Yellowstone Genealogy Forum


Crow Land Leases Details


Thursday, May 08, 2003 (Added Ross & Runner)

Most all materials are extracted from “After the Buffalo Days, by Charles Crane Bradley, Jr’s book, published in 1970 and is used to assist in locating the leaseholds and wagon trails that eventually passed by the Twin Monuments located at the edge of the South Hills. This book is a “must” for any serious investigation into the operation of the Crow Indian Reservation. The Agents assigned to manage the Government affairs on the Reservation sometimes tried to represent the Indians’ point of view, but were almost always thwarted in their attempts and promptly removed.

On March 15, 1890, at the Crow Council, it became known as “the Year of the Sheep.” Chief Plenty Coups (Coos) and Chief Wet spoke against having sheep on the reservation land, excepting for the squawmen. Plenty Coos and Pretty Eagle wanted only six cattlemen on the reservation: Campbell (Columbia Land & Cattle Co), Hardin Campbell & Co, Portus Wears (Hurlbut Land & Cattle Co), Ash, Story and W. M. Spear (representing Paul McCormick, who later was Vice President of the Spear Cattle Company). On May 9th, after some debate, they added Porter to the group. At this time, Paul McCormick was freighting vast quantities of hay and supplies to Fort Custer on a regular basis.

Congressman Carter received this letter from the Wool Growers of Yellowstone County:

“As the matter now stands, the cattle men are granted rights over large tracts of the Reservation to the detriment of the sheep men. Whereas the income from the cattle outfits is only about one half the amount which could be realized if the sheep men had an equal show.”

Agent Wyman stated: “the problem with sheep was that they could not travel long distances and thus ate out the grass near the streams.” F. D. Pease took a stand stating that Indians and half-breeds should have sheep. Sheep brought money twice a year; whereas cattle brought money only once every four years. Wyman thought that it would be better if sheep grazed on allotments rather than open ranges. On May 3rd the Commissioner advised Wyman to issue no more sheep permits, terminate the present ones, and remove all sheep and horses on leased land, from the Reservation. Wyman dragged his feet, and in August he requested more time. He explained that the land was the driest for several years and that the trains are causing fires and burning grasses for miles and miles.

For many of the early years prior to 1890, brothers Nelson & Walter Story ran their stock on the range between Clark’s Fork and Pryor Creek. In 1890 they requested to run their stock on land east of Pryor Creek. Others had permits for grazing in that area and there were some Indian settlements so that fell through. On November 3 and 4 of 1890 the council met with General Niles to discuss selling a portion of their land to the Cheyenne. Walter Story came along and demanded the right to place his stock on the east side of Pryor Creek. At the time, Agent Wyman refused him after Chief Plenty Coos, Wet, Bell Rock and Pretty Eagle explained that story’s stock has always been on the west side of Pryor Creek and they did not want his stock on the east side. The members also expressed a lack of appreciation for story’s gift of cows that were “lumped-jawed”, and flour that was not marketable! Other tribal members also complained that Story had not paid for crop damage, nor did they hire Indians to assist in stock management. Wyman stated:

“That the reason Mr. Story so earnestly desires to bring his very large herd of cattle east of Pryor Creek  …. Is …. Because he feels that the western portion of the reserve is to be eventually segregated, and he is evidently determined to obtain a foot hold east of Pryor.”

Plenty Coos had previously allowed the Story’s cattle “to drift” over the creek and graze on the land where McCormick and Portus Wears had permits. They had complained that Story’s line riders were giving harsh treatment to their cattle. This led to other harsh words, with the result that Agent Wyman, acting under orders from the Indian Commissioner, to allow Story’s cattle free access to the east side. The Secretary of Indian affairs said that if the land east of the creek wouldn’t support Story’s cattle, then each cattleman on the reservation would have to reduce his herd proportionately!  Inspector James Cisney telegraphed the Secretary that there was “serious trouble” developing over Story’s cattle. There were actually three times as many cattle in the Story herd, than what he claimed, and that they have put many cattle over on the east side during the night. In the following month the Wyoming cattlemen brought many thousands of cattle onto the southern edges of the reservation. Samuel Garvin and the Hurlbut Company who had line riders in that area, withdrew them; and all of the reservation Indian Police were stationed on Pryor Creek counting the Story cattle. The Secretary telegraphed the agent “that if the Wyoming cattle were on the reservation prior to November 20th, they should remain there and not be removed during the winter.”

Six witnesses of the November council conference with Inspector Cisney prepared affidavits about the Wyoming cattle: three claimed they were on before the 20th, three claimed Agent Wyman used his influence to manipulate the conference and determined who could have cattle on the reservation.

The Allotting Agent, James G. Hatchitt, in 1890, advised the Commissioner that the contract let to Paul McCormick to haul oats from Wyoming did not pay the Indians enough, and thought he was becoming rich off them. Squatters began to arrive on the western portions of the Reservation, and were waiting the time when the land would be opened for settlement. [On October 15, 1892, President Harrison signed a Proclamation that opened the western portion of the Reservation to settlement.]

The end of 1891 the range was overstocked. Lovell and Story had 10,000 cattle there. Agent Wyman was directed by the Commissioner to divide the reservation into five districts, and provide for three year leases; cattle only; with sealed proposals to be submitted by prospective land users, and accompanied by a certified check. The Indians didn’t object to the new ruling, so long as Campbell was allowed to stay on the reservation. This didn’t get very far. Agent Wyman noted that the Indians didn’t understand that the existing leaseholders would have to leave and be replaced by strangers if lower bids were received. After understanding, they became excited.

Immediately, on the day after receiving notice of this plan, the Indians went with Pretty Eagle to Fort Custer to discuss this plan with General James S. Brisbin. Pretty Eagle told the General that he wanted the Hardin Campbell, Paul McCormick, Garvin, and the Hurlbut Company to remain on the reservation, even if the department should require them to pay more. He didn’t want the lease to go to the highest bidder “independent of the character of the man.” Medicine Crow said they would not permit more cattlemen or strange ones on the Reservation. Old Woman said “ let some of them try to put cattle on the Reservation and see how quick we will put them off.”

On April 25, 1891, a Council was held to discuss the new plan. Plenty Coos, Pretty Eagle, Medicine Crow, Wet and Spotted Horse were strong in their dissent to the bidding plan that could eliminate their favorite cattlemen and allow strangers to take over. Plenty Coos stated, “If the Great Father” does not want any trouble with the Crows, don’t send any more cattlemen among us. Don’t send any strangers whose faces we don’t know.” When Agent Wyman called for a vote, not one was caste for the plan. Agent Wyman prepared a 25-page draft defining the rationale behind the reason why the existing men should stay on the Reservation to Commissioner Belt.

Commissioner R. V. Belt replied with a very angered response: “This office regrets that any of the Crows, who, as a tribe, have been so obedient to, and respectful of, the wishes of the Government, should be guilty of the dictatorial expressions ascribed to them, and without one word of admonition, reproof or remonstrance from you. It will be admitted that the Indians have the right to withhold their consent to the driving or grazing of cattle on their reservation, but if they desire to permit the grazing of cattle thereon as a means of revenue, it is for the Secretary of the Interior to prescribe the rules and regulations under which such permission shall be given.”

This map was drawn to define the original five districts comprising 2,215,000 acres:

District 1 – 380,000 acres east of Little Horn River to bottom of Tullock Fork

District 2 – 576,000 acres east of the Big Horn to District 1

District 3 – 435,000 acres west of the Big Horn to middle of valley

District 4 – 435,000 acres east of Pryor and joining with District 3[1]

District 5 – 389,000 acres above Districts 3 & 4 to Yellowstone River

During this interval, there were no fence lines, and the “line riders” rode along the portions of their land to keep stock in check. It was naturally assumed that the leases included access to water.



Ignoring the wishes of the Crow Tribe, the government solicited cattle leaseholds for the five districts, thus eliminating virtually all-small leaseholds. The bids were opened in June 1891 and totaled $29,781.50, more than ever received previously.

        District 1 – Samuel H. Harding

        District 2 – M. Rosenbaum (Columbia Land & Cattle Co)

        District 3 – Portus B. Wears

        District 4 – Thomas Paton (New man from New York, paid the most per year)

        District 5 – Matthew H. Murphy

The Crows, excepting for Thomas Paton, knew all the men who bid. The Story’s and McCormick didn’t bid. After one year of operation, District 2’s eastern boundaries were fenced by the Columbia Cattle Co (lessee) to prevent trespassing stock and wild horses from entering. Permission to do so was granted by Spotted Horse, Old Dog and 22 other Crow Tribal members consent. The Office of Indian Affairs, however, decided on their own to permit a few small stockowners lease allotments to be issued at the same time in 1891. Additionally other small-time cattle operators crept onto the reservation, while others waited nearby. This resulted in illegal leaseholds being consummated by the individual Indian landowners, in what was referred to as thieving. Both the cattlemen and the Indians were at fault. This practice was wide spread from 1901 through 1906 and later, but little attention was paid to the activity after 1906.

Range Leases Prior to 1891 Formal Creation of Districts

Major Merrill in 1882 was stationed with his command on the south side of Yellowstone River near Billings (below the South Hills area.) James L. Ash was given a contract to supply milk to the military personnel stationed there. To accomplish this he brought his cows onto the Reservation for milking. They became so accustomed to the range that the herders couldn’t keep them off the Reservation, so in 1883 Ash requested that Agent Armstrong allow him to keep his cows there. It was granted. Next in 1883 came Squaw man Thomas Kent, who had a herd of 750 cattle on the Reservation. He sold his herd and went into the sheep business. The cattle buyer, R. B. Briggs requested permission to leave his 750 cattle on the Reservation to be managed by Kent. For this he was granted a temporary permit on July 7th. In August, J. C. Wilson (a Kansas cattleman) requested from Commissioner Thomas Ryan that he wished to lease a portion of the Reservation. Secretary Joslyn stated he had no objections, provided the Indians granted permission. (The lease did not happen.)

The First National Bank of Billings in 1882 placed virtually its entire assets into sheep. This is probably the herd owned and managed by James Ash, who was given the first lease for grazing on the Reservation. The grazing areas of the time weren’t specified, but appear to have been initially located across from the Canyon Creek area and on toward the Pryor Mountains. In 1883, Preston Moss took over control of the bank, and discovered that his predecessor had put the bank’s assets into sheep, and there was almost no money available for the depositors. The market plummeted, and the sheep were worth only $.50 each! Grazing typically took $2 to cover the feed and support.

Cattle barons kept inventing new schemes to obtain free grass. They kept up these charades until 1906, when most of the loopholes were closed. Many of the cattlemen simply staked out areas for their stock to graze, and if any payments were made to the Indians, there appears to be no clear record. Many of the ranchers kept their stock on rangeland bordering the Reservation, and mainly in the Powder River basin area and on into the Musselshell & Tongue River areas. Very little information is available about the ranchers having stock on the Reservation, and rivers and creeks mainly identify their locations. Head counts weren’t made in 1883, but there were about 300,000 sheep and 300,000 cattle on the ranges in the Reservation. In the early years stockmen made no plans for winter-feeding; but this soon changed. At Miles City a small group of cattlemen got together and formed “The Eastern Montana Stockgrowers Association.” Later, in 1884, “Eastern” was dropped from the name.


In 1884, Secretary Teller advised Agent Armstrong that:

“If the Indians, on their own motion, choose to allow stockmen to pasture their cattle on the reservation, paying therefore a fair sum, they have the right to do so under the statute of the United States. But under no circumstances should the Agent initiate such a movement, and all the Agent should do is look after the interests of the Indians and see that they are not cheated.”

As other requests arrived, Commissioner Stevens replied that departmental leases didn’t exist. The Indians gave grazing permission, and that there were to be no “permanent improvements.” On October 29th, the Indians held a Council and established their first formal lease holds:

“J. T. Blake & J. C. Wilson would lease all the land west of Pompey’s Pillar and west of Fort C. F. Smith (Big Horn River), excepting for the Yellowstone bottomlands. This amounted to 1,500,000 acres and much mountainous areas. Failure to pay, and the livestock (cattle and horses) would be held. The agreement was signed by Chiefs’ Fringe, Old Dog, Horse Guard, Takes Wrinkle, Spaniard, Old Crow, Dog Eye, Long Elk, Pretty Gutts, Crazy-Sister-in-Law, Old Nest, Medicine Crow, Bear-in-the-Water, Bull Goes Hunting, Two Belly, Big Ox, Fire Fish, Big Forehead, Plenty Coos, Pretty Eagle, Iron Bull, Spotted Horse, Crazy Head, Buffalo Well Known, and 439 tribal members.”

Malcolm McDonald (from Stillwater) complained to the President that Agent Armstrong forced the Indians to lease their land to a Denver syndicate of cattlemen, and that he had threatened to withhold rations unless they signed a 25-year lease! Armstrong replied that he didn’t force the signing. A committee of citizens for Yellowstone County was formed and they complained to Commissioner Hiram Price that the leased area consisted of 3,500,000 acres. Agent Armstrong was unaware that during this time period the Government had increased the beef contracts by 25% and he had incorrectly told the Indians that they would have to decrease their beef needs to meet their needs for the year. [This is where Spotted Horse rose up against his brethren who took up farming.]

It was an accepted practice in 1884 to permit local cattlemen to enter the Reservation during the spring and fall roundups to reclaim strays, but some violated this practice by deliberately driving their stock across the river so they would have free grass.

In 1885 Agent Armstrong requested troops to prevent the stock from being driven over to graze on the Reservation. The cattlemen were strewing hay in a path that led them to cross the river. Another problem was the Act of 1882 that granted permission for cattlemen to drive their herds across the Reservation. James M. Cox, in August 1884, drove his herd across the Reservation without paying a toll. He was tried in 1885 and cleared of the charge, since a letter was found to reduce the charge was written five days after the cattle started to cross.

In 1886 Thomas Barry applied for permission to graze sheep was approved by the tribe. J. A. Campbell found it difficult to keep his cattle off the northeast corner of the reservation, and asked for permission to graze there. Soon many cattlemen applied for grazing rights. They had to obtain Indian consent through the Agent, followed by Commissioner approval. The new Secretary, L. Q. C. Lamar, rejected the Blake & Wilson lease. Agent Williamson recommended grazing leases: “Without permits issued thousands of cattle will be driven on reserve without permission and they (cattlemen) will run the risk of paying one dollar per head fine, rather than have their cattle die on the ranges that are overstocked.” On November 19th former Crow scout, James A. Campbell, met with Chiefs’ Plenty Coos, Two Belly, Spotted Horse, Pretty Eagle, Old Dog and others who granted him permission to graze his cattle on the Reservation “until they desired him to leave”.

Fort Custer received a six-square mile tract of land for its residence, and became a Military Reserve. Agent Williamson wanted all Indian women to leave, as they were a bad influence on the soldiers stationed at the post. Excepting for the railroad, all personal travel was limited to horseback and buggies. The Northwestern Express Stage & Transportation Company had the mail contract from Rock Creek, WY, to Junction City, MT. The route was 90 miles in length and had five stations on the reservation that belonged to the line. [It traversed along the old Mee-Tse-Tse trail near Cody, through Pryor Gap, through the Old Crow Agency at Pryor, and on to Junction.]

On February 8, 1887 the General Allotment Act (Dawes Act) was passed, which permitted Indian women, married to whites to be regarded as Head of Households. James R. Howard was appointed as Allotting Agent.

On April 23, 1887 a large Council meeting was held and Agent Williamson told the members “many cattle have grazed on your reservation for which you have received no pay.” He told them that each family could receive one wagon if they granted grazing permits! Chiefs’ Crazy Head and Plenty Coos stated that they wanted J. A. Campbell to graze east of the Agency, and Nelson Story to graze west by the old Agency (Stillwater.) By May five cattle companies filed for permits. Secretary Lamar, in reviewing the permit applications advised that they would expire on November 1st. He further advised the Commissioner[2] that:

“The Agent should be instructed to have the Indians in council designate as early as possible the portions of the reservation they desire to permit cattle to graze upon. Natural boundaries should be selected as far as possible to separate the grazing lands from those allotted to or cultivated by the Indians. When this is reported to your office proposals should be invited by public advertisement for permits under proper regulations, for the privilege of grazing cattle on the portions of the reservation designated by the Indians for that purpose.”

Agent Williamson was against the bidding system, and tried to support the Indians’ wishes on letting people they know have the leases. He also refused to enforce the regulation and stated that someone else would have to come out. Allotting Agent, James Howard also was against the plan to lease to the highest bidder. Inspector Armstrong arrived in October and reported that the Department knew better about leasing than did Williamson. He held a Council on November 7th, and telegraphed the Secretary that the Crows would designate the parts of the Reservation for grazing “under the directions & arrangements of the Dept.” However, on the 8th, the Crows petitioned the President “to have all herds removed from the Reservation as soon as grass comes in spring, except for the Campbell herd.” The Commissioner ordered Williamson to hold another Council and designate the areas to be let to the highest bidder. A council was held on December 31. They were disappointed that what they told Armstrong was not passed on to the Commissioner, but to the Secretary, and they wanted this corrected. They repeated that they only wanted Campbell to have grazing rights on the east of Tullock Fork. Unfortunately the Armstrong Council was not available for comparison, and as such, the Indians were successful in stalling the bidding practice for three years.

On April 27, 1888, Agent Briscoe held a Council, and Chiefs’ Pretty Eagle & Old Dog wanted J. A. Campbell to run his cattle on the Reservation, and all others removed. Chief Plenty Coos wanted all cattlemen removed. On the back to his residence, Chief Plenty Coos ordered the cattlemen to move, but told them that they could come back after a while, if they would pay him money. Agent Briscoe found out about this, visited Chief Plenty Coos, and found that none of the Indians wanted the cattle moved, Chief Plenty Coos stated that it wasn’t the cattle he wanted moved, but the sheep.

At this time there were 30,000 cattle and 30,000 sheep on the reservation. Most cattle belonged to Campbell & Company, James L. Ash, Cramer Brothers, Nelson Story, Jeffers & Maynard, R. B. Briggs, Dilworth, Anderson and Paul McCormick. All were on the Reservation with the tribal consent, excepting for Chief Plenty Coos.

At this time it was practice to charge $.10 per head for cattle driven across the plains from Wyoming to the railhead at Custer Station or Huntley in Montana. The same fee was charged to those driving cattle from the Yellowstone River to the railhead, a distance of one mile. Agent Briscoe was upholding the law, and Senator Charles Reade took the cattlemen’s side, in that the fee was not fair. Agent Briscoe then wrote NPR not to ship any cattle until all tolls were collected. Owners of 1,200 cattle from Montana refused to pay, NPR would not attempt to collect, and the matter was sent to the US District Attorney for review.

In 1889 Secretary W. F. Vilas asked for a report on the amount of grazing that was taking place on the small strip of land between the Yellowstone River and the stations, and whether or not damage compensation was needed.

Briscoe stated that cattle driven to Custer Station were held north of the river until ready to load, and traversed one-half mile to the station. No damage was done. Huntley was a different matter, as cattlemen often held their cattle south of the river on Indian land. He thought that all cattle should be taxed; else there would be an advantage over the Wyoming owners. He further explained what was common practice by some. “ I always met the herd with policemen, who had orders to guide & protect the herd and allow no Indian to disturb them. Consequently all drivers were satisfied except for two parties who came onto the Reservation via Pryor’s Gap. These men failed to notify me of their intention to drive to Huntley, so I could not protect them. One Indian, Sharp Head, attempted to blackmail them, and threatened to stampede his herd unless they gave him beef. They were compelled to do so, and then blamed me for not affording protection.”

No grazing advertisements appeared throughout the year. Agent Briscoe issued a permit to the Hurlbut Land & Cattle Company when he wanted to increase his herd. A council was convened on June 30th at Chiefs’ Plenty Coos and Pretty Eagle’s request. Both objected to the request, and stated so again on July 7th. Agent Wyman was assigned to replace Briscoe, and asked the Commissioner what he should do regarding the permit issued to Hurlbut? He was told that “the permit was unwarranted and in excess of his (Briscoe’s) authority.” Wyman couldn’t all a council because all Indians were in the hills collecting berries.

Agent Wyman thought that all cattlemen who grazed herds of 2,000 or more should hire Indians as one-third of their employees. At this time, Nelson Story, Hardin Campbell, and the Columbia Land & Cattle Company did so. The Agency also had three Indian assistant herders who were better qualified than whites for the job at twice their salary. The Commissioner approved the increase of Hurlbut’s cattle, but wanted a Council to determine how many cattle the Indians would permit to graze away from their farms. No mention of the boundaries was discussed. Inspector W. W. Junkin supported Briscoe’s earlier view in toll collecting. He was against free trails. There were about 20 Indian teams that were used to haul rations into the reservation.

Allotting Agent Howard had a strip of land, including 800 acres between the Yellowstone and the NPR right of way surveyed. Two squaw men had claimed parts of the strip for their children, and had charged for corralling stock in their enclosures. There was also a border dispute between the Wyoming cattlemen, who claimed a line two miles north of the survey as theirs, and ranged stock in the disputed area. They wanted the Agent to fence off the southern boundary, and the Agent said he would fence it off with sheep. This brought the Wyoming cattlemen to arms. This created the Year of the Sheep, 1890 discussed above, and troubles began in earnest. In addition, this year a drought hit the plains areas, further complicating matters. William Junkin, inspecting the properties at Fort Custer stated that he thought the Indians should replace white men who were hauling flour, and that they could also supply all the hay and wood required of the fort.

Continuation of the Grazing Permits from 1892 to the 1900’s

In the winter of 1892 and on into 1893, the Hurlbut’s cattle manager wanted Garvin (neighboring lessee) to sell out to him as Weare had a “knife in his boot for him.”

Agent Wyman was brought up on charges that he accepted bribes, and in July 1893, Special Agent Thomas P. Smith investigated the matter. Samuel Garvin said that Agent Wyman had an “annual bribe fee” whereby he received $500 from the cattleman who wanted permits on the Reservation and that Judge Alexander Fraser of Billings helped to collect the bribe. This was paid in spite of the bidding system. Fraser was in the sheep business and when the Secretary in 1890 ordered that all horses and sheep be removed from the Reservation, threatened to expose Wyman’s bribery unless Wyman hide the removal order and forget about removing sheep. Thus, Wyman advocated a time extension for sheep removal to be in effect.

In 1894 Agent Watson was assigned to oversee the Crow Reservation activities. The lease system was not working as it was intended, and Crows were having difficulty keeping their cattle. Clever thieves, who went unchecked for several years, were stealing them.

In 1895 Custer County claimed that state and county taxes were due them from the leaseholders on the Reservation. In September the sheriff seized sheep owned by Mrs. Kent (a squaw) to settle the tax. Secretary Hoke Smith decided to renew all leases for another five years, to 1899. Later it would be noted that the leases did not call for any taxation! Secretary Hitchcock this year granted land to the missionary societies that were on the Reservation, provided they obtained Crow consent.  Land was allotted to both Catholics and Baptists, but consent was never obtained, or at least “not determined” to have been obtained.

Secretary Hoke Smith added nine acres to the Catholic Mission, and ten acres to the American Missionary Association at the Agency, provided that Indian consent was given. [The land tracts were not monitored, in 1916 each had 160 acres of land, and the locations were not identified in the records. A panic existed in the missions in 1916, when they tried to re-establish their right to be where they were located.]

In 1896 the Secretary called for bidding on leases for District 6. This was created to run from the west of Pass Creek (on south end of Little Big Horn), slightly southwest to Lodge Grass Creek and then south to the end of the Reservation. It consisted of 65,000 acres. The Granger Cattle Company (E. L. Dana operator) received the permit in August. Agent Watson failed to call for a Council before issuing the permit or the lease extensions, and trouble immediately commenced. To start with, the ranges were being overrun with wild horses from Wyoming; they damage the rangeland, and excite the cattle. Many of the loose horses were Indian ponies, and Agent Watson thought the problem was their fault. The county was pressing hard for their tax.

“Although now they (Crows) have many large valuable draught horses and are constantly getting more they still have a large percentage of the pony type which are of no use at all and at the same time are very injurious to the range. There being no market for these ponies I have concluded – though I would not wish to have it done – it would pay the Indians to kill all of these surplus ponies in order to get rid of them and the damage they do[3].”

Thomas Paton, representing the leaseholders, wrote to Commissioner Daniel M. Browning in December, that when they received the grazing permits there was no requirement to pay taxes on the cattle. He stated that if the matter was to be pursued and upheld by the Supreme Court, they all wanted their leases cancelled. Concurrently, Custer County claimed the right to enter the Reservation and round up cattle wherever they were to be found, and drive them anyplace they desired, and then sell them to the taxes. Additionally some cattle lost weight and were not properly assessed. Judge Knowles in the U. S. District Court of Montana heard the case. He decided the lessees did not owe any state or county tax.  Custer County appealed, and the case went to the U. S. Court in California, where the ruling was reversed. This started a trend to eliminate the large cattle operations, and more land was available for the small stockowner to run cattle on public domain land.

In 1898, with the large cattle operations phased out the costs to ship stock increased. In addition, state taxes were being added to the cattle grazing on the Reservation. Indians were killing stock owned by Portus Weare and Thomas Paton. Both claimed that each lost 2,000 head to the killing. The Indians admitted killing the stock, but denied that any belonged to these two persons. In consideration of resolving the mess, Weare’s entire lease was transferred to Paul McCormick, who promised in exchange to build fifty miles of fence line to separate the affected Districts. This became known as “the McCormick Fence” and it separated Districts 3 and 4, in a northeasterly direction.

About 500 Indians complained to Agent Stouch about the fence. They hadn’t been interviewed on the matter, and their permission had not been obtained. They also asserted that the first contracts (leases) were for a period of three years, and made with their knowledge and consent, with one-year continuance allowed; but all leases since 1895 were made without their knowledge, and now a fence was to be constructed without their approval.

Agent Stouch stopped construction on the fence, but Secretary Thomas Ryan approved the original proposal; and the fence construction was restarted. The Crows continued to complain about the fence, but it was built.

Thomas Paton abandoned his lease on District 4 and returned to England (or Scotland.) Agent Becker, who took over in June, thought it would be too difficult to get a reliable cattleman for the abandoned district, and suggested that sheep be brought back to the reservation. The main advantage was that the sheep men would purchase all the hay that the Indians could provide. The Secretary agreed, and ordered bids to be taken for District #4; for both horses and sheep.

In 1899 Agent Becker restated what Watson had said about the Indians losing cattle to the thieves. Most people thought the Crows should have about 12,000 head, but they only had 5,700. The Agent’s solution was to hire four white men and three Indians to guard the common herd. He further stated:

“In my opinion these Indians have pursued the tactics of a man by the name of Maverick, noted in years gone by, in the state of Texas, for his cunningness in branding calves that really belonged to his neighbors.”

As a result of his opinion he withheld $1,000 from the sale of “Mavericked” cattle and thought it should be returned to the Common herd fund, rather than paid to the Indians. To make matters worse, the Indians again complained about the system of leasing as being unfair, in that they were not consulted, nor mad a part of any agreement. Charles H. Dickson, Clerk at the Indian Office, wrote the Commissioner:

“All Indians are opposed to a continuation of the system of leasing,… and claim it was not in accordance with their agreement.”

Dickson proposed to let the present leases expire in 1900 and fence in the Reservation. He also noted that the Crow herds were decreasing. No bids were received during 1899, and it was thought that Agent Becker had created some sort of collusion with the stock growers. By this time the Reservation had been increasingly stocked with sheep and only a few cattle. Even the First National Bank of Billings had sheep on the reservation during Becker’s tenure of office [Preston B. Moss assumed the presidency in December 1882. By 1912 the bank was in receivership, and George Swords was assigned as manager.] Three other persons also introduced sheep onto the reservation at this time. The only benefit the Indians received from having sheep on the reservation was the sale of hay. Agent Edwards, acting under direction from Dickson, started to take matters in his own hands:

        The First National Bank President (Preston Moss) had his flock of 20,000 sheep seized for payment.

        Samuel Garvin, in August, agreed to pay $200 for his use of the basin area on the Wyoming border. This was the first time he ever paid.

        Paul McCormick on District 3 agreed to pay for damages to the 5-mile exemption strip.

        The Columbia Land & Cattle Company also agreed to pay.

In August Charles M. Bair submitted a proposal to graze sheep in District 4. Agent Edwards sent this to Secretary Hitchcock for review and approval. The Secretary requested that more bids be received, but Edwards, stating that Bair’s was the best, and that the Indians would gain more money by selling hay and oats to him, rejected the idea. Therefore, he issued an “informal” lease permit. Again, the Indians were left out of the loop.

The Crows agreed to a reduction of their land in 1899, by relinquishing parts of their northern boundary lands. This required that the grazing districts be redrawn for 1900. Virtually all land in the original of Districts 2 & 5 was lost. Paul McCormick had placed a dividing fence line between Districts 3 & 4. The sketch shows it to be a straight line, but later maps indicated that it had a slight curve, and appears to have followed portions of the Wild Horse Divide. Bids were called for leasing land in Districts 2, 4 and 5. After the bidding was consummated the following had leaseholds on the six districts:

        District 1 – S. H. Hardin (retained)

        District 2 – Charles J. Hysham

        District 3 – Paul McCormick (retained)

        District 4 – Charles M. Bair

        District 5 – Thomas B. McPherson

        District 6 – Edwin L. Dana (retained)






In the strong desire to make higher profits, thieving started in full swing, and by late 1891 Agent Edwards uncovered the thieves tricks. Some cattle carried the I D brand, and some of the common herd carried the C O brand. Sam Garvin was running his cattle in the Garvin Basin area. He and Robert Lee conspired to change brands. Garvin claimed that the cattle belonged to Robert Lee, and produced a bill of sale. Garvin claimed that 600 head were mortgaged to the First National Bank at Billings; but only 35 had his brand. Garvin had changed the brands to read . Edwards requested $500 to convict both men. He recovered from their Wyoming range 100 head of horses, 140 yearlings plus the stolen cattle.   The First National Bank, in its desire to get back the $24,000 loaned Garvin took his side in the trial. Garvin employed the four best civil lawyers in Montana to aid him. On December 25th the trial was over, Lee & Garvin lost. James L. Ash paid $900 to E. W. Tolle and $500 to W. M. Johnston for Garvin’s defense. [Reynolds was a clerk at the bank when this occurred, and saw the checks, thus he knew what was happening.] The travesty was that they stole about $35,000 worth of property, but under the Federal law could only be fined $1,000, and be held in prison for up to one year. Frank Heinrich was instrumental in assist in the capture of Garvin and Lee, and was rewarded by given the privilege to graze his herds on the area south and west of Black Canyon. He also built a fence on the Wyoming border to prevent Indian stock (mainly horses) from entering Wyoming.

In 1900 Chiefs Pretty Eagle, Plenty Coos, Two Leggins, Medicine Crow plus 750 tribal members signed a petition to have the Common herd distributed. They signed a second one later again in September. Thieving by the Indians started to occur, and Agent Reynolds had some in the guardhouse, and was searching for others. Lee Simonsen moved onto District 3 (formerly Paul McCormicks.) Osa Foree was captured and convicted of stealing. He was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary.

In 1901, with the new grazing districts established concern for how best to get paid was discussed. Most all of the hay grown on the Reservation was on the land between the Little and Big Horn Rivers. Thus Agent Reynolds thought the lessees there on Districts 1, 2 and 4 should be required to purchase all excess hay, in addition to that grown on their lease. Chief Plenty Coos and Big Shoulder Blade traveled to Washington and met with the Commissioner. They wanted to have District 4 leased under the permit system (payment was by head count), but Districts 1 and 2 should be bid (fee per acre of land) and leased to the highest bidder. The bids were approved on May 1st.

        District 1 – Edwin L. Dana

        District 2 – James L. Ash *

        District 4 – Bids were rejected.

Charles M. Bair received a permit for running 35,000 sheep (continuation on District #4)

Note* The Ash Lease was asked to be withheld since it was believed that he was brother-in-law to Sam Garvin and his partner. This caused R. V. Belt, a former Indian Commissioner to get involved and be Ash’s attorney.

Agent Reynolds submitted his third annual report on 1 July 1902 indicating there were 1,900 Indians on the reservation, and that a Special Allotting Agent was assigned to settle disputes. Long standing claims were agreed to:

1.      Indians hauling hay to Fort Custer in 1893 were paid $1,004.38

2.      NPR paid for right of way damage - $1,600.00

3.      Paul McCormick paid for cattle eating hay -$125.00

In 1903 the ranges suffered severe droughts, and grasshoppers devastated the land.

In 1904 the Secretary issued bid proposals for grazing. District 3 was exclusively for sheep, and still contained 435,000 acres.

On February 3, 1905 Agent Reynolds held Council to discuss grazing. Ten chiefs and leaders, including Chief Plenty Coos, signed the agreement to permit grazing, provided that the lessees would buy surplus Indian Hay. They further stated that Bair was to stay on District 4, and Dana to remain on District 6.  They wanted Frank M. Heinrich to stay on the Reservation, but not [live] on the Indian Range [he had a ranch just south of Wyola.] Heinrich’s permit was extended for another year.

The Reservation was beginning to receive a fair amount of water from irrigation systems, and there was 70,000 acres of tillable land, well suited for the growing of sugar beets. S. H. Hardin proposed to construct a sugar beet factory in Wyoming and grow the beets on the Reservation. To accomplish this he propose that he lease 10,000 acres of land for 25 years, and that the Indians manage the crops. The concept battled on with various modifications for 14 years before approval was granted.

Another problem arose when it was made public that several white men, married to Indians were running cattle on the range, regardless of whether or not they owned them. If the cattle were on the leased portion of the Reservation, they must pay head tax into the tribal fund. Some white men who never paid for either hay or grazing rights did this grazing.

The grazing permits were extended to 1910, and payments were to be increased:

        District 1 - Edwin Dana agreed to higher fees

        District 2 – James Ash agreed to higher fees

        District 3 –

        District 4 – Charles Bair agreed to higher fees

        District 5 – Heinrich agreed to doubling his fees

        District 6 – Dana agreed to higher fees.



Brosius, agent for the Indian Rights Association protested against the lease permit extensions since there was no contact with the Crows about such actions. In mid-1910 James Ash divided his interests into two separate companies so as to separate himself from Garvin. He formed the Ash Sheep Company, with Yegen as a shareholder; and the Ross & Runner Company. Ross was another of Ash’s relatives. Commissioner Valentine told Agent Reynolds that Ash’s lease forbid any sub-letting, therefore his permits were declared forfeited. Immediately McPherson unloaded three trainloads of cattle from his Arizona property onto the reservation land (District 2.) The order to forfeit was reversed, and Ash got to remain on the land. Ash didn’t need all of District 2 and got permission from Agent Reynolds to let the Ross & Runner Company run sheep on portions of the land. Sealed bids were called for, and on August 1st they were opened. Earlier, on June 1st the Commissioner received a petition from the Tribal members requesting that the districts be leased to the highest bidder, and that Heinrich’s permit not be extended.

        District 1 – 57,600 acres were allotted; 50 Indians resided

        District 2 – 20,480 acres were allotted; no Indians resided

        District 3 –

        District 4 – 96,000 acres were allotted; 500 Indians resided

        District 5 – 91,520 acres were allotted; 7/8th of the Indian herd grazed on this border strip

        District 6 – 29,440 acres were allotted; originally created to protect Indians from Wyoming bandits; 30 Indians resided


Text Box: FIRST GENERATION of Runner and Formation of “Ross & Runner Company”

He was married to Emma ALLING.  F A RUNNER and Emma ALLING had the following children:

	+2	i.	Frelain Edward RUNNER (born in 1858).
	3	ii.	Milton RUNNER died in 1925 in Absarokee, MT.
	+4	iii.	Stanley C RUNNER (born on December 26, 1874).


2.  Frelain Edward RUNNER was born in 1858 in Keokuk, Keokuk Co, Iowa.  He died on July 22, 1942 in Tacoma, Washington.  He arrived in Coulson, Montana Territory in 1878 along with the other pioneer adventurers. He then moved to Butte where he became associated with Marcus Daly. Came to Big Timber in 1898 where he operated a large sheep ranch. He then moved to Absarokee and leased the Absarokee Trading Post from Sim Simonson, and operated it for five years. His 1st cousin, Doloros, resides in Anchorage, Alaska. Murta Mae Kelly and Gladys Kelly are nieces.

Tommy Ross and he formed a business partnership called "Ross and Runner." They operated a cattle herd in the Absarokee ranges, and sheep on the Crow Indian Reservation. 

In 1910 Crow Indian Agent Reynolds was promoted to Superintendent, and protested that James Ash should not be permitted to lease land on District #2 (Northeast corner of the reservation.) James Ash had divided his interests between the Ash Sheep Company and the Ross & Runner Company. Ross was a relative of Ash, and subleasing was prohibited as well as getting additional leases for relatives. Commissioner Valentine informed Reynolds that since Ash's lease forbids subleasing his lease was forfeited. Reynolds ignored the instruction, and allowed Ash to sublease a portion of the land to Ross & Runner for their sheep. [Ash was an invalid, and unable to work the ranges, so he formed a partnership with Christian Yegen called the Ash Sheep Company.]

In August of that year, bids were taken for re-leasing of the rangeland, and WM Spear (Spear Company directed by Paul McCormick) was recommended to take over the lease on District #2. Reynolds withheld the new leases for about two years. Apparently, sometime after 1912, the Ross & Runner Company withdrew their sheep from the range. During the period from 1910 to 1912, many of the rangeland was overrun with freeloaders.

He was married to Ida May KELLEY "Auntie Runner" (daughter of Elisha P KELLEY and Clara C GILLETTE) on December 12, 1894 in Columbus, MT.  Ida Maye Kelley, age 32 from "WS" dau of Elisha P. Kelley & Clara C. Gillette, married Freelain E. Runner 12 Dec 1894 in Columbus.  Witnesses were: Luella  Seely & Cecilia F. Lavelle.

  Ida May KELLEY "Auntie Runner" was born on April 2, 1861 in Crawford, Dawes Co, Nebraska.  She died on March 14, 1953 in Columbus, MT.  See articles in Billings Gazette dated 9-24-1960 for her life history.

Ida arrived in Absarokee on January 1, 1898 where she managed their store. Tom Ross purchased an interest in the store, and after four years it was resold. Only the ranch remained, and the Ross & Runner Company; which managed herds of cattle and sheep.   Frelain Edward RUNNER and Ida May KELLEY "Auntie Runner" had the following children:

	+5	i.	Edward Gillette RUNNER "PUG" (Adopted - St Luke's Church) (born on March 21, 1911).

4.  Stanley C RUNNER was born on December 26, 1874 in Keokuk, Keokuk Co, Iowa.  Need to verify parents.  Might be cousin to Freelain.  He died on September 13, 1961 in Columbus, MT.

He was married to Edith KELLEY (daughter of Elisha P KELLEY and Clara C GILLETTE) in 1909 in Absarokee, MT.  Stanley C RUNNER and Edith KELLEY had the following children:

	+6	i.	Stanley Gilbert RUNNER "Gib" (born on September 29, 1911).
	+7	ii.	Daughter RUNNER.


5.  Edward Gillette RUNNER "PUG" (Adopted - St Luke's Church) was born on March 21, 1911 in Billings, MT.  Parents not identified, but noted that he was adopted in St Luke's Episcopal records.  There were no Carmichael families registered with the church between 1910 through 1912.

He was married to Florence Mae BIRMAN (daughter of TBD BIRMAN and Maude KELLY).  Edward Gillette RUNNER "PUG" (Adopted - St Luke's Church) and Florence Mae BIRMAN had the following children:

	8	i.	Edwin Gillette RUNNER.  

6.  Stanley Gilbert RUNNER "Gib" was born on September 29, 1911 in Billings, MT.  He died in December 1998 in Ankorage, Alaska.

He was married to Mary Margaret LEA.

7.  Daughter RUNNER.  

She was married to Laurence LEA.


The Indians wanted Bair to retain District 4, and a look at the bids before they were opened, revealed that Bair had the highest bid, so all were satisfied.  Heinrich hired Lewis Dalby (former Inspector in 1908) as his attorney to fight his removal from the reservation. It was noted that most all of his lease was on Mountainous areas, and useful only for three to four months of the year. He offered to pay for all the unfenced land between the Little and Big Horn Rivers. Commissioner F. H. Abbott met in August with Chiefs Plenty Coos, Coyote That Runs, an Alexander Upshaw (Interpreter) explained what the Indians wanted in stead of permit extension:

Districts 1 & 2 should go to W. M. Spear

District 3 had Tom Snidow running sheep on the ranges. The Indians disliked him, and he paid less than Bair

District 4 should remain with Bair, who was running sheep

After this discussion the commission sent out proposals and received sealed bids, which they opened and awarded permits as follows. Problem was that no authorization to do so was ever obtained from the Indians, and once again it was a disaster. Many exchanges of information and directions had to be concocted to correct the matter and Council notes. In the interim, the Crow interpreter, Upshaw had died, so there was no real link to any of the leasing discussions.

        District 1 – Spear Brothers Cattle Company (Paul McCormick)

        District 2 – Spear Brothers Cattle Company (Paul McCormick)

        District 3 –

        District 4 – Proposals received from Bair and Fred Inabnit were not clear and they were asked to rebid. Bair won the contract.

        District 5 – Proposals received from Christian Yegen and Frank Heinrich wee not clear, and had to be rebid. Heinrich won, by agreeing to ship Indian cattle free of charge and they could also use his bulls.

        District 6 – J. E.Edwards & Company (beat out Tschirgi)







In 1910, the Indian bureau got tired of managing the leases, so they withdrew, and allowed the Indians to conduct their own leases. Sheep leased to Rosa Peters trespassed on Mary Steven’s allotment, and a lawsuit was filed. The case went to court in 1911, and no money was recovered for damages. Records for District 3 haven’t been located. The old trail that still passes through the reservation from Fort CF Smith to Pryor, and onto the South Hills is evident. Traffic to the Bair and Spear (Paul McCormick) leases is evident, and supports earlier claims about the traffic being on that road.

In December 1912, Mrs. Maria Bright Wings and Mrs. Rosa Peters wanted to lease their grazing allotments, but Commissioner Meritt denied them that right, as their land formed a block along the river in the Tribal grazing district on the southern border.

In 1915 lessee Berton A. Achenbach was required to install fences around the allotments he leased. His cattle broke through the fence and ruined his neighbor Bear Don’t Walk’s oat field. Cattle from three different persons were on the field. The Attorney General had to get involved to settle the matter and lawsuits. Later there were about 14 other lawsuits of mis-management.

On 6 April 1918,The Secretary approved a leasing agreement with Thomas D. Campbell, president of the Montana Farming Corporation, to lease large tracts of land on a “crop rental” basis. In 1819 the Crows wouldn’t agree to the concept, so he went to each one individually and made a special lease with each one. After the Campbell lease was approved, the Spears-Faddis Company applied for a similar farming lease, and was approved. Others followed after that.




1916 Mission Panic

The Indian Office learned that the American Missionary Association was conducting services at sites other than the ones they knew about. Agent Estep was asked to determine by what authority they could do so. Both missions claimed to have 160-acre tracts. H. P. Douglass, secretary of the American Missionary Association claimed to have a letter from the Indian Office, dated 16 October 1909, from Commissioner Valentine approving the allotments. Reverend L. Tallman, Superior of the Catholic Mission stated they had purchased the allotment of Dan Old Bull (in accordance with department rules) for their use on the St. Xavier Mission. This mission was established in 1886 by P. P. Prando; on land claimed by Knot Between the Eyes, who gave the land to the mission. The mission also had a field that was “allotted away” by Agent Rankin in 1902. Additionally the mission had constructed a ditch and a dam on Rotten Grass Creek before the Big Horn Ditch was constructed. When the Big Horn Ditch was built, they had to destroy the mission ditch, and in exchange were provided with free water rights forever. The Baptist mission had a fee patent for 160 acres at Lodge Grass, granted on March 3, 1909… They also held patents for a 5-acre tract at Wyola and a 25-acre tract at Pryor.

Commissioner Meritt wasn’t convinced, so in 1910 he advised Superintendent Asbury that a 160-acre tract was set-aside for the Catholic Mission (patentable under the Act of March 3, 1909). On 12 October 1909 he reported that the department had approved 40-acre tracts in both Reno and Black Lodge Districts for the Baptists, but that the land wasn’t patentable. In addition, the Authority of 1895 didn’t cover the 25-acres they had, but only ten. In 1895 the Association erected a building and stable on part of the 20-acre tract. In 1911 they put up the church, and wanted a patent for the entire 20 acres.

In 1919 the Baptists appealed to the Indian Office that a ten-acre tract at the agency had been turned over to the Black Lodge Mission School so that it could be moved toa central location. The tract was on an allotment belonging to Mortimer Dreamer, deceased. The mission was also on part of a 40-acre tract where Indians used to camp while visiting the agency. So June 19th, Assistant Secretary Hopkins approved the 20-acre tract, but reserved the right to create a highway through it.

Supervising Engineer, W.S. Hanna noted that the Catholic mission had not paid operational and maintenance charges from 1915 to 1918. He also rejected the earlier right for the mission to get free water. Thus on 1 February 1919 the Indians signed a petition against the Catholics from holding any land in the Big Horn valley.

Superintendent Ashbury reported that the Catholic mission was running cattle on the Tribal ranges without paying for a grazing fee. It was noted that unless the Indians brought up the need for payment, the department was not to be concerned.

In 1925 these matters still were being pursued.





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[1] Indian Creek is actually East Fork of the Pryor Creek.

[2] The April 11, 1882 Act, Third Article, stipulated that the Tribe could consent to permit cattle to cross or graze on the Reservation, but that permits were to be regulated by the Secretary.

[3] Thirty years later Watson’s idea was implemented.