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Sam Sampson

1966

AIR #4 - Sam Sampson

Perhaps the difficulties Sam Sampson encountered on his first attempt to move his belongings to his homestead were portentous of the problems and obstacles that lay in the path of one striving to wrest a living from 160 acres of Montana's dry land - although dry land certainly was not his problem on that first trip.

When he and his party reached Glendive in the fall of 1908 they found rain and more rain. They headed out of Glendive with four wagons and four teams, proceeded as far as Steel Hill (just south of Ralph Newton's home), and there discovered what happens to Montana gumbo when it gets wet. The hill was greasy, and the mud seemingly had no bottom. The horses couldn't get footing, and wagon wheels cut in so deeply that, even when two teams were hitched to one wagon, they just couldn't get up that hill. So they came back to Glendive, put their cattle in the stockyards, and took the horses to the blacksmith shop to have them shod.

Sam Sampson, a native of Brookings, South Dakota, had first made the acquaintance of the Treasure State in the spring of 1908. A banker and a storekeeper from neighboring Arlington had bought railroad land in Dawson County and were interested in seeing the area settled so they were encouraging fellow South Dakotans to take up homesteads.

Sampson and his brother-in-law, Albert Limesand, with a couple neighbors, came to view the land. When they reached Glendive, they hired a livery team from Edward O'Neil and drove out toward the head of Deer Creek, about twenty-two miles from Glendive, where they contemplated settling.

Seth Hewit, a former neighbor in South Dakota, was already there and had his shack built so they stayed with him that night. As Seth started supper preparations he explained to them, "I'll have to get the potatoes," and disappeared around the north side of the shack. Presently he tossed the potatoes, frozen solid, onto the floor. They scrubbed them up anyway and cooked them, fried some bacon, and had a satisfying supper.

Hewit had only one bed and there were five men so three of them slept in the bed, while it fell to the lot of Sam and Albert to sleep on a grocery box in a big trunk. Next morning they decided on their homestead sites, then came back to town and filed, April 2, 1908.

They started back to South Dakota but had to change trains at Oakes, North Dakota, which involved a delay. While they waited they walked the streets a bit to relieve the monotony. The monotony was relieved, all right. Three girls came driving down the street in a shiny rubber-tired buggy pulled by a high-stepping horse. Suddenly the back wheel came off and the buggy tipped over backward, spilling the girls.

The horse promptly left the scene of the accident on a run and headed back for his barn. The barn had a divided door and the lower half was shut, but the upper part was open. With a leap the horse was over the bottom door and into the barn, leaving the buggy - or pieces of it - outside. That was about enough excitement for one stopover.

They remained in South Dakota that summer but made preparations to move in the fall. Sampson and Charley Weed shared an immigrant car to ship their wagons, livestock, and household goods. Charley came with the car while Sampson accompanied the women and children as far as Jamestown where they stayed with some relatives until the men could get a place ready for them to live.

At Glendive Bill Moye and Ray Carpenter (two former South Dakotans who had preceded them to Montana), each with a team and wagon, met the newcomers to help them move out. Sampson and Weed each had a team and wagon in the immigrant car so they began transferring belongings from the car to the wagons for the trip to the homesteads, in the rain.

When their initial attempt proved unsuccessful, they tried again the next day, hoping for better results. Before they left town, though, Sampson pulled up in front of Stipek's Store for a last-minute purchase. He had brought hip boots and a rain hat with him, but he intended to have a slicker before he started out again, even though it wasn't raining just then. The others laughed at him, but when the rain started again just beyond Hollecker's, they weren't laughing any more. By the time they reached Carpenter's place, where they stayed until they could put up a shack, the others were soaking wet, but Sampson was snug and dry.

Three of them, Charley Week, Albert Limesand, and Sam Sampson, had homesteaded in the same section. It was only a matter of a few days until they had Charley's shack built so they all moved into it until they could get the other dwellings ready. They didn't have a well at first, of course, but there was a good spring in the next section so they watered the cattle there and hauled drinking water from it. The first few days when they watered the cattle they drove them home again, but then they got to just leaving them and letting them come home.

One night the cattle didn't show up so next morning Charley hooked up his team and they started out to look for them. One of the cows had just freshened, and at Hollecker's, they found her (Holleckers had kept her and milked her), but the other five had gone on down the road toward Glendive. They were going back to South Dakota! They managed to get within five miles of town before the men caught up with them. They happened to be close to an old corral so they put the cattle into the corral while they went on to town, then the next morning took their stray livestock back home.

When the women came, the rain was again falling only now it was mixed with snow, and a cold, wet welcome it made. Charley had a covered Rawleigh wagon for his family and Sam had a closed-in buggy so they were able to get their families in out of the rain when they met them at the train, but the women were frankly disgusted; come to a dry country and then have to ride all the way home in mud and rain!

Soon after the arrival of the women folk Sampson's house was ready for occupancy - just a little, one room shack - so they moved to their own place. Later that same fall they added a small kitchen. The Sampsons' had two children, Milford and Lyle, when they came to Montana, and Floyd was born in 1910. They moved into Glendive for a few months that summer. Sam did quite a bit of freighting that year. He hauled lumber to Savage for the Goodrich Lumber Company, groceries, etc. to Paxton for Hopkins at the store, hay to Holleckers and others as well. He also helped to build a road from Steel Hill to the stage road that fall.

That was the summer of one of Deer Creek's worst prairie fires. Sam had gone to the homestead for a load of hay, intending to go back to Glendive the next day. He didn't feel good so he decided not to start back. He was lying in the shack when suddenly he heard such shouting outside that he ran out to see what was the matter. It was Chet Loudon that was doing the shouting. Chet had a big breaker plow, which he pulled with a steam engine, and as he was moving the outfit, a spark had ignited the tinder-dry grass.

He had his water tank with him so he started putting on water, but just when he had the fire almost under control, his tank ran dry and the fire got away again. That's when he shouted for help. Sampson's buildings were protected by fire guards so his buildings were safe, but the fire swept around his guard and on across the prairie. Other settlers joined them, beating the fire with wet sacks. All at once a bunch of cattle appeared so they killed a steer, split it in two, and started to drag the fire line.

In case there wasn't enough excitement already, they had some more now. The horses objected to that kind of business and started bucking, throwing their riders. They just about had a rodeo for awhile, but they soon managed to get their horses straightened out and back to the task of fighting fire. The fire spread across Three Mile Table, and in spite of their efforts to extinguish it, burned almost to the river.

Albert Limesand happened to be visiting at the Sampsons as Sam described his early experiences so he contributed a few stories of his own. The most vivid in his memory, even after fifty-five years, was the time Sam lured him into the path of a wild steer.

Sam, riding a little paint pony, had come to the house and told Albert and Charley he had something to show them. As they started for the door, Charley noticed the double-barreled shotgun hanging above the door and asked if he'd better take it along. Sam agreed that it might be a good idea so Charley shouldered the gun, and the three of them, Sam on his pony, headed for the point of interest. He led them to a draw about a quarter of a mile from the house, then told them, "You guys just wait here and I'll chase him up." The sight that hove over that little ridge was not one that thrilled them.

A big steer with the longest horns they had ever seen (so it seemed to them, anyway) was lying on the ground and jumped to his feet as Sam approached. Mr. Limesand's eyes widened yet at the recollection of that apparition! At the sight of the men on foot he charged toward them. Albert didn't wait for a second look. Shouting, "Shoot, Charley, shoot!" he bolted for the house as hard as he could run. He never knew before that how fast he could run! Charley, at his heels, was so intent upon clearing out of there that he didn't take time to even try to shoot; he just made tracks.

He couldn't make them as fast as Albert was making them, though. When, about half-way to the house, Sam shot past them on his pony, the runners figured their seconds were numbered and redoubled their efforts. Not until they reached the safety of the porch did Albert, gasping for breath, turn to see just what his margin of safety was. To his amazement he saw that the steer was in practically the same spot as when they first beheld him. Only then did they discover how they had been tricked.

Sam, rocking with merriment at the unqualified success of his practical joke, explained that when a bunch of long-horned cattle had come past a little earlier, his milk cow had joined them so he, on the pony had tried to cut her out. He couldn't get her so he started whooping and hollering and the longhorns stampeded. His cow couldn't keep pace with them so now getting her was no problem.

He noticed, however, that when the wild bunch took off, one steer dropped behind, evidently injured in the back, because he went down with his back quarters, then fell to his knees and finally, after dragging himself a short distance, fell clear to the ground. Sam, allowing him to proceed in this manner, had coaxed him to the water hole and left him there. Then, knowing well that the steer could manage only a few steps at a time, he had invited Albert and Charley for a look. Next morning the steer was dead.

To a man who had been reared in eastern South Dakota a storm cellar seemed of prime importance so Sam dug one that second year they were here. He dug a well, too, and though it was only eighteen feet deep, it was an extra good well, he recalls. As Sam was talking about his well, Albert started chuckling again, then explained that he was just reminded of a tale of woe Smokey Secora had related to him. When Smokey was deputy sheriff of McCone County, Circle had no public water system but depended upon individual wells. The jail's well was just outside the door, and one evening Smokey sent one of his 'guests' to get a pail of water. "That," Secora lamented to Albert, "was ten years ago, and the fellow hasn't got back yet!"

There were no schools when Sampsons came because prior to that there were very few settlers, but by 1910 many sections had four families living on them with plenty of children for a school so they built the Twin Buttes School. Grace Burvee was the first teacher, while the first school board was comprised of Christ Rapp, Charley Carpenter, and Sam Sampson, with Joe Walbrink as clerk. By 1917 there were too many children that the Andrew Dahl School was built in the same district. Now the district doesn't even have a school house.

When they first came to Montana they'd go to the Adams Post Office about a mile east of the present Bloomfield office, to get their mail. Then for a time they got their mail in Glendive. All the mail for their community was put into a Twin Buttes box, and anyone who came to town picked up the mail for all of them. Then when they got home, all the neighbors came to pick up their mail. Later on they got their mail at Bloomfield after the post office had been moved to Albrights store. Sam and Albert often went to Bloomfield together. Albrights had a boy named Albert and according to Sam, every time Mrs. Albright would holler "Albert!" while they were there, Limesand would jump.

One day the little shed that was behind the store caught fire, and one of the fellows who happened to be in the store, fearing the store would go next, began a salvaging operation; he grabbed a bar of soap, tore out of the store and up the hill! As it turned out, his salvaging wasn't needed; the store didn't catch fire.

Cattle buyers from the east used to come to Twin Buttes for cattle, and one day when Sam was in Glendive, some fellows came in headed for Carpenters so Sam let them ride along out with him. The older buyer had a young fellow with him, perhaps to "break him in" and as darkness began to fall, Junior began to be uneasy. Then the coyotes started to howl, and that did it. Junior wailed "Indians! We're going to be scalped!" Sam assured him it was just coyotes, but he refused to be assured. He kept insisting it was Indians and climbed behind the seat, then under it. Even after they reached Carpenters, he stayed right close to his senior partner.

When they had made their purchase, they brought them to Glendive for shipping, and the buyer warned Heck Neuman, at the stockyards, "Der vild! Der vild!" Neuman wasn't much impressed and replied, "I've seen more wild cattle than they've got dollars in Jerusalem." They happened to be loading sheep into a car just then. The lower deck was filled and the chute in place for loading the upper deck when one of the steers found it. Up the chute he dashed, over the top of the car, and headed for Hungry Joe. Even Neuman was a bit taken aback at that performance and exclaimed, "Look at that steer run!" About all the cattle merchant could do as his steer disappeared was squeal, "I told you dey vas vild!"

One day while Sam was in Glendive, he chanced to meet Pete Rorvik, who asked him how far he lived from Bloomfield. Sampson told him it was about eight miles so Rorvik asked if he could get him to haul a load from Bloomfield to Circle. Sam agreed to take the job and the next day loaded the Durham wheat, potatoes, and carrots - a four horse load - for the Circle trip. Taking Louie Limesand with him, they managed to get across the divide their first day out and camped that night near Gust Voss's sod house. They picketed one horse, hobbled another and turned the rest loose. Then they rolled out their beds under the wagon and went to sleep. During the night he was awakened by the whinnying of the picketed horse, which meant the other horses were getting too far away, so he got up and rattled the feed pan. That brought the horses, but about then Louie woke up and started hollering at finding himself alone in the dark under that wagon.

Next morning they continued on their way to Circle. The roads were just trails and the trails didn't have any bridges, even across Cottonwood or Gip Creeks. He navigated Cottonwood without too much difficulty, but when they got to Gip Creek he didn't know if they were going to make it or not. The water was clear up to the hubs, but he whooped and hollered and put the horses to a run and they made it through. Once in Circle he found unloading his wagon a simple matter. He was hardly stopped before people started coming for the produce and wheat so in an hour and a half his wagon was empty and he didn't have to lift a hand to unload it.

It was only a short time before that that Mrs. Sampson's folks (Louie was her brother) had moved to Montana, the spring of 1912. Mr. Limesand accompanied their immigrant car to Terry as they had shipped it on the Milwaukee, while Mrs. Limesand, the three girls, and Louie had come on the Northern Pacific passenger train. They sent word to Sampsons to meet them so he started for town with the team and buggy. He had crossed the flat on top of Steel Hill and was just ready to start down into the draw when he saw some heads over to the side of the hill. When he heard one of the girls call "Hurry up and get up here, sister, it might be Sam" he knew it was the party he had come to meet. They had decided to start walking to meet him and had almost missed him.

The town of Brookings stands on Limesand's South Dakota homestead. He had traded his rights for a bunch of horses. What became of the horses would be hard to guess, but the Brookings depot stands where he cut barley, and the Agricultural College is located on his flax field. He had broken the sod with oxen.

In 1913 disaster struck when fire destroyed Sampson's barn along with a big hay stack and all of his year's grain except a three-box wagon load which he was able to salvage. Fortunately no livestock was destroyed. There were six horses in the barn, one belonging to a neighbor besides five of Sam's, but they were able to get them all out and save the harnesses, too.

The Sampsons' fourth son was born in 1913, just at the time of the spring breakup. Sam came to town to get lumber to build a bedroom, but about the time he reached the stage road he met Doolittle, who told him, "You can't get to Glendive because the road is all under water." In those days Stipek boasted considerably more in the way of businesses than it does now, so after he had eaten his lunch at Bamber Hill, he went on to Stipek and picked up his lumber at the branch yard of Goodrich Lumber there. He had to stay over night in that fair metropolis, and then took his lumber home the next day. In two days they had the bedroom ready for use, and the next day son Raymond was born. Getting to Glendive was out of the question because of the mud and high water so Sam sent one of the neighbors to get Mrs. Houser, a midwife who lived on Seven Mile Creek several miles from Sampsons, to assist.

When Vyla was born at their home in 1916, complications developed and a doctor had to be summoned quickly. Sam hurried to neighbor Dave Johnston; his boys had a motorcycle so Irvin made a flying trip to Glendive with it and quickly hunted up Dr. Danskin. Dr. Danskin had a new Model T, which he asked Irvin to drive out for him. The trip to town had taken Irvin thirty-five minutes, and now the trip back in the car took fifty-five minutes - no record for today's cars on today's roads. It's rather doubtful that some of today's low cars would make much progress bouncing and jolting over the ruts and holes and through the mud of that day. The doctor arrived in time to save both mother and baby, and then Irvin brought him back to town. Later when Sam asked Irvin how much he owed him, Irvin suggested, "Oh, two dollars." And the doctor, for the call and delivery, charged only twenty-five dollars. Their youngest son, Lester, was born after they left the homestead.

The Sampson homestead seemed to be located right in the hail belt; they got more rain than some of the neighbors, but they got the hail, too, so in 1923, they let the homestead go and rented the Paquette place, three miles west. Mr. Paquette was a railroad man, and Mrs. Paquette was on the farm so she was glad to rent it and move to town. After three years there, they spent twelve years on the Dunham place five miles east of Lindsay. The water there was poor and not much of it. In the '30's they started looking for another place to buy, and were told by Mrs. Ralph Newton that her parents wanted to sell. They drove out to Gene Cummings, and Mrs. Cummings told them, "All you have to do is say you'll buy and I'll put on my bonnet and wrapper and walk out." They did buy it and stayed there until 1951 when they quit farming. In the meantime the oil boom had increased the value of his land so he sold his oil rights and moved to town.

In 1952 he went to work for the city as janitor in the city hall. They bought a home in Glendive and are now retired. Sam still likes to make music on his mouth organ and auto harp. Back in the pioneer days music wasn't available at the flip of a radio switch or the electric hi fi, and Sam's mouth organ was much in demand. Even last fall at a reception in the church basement someone asked Sam if he had his mouth harp with him, but Sam figured that nowadays there's more appropriate music to play in a church basement. But he still enjoys making music at home.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Sampson will be eighty-two years old next month. They have been married almost sixty years, and, Mr. Sampson put in, "She hasn't thrown a spider at me yet!" (Note: a 'spider' is a type of frying pan).

 

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