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Dec. 26, 1883

A blizzard struck the northern plains of Montana, dropping temperatures well below zero. It signaled the start of the "Starvation Winter" for the Piegans, a stretch of more than a year that resulted in the deaths of as many as 600 men, women and children. More than one in every six Blackfeet in Montana Territory succumbed.

The weather was bad, but circumstances at the government agency on Little Badger Creek made it worse. Buffalo herds that had darkened the plains in the years before the railroad arrived were all but gone, as were the antelope. What meager government supplies that arrived at the agency were quickly depleted. Crops that the Blackfeet had been taught to grow were doomed by lack of adequate irrigation. An outbreak of smallpox dealt a lethal blow.

Bodies were piled on top of hills near the agency, ever after known as Ghost Ridge.

"From that time period on," the late Pikuni historian Curly Bear Wagner said in a 2001 interview, "our chiefs looked at our children and seen that they were hungry and so the only thing we had to bargain with was our land, and so we sell off big portions of our land like Glacier National Park, the Sweetgrass Hills, places that were important to our people. But the chiefs looked at our younger people and thought that they were more important for their survival so this is how the United States government started grabbing up our land. And when they grabbed up that land they started opening it up to free settlers."

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Dec. 27, 1894

On a dreary winter morning, Harvey Logan killed the founder of the town of Landusky in the Little Rockies. The shooting of Pike Landusky launched Logan - better known as Kid Curry - on an outlaw career that included a stint with Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch.

Logan and his brothers had a ranch adjacent to a mining claim belonging to Landusky, who accused Logan of a romantic tryst with Landusky's daughter, Elfie.

At the end of a three-day Christmas celebration, Logan jumped the older man in a saloon, knocking him down. While two cohorts kept onlookers at bay, Logan proceeded to beat Landusky to near-unconsciousness. Landusky finally got hold of his gun, but either he missed a shot at Logan or the gun failed to work. Logan, with a borrowed pistol, shot him dead to begin a 10-year spree that ended with his death in a 1904 shootout in Colorado.

***

Also this week in Montana history:

Dec. 31, 1862 – A New Year’s celebration at Johnny Grant’s ranch at the mouth of the Little Blackfoot began. Revelers were stranded for more than two days by a blizzard.

Dec. 30, 1864 – Virginia City became the first incorporated town in Montana by act of the Montana Territorial Legislature in Bannack. Paris Pfouts was later elected first mayor. He was president of the Vigilance Committee in the winter of 1863-64.

Dec. 30, 1865 – Acting Governor Thomas F. Meagher gave a lecture titled “Recollections of Ireland” in Nevada City.

Dec. 27, 1867 – Dedication of the first Masonic temple in Virginia City.

Dec. 30, 1878 – Camp Baker was renamed Fort Logan.

Dec. 26, 1881 – The first Utah and Northern train entered Butte. Earlier in the year it became the first railroad to enter Montana when it topped Monida Pass, winning the race with the Northern Pacific coming from the east.

Dec. 31, 1883 – Mountain Time went into effect in Helena for the first time. All clocks were advanced 27 minutes.

Dec. 27, 1887 – John H. Ming died in Helena. He made his fortune in real estate, livestock and mining, but was best remembered for Ming’s Opera House in Helena, where many important historical and theatrical events took place.

Dec. 29, 1890 – Between 150 and 300 Sioux died at the hands of the U.S. Army at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota. Twenty-five soldiers died.

Dec. 30, 1892 – State Teacher’s Association meeting in Missoula adopted a resolution recommending consolidation of all state educational institutions. The advice went unheeded.

Jan. 1, 1893 – Joseph Kemp Toole, Montana’s first governor, left office.

Dec. 27, 1894 – Gov. Rickards officially proclaimed Helena the capital of Montana following the completion of canvassing from the November election.

Dec. 31, 1955 – A steam locomotive left Missoula for the last time.

Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at kbriggeman@missoulian.com.

 

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