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HARDSHIPS OF THE FIRST COLONY

By Sheridan Founder and Mayor John D. Loucks

A copy of the manuscript is in the files of the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library

In Sheridan's early days there was two ways to get title to the lots. One way was to preempt them by making a payment of $10 for each and the other was to wait until we became incorporated and then make proof of settlement. We chose the latter, as it would be much the cheaper.

The Townsite Act gave us the right to assess a certain sum to be paid by the settler to cover the cost of surveying, so we decided on $3 for inside lots and $5 for corners.

Then we commenced business. Mr. Wright had by this time gotten his mill running and could furnish us with a certain amount of rough lumber. A man by the name of Reuben Cornwell was carrying the mail from Birney to Sheridan twice a week. He built the first house and brought his wife and little girl to live in it -- the first family.

George Brundage was making arrangements to go to Miles City for some farm machinery, so I made arrangements with him to rig up an extra wagon and take what hides I had bought down there and bring my family and goods back with him. This he agreed to do for $10 a day. It took him fifteen days.

One day J. H. Conrad stopped on his way to the O-Z Ranch on Tongue River and wanted to know what I was doing here. I told him that I had started a town and was putting in a small store. He said he had been thinking somewhat along the same line and that I had beat him to it. I told him there was plenty of room for both of us and if he wanted to come, he had better choose his lots right now. He said he did not know if it would be fair for him to put in a store in competition to me as I had the first right. I told him I would welcome him as it would make that much more business, so he said that if I felt that way about it he would think it over and let me know within a week. He was back in a few days, paid for a quarter block, and commenced his store building.

And so we commenced to grow. A few of the cattle companies sent me word that they did not approve of me building a town right in the heart of the grazing country.

In a few days a covered wagon drove up. A man got out and wanted to camp here for the night. He said he was headed for the Yellowstone country, was a blacksmith and had his tools with him. I immediately went to work to convince him that he had got to his journey's end. I had a small log building there at my disposal and he could go right to work. I told him he could take up a claim adjoining the town as he had a family, and in the morning he unloaded his tools and put his shop in order for business. And that is the way we came to have Henry Held.

Mr. Held, having built himself another shop on Main Street, moved out of the little log building so I moved it up to my store building for a kitchen. Afterwards I fixed it up for our first school room and hired Miss Works for the first school teacher. She was a good Christian girl and a fine singer. I think we had about fifteen pupils.

It was here that we held our first Christmas entertainment. The room was filled and we had a nice program. All repeated the Lord's Prayer, Miss Works read the Scripture account of Christ's birth, and then we had singing and recitations. Candy was passed around, and the meeting dismissed, all of us feeling that we had had a good time.

The winter was long and cold, the thermometer down to 45 below, and the snow a foot deep. Not knowing anything about the winters, we all failed to provide ourselves with enough grub to last through and in March it began to run out.

One morning, M. N. Swain from Prairie Dog came to the store and asked if we had any flour. He said they had used the last of their supply for breakfast. I told him that my wife had just opened our last sack. At that he exclaimed, "Good God. What are we going to do? We have nothing left but our seed potatoes and all the neighbors are in the same fix."

I told him that we would divide our sack of flour with him as he had three small children and I would do the best I could about getting some supplies in. I sat right down and wrote to the commander at Fort Custer telling him the plight we were in, and asked him if he possibly could come to our rescue. I received an answer by return mail that he was loading up a six-mule team outfit with provisions and would start it out in the morning in charge of a sergeant and two troopers. It took them about a week, as the ground was soft and as there were no bridges over the streams it was slow traveling. They arrived at our place about ten o'clock one morning.

The day was beautiful and when we got the load unpacked and checked off, it was about noon. The load amounted to something like $500. I paid them off and they started back with our grateful thanks. By that time the yard was pretty well filled with hungry people from miles around. The new supplies consisted of one and a half tons of flour, one half ton of bacon, five large sacks of beans, two sacks of hominy, one large sack of coffee, about a dozen boxes of hard-tack and several other things.

I took the scales out into the yard, and one of the cowboys, Frank McCory, helped me as clerk and with my wife acting as cashier, we commenced to distribute the goods, and by night time there was very little left to take inside. For three or four months after that the commander kept us supplied with grub.

For more on the early history of Sheridan and Sheridan County,

go to Origin and Naming of Sheridan by John D. Loucks

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