If the train hadn't pulled out of the Poplar
station while he stood on the platform talking with Charlie Hilger, chances
are Price Vine never would have homesteaded in the Vida country. And if he had
been left talking with anyone but Charlie Hilger, he probably would have
caught the next train west and still not have homesteaded. But he missed his
train, and it was Charlie Hilger with whom he was talking.
Price Vine first came to Montana in 1908, looking for work. He had come in on
the Milwaukee that time, stopping in both Glendive and Miles City, but he
failed to find work in either town so he swung back through South Dakota and
got a job as carpenter for the summer.
That fall he went back to his hometown of Greenwood, Wisconsin, and stayed a
year-and-a-half before he and his pal, Ole Christopherson, got the idea of
shipping from Seattle to Alaska with the fishing fleet. They made a deal with
the Great Northern Railroad whereby they paid $2.00 each for their fare from
Minneapolis to Havre, then when they reached the latter they were to work out
the remainder of the fare. But they didn't reach Havre.
By the time they reached Poplar time was hanging heavy on their hands, so, for
a little diversion, they decided to get off while the train stopped there.
Then it was that Charlie Hilger engaged them in conversation. Hilger had
settled on East Redwater, close to its junction with main Redwater, and was
'the watch' for other prospective squatters. He was on hand when the train
from the east pulled into Poplar, and noting the two young men who didn't seem
to be finding the diversion for which they were looking, he began promoting
the prospects for developing the miles and miles of prairie south of the
Price and Ole became so absorbed in the tale he told that they forgot to
notice the rapid passage of time - until they heard the puff of the engine and
saw their train pull away from the depot. If they had been undecided about
interrupting their journey their decision was made now; they went with Charlie
out to his ranch and "viewed the land." What they saw impressed them as good
so they staked out claims on land as yet unsurveyed and ordered lumber to
build their shacks.
While they waited for their lumber to arrive in Poplar, they and 'Gobbler'
(Floyd) Davis made a deal: They would help him build his log house over on
Long Grass (a tributary of East Redwater), then when their lumber came, he
would haul it out to their claims for them.
While they were building Gobbler's house, he gave them each a saddle horse to
ride back and forth from Hilgers. The horse he gave Price was Mrs. Davis's
saddle mount and should have been a respectable horse, but he'd eaten loco
weed and was - loco. Price was hardly in the saddle when the horse took off,
straight for a big pile of corral poles. They landed in the middle of the
pile, but kept on going and cleared the other side, still together. Price was
of a mind to head toward Hilgers, but the horse was of a different mind so
they kept circling the flat at a hard gallop until he was 'run out'.
Not much 'canned' entertainment was available on the frontier, but no one ever
accused Price Vine and Ole Christopherson of needing the canned variety; they
were quite adept at brewing up their own. To most folks an invasion of lice
would be a minor (perhaps even a major) crisis, but Price and Ole used it as
an opportunity. It isn't clear which fertile brain conceived the idea, but no
matter; the other embraced it as eagerly as if it had been his own.
Ole's brother Andrew was due to come for a visit the next week so together
they schemed that they would just let their uninvited company stay around
until he arrived, and then - but their unholy plot comes to light soon enough.
Andy came as scheduled, and after he had been there a day or so one of his
genial hosts abruptly asked him, "Were you lousy when you came here?" His
answer was an emphatic, "No!" but they were undaunted. "I think you are;" one
of them persisted, "take off your shirt."
They had been sleeping three in a bed so by this time their hapless victim
did, indeed, have lice. Now that they had fixed the blame they boiled up their
clothing - bedding - anything that might have been infected and rid themselves
of the termites. But to this day Andrew has never discovered how he was
The two bachelors shared the household chores and took turns baking their
bread supply. Once Ole decided to play a trick when it was Price's turn to
bake. They generally set the yeast on the back of the stove where it was warm,
but while Price was out doing chores, Ole slyly moved the yeast to the front
of the stove where it cooked. Price, all unsuspecting, went ahead and used the
yeast to leaven the bread, but it didn't do any leavening; his bread didn't
rise at all! They tried to eat the hard, soggy concoction but decided that
demanded stronger stomachs than they could boast. To their surprise, a
stronger stomach came along.
It was a rainy night when the visitor stopped in at the shack of bachelors
Christopherson and Vine. He had a team made up of a horse and an ox, but the
ox had disappeared so he was trying to locate it. Frontier hospitality assumed
that a passer-by was invited to supper - and even overnight if the occasion
warranted. At supper Passerby ate voraciously of the soggy bread (Mr. Vine
declares they had to cut it with an ax!), insisting that it was fine, but
before morning he began to feel the effects of his voracity.
That soggy bread was resting pretty heavily, and his hosts awoke in the wee
hours to find him standing under the unfinished part of the roof, gazing up at
the stars and dolefully singing, "Just because she made them goo-oo-gly eyes."
Bread-eater always carried in his belt a big knife, which soon earned a
nickname. When men drifted into a community, often they didn't bother to give
their name, and nicknames were common. In this case Maggie Hilger had noticed
this stranger standing outside with some of the men and asked the natural
question, "Who is that man out there?" Price didn't know his name either so
told her, "Butcher-Knife-Mike," and that was his name from then on. Mrs. Vine
recalled with amusement that one of the ladies in the neighborhood consistently
called him "Butcher-Mike-Knife", but never did notice that she was turning the
One spring Vine and a neighbor rode together over to East Redwater to get a
bunch of horses. They made it all right going over, but when they got back to
main Redwater, they found it running full of ice. Price was riding a
fine-spirited, sure-footed horse so, since there was no way around, he started
across, but under those conditions his mount could not keep his footing and
fell, plunging both into the icy water.
Vine was a good swimmer, but he was critically hampered by his riding boots
and heavy winter clothing - not to mention the chunks of ice floating about.
He realized that his only chance of survival was to hang onto his horse's tail
and be pulled across the channel so he grabbed hold and hung on for dear life
as his horse swam. He survived the ice and water, but his ordeal was far from
over - six miles from over. That was the distance still separating him from
his shack in the subzero weather. By the time he reached home he was frozen
fast to the saddle, and his clothes and boots were frozen on him, but he
recovered without permanent disabilities.
The pioneers had to be a hardy lot because many times there were hardships to
endure. Once when Vine went with a party of homesteaders to the Missouri River
bottom to cut poles, the bottom dropped out of the thermometer, plunging the
mercury to fifty-two degrees below zero while their party camped out. As they
headed home they had to walk behind their sleighs to keep from freezing. But
walking didn't keep fingers from freezing. As a result of that brush with
nature's cold shoulder, some fingers swelled so badly they stuck straight out
and wide apart.
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