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Floyd Davis

AIR #24
Sunday, December 15, 1968

Cowboy - horsewrangler - broncpeeler - rancher - homesteader - sheriff - Floyd 'Gobbler' Davis, has lived in three different counties, all in the same spot. When he homesteaded, after a colorful career as cowboy, his claim was located in Dawson County. Later, as chunks were lopped off Dawson to form other counties, he found himself and his farm in Richland until still another division put him in McCone.

Grasshoppers have figured more than once in eastern Montana's history, and they figured in bringing Floyd Davis to this part of the country. In 1902-03, they stripped the range on the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains and forced stockmen to move their stock. Davis helped move some of that stock across into Montana north of Forsyth, then drifted north up Snow Creek.

He had reasons for drifting north, and most of his reasons could be spelled w-a-g-e-s. In Wyoming at the turn of the century a cowboy was paid $20 a month; on the Yellowstone range he could get $25, but between the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers he could make $40 a month.

His idea, he explained, was to come over and get rich quick, then go back and spend it. But he never did get back.

Floyd was born in Wyoming, not far from the Montana line, south of Custer's Battlefield. His father was a freighter hauling from the head of the Burlington Railroad to towns farther on. His uncle, John Jacoby, was in partnership with his father, and the two hauled freight ahead of the railroad building crew, not with truck and trailer but with team and wagons.

The 'team' consisted of eight horses and two mules. They preferred to use mules for leaders because a mule forms habits more than a horse. Leading a long wagon train over the trails through rough country demanded exacting leadership. For example, rounding a bend at the head of a canyon required swinging wide enough so that the entire train would clear and not be pulled into the canyon. Mules are better at remembering such things and so made better leaders. Besides that, mules generally live longer than horses. Mr. Davis quoted an old saying, "They had to kill the first mule to start a mule graveyard!"

In the early 1890's, Floyd's father decided to quit freighting and settle down. He put in his own irrigating outfit and began raising hay. There was no school within miles so Floyd and his older brother, Arthur, didn't do much worrying about the Three R's.

It wasn't until 1894 that they started to school. That fall John Jacoby made the last freighting trip from Crow Agency to Junction (just across the river from the town of Custer) because the next spring the railroad connected and he settled down in Junction. Junction boasted a school so his sister's boys came to stay with him and his wife and get some book learning.

As he made that last freighting trip he picked up the boys and took them along to Junction. The trail led across the Indian reservation, and at his first sight of Indians Floyd ducked down inside the wagon. His precautions were too late because the Indians had already seen him, and one of them remarked to Uncle John, "Papoose, him afraid of Indians." He was so right.

With the Custer massacre less than twenty years history Floyd figured he had reason to be apprehensive. Along with the story of Custer's massacre he had heard tales of many other clashes with the Indians. His mother had passed away when he was only four years old, and she was buried near Wagon Box Massacre, so called because about twenty soldiers were killed there by the Indians. The soldiers were buried there on private property, and later, as need arose, the owners gave permission for others to be buried there also. The soldiers were later moved to Custer's Battlefield, but a few other graves remain. Even though the Indians by this time were confined to reservations, little wonder that to a boy not yet ten years old they still posed a threat.

 

Floyd was assigned the task of harrowing the meadow with a team of stallions that had been kept in the barn all the time. Anyone familiar with horses knows what that meant; they just about ran his legs off as he followed them around the field, trying to keep up with them and the two-section harrow.

If that harrow had just been equipped with a seat perhaps he would have kept his job longer. As it was, he got to experimenting, climbed onto one of the horses, and found he could ride. From then on he rode that horse and drove the other. He thought it a fine arrangement, this eleven-year-old boy, but the 'boss' caught him at it and was of a different mind. Next day he was 'paid off' for driving the horses too hard.

The next summer he started riding for the U Cross (the Pioneer Cattle Company) whose land joined his father's holdings. From then on he was pretty much on his own, always riding. A boy became a man fast under those conditions - not quite fast enough, though, to go to Europe with Buffalo Bill Cody because no matter how you could ride, it didn't change your chronological age.

Cody was going to Europe with a show troupe (cowboys, bucking horses) and had come to Sheridan looking for horses and a few more men. Several other fellows from the outfit Floyd was with went in to 'try out', and Floyd signed up for a trial ride, too.

He got by the ride, all right, but when Cody started asking questions for the contract (anyone going over had to sign a contract that they would stay the whole time the troupe was in Europe), he asked, "Kid, how old are you?" "Seventeen."

"No use going any further." Buffalo Bill told him, "unless you get consent from your parents." So it was no use going any further. By this time he had left home and preferred not to go get consent. At least he had the thrill of a personal interview with the famous frontiersman. One of the other fellows from this outfit did make the European tour.

 

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