The Homestead Era

The pages below (Except the Whiskey Still) are excerpted with permission from David Harvey’s “A General Historical Survey of the Pryor Mountains.” Harvey spent the summer of 1974 as an intern for the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). He interviewed old timers from the homestead era, did research in libraries, and visited various historical sites in the Pryors. He then wrote his survey which was published by WICHE.

Krueger Cabin, built in 1936This is more oral history than academic history. As Harvey writes: “[A] research problem was the conflicting information I occasionally received from my interviews. I would get different versions of the same story, or on the location or significance of a historical site. So the authenticity of certain information may be questioned. Nevertheless, most of the questionable information has some value, because it is part of the folklore of the area.” Another historian Victor Konrad writes in “The Pryor Mountain Homestead Landscape,” 1984: “A great deal of Harvey’s history of the Pryors is based on tales recounted by local informants. … When compared to facts documented in homesteaders’ serial files and Custer National Forest Records, tales recounted by Harvey [and others] usually are lacking in detail and veracity. Nevertheless, oral history and published local accounts do provide the opinion and minutia to color information established in the records.”

We think this is an interesting introduction to the homestead era in the Pryors. We would be glad to hear from any amateur or professional historians who have studied the history of the area.

Cattle Rustling, Sawmills, and a Cheese Factory.
Upper Sage Creek and the Northern Pryors.

A Post Office, Store, Road Ranch and a Lime Kiln.
Bowler and the West Pryors

RR stops at Toluca, Coburn, Morin, Keiser, Pryor, Chicopee, Oswald, Crockett, Bowler, Scribner, Frannie, Mantua, Garland, Powell, Ralston, McCormick, Corbett, and Cody.
Buffalo Bill, Twenty thousand dollar bills, and a railroad removed in the middle of the night.
Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad – Toluca-Cody Line

Water rights, Timber rights, and Cattle/Sheep wars.
South of the Pryors – Lovell, Cowley, and the Big Horn Basin

Bessie Tillett, Frank Sykes and a “Death List.”
Crooked Creek Country

Buffalo Skulls, a Dude Ranch, Gold?, and Will James.
Dryhead Country

Management Recommendations from David Harvey:
At the end of his 1974 report, David Harvey made recommendations to the agencies managing the Pryors. These recommendations include the following general statements:

“To preserve the natural tranquility and environment of many areas where sites are located, motor vehicle traffic should be prohibited. The construction of hiking trails to some of these sites might be a feasible alternative.”

“I am for minimal development of the Pryors. I do not want to compromise its unique personality of serenity by criss-crossing it with more roads, or even improve present roads.”

Prohibition Era Whiskey Still in the Pryors
Hank Lane’s Whiskey Still, Oral History from Vern Waples

Krueger’s Cabin,
Some History written by Bill Krueger.»

The following is an excerpt from a February 1980 letter from Bill Krueger, grandson of Herman Krueger.

I wrote to my Grandfather and asked him about the history of the cabin. He didn’t completely answer my question but from what he told me and from what I learned from my father I have managed to piece together a little of the history of the land and the area.

Somewhere around 1916 a man by the name Fenner filed a claim on the section of land now owned by my family. He built a cabin, which was adjacent to the [Krueger] cabin … and where as I understand it the new cabin built by the BLM now sits. Fenner later dropped his claim and moved down into sage creek valley, where he ran a saw mill for a number of years. The land was then filed on by a fellow by the name of Mundi [sp. ?], who was in the sheep business. He used the cabin which Fenner had built and ran sheep on the top of the mountain on his claim and on the claims of two of his brothers had filed on. Mundi [sp. ?] did little work on his claim and lost it after seven years for failure to comply with the homestead laws. My Grandfather, Herman Krueger, a cattle rancher in the Powell area, heard of this and in 1935 my Great Grandfather, Otto, a german filed on the land. The cabin … was built between 1936 and 37 by my Great Grandfather and Grandfather. According to my Grandfather, the early homesteaders failed because there was no water available for watering their stock. And their efforts to collect water in reservoirs failed because these reservoirs would not hold water. My Grandfather spent $1500, lots of money in those days, to build reservoirs. The reservoir, which is situated at the upper end of the valley in which the cabins are located, caught 8 feet of water but went dry in a month, to the amusement of the stockmen of the area. It was necessary to have water to the stock for the rest of the season. My Grandfather then tried lining the reservoirs with bentonite. They have not gone dry since.

My Grandfather ran stock up their for many years until he retired, somewhere around 1960. Then land was then leased to the BLM which uses it as part of their wild horse preserve. The new cabin was built by the BLM as part of their rental agreement.

Bill Krueger