My Adventures in the West
by Joseph Wegley 1867 - 1946
I had scarcely been out of the county I was raised in. I bought a ticket to southern Kansas hunting my way to some cattle range. I got a job in a livery barn, but I didn’t like that job so I quit. I went to the Oklahoma boom when 30,000 men rushed in there for claims, but there were only 8,000 claims to be taken. Naturally, lots of them were left out. I, of course, was just out to see what it was all about, in other words, seeing the country.
The people were held back on the Kansas side until twelve o’clock noon when a cannon was fired and the rush started. We had to cross the Cherokkee strip forty miles wide. Some went on foot, some by train, some in wagons, some on horse back – any old way to get a claim. Many had been in and staked their claims so as to know just where to go at the right time. One man from Kansas gave $50.00 for the use of a race horse to go to his stake claim. When he got there, a man was plowing on his claim with a team of oxen – the secret being the people had been removed from the district, but some of the old timers had hid themselves in brush, etc. until twelve o’clock and then went out and went to work.
After the boom was over, I went back to Kansas and started beating my way over the country and wound up in Missouri. I worked on a farm there for six weeks.
Having satisfied myself that Montana was the range I had been looking for, I quit my job and started north beating my way through Kansas City, St. Paul, and then west. I had a little money but wanted to try anything for the experience. I had the time of my life on this trip with other hoboes.
I quit a job in Missouri at $15.00 per month and beat my way to Glendive, Montana. I lost just a week’s work, and went to work for $40.00 per month. I got to Glendive on a Saturday evening in July, 1887 on a freight and went over to a small restaurant for supper. The boss offered me a job cooking. I said I could not cook, but he said he could show me all I needed to know in twenty minutes. But, I said I came to this country looking for a job as a cowboy not cooking, so he told me about a man thirty miles in the country up the Yellowstone river on the north side who was in town that day looking for a man.
Well, Sunday morning I went down to the cable ferry to cross the river, planning to walk the thirty miles. The ferryman asked twenty-five cents to take me across. I said that I could swim it cheaper and I had just little enough knowledge of the west to try it. The atmosphere being so different, it looked like it was just a short distance across; so I started looking for a place to start. Accidentally, I met an old gentleman and told him my plans. He was one of those real men typical of that country and he said, “Say young man, don’t try it in the first place. It is further across this river than it looks to you. Besides, it is dangerous as it is full of whirlpools, undercurrents, and you will lose your life if you try it.” I took the old fellow seriously and paid the ferryman the twenty-five cents, and believe me, when we got out into the current, I realized what the old man meant.
I started on my journey and hadn’t gone but two miles when I came to a house. I went in to ask directions, and found to my surprise that the man who wanted to hire a hand had stayed there over night and had not left yet. He at once asked me if I was looking for work, and he offered me $40.00 per month. I took the job and got in his wagon and started for his ranch.
Driving up the Yellowstone Valley, to me, was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen, just prairie and hills with no one living there. This man, Henry Lewis, was a real old-time cowboy, but had settled on a small ranch and was married and had a nice wife and two children. He was running a bunch of cattle for an Iowa firm on shares on the range, but there was no roundup for about a month, so he asked me if I had any objections to haying. As cowboys at that time wore kid gloves, seven dollar pants, fourteen dollar boots, and refused to do anything but work with cattle or ride horseback, I told him I would be glad to hay until round-up time, which I did. He had a bunch of saddle horses which were at my command any time I wasn’t busy, and we didn’t work like they do on a farm so I had lots of spare time.