Dryhead Country

The Homestead Era

Dryhead Country

David Harvey, 1974

The Dryhead is located between Bighorn Canyon and the Pryor Mountains, beginning north of where Layout Creek empties into the Big Horn, and continuing north into the Crow Reservation. The Dryhead is mostly arid rangeland. It received its name from the huge number of buffalo skulls that were piled up one time at the base of a buffalo jump near the Dryhead Creek. As the pile grew, the Crows called the area the place of dry skulls, or “Dryheads”. (1)» About five and a half miles northeast of the Big Ice Cave, is Dryhead Overlook. At 8600-8700 feet, it offers a “top of the world” view of the Bighorn Canyon and the Dryhead. The long, green oasis of Dryhead Creek is clearly seen as it disappears into the deep canyon of the Big Horn River.

One of the first Post Offices in the Dryhead area was located on the Ewing ranch, from June, 1898, to August, 1908. (2)» The Ewing homestead (west of Barry’s Landing) was on Layout Creek, later known as Ewing Creek, and today known as Hough Creek. The Snells had the Ewing homestead from 1918-1950. The Sorensons were the last owners, before the Park Service bought it and set up the Hough Creek Ranger Station. After the Post Office was discontinued at Ewing, all mail in the Dryhead went to Pryor. In 1915, a Post Office was set up on C.W. Barry’s “Cedarvale Dude Ranch” located near what today is called Barry’s Landing. Called Hillsboro (Montana), the Post Office was in operation until 1945, when it closed due to lack of business. C.W. Barry’s stepson, Claude St. John, became the Postmaster in June of 1920.

A Post Office was also opened on Dryhead Creek, from July 1919, to August, 1924. “Tuffy Abbott used to pack mail from Kane to the Dryhead, between 1934-1946. He first delivered to the Dryhead Post Office on Deadman’s Creek. It was later moved to the Kearns place on Sheep Springs, north of Deadman’s Creek. Then the Post Office moved again to Bert Smiths at the head of Deadman’s Creek, where is was finally discontinued in 1946.

One of the first settlers along the Big Horn was a doctor from New York, C. W. Barry. He is famous for his Cedarvale ranch, one of the first dude ranches in the west. It was located in the Trail Creek valley near Barry’s Landing. What buildings remain are now owned by the Park Service. “Tuffy Abbott claims that the little cabin on the ranch was where Barry first lived when he came out here from New York. Tuffy feels that Barry set up in such a secluded area because he was hiding out from New York Law officials. The Abbotts eventually became neighbors of the Barrys when they established a ranch six to seven miles north of Barry’s Landing, under the mountains on the east side of the Big Horn. Dr. Barry occasionally visited and stayed overnight at the Abbott place in Raymond. After Barry gained a foothold in the area, he sent for hiss wife Edith, and his stepson Claude St. John.

Dr. Barry, believing in the legend of a secret gold mine in the Pryors, attempted to dredge for gold in 1907. Barry was vice-president and general manager of the “Big Horn Gold Dredging Company”. The newspaper, the Red Lodge Picket, felt the gold strike would “yield enough placer gold within a few seasons by the use of the improved stream dredge to make him (Barry) and his associates immensely rich”. (4)» He even got U.S. Steel to invest $50,000! But the gold in the area “proved to be too fine for successful dredging operations”. (5)» U.S. Steel was not the only one left with a bad investment. Jesse Godfrey feels that the gold bonds that Barry sold were sort of a fake. “He got in some trouble with holders back east,” said Mrs. Godfrey. She knew Barry personally. Mrs. Godfrey worked in a store in Cowley where Barry shopped for supplies.

Frank Strong intended not to get short-changed by his original investment into Barry’s dredging scheme. The Marchants said that Strong came after Barry and demanded his money back. Strong stuck his pistol into C.S.’s ear and made him write a note of payment. Later, after Strong left, Barry wrote a letter claiming the note was “null and void” because of the circumstances under which he had to write the note.

But Barry’s dude ranch was a successful venture. It remained in operation until the late 1950s. Today, Cedarvale or Hillsboro is a ghost town. But Barry’s vision of the Bighorn Canyon as a potential recreational area is still alive, with the establishment of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

Further north in the Dryhead country, Dryhead Creek empties into the Big Horn River a couple of miles north of the Crow Reservation – Carbon County line. Further up the creek aways is the Dryhead ranch, presently owned by Claude Lewis, and presently occupied by the Austin C. Marchants who run Indian cattle on the reservation as well as their own animals on the Dryhead ranch. The original homesteaders of the Dryhead ranch were Charlie and Emma Phelps. The land was allotted to them in 1907, and a patent granted in 1915. There was at one time a schoolhouse on the ranch.

A couple of well-known authors have lived in the Dryhead. Carolyn Lockhart used to live on the ranch that is known today as the Tippet ranch. Jesse Godfrey complained about Miss Lockhart’s manners. Mrs. Godfrey recalled in the early days, there was a “law of the open road”. When travelers came along, you fed them. It was the customary thing to do. But Miss Lockhart did not do this, because Jesse’s husband once stopped by the Lockhart’s after a long day on the range, and Miss Lockhart refused to feed him. The Dryhead also attracted Will James. His home, about 15 miles northwest of Dryhead Creek, was where he did his illustrations for his western books.

The Dryhead had its share of cattle rustling. One such episode took place around Garvin Basin (opposite Barry’s Landing), so-named after one of the instigators, Sam Garvin, who rustled some Indian cattle with Bob Lee. In 1893, Sam Garvin located his cattle in an inaccessible section of the Crow Reservation in a basin along the Big Horn. It was so isolated that it was not until 1900 before agent T.E. Edwards cornered Garvin and collected $200 for the lease of the basin. Soon thereafter, several hundred head of Indian cattle disappeared. (6)» Chain Canyon was the gateway to the inaccessible basin, one mile above Barry’s Landing. Garvin and Lee had an ideal location for their operations. The Big Horns offered protection on the east, the canyon offered partial protection on the west, and Trout Creek Canyon offered protection to the south. To complete their isolation they fastened two fifteen foot long chains across the opening of the canyon from the west. Hence, the canyon and the river crossing received the name “Chain”.

But a Frank Heinrich (later to become most important stockman in Montana) was suspicious of Garvin and Lee; and notified law officials who descended on Garvin and Lee in February, 1902. Garvin and Lee admitted the brands had been changed on the cattle they had in their possession, but they swore it was done by the men from whom they had purchased the cattle. (7)» When the Grand Jury met in Billings, Garvin and Lee attempted to intimidate witnesses with bribes to leave the state or withhold testimony. But they were indicted and later convicted, receiving one-year prison terms and one-thousand dollar fines. The prosecution claimed the sentences were too light to act as a deterrent against future rustling. (8)»

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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1. Edwin Bearss, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Vol. II (U. S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service, 1970) p. 21.
2. Lucius R. Maryott, “The Land of Shining Mountains – A Short History of Carbon County,” Carbon County News, February 26, 1970, p. 3.
4. “Stream Dredge for Big Horn,” Red Lodge Picket, Vol. XVIII, No. 46, May 17, 1907, p. 1.
5. Vera Saban, “Ghost Camp on the Big Horn,” True West, December, 1973, p. 22.
6. Edwin Bearss, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Vol. II (U. S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service, 1970) p. 349.
7. Edwin Bearss, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Vol. II (U. S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service, 1970) p. 351.
8. Edwin Bearss, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Vol. II (U. S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service, 1970) p. 351.