South of the Pryors

The Homestead Era

South of the Pryors – Lovell, Cowley and the Big Horn Basin

David Harvey, 1974

Jack Morris located his ranch on Sage Creek, near Frannie, around 1885. It was a road house for many years for travelers going east and west through the basin and north towards the Pryor Gap and Billings. It was on the stage-line route that went from Billings to Basin City. “The Morris place consisted of a bar room, a kitchen, a dining room, bedrooms, and a big empty building where the grocery used to be. There was also a barn for forty head of horses.” (4)» Jack Morris and T. N. Holwell claimed they had first water rights on Sage Creek. As other settlers located on Sage Creek on the Montana side of the border, they diverted water to their lands, leaving Morris with hardly any water. “A suit was filed by Morris against 25 residents of Montana along Sage Creek.” (5)» Many hard feelings developed among the early settlers as the case worked its way up in federal courts. Eventually, Morris won his case.

Another conflict that created uneasiness between the new Mormon settlers and the early Pryor Mountain settlers was over the issue of Mormon logging operations on public lands in Montana. The Mormons of Wyoming needed lumber to build their home. So the Schow brothers of Cowley set up a sawmill in the Pryors near Wyoming Creek and Crooked Creek. “But the residents in Montana objected. They contended that a federal statute provided that the use of timber taken from public lands was limited to uses by residents of the state in which it was found.” (6)» But pressure from Congressman Mondell (Wyoming) got Congress to pass legislation making the public lands in the Pryors an exception. The residents of both Montana and Wyoming could make use of the timber.

Range wars between cattlemen and sheepmen was a conflict of a more serious nature, especially in the Big Horn Basin. Both groups vied for the open range. By the end of the 19th century, there was still no fixed laws on the usage of the range. Hence, overcrowding produced conflict. “So President Theodore Roosevelt appointed a public land commission to study the problem Out of this commission came the eventual United States Forest Service and the Taylor Grazing Acts, to prevent overgrazing of the range through federal control. But control only came about after violent and bitter range wars, with the most violent in Wyoming. Cattlemen killed thousands of sheep and a number of sheepherders. (7)» So the entire Big Horn Basin was the victim of terrorist cattle groups. It even spread to the Pryor Mountains, where cattlemen rimrocked George Crosby’s band of sheep killing about 500 head. (8)» It occurred on West Pryor Mountain around 1910, instigated by some Crooked Creek cowboys. Edna Anderson knew who some of those cowboys were. But when interviewed by Rulon Crosby thirteen years ago, Edna would not reveal the names because some of those cowboys were still alive. There was also resentment against Claude Lewis, during the twenties, when he started building his extensive sheep ranching empire in the Pryors. Some of his sheep wagons were set afire.

But after 1910, range wars diminished; one reason being that law officials began to prosecute crimes on the range. “Murders committed on the open range would no longer go unpunished, so long as evidence could be found upon which to build a case.” (9)»

Up in the foothills of the South Pryors are the remains of a “Gyp Kiln”. It was used by the first settlers to make gyp blocks and bricks for use in construction of their homes, especially in the Cowley area. The kiln is located on the Montana-Wyoming border, south of the Gyp Springs Road – Crooked Creek Road intersection, just north of the cattleguard and east of the road on Gypsum Creek. George Teeples, who homesteaded on Gypsum (or Gyp) Creek near Lovell (in 1889), might have had a hand in constructing the kiln. Dick Godfrey thinks Teeples used the kiln to make bricks for his house on Gypsum Creek.

The above is excerpted with permission from: Harvey, David. A General Historical Survey of the Pryor Mountains. Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, Boulder, Colorado. 1974.

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4. Cribbs, Lon, “Interviewed by Mrs. Francis Burrell in Lovel, Wyoming,” August 17, 1961, p. 1.
5. Wasden, David J., From Beaver to Oil, Cheyenne, Wyoming: Pioneer Printing and Stationery Company, 1973, p. 120.
6. Wasden, David J., From Beaver to Oil, Cheyenne, Wyoming: Pioneer Printing and Stationery Company, 1973, p. 122.
7. Wasden, David J., From Beaver to Oil, Cheyenne, Wyoming: Pioneer Printing and Stationery Company, 1973, p. 141.
8. Wasden, David J., From Beaver to Oil, Cheyenne, Wyoming: Pioneer Printing and Stationery Company, 1973, p. 145.
9. Wasden, David J., From Beaver to Oil, Cheyenne, Wyoming: Pioneer Printing and Stationery Company, 1973, p.149.