Horse Thieves

(Further adventures in the early days of Burlington, ND as told by Jim Johnson)

The spring of 1884 brought a number of settlers especially to the upper Mouse. There also arrived that spring Mr Ravenwood and Mr Bates claiming to be railroad contractors, when in reality they were horse thieves. They settled west of Burlington on the Des Lacs River. Later in the season one Charley Wright appeared with 450 head of pretty good horses claiming that he had purchased them from several ranchers, and that was the reason there were so many different brands, when in fact he had stolen every one of them. Then came Peabody brothers with about 150 head of horses. They left about 100 head with Mr Thompson who was the owner of the farm that Peter Ehr now owns right east of Minot. There seemed to be a special friendly feeling between these horse rustlers. Well everything went well during the summer. Charley Wright had sold out in the fall and said that he would be back in the spring with a bigger bunch than he had that spring. Ravenwood and Bates were doing pretty well. Fellows that stole horses on the Missouri River brougfht them over on the Mouse and those that stole horses in Canada came in on the Mouse and then exchanged them.

On November 3, 1884 there appeared at Burlington eighteen well mounted cowboys. They went into camp just back of ouir barn. Early the next morning Ravenwood appeared at the postoffice and told me that now was the chance to do business; that those cowboy's stock was pretty poor, that is poor in flesh and that they wanted to get some that was in good order to ride. I went with them to look the horses over but they didn't suit me. In fact I was puzzled as they were the smartest bunch of cow punchers that I had ever seen and it was a conundrum to me what they really would do before they left us. They didn't need to steal our horses, they simply could go and take them. Well there was a party who was talking French to Ravenwood and they were trying to make some deal. They finally agreed that they were going to round up Ravenwood and Bates' horses so they could have a look at them and then come down to camp and make the deal. They needed at least twenty head of horses to ride. The day was slipping along and all kinds of rumors were in the air, including that they were here for a general cleaning up. I had stopped my team and drove over to the camp. About the time I got to the camp Ravenwood got back with the Franchman and another one of the cowboys and as he stepped off the horse a pair of hand cuffs were slipped on him and he was thrown to the ground and leg irons were put on him. The party who seemed to have charge of the bunch ordered four men to mount and go with the one who had come down with Ravenwood and bring in Mr Bates and the horses, which was done in short order. Bates told him when they rode up to him that it wasn't a fair deal and that he would shoot with any of them and they told him if he opened his mouth again they would blow the top off his head and they placed Bates alongside of Ravenwood, and do you know I was rather pleased because I didn't stand in very good with those fellows. They moved camp that evening and Ravenwood and Bates had a white turban or cloth wound around their heads, and as some of them were stopping right in front of our house waiting for the foreman who had gone up to the store at Burlington, I asked why they had the white cloth and they replied "So we will make no mistake if we are going to shoot anyone." They then went just below Minot and took the Peabody bunch of horses with them. They then went down the river beyond Velva where they picked up Peabody. From there they went out to Dogden or Butte where they stayed for over a week and it was reported that they had gone down to Carrington and brought back the Peabody brothers. Whatever became of those five persons of course we have no positive proof, but we know this that when they appeared at Coal Harbor on the Missosuri River there were only the original eighteen that had camped at Burlington on Novermber 4, 1884.

(And this from the book "Jim Johnson" written by Usher Burdick. Mr Burdick devotes several pages to the "Montana Vigilantes" or "Stranglers" who apparently were in the habit of hanging those in possession of stolen horses without benefit of trial).

The gang pretended to represent the Montana Livestock Association but was in fact a group of bad men brought together through the organizing influence of Granville Stewart, a large ranch operator in Montana but a citizen of Canada, and the leader of the group being William Contrell.

In the summer of 1883 two strangers arrive at the point were Burlington was later located claiming to be railreoad contractors. Johnson observed that the front part of the wagons were of one particular make while the rear gear would be of another make; the harnesses were made of rawhide, and in a converstion with them Johnson remarked "You fellows look more like horse theives than railroad contractors." The men who came to be known as Bates and Ravenwood were highly incensed at Johnson's remark and during their stay at this place they never manifested a very friendly feeling for Jim. The men stayed in the community, joined the Regulators and were accepted as good citizens though Johnson never at any time was convinced that they were anything else than horse thieves. Occasionally some nbeighbor would lose a horse and the Regulators including Bates and Ravenwood would scour the country for miles around but no trace of the horse would be found.

A man by the name of Benson was at the time running a whiskey still north of Burlington and the contractors ran quite a large bill with him for the products of his still. On one occasion Benson dunned them for some money on account and a few nights later Benson missed some of his horses. In a day or two the contractors paid Benson cash on account which Benson was glad to accept, not knowing that the cash came from the sale of his own horses. Occasionally one of the contractors would volunteer to go in search of stolen horses for a reward and invariably the horses would be returned and the reward paid. The contractors became popular in the community but Johnson was still suspicious and thought in his own mind that the contractors were the real theives and had a place somewhere to the north where they assembles these horses.

(There follow a narration similar to the one above concerning the capture of the horse thieves and their subsequent disappearance. Apparently skeletons rumored to be those of the missing men were found at Strawberry lake and Snake Creek some time later. With all this horse talk I am reminded of the arrival at our farm of a man with a beautiful stallion pulling a buggy--somewhat unusual even when I was an early age. Most farmers didn't have a stallion for breeding purposes and at that time instead of arriving in a horse trailer he was used to pull owner and buggy to the different farms. There you see; a page with violence and sex just like on TV.)

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