My Forty Years Scribblin's
Interviews
Area Range War Recalled

This interview was written in 1967 and published as a feature article in The Missoulian newspaper. D.A. Pritchett tells of an encounter between sheepmen and cattlemen in western Montana's open range days.


"The good old days" were not so good as they are often cracked up to be. Often, they were tough going.

D.A. Pritchett of Missoula remembers well when Missoula's south side consisted of the Milwaukee Depot, one saloon and several square miles of weeds. He recalls when payday at Ft. Missoula brought a fabulous $12-13 upon which it was spent at the Four Mile House, near the present Miller Creek turnoff, for an evening's entertainment.

Local Army transportation was by wagon and mules, employing civilian teamsters of which Pritchett was one. Aligned with the soldiers, he held a "ringside seat" at the Four Miles House, where anything could happen and often did.

In short, he has watched the taming of the whole of western Montana, having been born at Silver Bow Junction in 1883.

He came to the Cold Springs district with his parents at two years old and stood with them at his father's homestead to watch Chief Charlo and his band file past on their sad trek to strange homes and life on the Flathead Reservation [1891].

"There was Moise and Charlo on horseback and Captain Gerlach right in the middle." he says.

As a young man Pritchett took part in cattle drives, once from the Bitter Root Valley to the Marias River, grazing cattle through the Blackfoot Valley. The owners were Cowell and Mitchell. Upwards of thirty riders were required, the trip extending over a month.

He also figured in one sheep-versus-cattlemen incident as the driver of a supply wagon with a band of sheep belonging to Doctor McCullough of Missoula and men named Cowell and Kern. The woollies were being taken from the Bitter Root to the Blackfoot Valley for summer grazing.

Upon reaching Twin Creeks, north of Bonner, one band went up in the Gold Creek country, the other proceeded on to McNamara's Landing to cross the old MacNamara Bridge, the piling of which is still standing. On entering the lower Potomac Valley they were met by a group of horsemen.

"Looked like seventy-five of them to me," he recalls.

Scenting trouble, Pritchett deserted his wagon seat, jumped behind a tree and pulled out his old "hog leg."

"We are turning these sheep back," a spokesman said, taking the three sheep herder's guns and driving the sheep back across the bridge. Once across the cattleman drew a line in the dirt.

"Now, the first man or sheep to cross this is a dead one," it was declared. Pritchett then departed for Bonner to inform the bosses. He was directed to ride into Missoula.

At Missoula he went to the saloon and got all the men he could find. "Then go to the Mercantile and get all the guns and ammunition you can carry," he was told.

Wagons were gathered to transport the recruits to the trouble site where the sheep owners, in company with a deputy sheriff, rode ahead, knocking on all the doors in the valley to state, "These sheep are going through."

A look at the small army, marching with the sheep was sufficient. The band went on over the hill to Greenough with no further opposition.

Pritchett was fifteen years old when he first operated a threshing machine. Later he held a stationary engineer's license, running threshing outfits in Washington, eastern Montana and the Dakotas as well as the Bitter Root, Frenchtown, and Jocko Valleys. He had a partner in the business named Bill Simons.

"Pritchett did the threshing and Simons did the fighting for the outfit." he laughs.

He lived for a number of years at Arlee before returning to Missoula to make his home on ground that his father once owned, having bought large tracts at fifty cents per acre