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
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
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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