Chaps, Spurs, & Short Grass
Born in Hall County, Nebraska, Art Montgomery started breaking horses and working on roundups at the age of 17, in 1889. Beginning in 1898 he ranged from Oelrichs, South Dakota in the southern Black Hills across much of northeastern Wyoming, learning the cowboy trade from older hands and tough experience; covering miles of range and many watersheds at a time when nobody knew or cared how far they rode each day.
Art rode for Wyoming brands Diamond Bar, MW, LAK, M Bar, AU7, Flying Circle, 4W and many others. He married Grace Lillian Allen in 1906 and the following year, on their place near the Wyoming line north of Edgemont, he started some of the first Range Conservation practices in the region, putting in dams, ditches, etc. The couple’s son Kenneth was born in 1911.
Montgomery’s livestock dealings with both horses and cattle covered a large region. He was taken with Weston County, Wyoming’s rich grasslands and bought Mike Coy’s homestead on Lodgepole Creek about 35 miles southwest of Newcastle and moved his family there in 1917, making that his headquarters.
Art didn’t have the settled heart of a farmer, but the wandering heart of a horseman adventurer, wondering what lay over the next hill. Therefore, he was most often gone to, from, or on a roundup somewhere – following either cattle or horses. Fortunately he retired in 1951 and wrote a wonderful memoir titled “Shaps, Spurs & Short Grass” wherein he captures the romance of that wandering cowboy era in sharp detail.
From those recollections we see that soon, that very year of 1917, Art was working for the AU7 ranch throwing back strays from as far as Edgemont. Next he was in the employ of Dub Meeks running a wagon from Upton to the Rochelle Hills to the Cheyenne River country.
Art Montgomery was known as a good neighbor, a fine horseman and a savvy stockman. Along with his Wyoming ranch holdings he acquired summer country on his Pass Creek Ranch southwest of Custer and his Elk Mountain Ranch east of Newcastle, bought in 1945 so his granddaughter could be close to school. He continued to have livestock connections across a wide region of Wyoming and into South Dakota for many years. He and Grace moved to Chadron, Nebraska after retiring in 1951. He was inducted into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2017.
I grew up knowing Art Montgomery and his wife as elderly friends of my parents, retired and living in Nebraska. Art purchased my maternal grandfather Mike Coy’s Wyoming homestead in 1917, so the family’s relationships went way back. On occasions when Art and Grace visited our ranch to perhaps spend a night or two; or when we rarely visited them I was fascinated by Art – his bushy white moustache and twinkling eye. He seemed “larger than life” to me with his brilliant mind and amazing, exciting reminisces. The conversations he and my Dad shared about cattle and horses and people and memories of the past kept my eyes wide open no matter how late the hour. We are privileged that Art’s granddaughter Vina Beth Montgomery Morris of Newcastle, Wyoming, faithfully preserved his memoirs and is now kindly and generously sharing Art’s words with TSLN readers. I am privileged to excerpt and prepare them for printing.
–By Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
March 27, 1959 — A.L. Montgomery
In this book I have endeavored to relate some of the incidents in my life as a cowboy and rancher in southwestern South Dakota, northwestern South Dakota, northwestern Nebraska and parts of eastern Wyoming. Pleasures and hardships, joys and sorrows, adventures and misadventures, amusing episodes as well as some tragedies. It is strictly non-fictional. All names and locations of the old settlers mentioned are real as well as the many cowboys with whom I worked. Any “Old Timers” (who, sad to say, are getting scarce) that might chance to read this book no doubt will recall some incidents I have omitted that might cause needless heartache to any who might be concerned.
I was born at Wood River, Hall County Nebraska, the 16th day of February 1882. The spring of 1886 my father, the late Arthur Montgomery, tired of raising corn at .06 a bushel and using it for fuel, decided to go to the Black Hills. My Grandfather, Orin D. Montgomery and another man had been up there in 1876 and gave rather glowing accounts of the country.
They each had a six-yoke of oxen and two wagons which they loaded with provisions, and started for Deadwood and the Gold mines, where provisions were bringing fabulous prices. Reaching the Cheyenne River about six miles south of what is now Buffalo Gap in June they found it so high it seemed best to wait until it went down. After waiting three weeks they decided to swim it, which they did without serious trouble.
Father had a four-mule team and a sorrel mare named Jewel — he staked her nights with a bell and they never left her. He had bought a 2-year-old Pinto mare — a Umatilla Indian pony — for $20 from some fellows that were trailing horses through the country from Oregon, selling and trading along the way. We named her ‘Pet’, which was very appropriate. We children, my sister Alice (elder than I) and Ethel (younger) used to all three ride her to school when one was established in our community.
Two neighbor boys who also wanted to go to the Hills drove our six cows. One of them, Scott Sluss, went on up to Sundance, Wyoming and went into the sawmill business in which he was quite successful. The other lad, Bill Conklin, squatted on a piece of land eight miles northwest of Oelrichs, named after Harry Oelrichs, an Englishman. He didn’t stay in the country long. I understood he went back East.