Friday, November 26, 2010

Glacier National Park, The Great Northern Railway and the Blackfeet Portraits of Winold Reiss.

In this year of 2010, Glacier National Park is celebrating 100 years as a national treasure. The Park, which straddles the Montana Canadian border in Northwest Montana, is one of the most remote of all parks in the National Park system. If it was not for the effort of railroad giant, James Hill, who pushed legislation through the U.S. Congress establishing Glacier 1910, this scenic wonderland of the Northwest may not have been preserved for future generations.

Glacier National Park

James Hill envisioned a “Playground of the Northwest” that would attract people and their money from all over the world, moneyed people who traditionally traveled and enjoyed the sights and attractions of Europe. To interest visitors to Glacier, Hill, with the help of his son, Louis, embarked on an ambitious building spree, where they built a chain of hotels, chalets, boats, roads, and trails in the mountains of Glacier and created the banner, “See America First,” in order to entice visitors to the Rocky Mountain Northwest.

Many Glacier Hotel

The motive behind all this activity was to promote travel on Hill’s Great Northern Railway.

James Hill was one of several “captains” of the railroad industry in the United States, who made a fortune from investment in the transportation of goods and people on railways that linked America from coast to coast after the Civil War. In 1893, Hill’s Great Northern Railway connected the Upper Mississippi River Valley to Puget Sound.

Great Northern Route

All along the route from Minneapolis to the Pacific, Hill promoted the Northwest as a wonderland of natural beauty; a land that still possessed many of the desirable attributes inherent in the American frontier. Hill also cashed in on the growing popularity of what historians in the twentieth century describe as the mythic West; a perception of the West in the American mind, where the exploits of cowboys, frontier army and Indians denoted adventure and unbridled heroism. The Native Americans, in particular, were of interest because of their role in promoting the “Wild West” with their performances in Buffalo Bill Cody’s wild west shows, which toured the United States and Europe between 1883 and 1917. At every stop along the tour, Native Americans in the show helped to recreate the Indian wars of the plains, audiences loved the excitement of western America. In the early twentieth century, The Great Northern helped to keep this romantic image of Native Americans alive by promoting the Blackfeet Nation, whose reservation extended along the eastern boundaries of the park; a trip to Glacier brought visitors in close proximity to the Blackfeet and their culture.

Blackfeet Indian Reservation

Traditionally the Blackfeet nation consists of three different tribes with the same language and customs; the Pecunnies (Piegans), the Bloods, and the Blackfeet. Before moving onto the Plains, and adapting a nomadic culture centered on the buffalo, the Blackfeet lived around the "forest near Lesser Slave Lake. Incessant war forced upon them by the powerful Chippewas pushed them steadily southward until they reached the wide plains bordering the Rocky mountains in what is now Montana."[Frank Bird Linderman] The Blackfeet eventually occupied a region that ran north to south from Saskatchewan to the Yellowstone. Early Plains settlers and frontier military viewed the Blackfeet as a warrior society, who resisted white settlement in their region. At the end of the Plains Indian wars in the 1870s, the federal government moved the Blackfeet to land reserved for them east of what became Glacier National Park.

Blackfeet 1914

Once on reservations, the Blackfeet, along with other Native America Tribes, occupied the interest of anthropologist, writers and artists; many flocked to the American West in order to record what they believed were the last vestiges of Native America life. James Hill understood the draw that the Blackfeet would have as a “tourists attraction,” the search was on for an artists, who had a close association with the Blackfeet, and who could capture in Blackfeet portraits the colorful character of the people. The Great Northern Railway found such an artist in Winold Reiss.

The Blackfeet gave Winold Reiss the name Beaver Child when they inducted him into the tribe in the winter of 1919.

Winold Reiss

Reiss was born in Karlsruhe, Germany, the Black Forest region. He gained appreciation for cultural differences among people from his father, a German artist who focused his art in peasant cultures of the Black Forest. Both father and son trained at the Royal Academy in Munich. Winold was fascinated with the Indians of North American, a fascination fueled by the novels of James Fenimore Cooper. In 1913, Winold Reiss traveled to American to study the North American Indians. Reiss believed that he could use his art to break down racial barriers by picturing the honor, beauty, and dignity of all peoples. His bold style, coupled with his attention to detail of racial characteristics and cultural customs, made his Blackfeet portraits unique. In the summer of 1943, Reiss once again stayed with the Blackfeet, finishing 75 portraits. Many of these portraits appeared on Great Northern Railway calendars

and were included in a portfolio sold by the Great Northern Railway to promote Glacier National Park and rail travel to Blackfeet country in the 1940s.

Portraits of the Blackfeet people by Winold Reiss:

Jim Blood, an old Pecunnie brave

Only Child, Pecunnie girl sitting against a tepee back-rest made of thin willow sticks

Plume, a modern representation of the Kainahs--proud owner of many lodges, horses and a large heard of cattle.

Short Man, A fine old warrior of the Pecunnies who lived until his eight-sixth year. He was an expert sign talker.

Big Face Chief, A stalwart member of the north Pecunnie band of Blackfeet. His necklace and eagle wing fan mark him as a Medicine Man.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Alaska-Canadian Highway

In 1942, the Army Corp of Engineers built the Alaska-Canadian Highway(service men called it the AlCan Highway) from Dawson Creek in the Yukon to Delta Junction, southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska. Initially, the rough gravel road was thought necessary for American national security during the Second World War.

Today, tourist travel the AlCan highway as a more adventurous route to Alaska than traveling by boat along the North American costal waterway.

Inside Passage

A highway to link the lower 48 states to Alaska Territory was first proposed in the 1920s by Donald MacDonald, a senior engineer with the Alaska Road Commission. MacDonald believed that a coastal route from Prince George in British Columbia to Alaska’s southeastern towns would benefit commerce and would be an easy route to forge over already familiar territory. The biggest problem in the 1920s for construction of the highway was convincing the Canadian government that a road through Canada was necessary; The Canadians were reluctant to provide funds reasoning that there were few Canadians living in the area proposed for the highway.

The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the fear of Japanese invasion of the North American coast and the Aleutian Islands brought the proposed highway back to the front burner. The United States Army believed that “a secure overland supply line to the unfinished airfields of the Northwest Staging Route and our military bases in Alaska was urgently needed.” The Army approved the project in 1942 and authorization from the U.S. Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt followed within days. Roosevelt understood that for homeland security there needed to be a supply line to airfields and military bases in Alaska. Roosevelt’s proposal was not without objections from those who considered many of the President’s programs “boon-doggles.” Roosevelt’s administration justified the billion dollar projected thusly: “That the effective defense of Alaska is of paramount importance to the defense of the continent from the west since Alaska is most exposed to an attempt by the enemy to establish a foothold in North American….That sea communications with Alaska in the future may be subject to serious interruption by enemy sea or air action. That the air route to Alaska and the defense facilities in Alaska cannot be fully utilized without adequate means of supply, for the air route, this can be best provided by a highway along this route.”

The need was apparent, the route was still contested. In all there were four routes considered; route A along the coast; route B following the Rocky Mountain Trench; route C inland; and route D, which followed the Mackenzie River System. Of all routes, the route C was the most difficult to cut and critics believed it would take the longest to forge through uncharted wilderness. But, the Army liked route C because it was a direct line to the newly constructed air bases.

The United States brokered a deal with Canada that allowed a highway through Canadian wilderness.

AlCan Highway 1942

Even though the Canadian Government had no objections to the route through Canada, they would not grant funds for the highway, and insisted that after the war the road would be turned over to Canada. The Army Corps of Engineers started work on the highway in late spring of 1942. It was not an easy engineering feat for the Army to construct a highway through 1522 miles of rugged unmapped wilderness.

Some compared the construction of the highway with the building of the Panama Canal and Hoover Dam. It was especially difficult to build the road considering that Army manpower for such projects was scarce. But, there was an untapped pool of men in the army’s black Corps of Engineers; The Army sent the 93rd, 95th , 97th and 388th units, trained in Alabama, Florida and Georgia, to help construct the highway. Of the 10,670 men, military and civilian who worked on the highway, 3, 695 of Army Troops were African-American.

At the beginning of armed conflict in Europe and the Pacific, African Americans in the U.S. Military were not allowed to serve on active duty. But, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, a lack of manpower in the army started to change the prevailing view of African American’s role in the United States armed forces. But, perhaps the attack by the Japanese at Midway Island, and the attack at Dutch Harbor in June 1942 in Alaska’s Aleutians Islands (the only battle in the Pacific War that was fought in North America ) brought home the necessity for all Americans to work along side one another for a common goal to defeat the enemy.

It took 8 months to build the Alaska-Canadian Highway. Construction began in the late Spring of 1942. The work was difficult if for no other reason than the wilderness terrain and the adverse weather condition. Memories of African-Americans mentioned the harsh living conditions in the very cold winter. They had to fight against frostbite and hoped to survive wading chest deep in freezing cold lakes to build bridges.


During the winter months, the temperature dropped to -70 degrees. One veteran remembered. “ For months on end, I couldn’t get a real night’s sleep. I had nightmares I was freezing to death.”

"We wore three pairs of socks at times, with rubber galoshes instead of shoes, because the leather would freeze. We had adequate clothing-- lined parkas, pants, mittens and heavy underwear, but it was still might cold. But I was a young man who felt he had a job to do, and I did it."
-Alexander Powel, Crane Operator, 97th Engineers

The troops lived in temporary tent camps in an environment where temps could easily go to 40 below zero. Their mess facilities were out of doors and food was served up in mess kits that some suggested were “slightly improved from the Civil War.”

Their tents were equipped with wood stoves, wood they cut by hand with cross cut saws and double-bitted axes. These same axes were used to clear the highway path while bulldozers pushed stumps out of the way. Timber that they cleared was also used to make bridges and culverts.

The Alaska Canadian Highway took eight months to complete. Proponents of the highways believed it was the single most engineering feat of World War Two. The highway was immediately used as the intended supply line to air bases in Nome and Fairbanks. In all, 7000 planes were delivered to Alaska. All along the route, every 300 miles, the service men built gravel run ways for planes to refuel and continue their trek to Russia and the European Allies.

Building of the AlCan highway was more than an engineering feat; it brought together black and white soldiers who worked outside segregation for a common goal of duty and the protection of the United States of America.

The Army completed the AlCan Highway on November 20, 1942. Construction crews worked from both ends of the Highway and met at what is now called "Soldier's Summit" at Kluane Lake in Yukon Territory.

Kluane Lake
Henry George Glyde
Canadian (1906-1998)
Kluane Lake on Alaska Highway, 1949
oil on canvas
Glenbow Museum Collection

In 1948, the Alaska-Canadian Highway was opened to the public. The rough gravel road was paved in the 1990s

Today’s Highway

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Play That One Again, Eli

Note: Bob Foster is a frequent guest author on Western Americana Blog. His last article , "Yuma Territorial Prison 1875-1909" appeared in June, 2010. Bob’s following article is an interesting side of Mormon history that provides insight into some cultural aspects of Mormon country in which Bob’s family lived since early settlement in 1852. I hope readers enjoy this piece as much as I did….SUE

Wild, foot-stomping Barney music came to the remote silver mining town of Pioche, Nevada, around the turn of the century, in a rather round about fashion. Barney musical talent crossed the plains from Illinois in 1852, in the person of my maternal Great Grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Barney.

Twenty years old, married, with two small children, he and his wife stopped their wagon alongside a muddy Iowa trail for a brief moment to bury one of their babies who died of fever, then pressed on another thousand miles to the safety of the towering Rocky Mountains of Utah.

Benjamin could sing and play the push button accordion, the fiddle and guitar. At night, around the campfire, musicians in the wagon train would take out their fiddles, guitars, banjos, harmonicas and accordions and play some rousing tunes.

People from all over camp quickly gathered about, the fatigue of the long, grueling day on the rough trail slowly fading away as the lively music enveloped them.

Hands clapped and feet thumped as Great Grandpa called out "Old Dan Tucker”-- talking, laughter, mingling together, many dancing. The music had wings to it. Bow to your partner and doe-se-doe and swing. The stars smiling, the night crowding in, the wild mountain music with the high beat of the heart in it, the feet moving of themselves on the prairie grass.

"Play that one again, Benjamin," someone would holler. Benjamin lined up a Mormon Quadrille, in which the man leads out with two partners. The music starts, the dancers whirl. Then followed a square dance, the moves being called out in cadence by Great Grandpa.

Music was a Mormon tradition and was pushed along by talented musicians, whether on the vast rolling plains of Iowa and Nebraska or in the beautiful Social Hall in Great Salt Lake City. Brass bands, choirs, solos and playing musical instruments were the major forms of musical art in early Utah. In the 1860's tastes in music were improved by immigrants from England.

Benjamin settled in remote Elsinore, Utah,

Elsinore is about one hundred fifty five miles south of Salt Lake City, and raised a very large family, passing on his musical talents to several of his sons, some of whom formed a western band. His son Elias, my Grandfather, never had a music lesson, but he learned to play the fiddle, the push button accordion, guitar, banjo, and harmonica.

Whenever word spread that the Barney Brothers would be playing on Saturday night people came from miles around for a good old rip-snortin' night of music and dancing. But there wasn't much money to be generated from those poor country folk. By the time the four brothers divided up the take for the evening it was almost the same as playing for free.

At one of those shin-digs Elias ran into some gold miners from Kimberly,

a wild, rowdy gold camp high in the Tushar Mountains of Piute County, just twenty five miles south of Elsinore. "Hell, Elias," one miner told him, "you could make more off'n your music up in them Kimberly saloons in one night than playing at Church socials or dances down here in a year!""I'd never even thought of that!" Grandpa said. So he and his brothers sought the counsel of their religious father, Benjamin, asking what he thought about them playing in saloons. "No, absolutely not! You're not going into those dens of iniquity, full of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion!" he growled.

But the boys were free spirits, not given much to religion, nor advice from their father for that matter, so they loaded their instruments in a wagon, pointed the team south, and headed up the mountain to Kimberly, 9500 feet above sea level.

Their band was an instant hit in the gold camp, sometimes playing all night in saloons, stores, and even in cabins with wooden floors. Folks in Kimberly were happy for any kind of music and especially loved some of the old tunes like Old Zip Coon, Bonnie Doon and Turkey in the Straw; and they absolutely loved fiddle music. One elderly woman told Elias, "you fellers sure can play them fiddles. Some fiddlers come up here last year and they sounded just like a bunch of bees in a beer bottle!"

Grandpa grinned as he told it. "When them miners get liquored up, they were mighty free spenders, I can tell you! We'd often make over a hundred dollars on a Saturday night. But sometimes they'd get mean and want to fight. I'd accommodate them, always betting on the outcome--me of course! I never met a drunk man I couldn't whip with my fists, out wrestle or outdraw with a gun!" I believed him, too, because he was six feet tall, one hundred eighty five pounds of pure grit and muscle, with sandy red hair, big hands--and a gunsmith in his spare time!

One cold, fall night Grandpa stopped at a saloon in Kimberly for three fingers of whiskey and ran into some miners from Pioche, Nevada, a much larger camp than Kimberly, who told him Barney music would fit right in with that rowdy Pioche crowd. After hearing how many saloons Pioche laid claim to and learning of the wide open opportunities for talented musical entrepreneurs Grandpa and his brothers again packed the wagon with their musical instruments, some grub and blankets, and headed 250 miles southwest to find out what the legendary Nevada silver camp had to offer.

Grandpa Eli loved Pioche at first sight! Saloons glittered with their gaudy bars and fancy glasses, and many colored liquors, and thirsty men swilled the burning poison. He told me, "now that was my kind of town. If I wanted a hot whiskey toddy I could have it. If I wanted to sleep in til noon I could. I could come and go as I pleased, free from all fashions and social conventions of society." About half the community were thieves, scoundrels and murderers, while the other half were the best folks in the world. Among them, he said, our lives and property were as safe as they were back in Utah. But Grandpa found more excitement among the scoundrels and thieves! And they all loved Barney music!

Grandpa could walk into any saloon in town--tell them who he was, and he and his brothers had a job playing music if they wanted it. So they played their wild, western style of music in many of Pioche's smokey saloons. Where they'd made a hundred dollars on a good night in Kimberly they could make from $300 to $500 on a good Saturday night in Pioche, not so much for their fine music, but because of the miners' state of complete inebriation!

At one of the larger dens of iniquity, I believe Grandpa called it the Edwards Saloon, around midnight when the miners and the Barney boys were well liquored up, they would really cut loose with that wild mountain music the miners could stomp their boots to. Drunk or sober, those four brothers could make their instruments talk! At the conclusion of a savage, stompin' dance hall tune the miners would shout, clap, and toss gold coins onto the stage shouting and hollering, "Play that one again, Eli!"

Those golden coins were most interesting. A $20 gold piece was about as large as today's silver dollar; the $10 gold piece about the size of today's 50 cent piece; and the $2.50 gold piece about the size of today's dime. There were also three different $1 gold coins in circulation. The Barneys had to keep a sharp eye out to see where some of those smaller coins rolled. Grandpa was often surprised at the number of $20 gold pieces they gathered up after a performance. There was also a $3 gold piece, about the size of today's nickel. If you happen to find one, get to a coin dealer fast; for they are very rare and extremely valuable!

Once in a while the Barney Brothers would slow the tempo, playing a sad, nostalgic piece, sometimes harmonizing and singing the sad, lonesome words of love, life, hard times and death. Miners ceased talking as the music filled an empty void, and they each contemplated their difficult, laborious lives, working grueling ten-hour shifts, deep in dark, dangerous underground tunnels, trying to make enough money to support a wife and kids, vainly hoping to save enough of a grub stake to transfer to something better for them and their families, many knowing full well they were trapped in a situation they could never get out of.

Grandpa said a Paiute Indian led a Mormon missionary, William Hamblin, to a large silver deposit in the vicinity of Pioche in 1864. But because of Indian troubles and technical difficulties in reducing the ore nothing much happened. By 1869 several men, including San Francisco entrepreneur Francois L.A. Pioche, who never visited Pioche, though the town was named after him, purchased property in the area and formed the Meadow Valley Mining Company. In 1870 they successfully separated the silver from the ore using chemical processing, thereby opening the area to a flurry mining activity; and Pioche was born.

Though leery of lawmen the Barneys knew it was in their best interests to obtain the blessing of local law enforcement officials before they played any music or gambled. In the West, in those days, especially in Nevada, lawmen got a cut of any revenue made by anyone in the saloon business. A saloon owner in Pioche told Grandpa the Sheriff's office in the 1870's was worth $40,000 a year in bribes alone. If a sheriff turned in an expense account of $15,000 for a 200-mile trip it was paid without question. The saloon owner also told him of a deputy sheriff who killed three desperados on three different street corners within seconds.

Most of the violence in Pioche resulted from questions concerning the exact location of mining claims and the presence of ore-chutes that extended through a series of claims. There was great temptation to "jump" other miners' claims or dispute them in court. To protect their claims mine owners formed vigilance committees, then finally resorted to hiring guards, professional toughs and gunmen, at $20 a day. Sometimes twenty thugs were hired in one day, and they used brute force against claim jumpers.

Pioche Jail

Elias Barney enjoyed living in the wild environment created by tough lawmen and outlaws. Being quite young he was independent, untidy and hard living. He seriously thought about settling down in Pioche but was unable to find a good woman to marry. I'm sure he could have if he'd played at Church socials instead of in saloons! But I never dared say it to his face!

When the Barney Brothers arrived in Pioche at the turn of the century to introduce their particular brand of music, the town was partially civilized, slightly tamer than it was in the 1870's and 80's. From it's start its official start in 1870 the town grew rapidly until 1873, when its population peaked at 10,000. During that boom period, there were seventy two saloons, three hurdie-gurdies, two breweries, and two daily newspapers with wire service. Guns were the only law and Pioche made Bodie, Tombstone and other wild western towns pale in comparison. That became evident to Grandpa when he visited Pioche's famous "Boot Hill Cemetery" where many rows of gunshot and knifing victims lay buried under wooden markers.

Like all young men, Grandpa enjoyed visiting with the old timers in Pioche who all claimed that seventy five men died violently before anyone died of natural causes! Most had witnessed gun fights in the streets, and saw lawmen and outlaws come and go, many exhibiting their expert skills as gunfighters.

After spending some very interesting and memorable months in Pioche, Elias Barney returned to Elsinore, Utah, to become the farmer and rancher his father always wanted him to be. But it was tough to return to the sedate life of a rural Utah farmer, after sampling the excitement of Pioche's noisy, smokey saloons. There wasn't a good old smelly saloon within a five day's ride in any direction from that central Utah town. So he settled down, bought some land and married a lovely young lady, Jane Green, from Parowan, Utah, on January 31, 1901. They were married for sixty years, until Jane died in 1961. They had eleven children, all of whom lived to adulthood, married and gave Elias and Jane 37 grandchildren and 105 great grandchildren

Grandpa Eli's musical talent was passed on to some of his children, with whom he formed a band. They played Barney music at dances, church socials, and other functions in the Elsinore area. Grandpa usually played his push button accordion or the fiddle. His son Larcell (Lars) played guitar and banjo, daughter Wanda played piano accordion, and daughter Betty played guitar.

During the 1950's Elias' family band sometimes played on Saturday afternoons on radio station KSVC in Richfield, Utah, the County Seat of Sevier County. Grandpa Barney's brothers also passed on musical talents to some of their children, and those nieces and nephews often played with the Elias Barney group.

In the 1960's, when Grandpa Elias was in his late eighties, living alone on the old homestead, I'd stop by from time to time to see how he was getting along.

He'd always ask, "did I ever tell you about the time me and my brothers played over in the Pioche saloons, and them drunken miners would throw twenty-dollar gold pieces on the stage and holler, 'play that one again, Eli?'"

Though I'd heard his Pioche tale many times, out of courtesy I'd always say, "no, Grandpa, why don't you tell me about it?"

His face beamed and his eyes sparkled as he lit into a tale of the old west and his particular part in it. I sat quietly, looking up at the old double-barreled shotgun on pegs in the wall, a memento of those exciting days, Grandpa's "other life," as he called that long ago time.

When he finished his tale he'd ask, "would you like me to play you a tune?" He was already opening the battered old accordion case. Out came the old push button accordion and I watched his knurled, aged fingers, now severely crippled by arthritis, try to find those tiny button keys. Grandpa closed his eyes, as if remembering pleasant memories from long ago, squeezed the old squeeze box, tapping his toe on the floor, keeping time with the music. He made a few mistakes, sometimes pushing two buttons at a time. Music filled the room.

Finishing his rendition of the Yellow Rose of Texas, and shaking his head sadly, he placed the instrument back in its case, and apologized. "I ain't near as good as when I was young."

A nostalgic look crept into his gray eyes and he smiled at me. "Ah Bobbie Boy. What grand times those were! I sure wish you could have been there in Pioche to share them with me and my brothers.”

Me too, Grandpa!

The End


Personal recollections of Robert L. Foster as told to him by his Grandfather, Elias Barney

Pamphlets and other interesting Pioche literature, furnished by Peggy Draper, Head librarian, Lincoln County Public Library, Pioche, NV.

Some Dreams Die, Frisco: by George A. Thompson, P. 128: Dream Garden Press, Salt Lake City, UT, 1982

Utah's Heritage, by S. George Ellsworth, pp.166-236-237: Perigrine Books, Salt Lake City, UT

Mormon Country, by Wallace Stegner, P. 13: University of Nebraska Press

An Enduring Legacy by Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Volume 12, 1989
Ghost Towns of Nevada by Donald C. Miller, pp.104-107: Pruett Publishing Co. Boulder, CO, 1979

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Painted Rocks: Pictogrpahs at Flathead Lake Montana

If you have ever been to Flathead Lake Montana in the summer, you know the beauty of the thirty-two mile long lake, especially the eastern shore where the Mission Mountains provide a spectacular backdrop to the crystal blue water.

Flathead Lake is fifteen miles wide, Thirty-two miles long, and at its deepest point, 368 ft. deep. It is the largest lake west of the Mississippi River.

Fur trader David Thompson was the first European to see Flathead Lake. In 1812, while staying at the Hudson Bay Post trading post, Saleesh House, in what is now the Flathead Valley, he explored the region, first going to present day Missoula to look at the area described by Lewis and Clark, and then north through a long wide valley that ended at the southern end of the today’s Flathead Lake.

The Salish people of the Columbia Plateau, traders, and Hudson Bay Company employees dominated the intermountain region until the Jesuits built Catholic missions in the 1840s in present day, Washington, Idaho and Montana. In Montana, the fathers built St. Ignatius Mission at the foot of the Mission Mountains to serve the Kootenai, Pend O’relles and Flathead. (Salish who once lived in the Columbia Plateau. Today known as the Confederated Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation located in Western Montana.) Flathead Lake was explored and well known to the Salish people.

St. Ignatius Mission,

Along the western shore of Flathead Lake rock cliffs ascend out of the water adding a rugged backdrop to this picturesque lake.

On seven of these rock outcroppings, there are ancient depictions of a native people who once inhabited the Flathead Lake region before the Salish. These pictographs painted on cliffs and petrographs carved into basalt that line the lakes and rivers of western Montana, and the Pacific Northwest, provide an artistic record of approximately three thousand of years of Native American culture.

Ethnologists, who have studied rock carvings, believe that the native people drew pictures during puberty rituals, vision quests, and other religious activities. The Salish in western Montana were probably the first to notice the pictures painted on the cliffs along Flathead Lake, which today can only be viewed from the water. Oral history of the people indicate that they established the rock cliff pictographs as sacred places; it was common for the people to add their own art to the already existing pictures. In western Montana, the paintings seem to be mainly related to the vision quest; men and women, who were seeking super natural power would go to the rock cliffs and pray for a guardian spirit to give them these powers. The spirit would reveal itself through a vision, which could be in the form of an animal, celestial object or mythical being.

Today, the location of the pictographs on the western shore of Flathead Lake is known as the Painted Rocks. There are actually two sites at opposite ends of the high sheer cliff. The paintings show painted deer, bison, tally marks and geometric figures. The most common design elements in rock art in western Montana are tally marks. Ethnographers interpret tally marks as the count of days, people, animals or other objects. The marks can also represent the steps necessary to complete a ritual—the marking off of specific items.

It is remarkable that the paintings have lasted for several thousand of years. Part of the reason is the durability of the paint, which was made from various minerals-- crushed iron oxide (hematite and limonite). From the minerals they created colors ranging from bright vermilion to dull reddish brown. The crushed mineral pigment was mixed with an organic binding agent such as blood, eggs, fat, plant juice or urine. The age of pictographs can also be determined from the earliest photographs taken of the rock art in the early 1900s and comparing those photographs with recent photographs. What is evident is that there is almost no fading of the color in the last one hundred years. Also, certain minerals that form on the rock help to imprint the sketches into the rock itself, thereby preserving the painting for perhaps a longer period of time than the surface painting. It is believed that the pictographs at Painted Rocks are two to three thousands years old and that the latest additions to the paintings were between 1700 and 1900.

Note: Special thanks to my sister-in-law, Arlene Hawk, for taking these picture. Every time we visit my family at their place on Flathead Lake it is always a thrill to cruise the lake and stop by Painted Rocks.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Yuma Territorial Prison 1875 - 1909 by Bob Foster

Old time western dime novels as well as modern popular western novels and movies nearly always depict the plight of prisoners in the Arizona Territorial Prison at Yuma as being condemned to hell on earth, or worse. Modern audiences have come to believe many of the myths associated with the infamous prison--it was a prison only for men, the west's most hardened criminals--no one ever escaped--prison guards were actually fiends in disguise, hired to starve, harass, and brutally beat and torture prisoners--the prison was in a mercilessly hot, inescapable desert, with no water available for miles in any direction--prisoners gave up all hope of ever getting out, even when their sentences had been served--the list goes on and on.

The writer himself, a western history buff and avid western movie fan, believed all of the negative portrayals above, and even more, assuming Yuma must have been far worse than the notorious French prison on Devil's Island. This belief was strengthened as he read such things as Darkness engulfed "the hole" as the emaciated convict crawled about aimlessly seeking the cockroaches that shared his cell. Hungrily he sought these "cellmates" to supplement his diet. His face was thin and his body broken. Yet his eyes were filled with hate for the unmerciful men who were responsible for his present condition. Viciously he plotted in his weary mind against those who had imprisoned him in this hell on earth.

Was the Yuma Territorial Prison really a God-forsaken outpost of inhumanity western writers and movie makers would have us believe? As we explore the true history of the infamous prison perhaps we can learn the truth.

The Eighth Arizona Territorial Legislature of 1875 proposed a bill calling for the establishment of a penitentiary. It would be built next to the Colorado River, upon a hill donated to the Territory by the village of Yuma, where work on the prison was soon underway. On July 1, 1876, seven convicts were led up Prison Hill, and placed in their permanent quarters, which they'd helped build. Construction had not yet been completed, so work by the convicts continued. A kitchen, photo gallery, bakery, and bathing room were a few of the conveniences. Around 1885 a powerful generator provided the prison with electricity, as well as the town of Yuma. Enhancing the prison grounds were trees, shrubs, grass, and flowers. Hollowed out on the north side of the hill, facing the Colorado River, just a few feet below, a windowless library served inmates, guards and the public as well. The long narrow library, the first of its kind in the Territory, had numerous shelves literally filled with volumes of books.

Smoothly plastered walls painted with whitewash enhanced the beauty of this center of learning. With the coming of electrical power large blowers were installed to help circulate the hot air that hung within the main cell block. Most residents of Yuma had no such convenience--but they did have their freedom. With these "luxuries," including the prison hospital, the Territorial Prison at Yuma was considered "state of the art," one of the finest prisons in America. However, with bedbugs, cockroaches, black widows and occasional scorpions, life inside the prison was difficult, as it would have been in any prison at that time.

The Arizona Sentinel of July 13, 1895, reported, Strangers visiting Yuma should not miss a visit to the Territorial Prison. There has been so much written and said about the injustice and cruelty of confining persons here that strangers should make a point of paying a visit to the institution in order to be convinced of the fact that for coolness, cleanliness, care and humane treatment, there is not a prison in the world that can compare with the Arizona Penitentiary. At this place, selected on a high commanding bluff overlooking the broad Colorado, there is always a cool breeze blowing off the River. The work rooms, dining rooms, kitchen, library and all other apartments are either surrounded by adobe walls or excavated from the almost solid rock hill, with cement floors, making them extremely cool in Summer and warm in the Winter. As to the work, the inmates are treated more leniently and are as a consequence the best behaved of similar bodies of convicts in the United States. They are required to manufacture shoes and clothing and cook for the institution. A large number are allowed to manufacture canes and fancy ornaments.

Punishment of incorrigible convicts could, however, be most severe. Most prisoners shuddered at the mention of "the dark hole," a cave measuring 15 x 15 feet, dug into a rock hill, with a strap iron cage in the middle.

The "hole" was where prisoners confined to solitary confinement ended up. Usually one stay would correct even the most incorrigible prisoner's attitude as he or she sat in the pitch black hole, and was fed bread and water a couple of times a day.
The main guard tower, which is still standing, overlooks the entire prison. Beneath the wooden tower is the rock-walled reservoir, filled by the Colorado River.

The working convicts also dug tunnels beneath the prison to allow river water to flow beneath the prison to help keep it cool. Atop the southeast guard tower was the Lowell Battery Gun, a weapon of improved design over the old Gatling Gun. The Lowell Gun was manufactured by the Ames Mfg. Co., of Chicopee, Massachusetts, and could be fired 600 times a minute with perfect accuracy at 1000 feet. In an emergency it could be fired 1000 times a minute. It had a horizontal sweep of 90 feet and could be raised to any elevation. Prisoners thought twice about trying to escape its withering fire
At the Sallyport, or main gate, on the north side, facing the Colorado River, was the huge strap-iron grilled gate that swung beneath the thick archway of the entrance.

In front of it sat a mustachioed guard toting a 44-40 Winchester rifle. He checked the credentials of all who entered or left through the Sallyport. Surrounding the prison was an impressive wall totally confining the prison yard. Solid rock served as the foundation of the walls which were masterfully engineered. Atop the solid stone wall adobe bricks were used to construct the walls, approximately sixteen to eighteen feet high, and the base of the walls averaged eight feet thick at the bottom and five feet at the top.

When prisoners first arrived they were questioned as to their nationality, education, occupation and religion. Their heads were shaved and their pictures taken. They bathed and were issued uniforms of alternate black-gray or black-yellow stripes that ran vertically or horizontally. When the prisoners entered the prison they were allowed to have a cap, two pair of underwear, two handkerchiefs, two towels, one extra pair of pants, two pairs of socks and one pair of shoes. Officials permitted prisoners to have a toothbrush, comb, photographs, a toothpick, books, tobacco and bedding.
During the prison's short life, thirty-four years, it confined men and women from twenty one foreign countries including China, Mexico, Russia, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Germany and England. Many of the most hardened criminals were American-born, including Anglos, African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. In all, 3,069 prisoners served time in Yuma, some of whom were women. Men and women prisoners, of course, were separated. There were young and old, the youngest being Charles Smith, fifteen, sentenced to one year for grand larceny. But in all they represented a number of trades and occupations, including prostitutes, carpenters, cooks, farmers, gamblers, wheelwrights, sailors, laborers, and gunfighters. Their offenses included, but were not limited to, rape, polygamy, robbery and murder, stagecoach holdups, cattle rustling, drug trafficking, whiskey selling and horse stealing. 110 prisoners died of various causes while serving their sentences and are buried in the prison cemetery, to the east, outside the rock and adobe walls, on a barren plot of ground overlooking the meandering Colorado River.

Twenty six convicts successfully escaped from Yuma and were never captured. Others tried, but were either captured or shot. The most exciting and daring escape try came on a bright fall day in September, 1887, when seven Hispanic prisoners decided they'd had enough of the Yuma Prison. Master minded and led by Prisoner Puebla, they devised what they considered a fool-proof escape plan.

As Superintendent Thomas Gates sauntered along the walkway toward the Sallyport to leave the prison on business, Prisoner Lopez sidled up to him and began a thoughtful conversation about learning the shoe trade. As they casually walked along Gates listened thoughtfully. Suddenly Prisoners Vasquez and Bustamente, coming up from behind, grabbed Gates and ordered him to get them through the Sallyport gate or they'd kill him where he stood_ Soon Prisoners Puebla, Villa, Baca and Padilla joined the group, Gates in the middle. Gates ordered the convict at the gate to open up; he did.
Once outside the stone walls Villa, Padilla, Baca and Lopez rushed to Gate's house to procure weapons. Enroute they met Yardmaster Fredley who tried to stop them. He was instantly struck with a heavy pick. Even though severely wounded Fredley grabbed Padilla, hurling himself and the prisoner over a steep embankment on the west edge of Prison Hill. Padilla was captured and was out of the fight. Prisoner Baca ran, but Guard E.O. Williams opened fire and dropped him with two shots. Wounded, Baca was out of the fight. Vasquez and Lopez made it to Gates' house, stole a pistol and five rounds of ammunition and returned to the captured Gates, who was struggling fiercely with his captors. Momentarily he broke free and signaled to Guard Benjamin Franklin Hartlee, high up in the main guard tower, to open fire on the whole lot. An expert rifleman, Hartlee fired and brought Villa down. Infuriated, Lopez jammed the stolen pistol against Gates' head, indicating to Hartlee that if he shot again he'd blow Gates' brains out. But Gates fought Lopez and shoved the pistol aside. It accidentally discharged, hitting Prisoner Puebla in the fleshy part of his arm. Prison employee Rule ran up, pistol drawn, to shoot either Puebla or Lopez, or both. But he found Lopez had the drop on him. They both fired at each other and both missed. Rule took off running and Lopez took off after him, his pistol aimed at the fleeing man's back. Sharpshooting Guard Hartlee, high up in the tower, now had a very clear shot at Lopez and opened fire twice, dropping him. Employee Rule turned around, ran back to Lopez and dispatched him with a pistol shot.

Bustamente took a swing at Gates with a sharp butcher knife. Guard Hartlee had another clear shot and blasted Bustamente. Vasquez became the next target and Guard Hartlee fired another sizzling round, dropping Vasquez where he stood. Though Puebla had been accidentally shot by Lopez, he was still on his feet as vicious as ever, the last Hispanic in the fight. Armed with a large butcher knife he decided to finish off Superintendent Gates. He drove the gleaming butcher knife into the back of Gates' neck and twisted viciously. Using Gates' body as a shield, Puebla was trying to avoid Guard Hartlee's deadly rifle fire.

Barney Riggs, a prisoner serving a life sentence, rushed in to help Gates. The Superintendent shouted for Riggs to get Lopez's pistol and kill Puebla. The enraged Hispanic pulled the knife from Gates' neck and repeatedly stabbed it into his body. Riggs jerked the pistol from Lopez's dead hand, pulled the hammer back and blasted a hole in Puebla's chest. As he staggered backwards a blast from Guard Hartlee's rifle smashed into Puebla's back, and Riggs fired one more shot into the dying man's chest. Riggs caught the staggering Superintendent and another inmate named Sprague rushed forward and helped staunch the terrible bleeding. Gates never fully recovered from his horribly painful wounds and was later forced to resign his position. The unending pain caused him to eventually commit suicide.

Four prisoners were killed, three were wounded, and Superintendent Gates survived the attack. The entire incident took less than five minutes. Thomas Gates, in his written report of the incident, stated: "Guard Hartlee does not know to this day, why it was that he did not kill convict Riggs as he had the latter covered by his rifle and knew him to be a life convict, but something seemed to tell him not to shoot; had he killed Riggs, Puebla would certainly have killed me."

Many well known criminals were confined to the Prison, serving sentences of varying lengths. The most renown woman convict was Pearl Heart, serving five years, oddly enough for stealing a stage driver's pistol.

She and sidekick Joe Boot held up the Globe stage. They were quickly apprehended by the Pinal County Sheriff. Both were jailed for robbing the stage and were tried for that crime. Boot was convicted of robbing the stage and sentenced to thirty years in Yuma. Pearl's lovely female proportions, and her flirting, charmed the lustful male jurors and she was quickly acquitted. But the Judge wasn't so lenient--he ordered her to be tried on a second charge of stealing the stage driver's pistol. The jurors were forced to convict her after carefully reviewing the evidence, and Pearl was sentenced to five years.

The trial was a sensation--a woman stagecoach robber--a female Black Bart. Papers all over the country wrote glowing descriptions of the beautiful robber. By the time she arrived at the Prison she was very famous. She loved her new found fame and used it to her advantage, receiving the undivided attention of guards and convicts alike. Pearl played upon the sexual fantasies of these men to win many favors and perhaps her quick release. On December 15, 1902, Pearl was granted a pardon and allowed to walk through the great iron gates of the Sallyport. Before she left, the Prison doctor confirmed her pregnancy. She tried to capitalize on her fame and become an actress, but had no acting talent--she succeeded, however, in getting herself out of Yuma. Her partner in crime, Joe Boot, successfully escaped from the Prison on February 6, 1901, and it was believed he fled to Mexico, never to be heard from again.

Many other women, not nearly as famous as Pearl Heart, served time in Yuma. Most of the time women prisoners were released long before their full sentences were served. Some were quite vicious. Elena Estrada was sentenced to seven years for manslaughter, when she stabbed her unfaithful lover, then cut open his chest, pulled out his heart and threw the bloody mass into his face. She served very little time before being released. Bertha Trimble was convicted of rape. She and her husband Walter were convicted of raping Bertha's daughter. While Walter raped his step-daughter Bertha held her down as the deed was being committed. She was sentenced to life imprisonment, though she served very little time.

Scant background records on many of the male prisoners keep us from knowing who they really were or what they'd done with their lives before ending up in Yuma. One, however, and probably the most renowned of all, was Buckskin Frank Leslie, who often wore a buckskin jacket with fringes drooping from the sleeves and bottom of the garment, thus his unusual moniker. Buckskin was a gunman, fond of whiskey and fast women, a fast draw and crack shot. Once in a while he carried a Peacemanker .45 hooked to his belt with a quick-fire rig. The pistol was attached by a stud to a slotted plate on the wearer's belt, and could be fired by swiveling the gun from the hip before an opponent could blink his eyes.

Leslie hailed from Tombstone. During the early 1880's, when Wyatt Earp and his brothers worked in the Oriental Saloon, Leslie likewise worked there as a bartender and knew the Earps as well as Sheriff John H. Behan, who later became the Superintendent of the Yuma Territorial Prison from April 12, 1888 to April 7, 1890.
In the days when Buckskin Frank strode the streets of Tombstone, unafraid of anyone, he and charming Mary Galeen met in a local saloon, had a few drinks, and decided on a secret rendezvous together. But hunkered down on a balcony above the street Mary's enraged husband waited patiently, his gun cocked. He fired as Leslie and Mary exited the saloon--but he missed. Buckskin's response was automatic as he quickly cleared leather, drawing his six shooter, taking careful aim, fired and blew off the face of Mary's husband.

Leslie was cleared of any wrong doing, the act declared self defense, and he and Mary wed. However, the marriage didn't last because of Leslie's drinking, unfaithfulness, etc. Mary complained to her friends about Frank's odd quirks, stating that he'd once had her pose for him against a wall like an artist's model while he shot bullets around the outline of her body.

Though Leslie killed a number of men he was never convicted of murder until 1889. One evening when drunk, and furious with a prostitute friend, Molly Bradshaw, he killed her. Brought to trial, he was sentenced to life in Yuma, where he was soon greeted by former Sheriff John Behan of Cochise County, where Tombstone was located, now Superintendent of the Prison. It is not recorded what they said to each other.
Finally sober, Buckskin Frank Leslie became a model prisoner and worked diligently in the infirmary tending to patients as the chief assistant to the prison physician. Leslie served Dr. P.G. Cotter during several epidemics when his own health was endangered. Unselfishly, Leslie deprived himself of rest for weeks at a time while serving the patients. He never once complained about anything. His good conduct was brought to the attention of Governor Benjamin J. Franklin, who recommended to the Arizona 19th Legislative Assembly that Leslie be pardoned. Another reason Governor Franklin favored a pardon was Leslie's gallant service as a scout in the United States Army during the Geronimo Campaigns. The Governor stated, Frank Leslie is a man of good character and education.

After serving seven years Leslie was pardoned and walked through the Sallyport of the Yuma Territorial Prison, a free man. He wandered south into Sonora where he lived and worked for a time before heading north to Alaska in search of gold. In 1925, in his eighties, Frank Leslie died.

The Prison's colorful history came to a close on September 15, 1909. Crowded conditions at the every-growing prison forced the removal of all prisoners to Florence. Like Yuma, the prison at Florence was built by the prisoners who inhabited the institution.

The Yuma Territorial Prison continued to be used for other functions. It was used as a school, as a hospital, and by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and was a filming location; such actors as John Wayne, Gene Autry and Ken Cooper made movies in or around the Prison.

During the 1930's and 40's many Yuma citizens worked diligently to convert the old institution into a museum. In 1961 the Arizona State Parks began operating the prison as a state historic park. Just off Interstate I-8, in north Yuma, the historic site is easily accessible. Open to the public, there is a museum containing many prison artifacts made by prisoners, several of the weapons used by the guards, and a theater providing information on the prison. Visitors can walk through the prison, in and out of the cells, and visit the infamous "dark hole."

The End

The historical reference used on page 1 Darkness engulfed _the hole_ as the emaciated convict....comes from Prison Centennial 1876 - 1976, Page 3, Preface: Cliff Trafzer and Steve George, Rio Colorado Press, 1980. Some facts and statistics also gathered from this source.

Other facts and data gathered at the Museum of the Yuma Territorial State Prison Historic Park, Yuma, Arizona, personal visit February, 2000.

Page 2, Quote from the Arizona Sentinel, July 13, 1895 concerning the Territorial Prison..
Page 7, Quote from written report of Thomas Gates concerning the shooting of Inmate Puebla.

Eleven photos are submitted and their sources quoted on each photo. The black and white photos are laser copies and are reproducible.