Scotty Philip: Home on the Bad River |

Scotty Philip: Home on the Bad River

Courtesy photo

By the spring of 1877, James “Scotty” Philip had made up his mind to leave the Black Hills. He had spent the winter months sporadically trekking out to scratch and dig for the glittering gold dust, eager for a miracle, but with no tangible luck. Scotty was able to survive the winter by taking odd jobs around the “tent” city of Deadwood, mostly chopping firewood for those lucky ones who had struck it rich and, who would pay good wages rather than swing an axe. In February of 1877, Scotty, just 18 years of age, learned that the Sioux Treaty of 1877 had been signed and it was now legal to live in the Black Hills. Even this long-awaited news failed to change his mind. Scotty’s dream of finding wealth in the Hills had faded and as soon as the weather warmed a bit and he could afford the fare, his intent was to return south, maybe returning to his brother’s home near Victoria, KS.

Finally, with the wind in his face, Scotty left for Camp Robinson, stayed around a day or two, then, headed on south to Ft. Laramie. At Ft. Laramie, Scotty took a temporary job as teamster, a job for which he had little experience, but he had a way with animals and learned quickly. After a couple months he drew his pay and headed back north, to the area around Camp Robinson where grass and water were in abundance – a great place to start a ranch.

As usual, his cash flow was short; he needed money with which to get a start and buy cows. About this time, just after the Custer massacre, the plains Indians were informed that they would be spared if they turned themselves in to different Army outposts. The peaceful Chief Red Cloud and his band surrendered and began gathering in villages around Camp Robinson. Meanwhile the Army, to prevent uprisings and skirmishs, continued increasing troop and horse numbers. The Post Quartermaster, realizing there would be great need for winter feed, began offering $15 for each ton of hay delivered to the Post. Scotty seized the opportunity, using all his savings to purchase used haying equipment from the local Indian agent, and quickly locating some excellent, unclaimed hay meadows reasonably safe and close by. The location was along the White river, approximately eight miles north of Camp Robinson, west of Crow Butte and close to the Sidney-Deadwood trail. This site became his first ranch headquarters.

Needing help for his haying operation, he found an out-of-work man named George Clark, with whom a partnership was formed, and together, they began the task of mowing, raking and stacking the nutritious hay. On the second day, one of his horses broke a leg which resulted in Scotty going in to debt for the first time to buy a team of mules. Later, Indian retaliation caused several of the haystacks to be burned, forcing them to move the hay to their nearby headquarters or into the Camp as quickly as possible. The partners delivered 40 tons of hay to the Army and kept what was left.

The $600 seemed like a fortune to Scotty and Clark. Scotty repaid his debt and bought another team and more cows. While working at Camp Robinson, Scotty and his future brother-in-law, J.E. Utterbeck, the Post blacksmith, were usually present at daily briefings, keeping them abreast of military and Indian movements all around the Great Sioux territory.

Scotty wrote this author-edited letter to his brother George in Kansas:

Nov. 4, 1877. My dear Brother: I learned that the Indians have left Red Cloud Agency. They have gone down to the Missouri. My partner has gone with a load of freight. We get .06 a lb. He will be gone a month. I don’t think the Indian war is over yet. The Sioux were very dissatisfied at moving. I can talk a deal of the Sioux language. The Black Hills is getting better and I think it will be a good country yet. Enclosed you will find a sample of the Black Hills gold. Your loving brother, James Philip.

In October of 1877 the Red Cloud Agency was moved to the Missouri River, near the mouth of Yellow Medicine Creek (today’s Medicine Creek in Jones and Lyman counties). This location was never accepted by Red Cloud’s nation. Less than a year later they were returned to what is now the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Joe Laribee, a Frenchman with a Cheyenne wife, was Scotty’s nearest neighbor along the river. The Laribee’s large family included four beautiful daughters, all of whom married famous South Dakotans. The eldest, Helen, married the great Indian Chief, Crazy Horse; second daughter, Julie, married prominent White river rancher/banker Mike Dunn; third daughter, Zoe, married J.E. Utterbeck, who later owned the vast Anvil ranch south of Belvidere. Fourth daughter, Sarah, had caught Scotty’s eye and he began spending considerable time at the Laribee home. They would marry a year later.

January of 1878 was unusually cold and snowy and had brought the freighting business to a halt, giving Scotty another opportunity. On a visit to the now re-named Ft. Robinson, Scotty was asked to be a Scout and Courier for the Army. It was an “only when needed” job, with good pay and, he could continue operating his small ranch. Scotty quickly gained a reputation for being fearless and dependable when couriering messages through dangerous, hostile Indian country to distant Army outposts and Indian villages. This job allowed him to form friendships with several military officers and noteworthy chiefs of the day and to acquire a profound disdain for the government’s treatment of the Indian.

Oftentimes, when joking with other young men, Scotty had said, “to make something of yourself in this country, you need a wife, a home, a family, something to work for!” Heeding his own advice, Scotty and Sarah, or Sally, as everyone called her, were married at Ft. Robinson by the Episcopal missionary, John Robinson in the early spring of 1879. After a dance and celebration the couple moved out to Scotty’s small cabin. For a wedding gift, Sally’s father, J.C. Larabee, gave the couple several head of cows to help get them started in the cattle business.

After living a year near Crow Butte, a baby on the way, and being crowded by new settlers, the Philip family moved into Dakota Territory a few miles north of the Nebraska border. They settled into a log cabin on White Clay Creek, near the border of what is now the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Scotty continued the lucrative freighting business to support his family and to buy more cows. As the birth of their first baby neared, Scotty stayed closer to home, and was there when the first of ten children, daughter Mary, was born in early 1880. As quickly as Sally and the baby were healthy, Scotty resumed his freighting business.

While returning from a late trip to Ft. Pierre, he detoured down along the Bad River where, in every direction, the grass was tall and lush, trees for shelter were plentiful, and water flowed from numerous springs in the river bed, literally, a paradise on the plains. He finally chose an area near a big bend in the river between Grindstone and Medicine creeks. After returning home, he told Sally what he had found.

Sally, being half Cheyenne, was entitled to an allotment on the Great Sioux Reservation. Scotty surmised that, as a white man with a half-Indian wife, he could survive there by, “staying away from trouble!” Both agreed that they should make use of the allotment and move immediately to the Bad River site. This land had not yet been surveyed, therefore no claim was ever filed. With Sally driving the freight wagon and Scotty herding the cows and horses, they left White Clay Creek and headed north along the old Ft. Laramie-Ft. Pierre wagon road.

As they followed the White River to the northeast, little Mary took sick, seemingly, worsening by the hour. There was not a doctor within a hundred miles, no medicine, nor any “old wives tales” that worked. Mary died the next day. She was less than six months of age. Scotty and Sally buried their firstborn, “in a beautiful place” near the old trail. After arriving at the ranch site, Scotty and Sally, with sadness and remorse, built another log cabin home on high ground. They would spend nearly 20 years here, raising a family and growing their cattle operation along the Bad River, 80 miles west of Ft. Pierre and nine miles east of today’s Philip, SD. James “Scotty” Philip was on his way to prominence as a cattleman.

Editor’s Note: Lonis Wendt is the Verendrye Museum historian and program coordinator for the Scotty Philip Days trail ride.

This is the third of five chapters commemorating Scotty Philip’s life, leading up to the 100th Scotty Philip Day celebration and trail ride, July 16-23. Coming up next, Chapter 4, “The open range.”


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