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Fannen Reece

November 1967

Although Reece began his Dawson County sojourn between Redwater and the Divide, he has spent most of his Montana years (most of his life!) east of the Divide, chiefly between Glendive and Savage on the east side of the river in the northwestern corner of Wibaux County.

Before he settled down there he ranched awhile on Big Seven Mile Creek, about eleven miles from Glendive, then moved across the state line to Skaar, North Dakota. When he located there, he had all the space he could want, but before long the homesteaders started flocking in, and in a couple years there were "settlers all over the place" so he began looking for another range.

He found what he wanted in a remote corner of Wibaux County where it runs into the Yellowstone with Dawson County on one side and Richland County on the other. By this time he had switched to cattle, and in time he took on some farming, too.

One day when he was disking, he finished one field and moved his outfit to an adjoining field. It was such a short distance that he didn't bother to lift the discs out of the ground (maybe if he had had hydraulic controls....) and as he crossed the strip one of the discs caught on a rock.

It pulled back so far that when it finally let go, the jolt threw him from the spring seat to the ground right behind the horses. The horses took off and the disc ran over him, leaving him with a set of broken ribs. But he survived.

His ribs took another beating when the horse he was riding on a dead run fell with him. He was trying to head off a cow, racing across a meadow through thick, tall grass. A ditch lay ahead of them and he knew it, but his horse didn't. When they hit the ditch, the horse somersaulted, pitching Reece onto a pile of cactus and breaking his ribs. The horse wound up with his head in a bunch of cactus, too. His head was so sore it was months before he could wear a bridle again. His head was sore about as long as Fannen's ribs were.

With rib-breaking his specialty, he managed it again when he sailed out of a topless Model T Ford onto a railroad track. This happened soon after Fords began appearing in this part of the country. A bunch of fellows had gone fishing, and the Model T was loaded (as were some of the passengers). In one place the road turned before it reached the railroad track and when the returning fishermen reached the corner where the road turned - they didn't. They ran right onto the track and Reece, leaning over to shut the door, was thrown out of the car (no seat belt to fasten) onto the tracks. More broken ribs.

But the only time he took his ribs to the doctor was the time the mower ran over him. Got smashed up a little too thoroughly that time - although, he hastens to explain, it was the neighbors' doings, taking him to the doctor.

He had hitched a bronc to the mower along with a gentle horse and started for the field, but half-a-mile from the barn the clip came off the single tree. He stepped across behind the gentle horse to fasten the tug*, but for some reason Gentle started kicking, knocking him down. Away went the horses, bouncing him along in front of the mower for what seemed an endless stretch before the mower went over him and left him lying with his smashed ribs while his team promptly left the scene of the accident.

Crippled up as he was, trying to do anything about the team was out of the question, but he did manage to drag himself to the house. The nearest neighbor was five miles away so there was no going for help. He made the mistake of going to bed that night. Next morning he started trying to get up fairly early, but it was ten o'clock before he made it so from then on he just sat on a chair.

The accident happened on Tuesday, and it was Sunday before anyone came around. Some neighbors had planned to come help him brand, but when they found him he was in no shape to wrestle calves. Instead some of the fellows rounded up his team (the horses didn't get off without consequences; the reins were wrapped around the hames so tightly that they couldn't get their heads down to eat or drink) and cared for them, then carted Reece off to the doctor.

He managed to get along without a hospital until he was seventy-eight years old. That was when he retired, but he figures that if he'd stayed on the ranch and kept working he'd still be going strong. If it just hadn't been for that arthritis! It was because of the arthritis he had to retire, and after that all kinds of things went wrong with him.

But now that he's living in the Palace Hotel he doesn't have to do much worrying about cold and snow and ice and blizzards. He can just stay inside where it's warm and remember the times he stood guard in a blizzard all night to keep his sheep from scattering. Or the time seventeen of his calves drowned in the Yellowstone. The river had frozen over but left an air hole, and the calves fell in.

The winter of 1908 was one of the worst he went through, hard on man and beast. Fortunately it broke early - in February. If it had lasted until spring, Mr. Reece declares, even the magpies wouldn't have survived! It wasn't just that they had a lot of snow that winter (and they had plenty); they also had thaws and rain so the snow was crusted with layers of ice. Horses' legs had to be wrapped with gunnysacks to keep the ice from cutting them to pieces.

Fighting the elements is all right for a young fellow, but when a man gets to be eighty-nine-and-a-half - well, living in a Palace is a little easier on him than living in a sheep wagon. And as for the blizzards - it's nicer to have them on the other side of the plate glass window!


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