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J. B. (Bennie) Dawe

Air #25
October 10 & 14, 1965

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 later.

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 Missouri River).

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 to Glendive.

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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