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The Wolf Point herald. (Wolf Point, Mont.) 1913-1940, January 22, 1920, Image 3

Image and text provided by Montana Historical Society; Helena, MT

Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86075272/1920-01-22/ed-1/seq-3/

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William T. Hamilton, or "Uncle
Bill" Hamilton, as he was univer
sally known, who died in Stillwater
county in 1908 at the ripe old age
of 85, was perhaps the last sur
vivor of that old-time race of trap
pers whose courage, skill and en
durance led to the discovery, ex
ploration and settlement of that
vast territory which lies between
the Mississippi river and the Rocky
Mountains. Ho left St. Louis in
1^42 with a company of free trap
pers, numbering eight, which was
led by the redoubtable Bill Wil
liams, dean of the mountain men,
whose name figures in a hundred
stories of romance and adventure
in the early western wilderness,
Bill Hamilton was the ideal
mountain man. His wide knowl
edge of the history of Montana's
earliest days after the coming of
the white man make the writings
he left of the greatest importance,
and one of the most interesting of
those was his story of the great
treaty council with the plains In
f dians at Fort Benton in 18Ö5,
which is said by George Bird Grin
nell, to whom it was given by Ham
ilton, to have been the last article
that came from the pen of Hamil
The treaty council at Fort Ben
ton, in 18<)5, like so many other
councils called by the government
for the purpose of robbing the
plains Indians of their hunting
grounds, was a farcical proceeding
and a highly dangerous undertak
ing. It resulted in no understand
ing with the Indians that was ob
/ served. It did result in a gather
ing of some 5,000 untamed red
men on the Fort Benton river bot
tom made up of half a dozen bands
from powerful tribes that were
( hostile to each other, and a nar
< row escape from a gigantic Indian
battle that threatened to wipe out
the small white population that
lived in and around the old fort.
Bill Hamilton has left a vivid and
accurate description of that pictur
esque incident in Montana history
and the part he played in it. His
story is summarized as follows:
' Prom 1863 to 1865 a chronic state
of warfare existed between all of the
Indian tribes of Montana territory.
In the course of this warfare, miners
and freighters had sustained serious
losses in stock, and many miners and
settlers had been killed by the In
dians. At the mouth of the Judith
river, 50 miles east of Fort Benton,
was stationed one company of sol
diers, but they were infantry and
could render no protection against
mounted Indians.
In 1864 "Uncle Bill" Hamilton left
We are pleased to announce that we have
reopened our produce branch under new
management and are in the market for all
varieties of farm produce, including
With our present market selling facilities
we feel that we can handle such produce as
you may have to dispose of to your very
best advantage. We will be pleased to
purchase direct from you, at prices to be
agreed upon by us, or if you desire can han
dle your products on a commission basis.
With our large selling and buying or
ganization we quite naturally are in a posi
tion to make disposition under the most fa
vorable conditions and with the least pos
sible delay, of what we have to sell.
We trust that you will communicate With
us from lime to time, advising us what kind
and character of produce you have to sell or
the amount of eggs, butter or cheese that you
desire handled upon this market.
Our large number of customers throughout
the state of Montana, in Idaho, and in Utah,
gives us a ready outlet for such produce, poul
try (live or dressed), eggs, butter and cheese,
as we might have for disposition.
Trusting that you will communicate with us
without delay and that we might serve each
other to mutual advantage, we are,
Yours very truly,
Produce Dept.
[ the white settlement at Hellgate,
near where Missoula stands today,
and went to Fort Benton, where he
built a log hotel and proceeded to
operate it. He was also appointed
sheriff of Chouteau county by Gov
ernor Green Clay Smith, and at the
same time was appointed deputy
United States marshal. At that time
Chouteau county was as big as the
state of New York.
The population at Fort Benton
was a motley one. There were some
trappers and free traders, mostly
good men. The remainder were em
ployes of the Fur company, in all
about 45 white men. There were
also some halfbreeds, the outstanding
one of which was Joe Kipp, a good
friend of Hamilton. The Northwest
Pur Company had bought out the old
American Fur Company and had
put I. G. Baker in charge. Carroll
& Steele, former clerks of the old fur
company, had opened a store at Fort
Benton, and T. C. Power afterward
opened one there.
The territorial delegate at Wash
ington had asked for protection for
the white inhabitants against the In
dians, and a commission of three per
sons was appointed to consider this
matter. It consisted of Acting Gov
ernor Thomas Francis Meagher,
Judge Lyman H. Munson and E. W.
Carpenter. They arrived at Fort
Benton early in September, 1865, and
determined that the Piegans, Bloods,
Blackfeet, Gros Ventres and Crow In
dians must be brought into Fort
Benton and there induced to make a
permanent peace. Runners were
sent out to invite the Blackfeet, the
Bloods and Piegans, who were all of
the same confederation, to come in,
but no one could be found who
would undertake to hunt up and
bring in the Crows and Gros Ven
tres. The reason was that the coun
try between the Missouri river and
the Yellowstone was overrun by war
parties of Sioux, Cheyennes, Arapa
hoes and Blackfeet. A war party
considered all who did not belong to
their own party as enemies and act
ed accordingly.
Hamilton's Services Enlisted
The commissioners sent for Bill
Hamilton and urged him to carry the
message to the Crows and Gros Ven
tres, which tribes were hunting
somewhere in the country infested by
war parties, and after some persua
sion, gained his consent. He was
considered the only white man avail
able who could perform this service.
Hamilton informed the commis
sioners that he must have a certain
Piegan Indian, named Eagle Eye, for
a companion on the trip. A runner
was sent to Little Dog, head chief of
the Piegans, and in two days Eagle
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Old Fort Benton in the Time of William Ï. Hamilton.
Eye reached Fort Benton. Hamilton
had once saved his life. He was a
cool and brave Indian and would die
for Bill if called upon to do so. He
had accompanied Hamilton on two
previous trips of groat danger.
Hamilton selected his two fastest
horses for himself and secured two
almost equally good saddle animals
for Eagle Eye. They took along an
extra pack horse, carrying presents
for the Gros Ventres and Crows.
Hamilton was armed with the first
Henry rifle that ever came into the
£ ■
\ ' i

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' X l
Bill Hamilton, Free Trapper, Who Has ijcft a Vivid liescriptlou of the
Great Treaty Council Hehl at Port Benton in 1805.
When the Crow camp was finally
reached, Hamilton and Eagle Eye
found a battle raging, the camp hav
ing been attacked by a war party of
Sioux numbering 200.
warriors totaled 300. Hamilton join
ed the Crows in the fight, and the
Sioux were soon routed, leaving a
number of slain on the prairie. 1
These the Crows scalped.
Hamilton then gave some presents !
to the Crows and told them his er
territory, a repeating weapon that
cost him $106. Eagle Eye had
Sharp's rifle. Each carried a brace
of .46 pistols. Eagle Bye also car
ried his bow and arrows.
Eagle Eye, on the way to Fort
Benton, had met a war party of Pie
gans, who told him that the Crows
had been camped at Medicine Springs
between the North and South Moc
casins, but had moved their camp.
Hamilton also learned from his com
panion that there were three Black
feet war parties out after Crows and
Gros Ventres.
Locate Crows and Gros Venu es
The route taken by Hamilton and
Eagle Eye took them across Arrow
Creek, 30 miles from Fort Benton;
thence to Rattling Buttes at the east
end of the Highwoods, where Eagle
Eye killed a buffalo cow with his
bow and arrow's in order to avoid
rifle fire, which might attract war
parties. From there a trail to Wolf
Creek, near where Stanford stands
today, was taken, where the trail of
a Blackfeet war party was struck.
The two messengers followed across
Willow creek and reached the Judith
river, and finally, after some excit
ing experiences, reached Medicine
Springs, between the Moccasin
ranges, where they found the Crow
village had been encamped. They
followed the travois trails across an
open and dangerous country to the
east end of the Judith mountains,
and went from there to Flat Willow
creek, just above where Box Elder
creek flows into it, where Hamilton
realized that they were in the most
dangerous part of the entire west
from the Panhandle of Texas to the
British line. They pushed on to the
Musselshell, finding many traces of
Indian war parties, and from the
forks of that stream toward the Bull
Heading for Porcupine creek,
where they expected to find ' the
Crows, they were attacked by a party
of five Blackfeet Indians. They let
the reds get within 60 yards; then
showed themselves and ducked. The
Indians foolishly fired their flintlock
guns, and before they could reload
or draw thèir bows, Hamilton and
Eagle Eye killed the five Blackfeet.
Eagle Eye was afterward blamed by
the Piegans for killing the Black
feet, but he felt entirely justified in
doing so under the circumstances.
Sioux and Crows Battle
The Crow
i rand. The head chief of the Crows
said they could not go to Fort Ben
| ton, as their ponies' feet were tender
i and there was little game between
| where they were and the Fort. They
I to go to Fort Union, at the mouth of
the Yellowstone, the next moon to
1 meet some white chiefs in council,
i Hamilton and Eagle Eye then
made a bee-line for the mouth of the
Musselshell river and forded that
stream. They then struck out for
i the Little Rockies, near where they
j said, further, that they had been told
met the Gros Ventres, who agreed to
push on toward Fort Benton.
By the time Hamilton and Eagle
Eye reached Fort Benton the Black
feet, Bloods and Piegans began to
come from the north. Three days
after their return a steamer from
St. Louis arrived with a large load
of presents for the Indians attend
ing the council. By then the total
number of Indians camped on Fort
Benton bottom was upward of 4,000,
and another thousand arrived, ma
king the number around 5,000. The
Indians from the north—Blackfeet,
Piegans and Bloods, pitched their
lodges mostly on the upper end of
the bottom, while the Gros Ventres
placed their camp some three hun
dred yards east of the old Fort, at
the lower end. Formerly the Gros
Ventres and the Piegans and Bloods
had been friends, but for the past
four years they had been at war and
there was bitter hatred between the
tribes. Hence this wide separation
of their camps.
The council chamber at the Black
feet agency had been put in order,
with the American flag handsomely
displayed. The Gros Ventres chiefs
at first refused to attend the coun
cil through fear of their numerous
enemies, but on promise of protec
tion, they came in.
The Fort Benton Treaty
September 20. 1865. the reading
of the treaty began. This was a for
midable document of some 50 closely
written pages. The clerk began read
ing it by sections, which then had to
be interpreted, first by the interpre
ter for the Blackfeet, Piegans and
Bloods; and then by the interpreter
for the Gros Ventres. Hamilton at
once saw that it would take weeks to
get through the document at that
rate. So did Little Dog. the Piegan
chief, who told his interpreter to in
form the council that an adjourn
ment would he taken till the follow
ing day in order to make a change in
the manner of conveying the infor
mation, which was contained in ver
bose legal phrases, to a wild, rest
less lot of Indians, 90 per cent of
whom had no desire to mix with or
deal with the whites, except to trade
for certain commodities of which
they stood in need. The commission
ers were entirely at sea about the
matter, but Hamilton and the inter
preter effected a condensation of the
treaty in simple language that could
be read and translated in a very
the summit of the Rockies south to
the Little Plackfont river, and thence
brief period.
The following morning the council
met again. The Small Robe band of
Piegans claimed all the land on the
south side of the Missouri river as
far south as the Musselshell. They
ceded in the treatv all their rights to
territory. Other Piegan and
Blood Indians claimed land along
southeast to the Missouri river. In
the treaty they ceded all the territory
from the mouth of the Marias river
up the Marias to the Teton river, fol
lowing the middle of that stream to
its source, for a stipulated sum to be
given to them for 20 years.
Gros Ventres had no land to cede.
Neither did the Blackfeet, and ac
cording to the views of many the lat
ter had no right to be present at the
treaty, as they were living in Can
Some of them wore medals
given by the English sovereign.
Indians Get Ugly
All the country east of the Teton
river was set aside for a Piegan and
Blood reserve. Hamilton states with
much truth that, without the influ
ence of some of the mountain men
who were present and were friends
of the Indian chiefs, the treaty could
not have been made at that time.
Undoubtedly Hamilton's influence
was invaluable, although he believed
the Indians were being done a great
wrong. He saw, however, that the
reds had no alternative than to sub
mit, and that fighting would only
make things worse for them.
The next day began the distribu
tion of the presents, which lasted
two days and was replete with funny
incidents. The commissioners then
left for Helena with the Indian agent
at Fort Benton, Gad E. Upson. Ham
ilton declared that the latter knew'
as much about an Indian as he (Ha
milton) knew about the Inhabitants
of Jupiter. *
The commissioners had hardly
disappeared up the trail for Helena
than Little Dog, chief of the Piegans,
came to Hamilton and told him that
the North Piegans, Bloods and the
Blackfeet had secured some whisky
and were getting ugly and singing
their war songs. Little Dog advised
the whites to remain in their houses.
He believed that the three bands he
mentioned would attack the Gros
Ventres camp and might also try to
w'ipe out the whites.
Hamilton and some of the other
whites loaded a 12-pound brass can
non and placed it at a point of vant
age. Rifle pits were dug and there
were 45 whites to defend them. At
the Fort the Northwest Fur Com
pany's men, numbering 12, locked
themselves in and prepared for a
An Exciting Scene
Hamilton, with Little Dog, who
was a firm friend to the whites and
a fine Indian, and Eagle Eye, then
rode to the Gros Ventres camp. The
Gros Ventres had already been warn
ed and had pitched their lodges in a
circle, their ponies corraled, and
rifle pits dug all around the village.
All the warriors were stripped to
the breech-clout and painted. Littie
Dog Informed them that he would
try to prevent the hostiles from at
tacking them, and advised them not
to shoot first if the hostiles came. He
declared that he and his people
would be their friends, meaning, by
his people, the South Piegans. Ham
ilton then rode to Little Dog's camp
with him, where they found the
young warriors preparing for battle
At this time much bad blood ex
isted between the North and South
Piegans. Hamilton visited all the
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camps and told the chiefs that they
must control their young men.
About 11 o'clock in the morning
500 naked warriors in war regalia,
painted and mounted on their best
ponies, which were also painted,
rode down the bottom tow'ard the
Gros Ventres village, yelling and ut
tering their war-cries. The ground
fairly trembled under the thunder
ing hoofs of the ponies. Every one
expected that a fight was on and
wondered where it would stop. Lit
tle Dog had 60 warriors at the upper
end of town,
with him. The Indians rode furious
ly around the Gros Ventres camp. If
one shot had been fired by either
party a bloody fight would have fol
lowed, as the Indians who were held
back by their chiefs would then have
joined their friends. Hamilton said
that if a fight had started, Little Dog
would have joined the whites. He
notified the hostile bands that it
they attacked the whites, they would
have him to fight. The advice he
gave the Gros Ventres about not fir
ing the first shot undoubtedly pre
vented the touching of the match to
the powder.
The hostiles rode around the hos
tile camp many times, yelling, call
ing names and challenging the Gros
Ventres warriors to come out and
fight; but the Gros Ventres remain
ed quiet in their rifle pits, despite
the hot blood of their young men.
Finally the mounted warriors rode
back to their camps, stopping on the
way near the agency building to sing
war songs and to call the white men
dogs and women. The whites warn
ed the hostiles to stop their talk or
they would kill them, and presently
the riders gave a yell of defiance and
Hamilton remained
As the whites were eating a hasty
lunch, a fearful yell was heard. Ham
ilton and Little Dog mounted their
horses. Hamilton decided that if
the hostiles attacked the town and
Little Dog attacked the hostiles, he
w'ould remain with him. If Little
Dog failed to act he could return to
the town and fight there.
The yell was given by 1,200 paint
ed savages, each of whom had tied
from five to 20 yards of calico to his
horse's tail and they started out to
run all over the bottom. Each In
dian was trying to make his pony
step on the calico tied to the horse
ahead. They w r ere yelling and shoot
ing in every direction. It was a wild
orgy that would take the brush of a
Russell to paint.
That night the Gros Ventres si
lently moved their village, without
being discovered by their enemies.
The next morning all the Indians ex
cept Little Dog's band left for the
parties of Piegans and Blackfeet
had been organized to raid the min
ers and ranchers in the western end
of the territory. Such was the re
sult of the treaty. Most of the In
dians were dissatisfied and looked on
the whites with hatred. A chronic
state of warfare between the tribes
and between Indians and whites con
tinued for years, as it had in the
Butte Faces Potato Famine
Butte is threatened with a potato
The available supply in Butte to
day is not sufficient to meet local
demands and will be entirely ex
hausted within three weeks. Ad
ditional supplies cannot be readily
procured while prices are steadily
Potatoes selling in Butte this
week for $4.75 a hundred will pro
bably advance to $5.50 a hundred
before the end of the week, pro
minent growers say.
W. J. Lutey declares that farm
ers of the northwest who have
stored potatoes for the winter dare
not open such cellars during the
cold weather for fear of causing
the tubers to freeze. Washington
wholesale prices exceed local retail
prices at present.

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