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We can’t blame Coyote Bill for this one.

The Beeskove fire that’s been burning up the Rattlesnake Valley for almost three weeks was lightning-caused. It got its name because it started on the southeast side of Rattlesnake Creek, 5½ air miles up from the trailhead, across from the mouth of Beeskove Creek.

Beeskove Creek was named that because of Karolus F. William Beeskove, who was known by roughly a dozen other names and reigned over the upper Rattlesnake, or tried to, for years before he went to prison for murder.

William "Coyote Bill" Beeskove (circa 1839-1916) claimed all the timber and mineral rights in the upper Rattlesnake and was especially enthralled with its iron prospects. He was said to imitate George Armstrong Custer right down to the buckskins and long, blond hair and beard, and he wielded a Sharps buffalo gun he called Betsy.

Many a neighbor and traveler stared Betsy in the face.

Referred to as a recluse, Beeskove apparently sought out the press whenever he came to town. In September 1901, the Missoulian noted his trip “was for the purpose of securing supplies to commence a campaign of coyote poisoning, in which line of sport Colonel Bill has no superior in Western Montana, and as he claims, in the state.”

We could tell stories until the coyotes come home about “Col.” K.F.W. Beeskove solely from the newspaper coverage he got. He was generously referred to as “one of the best known persons of Missoula” and generously referred to himself as the "mayor of the Rattlesnake." 

Some aspects of his story are head-smackers. “Coyote Bill Seeks Divorce, Deserted By His Wife,” was the headline on Nov. 26, 1902.

“The colonel asks legal separation from Clara Beeskove, the wife of but a few months,” the story read, “and in so doing furnishes an additional bit of testimony that unions formulated with the kindly assistance of matrimonial publications are not always the smooth running stream of happy life and content represented by the publishers of the love sheets.”

Then came this blurb five months later: “Mr. and Mrs. K.F.W. Beeskove arrived from Butte Monday night and left yesterday for the 'Coyote Bill' ranch in the upper Rattlesnake valley.”

Versions vary but “Coyote Bill” may have been married as many as five times.

He merited his first mention in the Missoulian, at least in the newspaper's online archives that date back to 1890, in November 1893, when a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Bill, reported the paper, “seems to have a mania for women, especially the wife of Ole Ingraham, a neighboring wood hauler, and it is for a rather too loving demonstration in his neighbor's palace during the husband's absence that he has become entangled in the meshes of the law.”

Some Beeskove stories were as innocuous as this blurb from Sept. 19, 1896: "Coyote Bill" arrived in town last night from the upper Rattlesnake with a cargo of huckleberries.”

Many more weren’t. On June 23, 1905, the large-type headline on Page 1 trumpeted: Wm. Burrig Is Slain. Tragedy On the Beeskove Ranch Early Yesterday Morning. Coyote Bill His Slayer.

Beeskove and Burrig were in a long-simmering property line feud that involved locked gates, Bill's burned cabin and a dispute over firewood. Beeskove was toting Betsy when he came upon Burrig and another man moving a pile of wood from the disputed land.  

“Burrig was shot twice with a big-bored rifle and lay for two hours before physicians could be sent out. They found him dead,” the paper recounted in Bill’s obituary in 1916.

Audra Browman (1909-2002), one of Missoula’s preeminent local history researchers, said the murder trial in 1905 came down to a question of whether Coyote Bill “was actually insane or just eccentric.” The jury found the latter, and Beeskove was convicted and sentenced to hang that November.

An appeal to the Supreme Court granted him a new trial, this time in Helena. The death sentence was commuted to 10 years in Montana State Prison. A model prisoner who started a flower garden at the Deer Lodge penitentiary, Beeskove was unexpectedly paroled in early 1912.

He showed up unannounced and exuberant in Missoula and proclaimed he was going to raise strawberries on a lot he’d picked out in town. It didn’t work out.

“Nobody would speak to him, he had no money and no friends,” Browman wrote.

By August, Beeskove was raising fruit and bees in Arlee. Then, in January of 1913, word came that he’d found copper and iron ore near Perma.

Three years later, on March 8, 1916: “Colonel 'Coyote Bill' Beeskove of Perma blew into town yesterday, hale, hearty and debonair. With a Colonel Sellers air of impending prosperity, he opened his gunny sack and displayed to an incredulous Missoulian reporter great chunks of peacock coppered ore. ‘There's millions in it,’ confided the colonel to the newspaper man, ‘lots more where this came from.’"

But almost immediately he was embroiled in court in Thompson Falls, a defendant in a mining suit involving a claim near his home west of Dixon.

Three months later, “Coyote Bill” Beeskove was found face down in Magpie Creek. Browman said his throat and wrists were slashed.

“It is not known here whether or not he committed suicide,” the dispatch from Thompson Falls read.

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