All his life Bennie Dawe had wanted to be a cowboy,
and he hadn't been in Montana long until he figured he 'had it made'. Bennie
had been brought up in Michigan's timber country where his father cooked in a
lumber camp. When the timber was cleared out, the boss changed his operations
from timber to farming and changed location from Michigan to North Dakota.
Two of Bennie's older brothers had been chore boys around the camp so when the
boss shipped his horses to Jamestown (that was in 1888), the boys came along
and continued to work for him. They stayed with him several years, then in
1892 they both moved on westward to Glendive.
One of the young men found a job at the McCone Ranch on Burns Creek, the other
for Merrill and Libby on North Fox Creek. By the time his parents (and Bennie)
came to Montana in 1894, Lossie Dawe had started a ranch of his own. In 1894,
Dawson County had not been surveyed so prospective ranchers didn't bother with
the formality of buying land; they simply 'squatted' on the location that
suited their fancy and let their livestock run at large.
Lossie met his parents in Glendive when they arrived from Michigan, and as
they visited enroute to his ranch he mentioned that he and several of the
other Burns Creek ranchers needed a line rider. There were many southern
cattle, belonging to the big outfits, ranging the country, and the local
cattlemen wanted someone to keep their cattle within reasonable range and the
southern cattle out. That sounded like the job Bennie had dreamed about so it
didn't take much negotiating until the ranchers had their line rider, and
fourteen-year-old Bennie was a 'cowboy'.
There wasn't much to Glendive when the Dawes came, but what there was of it
was - rather rough. No water system, no sewer, no sidewalks, no paved streets -
and six saloons. The Jordan Hotel was a two-story frame building. The town's
wells had one thing in common: soda water. However, good drinking water could
be hauled from a spring west of Glendive.
Dawe soon found a location to his liking on Fox Creek about six miles below
Lambert so he 'squatted' there and went into the cattle and sheep business.
Dawe had arthritis, so even though Bennie was just a young fellow he assumed a
good deal of responsibility around the ranch, and in time he became a partner
of his father. While two of his brothers had preceded their parents to Montana,
one brother and one sister had remained in Michigan, and they came a few years
In the fall of 1894 the government closed Fort Buford and held an auction to
dispose of surplus army goods. Dawe took advantage of the opportunity to
acquire some top-quality supplies. Among other things he bought a Sharps 45-70
rifle with two boxes of ammunition (those boxes were each about eighteen
inches square and eighteen inches deep, which provided a lot of shooting!) a
couple mattresses (Bennie used one of those mattresses on the roundup several
years and found that it provided good sleeping), and some harnesses. Those
harnesses had chain tugs covered with leather piping and were the finest
quality throughout. The wooden hames had hooks on them so that the harness
could be adjusted to fit a large or small horse. Then, as now, "Uncle Sam
bought only the best."
If Bennie Dawe may have been somewhat of an amateur when he took on his first
job as cowboy, he became a seasoned puncher. He rode for the HS Ranch two
summers on roundup. The HS ran two wagons and would start on Bad Route just
north of Terry. From there they would work north covering all the territory
from the Big Dry to the Yellowstone and as far north as Fort Buford (or the
When he rode for the 'Pool' wagon four Burns Creek Ranchers paid him. Many of
the smaller outfits wouldn't find it practical to run a wagon of their own so
a number of them would 'pool' their resources and men to join the roundup.
Each of the four ranchers sending him furnished him with two horses and paid
him fifty cents a day to gather the cattle that belonged to him and his
father, too. Roundup was hard on horses, and each rider needed at least eight
horses in his 'string'. He'd change horses twice a day (sometimes more, if the
riding was extra hard), then after making the 'circle', he'd get his cutting
horse for separating or 'cutting out' the cattle for the different brands.
An automobile can travel the fifty-five miles from the Dawe ranch to Glendive
in a little more than an hour now, but sixty-five years ago it was a day's
ride horseback or two days trip with a loaded wagon. Mr. Dawe remarked that
he'd ride all day to get to Glendive for a dance, dance all night, then ride
all the next day to get back home.
Once when a hanging was scheduled in Glendive, Bennie and another young fellow
took to the trail horseback, with the intention of coming to Glendive to watch
it, but on the way they stopped to rest a bit at Dunlaps, Bennie's old friend.
Mr. Dunlap, who had been in California "in the days of '49" and had witnessed
hangings, urged them to change their plans and forget about watching such a
scene. "You'll never be able to get it out of your mind," he told them. The
boys respected his judgment and decided to go back home instead of coming on
His wife passed away twenty-one years ago, but all of their four children are
still living, and now he has grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well.
Other old timers may talk nostalgically of the 'good old days' but Mr. Dawe
realistically asks, "After knowing modern conveniences who would want to go
back? I wouldn't sell my memories," he declares, "but I wouldn't go through it
again for a million dollars!"
To illustrate his point he described the trips they used to make to Glendive.
When they went with the wagon they took the most direct route, heading for
Murphy Table and down toward the river to the mouth of Thirteen Mile Creek,
about where Intake is now. There they camped for the night before continuing
on to Glendive. Some nights there would be as many as ten or twelve campfires.
He recalled one trip, though, when they didn't get to Intake to make camp. It
was after they had one little boy. They decided to go to Glendive for the
county fair so they started out across country as usual, but when they reached
Murphy Table, they found some changes were taking place. FENCES were making
their debut! No longer could they cut across sections just any place they
chose. It was a frustrating experience trying to dodge those fences, and
darkness overtook them before they reached the edge of the Table. He walked
ahead of the horses and led them, but soon they got into the breaks so there
was no choice but to camp for the night. They had plenty of blankets with them
so Mrs. Dawe and the baby slept, but he didn't attempt to go to bed, and as
soon as day began to break they started on their way again.
Go back? Now when he has to shop he gets into his car and in a few minutes he
can be at the super market. He picks up his mail at the post office and in
just a short time he can be back in his little home again with its electricity
and natural gas. Go back? He's satisfied, and sums it up with, "God and
Montana have been very good to me."
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