Sunday, April 5, 2015

SATURDAY, JUNE 25, 2005

Major Steele, Indian Agent

Two agents of the Blackft Tribe have had daughters who married locally. One was Eula Churchill, who married J.L. Sherburne, and the other was the daughter of George Steele (b. 1837). The Sherburne’s were both white, but George Steele’s daughters were from his second marriage to a woman Jack Holterman calls “Annie” who is rather mysteriously a member of the Blackft tribe. A mountain up behind Heart Butte is named “Major Steele’s Backbone.” Probably not a compliment.

Steele was another of those interface people. His mother was English and his father was Scots, but he was born in Quebec -- part of the same migration stream as Bob Scriver’s parents. George was educated in the public schools , went to New York State, then Boston, and then went West. He came up the Missouri from St. Louis to Fort Benton in 1857. For seven years in Helena with the American Fur Company, he worked for Mathew Carroll at Fort Benton. 

One romantic story is that Steele, whose Indian name was Sleeping Thunder, had a remarkable black stallion named Puhpoom. Eagle Ribs stole Puhpoom and Joe Kipp made a great show of stealing the horse back.

Steele, on the other side, was a Republican linked to fellow Republican T.C. Power, and became a commissioner of the early Choteau County. In March of 1869, he married Eva Treadway in Ticonderoga, New York, and brought her to Helena where she died before Christmas. (The novelist in me wonders about her dowry, estate, connections and all that.)

Steele, Carroll, C.A. Broadwater and their buddies were freighters and probably whiskey bootleggers on the Whoop-Up Trail. For a while Steele cooled off in Salt Lake City. In 1875 he pops up as a rancher along the Sun River and the Missouri, which puts him close to Great Falls, the confluence. In May, 1877, he marries Mary Lukin in Helena. This is probably “Annie.”

MARY LUKIN (62, Full Blood)
Mary’s father was LAME BULL, signer of the Treaty called by his name.
By this marriage, Mary and George had two children:
Dora Steele, married to GEORGE WELLS, a white man. They had one child, a girl, who went to England with her father.
Adelaide Steele married William Thomas, a white man. She died leaving three children:
Marie Thomas (15)
George Thomas (13)
Rachel Thomas (11)
The girls were sent to relatives in Dubuque, Iowa, and the son remained with his father in Highwood, Montana.

In 1877 and 1879 Steele serves in the territorial legislatures and the constitutional convention of 1884. In 1890 he’s appointed agent to the Blackfeet, though most of the time he doesn’t leave his ranch. In 1891 he and Joe Kipp took a panel of chiefs to Washington, D.C. 

Then it all went to hell. The Great Northern Railroad came through, demanding timber for ties and cord wood for steam engines as well as hay for the wagons. They took 200 feet of right-of-way instead of the legal 150. They brought in whiskey but somehow the Indian shipments of flour and beef evaporated. And the government would just as soon Steele not make a big fuss about it.

He built a new school on Willow Creek, just west of Browning, which even his friend, Lt. Beacom, officially declared unfit and it stayed unfit for many years afterwards. (Now it’s a private residence owned by an architect.) Major Steele’s back gave him so much trouble that he resorted to morphine and was soon hooked. He related to the world through a little door he had cut in his office door -- like the entrance to a speakeasy.

It got worse. James. J. Hill heard about oil and maybe gold in the nearby mountains and wanted to move the Blackft to the Dakotas. James Willard Schultz, along with Steele, teased prospector Dutch Louis Meyer by getting him to work a Ouija board which told Louis where to find gold. It was there, but not much. Then the government got the idea of buying the east side of the Rockies from the Blackft, not for a park but for the minerals.

Montana went back and forth between Republicans and Democrats. Grinnell was a Republican, which might explain why he backed the sale of what became Glacier Park. But Jim Hill and Marcus Daly were Democrats and when they got into power they threw out Steele and put in an Army captain who wished to eradicate Blackft culture, right down to beadwork. Soon Repubs Power, Carter, and buddies put Steele back in office, morphine and all. In 1895 he was undoubtedly in on the negotiations for the park. There is ambiguity about whether it was a sale or a lease.

Steele separated from “Annie.” He began to be at odds with the Dawsons and Clarkes. His cattle seemed strangely confused with tribal cattle. In 1897, his career was over. Probably he continued to ranch but my authorities record no final end for him.

(Again I’m indebted to Holterman’s “Who Was Who in Glacier Land.”)

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