HISTORY OF ARLAND
Towns were growing up in various parts of the Basin. A new type of settler, the small stockman or farmer, had come in, and with him a new standard of living and working. A railroad was entering through Pryor Gap, eventually to make its exit through Wind River canyon on the other side of the Basin. We found ourselves on Meeteetse Creek, a little off the main current of travel and settlement. We had not chosen wisely, if we wished our ranches to be cut up into city lots.
For my own part, I feel that we have something better than the smoke of railroad engines, for our little corner of the Big Horn Basin is today one of the few spots in it, and one of the very few in the country, to retain the flavor of the old west. Meeteetse can still boast of being an old time cowtown, of the type that one seldom finds now outside the movies, and the ranches of the region are not so different, except for irrigation, from what they were in the early days.
But even though we were not in the most populous part of the Basin, we shared in the growth, and contributed three towns, two temporary and one permanent, to the Basin. The first of these, and the one that gave the most promise of becoming a metropolis, was Arland, established in 1884, ten miles above the mouth of Meeteetse Creek. Some towns grow up gradually and without premeditation to meet the natural requirements of a region. Others, of which Arland was a good example, are deliberately planned, platted and christened before containing a single inhabitant.
John Corbett, whom I met at his establishment on Trail Creek early in my mail carrying days, had acquired in 1880 a partner, Victor Arland, recently of France, and more recently of the Black Hills and Fort Custer. Arland wished to erect a fitting monument to his name and at the same time to make more money than he could at hunting buffalo and selling red water to the Indians. He thought he saw the need for a town in the Meeteetse region. His thought gave birth to Arland.
By 1887 it consisted of a restaurant, rooming house, bar room, store and post office. The post office, store and saloon were all in one building. There was also a dance hall, where George Marquette used to play. Corbett continued to reside on Trail Creek, but came frequently to visit his partner and note the progress of the business. Vic ran the saloon at Arland, and became wealthy at it. No one knows what he did with his money, but after his death credulous people dug up the whole country around, trying to find the treasure he was reported to have buried.
Old Arland was the scene of many quarrels and violent deaths. Several women, of the type commonly found in the frontier, mining or cow towns, moved into the place. They caused more bloodshed than even the booze or the poker games. I was present the night Vic Arland killed Rawhide Jackson, through jealousy over his attentions to one of these women.
There was to be a dance that evening. George Marquette was tuning up the fiddle, and the crowd was gathered in the hall. As Jackson stepped into the doorway there was a single shot, and he fell sprawling outside the door, dead. The crowd stood around in embarrassed silence, eyeing the gun in Vic Arland's hand.
"Stop staring like a bunch of idiots," he growled. "Start up the music, he can't hurt you. He's dead." So they dragged his body into a room back of the dance hall, and went on with the dance. Jackson was buried the next morning. A trial was held later, and Vic was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. Someone testified that Jackson had been heard threatening his life not long before.
There was a certain tenseness in the air the night of the killing, in spite of the apparent coolness with which the incident was treated. The rooming house was filled that night. There were only thin muslin partitions between the rooms. Joe Klein was making a fearful racket, so I pulled out my six shooter and smoked up the building. Men began tumbling out of the windows on all sides, thinking, no doubt, that some of Jackson's friends had come to clean out the place. I slept in peace and quiet the rest of the night.
There is nothing left of Arland now but a graveyard. One grave, better protected than the others by a barbed wire fence, still has a marker with this inscription:
We never knew her real name, but called her "Blue" because she usually wore that color. George Merrill, foreman for the pitchfork Ranch was riding along the road to Arland early one morning when he came upon her lying in the trail.
"I'm dying," she gasped. "Tahonus gave me some dope and robbed me of $400."
Merrill got her on his horse and into Arland, but she died that day. Her greatest concern at the last was her sins and repentance, and whether or not she was doomed to go to hell. The cowboys buried her on the hill not far from Jackson's grave, and put up a fence to keep the cattle off. They kept her blue slippers as a souvenir. Years later I found a battered and faded blue slipper in a load of hay I was hauling. Corbett had run on to it and slipped it into my load as a joke.
Tahonus, the woman Blue accused of drugging her, had come to Arland from Lander, and married a Mexican gambler who had his headquarters at Vic's saloon. One of the punchers, jealous of the Mexican, shot and fatally wounded him. They started in a wagon to take him to Lander for medical aid, but he died when they reached the foot of Owl Creek mountains. Tahonus never returned to Arland.
Not long after Tahonus left, Belle Drury and three of her followers had an establishment at Arland. They gave a party one night to their cowboy friends; everyone got drunk and the cowboys proceeded to shoot up the place. In the uproar that followed Belle shot and killed Jess Conway, leader of the cowboy gang. Nothing more happened that night, but a few days later a crowd of Jess's friends came into the house and shot all four women by way of revenge. There was still another death from this episode. A boy called Shorty had been hanging around for some time, madly in love with Belle. After her death he went insane and killed himself.
Women were not the sole cause of the killings in Arland district, however. One evening as I was on my way to Arland I was joined by John Wallace, who met me at the LU ranch. As we rode along he suddenly and without apparent cause, became sullen and moody. Finally he gave me a long, hard look and said, "I've got blood in my eye. I want blood." I pointed to a rabbit that was running through the sage brush a few feet away and told him to shoot it if he wanted blood.
"You're the rabbit I want," he said and pulled his gun on me. I knocked it from his hand before he had a chance to use it and handed it back to him. We rode on together to Arland, where I was to spend the night. I thought no more about his actions; we got used to freakish behavior in a region where a man spends so much of his time alone. I didn't think he had seriously contemplated shooting me, anyway. I should have given warning of his action, as it turned out, but I said nothing about it.
The next morning he rode on to the Old Meeteetse post office, five miles down the creek from Arland. The Smith family lived there, operating the store and post office. Wallace and Smith had had trouble once, but so long ago and over so trivial a matter than everyone had forgotten it. Wallace stepped to the door of the post office and called to Smith, who came out to be shot down without a word of warning. The murderer then got on his horse and rode leisurely back down the trail, leaving Mrs. Smith and the children paralyzed with horror in the store.
That morning as I left Arland to return to the ranch, I met a man and woman in a wagon, who stopped me to ask the way to the Smith store. I had just heard about the murder, so I told them what had happened at Smith's. The woman began to cry, saying it was her brother who was killed. Just then I saw Wallace riding down the trail about a mile away. I pointed him out as the murderer. As soon as he was within range the man in the wagon shot him dead. Then he took a shovel from his wagon box, dug a hole near the spot where Wallace had fallen, pushed the body into it, and covered it with rocks and earth.
I asked him if he did not want to mark the grave, but he said it was not worthwhile. Wallace's horse and pack mule followed me as I went on down the trail. I stopped at McDonald's ranch to report the killing and leave Wallace's animals. The sheriff was sent out from Lander to investigate. As chief witness, it fell to me to take him to the grave and tell him the story. Wallace's murderer was given a hearing and then turned loose.
In spite of its promising beginning, its skill for keeping itself always in the public eye and furnishing excitement for all comers, and the fact that it met a real need of the region as a base of supplies, Arland died an untimely death. Its proprietor, Vic Arland, was shot to death through the window of a saloon in Red Lodge, Montana, as he sat at a game of cards. His murderer was never caught, but the assumption was that a friend of Rawhide Jackson was getting even. The town did not survive its owner. It was too close to Meeteetse, which had got a later start but was beginning to thrive. In 1896 Corbett carried away the last of the moveable property and Arland ceased to exist.
Last Updated April 2005
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