BENNETSEN BROTHERS, JESS AND NEIL
From 'Fanning the Embers', published 1971, Range Rider Reps, Miles City, Montana
Neil and I were born in Missouri. We were from a family of seven boys and three girls. Our parents were Chris and Marie Skouby Bennetsen who came from Denmark. Neil was born May 11, 1875, and my birthday was Nov. 9, 1889. We both attended school at Highgate, Mo., and I went to Long's Business College in St. Louis, Mo. Neil went to Great Falls in 1900 and stayed until 1906. He told the following story of a wagon accident which happened as he was returning with a load of salt, after taking two wagon loads of wool to market. He had two wagons and a ten-horse jerk line team. A jerk line team has chain spreaders between the horses and they are held straight by the lead team, which is taught to lean slightly forward into the collar and keep the chain tight at all times, even while hooking up. The chain runs full length from the lead team to the last wagon. The lead horse is driven with one line and hooked to his mate by a jockey stick to keep him in line. A steady pull turns the lead horse one way and a jerk the other way. The driver has a saddle on the wheel horse and a nose bag full of rocks, to use in keeping the horses on the job. "There was a down grade for several miles on the way back and a storm was coming up, so I got off to rough lock the wagon (tie the wheel to keep the team straight). Suddenly lightning struck close by. A young horse jumped, getting his front feet in the spreader of the team ahead. The lead team took up the slack as they were trained to do and this threw the young horse down. I ran and jumped on my wheel horse, but the jerk-line running through the bronc's hame ring jerked the line hard, so by the time I was mounted, old Barney (the lead horse) had wheeled around and was coming straight at me like a quarter horse. I stepped off my horse on the wagon tongue, over the other horse onto the ground and headed for quieter country. The horses went around the wagons, tipping them over with the chain, and left. When we caught them, no two of them were tied together." I worked in Arkansas for the Rock Island Railroad in both Maddison, and at the superintendent's office in Benten. I went to Miles City on April 15, 1914, to join Neil, who came to Miles in 1906. Neil and I homesteaded on adjacent homesteads at the head of Anderson Creek in 1914. We took turns working until we built up our cattle. I worked for Riley Tyler for four years, Al Berry, the L 0 (until Ed Holt quit), and a while for Jarvises while they were at Beebee. Neil worked for Al Berry and the Loesh Ranch. I went to the army from Miles City in June, 1918. We later bought sections, including the Post Hole Bill place (Jason Riens), the Heldt place, and the Clyde Jones place. We also ran on Taylor Grazing in what was then called the Twin Cities. In 1934 we had a terrible drought and grasshoppers, and there wasn't any cattle market. The government bought both cattle and sheep so they wouldn't starve. Joe Bradshaw and I were the government buyers for Custer County. I bought 11,000 head of cattle and I don't know how many Joe bought. Calves brought $8 for the top down to $4 for the condemned ones (ready to die). Cows brought from a $20 top down to $14 for the condemned ones. Yearlings brought from $16 to $14. We sold most of our cows the summer of 1934, and in January, 1935, we bought registered yearling Hereford heifers from the Sheffield Ranch. We continued quite successfully in the Hereford business until we sold out in 1949. Although we were bachelors, we had lots of company, Riders, especially, often stopped for meals or to stay over night. One day I sat down to dinner by myself and had eleven to cook for before the meal was over. But when I got tired of batching, I rode the grub line a lot. I did my gardening by bragging on the neighbors' gardens and they kept us well supplied with vegetables. We usually milked a cow, but had lots of bad luck with our chickens. Once we had a flash flood and they drowned, and another time I was gone (Neil didn't use a gun), and the coyotes caught all the hens. We had one rooster left and he was crazy. He kept looking back over his shoulder and he would fight a man. Neil did not visit much as he was very hard of hearing since early childhood. He read a lot and had an excellent memory. He bought a hearing aid quite late in life, and that evening while visiting with Maretta Zook, he asked if the carpenters next door pounded all night. We finally realized he was hearing the clock tick. He wore it part time only as it was just too noisy after his years of silence. Neil was quite crippled up with arthritis and he wanted to quit, so we sold out in 1949. We sold our ranch to Bob Hardy, and Bud Wilkerson bought our cows. He sold part of them to Everett (Slim) Ridge, a bachelor friend, and our closest neighbor. We left Miles City Oct. 7, 1949, and made our home with my brother, Chris, and his family near St. James, Mo. In about a year Neil entered the hospital where he spent the next six years until his death Jan. 21, 1958. For a few years I bought and sold a few cattle. Now that Chris and his wife have passed away, I batch with my nephew, Kenneth, and I have my old job of cooking. I have only been back to Montana once in 1965 for a short visit.