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Price Vine

AIR #70
August 20 - September 7, 1967

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 Missouri River.

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 exploited.

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 words around.

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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