Epilogue: Remembering Scotty Philip
July 15, 2011
Though James “Scotty” Philip’s sudden death at age of 53 on July 23, 1911 shocked and stunned his family, friends and business associates, he had, undeniably, achieved the wealth and success that was the anticipated promise of nearly every immigrant who came to America during the pioneering years.
Scotty Philip is best known as a “cattle baron” and “the man who saved the buffalo,” but he was also an enterprising entrepreneur with an abundance of “savvy” to make the right decision and was unquestionably, “ahead of his time.”
Before being struck down in the prime of his life, he had leased nearly the entire Lower Brule Indian Reservation and built his headquarters on Cedar Creek. As many as 65 riders were hired to tend the thousands of cattle, so as to utilize every acre of the lush grass. The year of 1910 was one of severe drought and, the spring of 1911 was following a similar pattern. Scotty, always innovative, bought an irrigation pump and set it up to pump water from the Missouri river to flood irrigate the Giddings Flats on the western edge of the buffalo pasture.
Scotty Philip’s reputation was one of diligence, dependability, courage, honesty, and he always ready to help someone in need. He was respected and valued by the military as a scout/courier; as an advisor and friend to four Governors; by banking companies as a Director in several banks; by cattlemen as a neighbor and as co-founder and CEO of the first Missouri River Stockman’s Association (which later became the Western South Dakota Stockgrowers Association); by Indian chiefs as a friend of Crazy Horse and Red Cloud; by the South Dakota State Legislature as a Senator in 1899-1900; and by citizens of the newly organized Stanley County, serving as their first Chairman of the Stanley County Commission.
Several of his foreman and riders became successful ranchers in their own right. Scotty was also a 32nd Degree Mason of the Sioux Falls lodge. The historic 1743 Verendrye plate was found in the backyard of Scotty’s large home in Ft. Pierre on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Missouri and the Bad rivers, two years after his death. Scotty always built on high ground.
His friends read like a “Who’s Who” of famous West River South Dakotans. Among them were Alex Johnson, Col. Robert Stewart, Cap Mossman, Mayor James Dahlman, Ed Lemmon, Tom Jones, Eb Jones, Cy Hiett, George Waldron, Jack Borden, Harry Hudson, Dan Powell, Fred Dupree, Pete Dupree, Doug Carlin, Joe Binder and brother-in-laws Mike Dunn and J. Utterbeck.
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In Bert Hall’s Roundup Years documentation, Scotty is mentioned numerous times and not once did we find a disparaging word about him.
Scotty had a loving wife, Sally, who was, as nephew George Philip described: “as faithful and self-sacrificing a helpmate as ever dedicated her life to a husband.” George also expressed his personal attachment to Scotty, writing; “I considered him the grandest man I ever knew, and I loved and respected him as I never did and never will another.”
Though dying quite young, Scotty, incredibly, outlived five of his ten children. Sally passed away in 1938 at the age of 83. The Philip family burial plot, within which all of his family, except Mary, the oldest, (her grave along the White River was never found) would be laid to rest, was designed and built by Scotty and a friend, Eli Lindsay. It lies below the bluffs, facing east, on a grass-covered slope, overlooking the mighty Missouri river between Ft. Pierre and the buffalo pasture. As James Robinson wrote in his book West of Ft. Pierre, this location was a paradise, surrounded by his huge pasture and “worthy of a Cattle King.” The plot was completed on July 22, 1911, one day before Scotty succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage. The plot and the adjacent 40 acres were donated to the city of Ft. Pierre by Sally Philip, to be used as a community cemetery.
The service for Scotty Philip was said to have had the largest attendance for any funeral ever held in western South Dakota. Alex Johnson, then Superintendent of the Northwestern Railway Company, arranged to have a special train transport people from Pierre and Ft. Pierre to the ranch and back. It was said that people of every description and every lot in life mingled together, sharing their tears, and apparently, on cue, the famous Scotty Philip buffalo herd roamed over the bluffs to mourn their loss. Louie La Plante, George Mathieson, Fred Rowe, Tex Hemphill, Dr. J.C. Lavery and W. H. Frost served as pallbearers at the Philip funeral.
An interesting incident was related to us by Ray Norman, of Milwaukee, OR, age 94. Ray grew up along Willow Creek, west of Ft. Pierre and near the Scotty Philip buffalo pasture. As a youngster, he often rode his pony over to the Philip ranch to visit and play. On one of those occasions, probably in 1924-25, Scotty’s daughter Clara, asked him: “…why are you riding bareback?” Ray replied, “I don’t have a saddle!” Clara said, “I think we have one of Scotty’s saddles left, and, I want you to have it!” Ray, who later became a sought-after horse trainer, kept the saddle at the Norman home. Unfortunately, the treasured artifact was lost when the Norman home burned to the ground in 1938.
Scotty Philip lived during a time of remarkable events in South Dakota’s unique history: the arrival and departure of the Gold Rush; the opening of the Black Hills; the rise and fall of the freighting business; the coming of the railroad; the Dakota Territorial capitol move from Yankton to Bismarck; the opening of the great Sioux Reservation; establishment of tribal reservations; South Dakota becoming a state; the end of the open range, the end of the true American cowboy; and, the legacy of having helped save the buffalo from extinction!
Editor’s Note: Lonis Wendt is the Verendrye Museum historian and program coordinator for the Scotty Philip Days trail ride.
Scotty’s legacy is being celebrated by a historic celebration/trail ride from Philip to Midland to Ft. Pierre from July 16-23, 2011. For a complete schedule of events, visit tsln.com.