Tales from the Old Timers, Stories of Eastern Montana’s Pioneers
BY GLADYS KAUFFMAN
There is no man living today who came to Glendive before Louie Elliot (there never have been very many who could claim that distinction), long-time resident of Glendive now  in the Holy Rosary Rest Home in Miles City. Louie was born in 1881 and came to Glendive when he was only a year old.
His mother had come from her home in Luray, Virginia, to Deadwood, South Dakota, where her older sister lived. In Deadwood she met and married a mine operator, a man by the name of Lou Elliot. When Elliot began to suffer from ill health, he sought medical help in Illinois, but three weeks before their first child, a son, was born, Elliot passed away.
The young widow went back to her former home in Virginia until after the birth of her baby but later rejoined the Snyders (her sister and husband) in Deadwood. Snyder had been a buffalo hunter, but with the passing of the buffalo he had switched to the butcher trade.
When the Snyders moved to Glendive, Mrs. Elliot and her little boy moved with them. The party traveled by wagon train from Deadwood to Miles City, then took advantage of the new Northern Pacific Railroad (it had reached Glendive on July 4, 1881) to travel on to Glendive. They arrived May 1, 1882.
The town’s population in 1882 was strictly limited, but the coming of the railroad the year before was bringing more settlers in all the time. One of the few settlers who had preceded the railroad was Henry Dion, a former freighter between Bismarck and Deadwood.
Mrs. Elliot and Mr. Dion soon became acquainted (it didn’t take long to get to know everyone in the town!) and later married. Louie recalls his stepfather telling about a trip he had made to this area in 1879. He had come up the Yellowstone on a steamboat and found Joe Allen camped at the mouth of Glendive Creek.
Mr. Dion did not locate in Glendive on this trip, but it was either later that year or in 1880 that he did settle here. In 1882 he was appointed first sheriff of Dawson County by territorial governor Potts.
After coming to Glendive Louie’s uncle, Mr. Snyder, started the town’s first butcher shop in partnership with a fellow by name of Hodson. The shop was located across from where City Hall is now, about where the Vet’s Club is. Snyder also ranched southwest of Glendive (now we’d say along Marsh road), with his buildings about half-a-mile from town.
In 1899, the disastrous flood which struck the Glendive area inundated their home site, and Louie’s aunt and uncle as well as several young people visiting them were drowned. The river was late going out that year; didn’t break up until April 7. When it did break up, the ice jammed, causing the water to rise very precipitately, deluging the Snyders’ place in a very short time. They attempted to reach the railroad embankment which was high enough to offer sanctuary from the angry waters, but they were drowned before they were able to reach it.
One of the young fellows had escaped by climbing a tree and had attempted to help his companions, but the ice chunks churning in the torrents knocked over trees like tooth picks, and the flood claimed all the others. Later their bodies were recovered only two or three hundred yards from where they drowned.
Across the river in the general area of the present Buttreys Store an entire family, the Sullivans, drowned. The bridge spanning the Yellowstone had been in use only a couple of years, but it was used no more after that flood because it was washed out.
Ranches and cowboys played a prominent role in this area during Louie’s boyhood days. It was a big day for the boys when the cowboys (that they didn’t see on TV) came to town, especially when they bought marbles from the boys, then played a game with them—played for keeps.
The boys, of course, were in their element, but the cowboys, well, their skill in shooting usually was not with marbles so when the game was over, the boys would have most of their marbles back, the money they had received when they sold the marbles, and the thrill of a game with a cowboy besides. No wonder it was a big day for them when the big cow outfits came to town!
Unfortunately, not all diversion sought by the punchers was that innocent. Frequently the bars got a good share of the hard-earned wages, and the fellows, when drunk, would sometimes shoot up the signs—”Great habit of theirs,” Louie explained. He recalls that one time a W Bar cowboy (if you want to know his name, check with Louie) tried to ride his horse into a saloon. He was so persistent they had to send for the sheriff to dissuade him—which he finally accomplished by pulling him from his horse.
Lee B. stirred up some excitement in the little frontier town when he got the drop on a fellow and marched him up Front Street at the point of a revolver. Just as they got to the end of the street the fellow broke away and ducked into a house.
Lee started in after him, but he was met by the landlady with a business-like six-shooter, and she told him not to come in. And he didn’t. When Lee had left Belle Fourche, he had taken the other man’s wife with him. When the deserted husband showed up in the Gate City, Lee figured it was to kill him so he reasoned that the fellow who got to his gun first had the best chance.
Boys nowadays may find excitement reading about cattle rustlers or watching them on the screen, but how would it feel to suddenly find yourself alone on a ferry boat with two real live rustlers? Louie knows!
He did a lot of swimming and fishing when he was a boy, and since there was no bridge across the Yellowstone then, he had to cross the river on the ferry. One day when Louie had finished his fishing and boarded the ferry to return home, he had to wait for Kinney, the operator, to get back to the boat. Kinney had just brought an elderly lady across from town and had carried her purchases to her home for her, not far away.
Louie knew he wouldn’t be gone long so he just waited on the ferry for Kinney to return. But while he waited with his fishing rod, he was suddenly joined by two other customers—customers he quickly recognized as two cattle rustlers that the law officers were pursuing even then.
Mr. Elliot frankly confesses that he was just about scared to death. He was strongly considering jumping off the boat and swimming to the island when one of the rustlers causally asked him, “Havin’ any luck, Kid?”
That eased the tension and Louie decided not to jump overboard after all. When Kinney returned he ferried the trio across the river (if he was scared the little boy aboard couldn’t detect it), and the two bandits headed on toward Wibaux. Billy Smith, the stock detective, caught up with them on a ranch near Wibaux, and the leader of the pair was killed.
Elliot spent some time working for the Reclamation Service during the building of the Lower Yellowstone Canal. While he was on this job he became acquainted with Captain Marsh, pilot of the steamboat Expansion. Captain Marsh had a steamboat line up the Missouri River to Bismarck.
During the building of the Canal the government contracted with Marsh to haul the cement, which had been brought to Glendive by train, from Glendive to the dam by boat. As Louie unloaded cement he became well acquainted with the captain, and listened with fascination to his stories—stories of his experiences with the steamer, the Far West, which he was piloting at the time of Custer’s Massacre.
It was Captain Marsh who brought out the wounded in the battles with the Indians that followed Custer’s defeat. Mr. Elliot regrets that he didn’t realize at the time he listened to those tales how significant they were historically. Elliot was also acquainted with Charley Scerlie, under Reno’s command, and with Morrie Caine (for whom Caine’s Coulee is named), who was under Captain Benteen. Reno and Benteen were both under Custer, and all three were under General Alfred Terry. Terry had split them at the mouth of the Powder River and sent Custer up Rosebud Creek. Just over on the Little Big Horn Custer was killed.
As told to Gladys Kauffman by Louie Elliot, Sunday, Dec. 3, 1967, Miles City, Montana. From As I Remember: Stories of Eastern Montana’s Pioneers. See www.as-i-remember.com.