the conviction that it was a crime to permit any guest to depart feeling that he had been neglected. It can readily be understood that a hotel holding this as a cardinal principle would be appreciated, even in a locality where such treatment might reasonably be expected, but in a wild-west town it amounted almost to a shock to those who had not been forewarned. Not that there was any display of elegance or deportment not in harmony with the general tone of the populace, but there was always and for all who tarried, all the creature comforts the stranger in a strange land yearns for, dispensed and furnished with that winning hospitality that made even the most wary feel at home at once.
The Macqueen House was built in '82 and was destroyed by fire in '97, its demolition awakening the sincere regret of all who had enjoyed its comforts and pleasures. Its location -- now marked by the hole in the ground that was once its cellar -- was probably suggested by its proximity to the N. P. station, a feature much appreciated by transients arriving in and departing from a strange town, especially a town of such strenuous activities as Milestown in the early '80's, for it was only a step from the train to the hotel. The incoming guest was at once relieved of all anxiety as to what was going to happen to him and the departing guest could banish all fears of missing his train. The building was not notably attractive from an architectural standpoint, utility evidently being the aim of the designer, but it had a spacious frontage to the southeast which was adorned with a wide two-story porch that was not only dear to the southern guests of whom there were many, but was likewise highly appreciated by the townspeople who found its many allurements so hard to resist that a trip from town to the Macqueen generally was an undertaking of hours, though the business transacted required only minutes. In the pleasant summer days the porch would be thronged with cattlemen discussing the many ramifications of their business, the less sedate members breaking away for cards or billiards, with the "remittance boys" always adding a jolly savor to the proceedings, whatever they might be. Nearly all the unmarried men in the business houses boarded there and at meal times there would be a gathering of this contingent that added to the general gayety of the premises. Dances and banquets innumerable were held in the spacious dining room, a special feature being made each year of the Stockmen's dance given during the session of the Stockgrowers' Association. It was at one of these dances that a mysterious shooting occurred that defied solution. As the long queue of dancing couples were slowly, very slowly, making headway through the hotel lobby -- then crowded almost to the limit -- to where the refreshments were being served, a shot ran -- out and Capt. "Jack" Webster of the 22nd Infty. -- then stationed at Fort Keogh -- was seen to fall. He was in the waiting line with his pardner and in the center of the crowd. Immediately the whole assemblage was in dire confusion and it was some little time before the cause of the confusion became generally known. The shot took effect in the back, in the pelvic region and of necessity was delivered from behind, but no one could tell who was immediately behind the victim nor did he know himself. The only "clue" -- if such it could be considered -- was an antiquated "six-gun" that was picked up near where the shooting had taken place, after the crowd had been dispersed by the authorities. It was declared by experts to be wholly unserviceable and showed no sign of having been recently discharged. The wound was not fatal but it resulted in Captain Webster's being retired from active service because of disability. The general verdict was that the shot was accidental and that the person culpable took occasion of the confusion that prevailed to avoid unpleasant results of his carelessness.
An interesting sequel to the story of the Macqueen House interesting at least to old-timers -- is that the faithful porter of the hotel through all its career of fifteen years, subsequently became the owner of the realty.
Another spot that was short-lived but that gripped us hard while it lasted, was tobogganing. We became infected from St. Paul, where they were having their first lee Carnival and townsmen returning from there brought such vivid accounts of the sport that we caught on. The Whiteside boys, who were then conducting a lumber yard at the present stand of the Midland, built a "slide" at the corner of Main and Ninth, just alongside of where the Iris theater now stands. The slide started with a tower about fifteen feet high and sloped north pretty rapidly, taking the ground about half-way to Pleasant street and the impetus this gained carried the light toboggans well beyond Palmer street. The Whitesides had some toboggans for hire, but quite a number of the young men owned their own toboggans and in addition donned the fantastic carnival suit made of gay-colored blankets, and provided a like equipment for their best girls; and there were the merriest kind of times at the slide, every night, and when the moon was not on duty, large bonfires lighted the runway and added to the gayety of the scene. It was an accepted rendezvous for the young people of the town, every-night, and as there were no saloons adjacent the reserved and the sedate mixed with the giddy and the hilarious and it was great sport for all. It only lasted that winter though. The tower and slide had to be removed in the spring and a movement to reconstruct it the next winter lacked financial backbone.
During the furor of the first season it was suggested by the Yellowstone Journal -- merely as a joke -- that a corporation be formed to operate a slide from Signal Butte to town, contemplating a continuous down-grade tour of some twelve or thirteen miles, the outward trip to the Butte to be made by "bobs" fitted up for "straw rides," thus affording pleasure for the slow trip to the starting point and exhilaration beyond compare for the homing trip. The plan was considered seriously by many, the only objection raised -- singularly enough -- was the danger incurred in crossing the N. P. track at such high speed as the returning tobogganers would be under at the end of a twelve-mile run down-hill. Finally some one who knew the topography of the stretch between town and the Butte, made it plain that while the general dip was toward town, it was not as smooth as it looked, there being innumerable coulees and humps and wash-outs to be encountered. Then a very un-civil engineer made an estimate on the probable cost, which he set at twenty thousand dollars. He further stated that the plan was impracticable and that the man who proposed it was either an idiot or a damn fool, which was hard on the newspaper man, but he had his consolation in knowing that the un-civil engineer had swallowed the bait, hook and all, in thus treating the matter seriously. But, if tobogganing was still in fashion, it wouldn't seem so preposterous. The cost of twenty average automobiles would cover it and those devoted to speed could get more of it slipping down the flank of old Signal Butte, than can be enjoyed now, in town. But to ask a man in those days to dig up a thousand or fifteen hundred dollars for an appliance to take a swift ride in, was indeed out of the question. That no doubt is what caused the engineer to be so un-civil.
Foot-racing had its little chapter connected with those early days. We had a young fellow named Gott, doing a telegraph shift at the N. P. station, who was something of a sprinter. He was almost a "ten-second" man but never could quite make it. But he liked to sprint and soon had several likely youngsters innoculated so that they fitted themselves out with running shoes and other togs and quite often there would be a handicap race pulled off with a field of local sprinters placed according to their several abilities, with Gott as the 100-yard man, and it was great sport.
Growing out of this, the idea took root in the brain of a Glendive horseman that Milestown might think well enough of Gott to back him in a race and in the development of this idea the Glendive man cast about him and found a real foot-racer who could make the mark but was so short on reputation that he could not use his own name. He was secured, however, and brought to Glendive in disguise and employed by the horseman in some menial capacity about the latter's stables. Then there was talk sifted around Milestown that Harry Helms had a stable boy that was quite a sprinter and it would be great sport to let him have a try-out with Gott. Of course Glendive had nothing against Milestown but there was the usual rivalry and this feeling fanned the flame until the Glendive people began to say what they thought Harry's man could do to Gott if placed on even terms, meaning a handicap, which -- as expected -- Milestown sports refused. Then Glendive grew vain-glorious and threw back the taunt that Milestown had no sand and that the Glendive man could run Gott off his feet. A little of this stuff went a long way and resulted in a match being made for a small purse, to be run at Glendive. The purse was of no consideration and it was to go to the winner anyway. The sports on both sides were figuring on the side bets. Those on the inside in Glendive had held a watch on the unknown and had seen him do all that was needed "to bring home the bacon." In the light of later disclosures it appeared that some of the "game" of Milestown had contracted with the stable-boy to make a great appearance of running but to let Gott win. Whether Helms got wind of this or whether he just guessed it might be possible, was never made clear, but it was told afterwards that just before the race Harry took his boy into the seclusion of the barn, and there admonished him of the futility of double-dealing, adding by way of emphasis that he (Harry) would be on the side-line along toward the finish and that if he (the runner) didn't finish with a clean lead, he would put him out of the racing business for all time by shooting his speedy and valiant legs full of holes. And he displayed the gun he was going to do it with. The race was run according to this understanding and Milestown sports dropped about fifteen hundred dollars, Gott lost caste with his former admirers and a debit charge was made to Experience.