From 'Fanning the Embers', published 1971, Range Rider Reps, Miles City, Montana
By H. V. (Babe) Cross
In 1879 Charles Robert (Bob) Cross came to Fort Keogh with his brother, Henry G. (Hank), up the Yellowstone on a rear-wheelpowered paddle boat. The reason for their entry to Montana was not only that they had read about this beautiful country, with its open ranges and the big sky, but because their older brother, Victor L. (Veto), was a soldier at Fort Keogh. He was sent out and stationed there the year after the Custer Massacre with 13 companies of soldiers to police the country during the surrender of the Indians.
Many stories of those early days were related to me by my father, Bob Cross, one of which was an incident that occurred on the boat trip up the Yellowstone, in the Buffalo Rapids at Kinsey, Mont. It was August and the rivers were low. One of the river boats on a return trip downstream failed to maneuver a sharp turn in the rapids and hit the rocks, which wrecked it and stranded it in the only channel which was navigable at that time of the year. The boat on which my father was a passenger was carrying supplies to Fort Keogh, which consisted principally of ammunition, bacon and hams. All of these river boats were wood burning boats, They picked up wood stations at designated intervals along the river banks. Arriving at the scene of the wrecked boat on the rapids, the captain of the boat which my father was on knew there was trouble ahead, so he ordered his fireman for full steam ahead, but to no avail, as the power of the paddle wheel was not sufficient to buck the rapid current in the narrow passage left by the wrecked ship. After many hours of trying the passage, the captain then ordered his fireman to start firing the engines with government bacon to increase the steam.
After burning several hundred slabs of bacon and being still unable to negotiate the rapids, the captain then ordered several of his deck hands to swim ashore, taking a tow line, with which in turn they would drag a heavy rope ashore. They fastened this to a tree, several hundred feet above the wrecked ship. The other end of the rope was fastened to what was called a "winch" on the boat's deck. This winch was a large wooden spool about 18 inches in diameter and three feet long, mounted on a spindle with cross bars 10 feet long for men to turn the spool with. Thus, with the aid of the wood and the bacon, and the winch, the boat was forced up over the rapids, which makes us wonder and appreciate the capability of such men as those ship captains who were able to overcome such obstacles with those primitive methods.
Another incident Dad told was the boss cook telling his rookie helper to cook about a tub full or rice, to feed the 13 companies of soldiers stationed there. He put on a tub full of raw rice. The story goes that when the rice started cooking the head cook had rice in everything in Fort Keogh, even sent a mounted sentry to Old Miles Town to advise the owner of restaurants and boarding houses to hurry out and get a free tub of rice.
Of all the happenings in and around Fort Keogh that impressed Dad the most was watching the 13 companies of soldiers go through their maneuvers on the parade ground, each company being mounted on different colored horses. As the Indians were brought in to the Fort their horses were confiscated by the government, except three to each family, a team and one saddle horse. This left hundreds of horses for the soldiers to choose from. So General Miles decided to mount all of his companies, including his infantry, on different colored horses. and as Indian horses go there was no end to the colors to choose from. There were blacks, browns, bays, grays, whites, sorrels, buckskins, blues, duns, appaloosas, pintos and greuras, both strawberry and blue roans, palaminos and the seldom seen sabbines, and each of these colors had many shades. So after these horses were fattened and groomed and trained it must have been a sight of spectacular wonder and one that will never be reproduced.
During the years 1879-82 my father and his brother, Hank, built up a squatters ranch on Tongue River, which is now in the Range Experiment Station lands. They were both good carpenters, along with putting together a freighting outfit of 14 yoke of oxen and three wagons. In 1882 they freighted supplies with their outfit from Bufford, S.D. to Fort Keogh. They traveled in company with the Diamond R's, which was the biggest freight outfit of the day. They averaged ten miles a day and had many hardships.
In 1883 my Uncle Veto, Hank and Bob left their place on Tongue River and moved to Pumpkin Creek where they took up another squatters claim and raised cattle and horses. There they stayed until the hard winter of 1886. They went into that winter with several hundred head of cattle and over a 100 head of horses. The next summer they only gathered 16 head of cattle and a few horses. The three brothers then split up. Uncle Veto went back to their old home in Vermont; Uncle Hank took what they gathered of the horses and my Dad got the 16 cattle.
Going back now to 1880, my mother and her family came to the United States from Oslo, Norway, landing in New York after 21 days on the ocean. Mother's family name was Winge, and the family consisted of her father, H. T. Winge, mother Caroline, sisters Helga and Julia, brother Alf and my mother, Hanna Josephine. In 1882 the Northern Pacific railroad was completed to Miles City and in June of that year the Winge family came to Miles City on the railroad. About the same time the Tongue River Irrigation Canal was being dug. They were in need of teamsters and workers so my Grandfather Winge and his son Alf went to work on the ditch. They worked principally on the dam across the Tongue River where the ditch started. Grandfather took up a squatters claim near the dam and moved his family out there. The Winge squatter claim and the Cross squatter claim happened to be only four miles apart; that is where my mother and father met. Mother and Dad were married in the summer of 1886.
The work on the Tongue River Dam had been completed but the ditch work still continued down stream, so the Winge family moved back to town and turned their squatters claim over to Mother and Dad. They lived there until the summer of 1889. After the hard winter of '86, which all but put the Cross brothers out of the stock business, Dad worked as a carpenter for the different ranches on Pumpkin Creek and Tongue River. During this time he purchased a small place on Tongue River about 21/2 miles south of Miles City. This place was under the irrigation ditch and could be irrigated, as Dad had learned from the bad winter that if he was going to raise cattle it would be wise to raise feed to winter them on.
On Sept. 26, 1887, Francis T. Cross, was born and in the summer of 1889 Dad moved his family to his new place on Tongue River, where four more of us were born in a spread of 23 years. There were Julie Margaret, Vivian Alfred, Harold Victor and Harriet May, all of whom grew up in the house that Dad built. This house has been inhabited ever since the day Dad built it, and still is, changing hands many times since we moved to Miles City in 1916. During the early teens and up to the date of his death on Oct. 3, 1933, Dad owned and operated a water well drilling rig on which all of us boys took our schooling on well drilling. I feel safe in saying that Dad drilled a well in most every block in old Miles City.
Mother died Mar. 19, 1946, and there are only two of us left at this writing, my sister, Mrs. Margaret May, who lives with her daughter and son-in-law, Dorothy and Dick Kirkpatrick of Kinsey, and me.
During all of my growing up days I worked with cattle and horses and all of my schoolhood days was attended by getting there on horseback. While I was too young to work with the old time, big cow outfits, my oldest brother, Francis, did and I used to frequent the outfits he worked with and learn from his teaching and my observation of the real life of a cowboy and the operations of the big outfits of those days.
Dad sold our ranch in 1916. We moved to town and in 1917 1 went to work at the Ford Garage for W. C. Shuey in Miles City. In June of 1918 1 enlisted in the Marines. Uncle Sam sent me, along with the 122nd Company, in the 9th Regiment of the Marines, to Galveston, Tex., to keep an eye on the Mexicans for the duration.
Returning home to Miles City from the service in the spring of 1919, 1 was fed up with restrictions, regulations and discipline and craved the wide open spaces, so I went to work for C. H. Mott and Sons on their ranch in the Moon Creek country, where I stayed into the early 20's.
In 1923 1 went back to work in the Ford Garage, which was then owned by the Calvin brothers, Ross and Carl. There I worked until January of 1929 when Ross Calvin sold out to Ed Love. I became shop foreman and worked 13 mechanics and averaged 22 job orders a day. My hours were from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days a week, with often night or Sunday calls thrown in. I drew $150 a month, with no overtime. Working conditions in a garage those days were almost unbearable, due to the smoke, gas fumes, heat, cold, mud, snow and dust When I went back to work in the Ford Garage in 1923 a bookkeeper and office girl by the name of Nellie M. Cruck was working there and in a couple of years we started going together and Aug. 15, 1927, were married in the Methodist church.
In January of 1929 I was offered the job as under sheriff by Edgar (Tuffy) Taylor. He was elected to five terms and kept me on as under sheriff; this was during the early 30's. Crime was at its peak when FDR and J. Edgar Hoover were cleaning up gangsterism in the cities. We were on call 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, worked short-handed and had nothing but dirt roads to travel; also, prohibition was in effect most of that time.
In the fall of 1938 Sheriff Taylor was defeated in the election by C. M. Allen. In January of 1939 1 was appointed a State Brand Inspector and Investigator of livestock larceny cases for the Montana Livestock Commission, Percy Williamson being president at that time. My territory consisted of 16 counties in southeastern Montana, including Yellowstone County on the west, the Dakotas on the east and from the Missouri River on the north to Wyoming on the south.
In July of 1942, I was drafted into the Second World War and was put in the Army Air Corps Mechanics, taking my "Boot Training" at Sheppard Field, Tex., and getting my discharge at Fresno, Calif. On returning home I went back to my old job with the Montana Livestock Commission and I remained with them for several years. After leaving them I went to work for a local veterinary, Dr. Andy Elting. Later I went to work for the Miles City Sale Yards until 1964 when I ran a commercial spraying outfit. We still had a little bunch of cattle to look after. In fact, my wife Nellie and I have had cattle most all of the time since we were married. Nellie was bookkeeper in the Ford Garage in Miles City for almost 50 years and, luckily, I was never unemployed.
In 1942 we bought our home at 215 North Cottage Grove where we still live and probably will from now on to the end.