(This document was written by Rosella Simpson Brattain,
Harry's youngest daughter, age 71, at Great Falls, Montana, USA.
It has been edited only to correct spelling errors and to insert omitted words.
Due to its great length, it is divided into two sections. Neil Simpson)
William H. Simpson was the youngest son born to Mr. & Mrs. Obed Simpson of Brighton, Ontario, Canada, October 15, 1862.
When he was about 16, he left home and went to work driving a team on the tote road, hauling supplies for the contractors for building the Canadian Pacific Railroad west to Winnipeg, Manitoba.
He was in Winnipeg at the time of the Riel Rebellion, and come near joining up with the Canadian force to haul supplies for the army. Instead he went to work for John Scott who had a butcher shop in Winnipeg. Mr. Scott had the contract of supplying beef for the penitentiary that was at Stony Mountain a few miles out of town. It was while working here that (William) met Margaret Scott, John’s adopted daughter, who he later married.
He left Winnipeg and went down to Grand Forks, North Dakota and went to work on the tote road hauling supplies for the Great Western or known later as the Great Northern Railroad, which was being built by Jim Hill from Chicago to Seattle. When the railroad reached Great Falls, Montana, he decided to stop there and make plans to settle there as it was a new western town just getting started. Great Falls was just above the great falls of the Missouri River and the mouth of the Sun River. It was named by Lewis and Clark. William arrived here in October 1887.
He leased a small feed stable and bought two water tanks to furnish water to the new town that was starting to grow. He charged twenty-five cents a barrel for the water. The tanks were filled from the Missouri River. William and [a] helper named Lang filled the tanks by backing the wagon into the river so that the water was deep enough to dip with leather buckets secured to long handles. Once you got the hang of it you could fill the tank quite fast.
This was also the way the volunteer fire department got the water to fight fires. There were several men to help fill the tank and it was surprising how fast they could do it. They used [a] four horse team so they could move it faster. Simpson was a member of the first volunteer fire department, and one of the first fire horses that the city owned was raised by him.
He furnished water to the town for two years. Paris Gibson, the founder of the city, was a good friend of William and on this treeless prairie, Mr. Gibson had trees planted along all the streets and avenues, and had William give each one of them a barrel of water once a week to get them started. Even after Harry (he was always called Harry) went out to his ranch which was 30 miles south, Gibson had him come in and water the trees once a week until they had a good start and by that time the City had put in a small water works. They were native Cottonwood trees and grew till they were so big that the roots heaved up the sidewalks. These trees were cut down and replaced by Elms and Ash. Som of the old trees were still standing in 1944 when Harry passed away. Great Falls today has a lot of beautiful, tree-shaded streets.
In February, he went back to Winnipeg and on the 9th of March, 1888, he and Margaret Scott were married. Harry had tickets to a play in the Opera House in Winnipeg. He put the tickets in a pocket of his new overcoat, but when it was time to go [to] the theatre he could not locate the tickets anywhere. In later years they found the tickets in a small inside pocket of his coat that had been overlooked.
They came to Great Falls on the first Pullman car that the railroad run into the Falls. That was March 17, 1888. There was one other passenger, a Doctor (whose name has been forgotten), in the car, so it was like a private car for the newlyweds.
Harry and Margaret stayed at the Park Hotel across from the depot until they could find a house to rent. Harry later built a small house on the south side of town.
Cats were scarce in the new town and Maggie wanted a cat, so finally a woman that was a water customer had a cat that had a litter of kittens. Harry gave her a barrel of water for one of the kittens.
Harry gave Maggie a nice driving horse, and she and a good friend, another new bride in the town, had driven out of town a few miles to visit. The horse got out of the barnyard and came back to town. Harry was dipping up a load of water when he noticed the horse. Thinking the worst, that the horse may have run away from Maggie and that she was surely hurt or killed. Harry tied up his team, got a saddle horse and retrieved the other horse and went looking for Maggie and her friend, expecting to find them injured. When he found them, they had not realized that the horse was gone. The horse was a lively one and when she and the friend started home they came so fast the friend said to Maggie "we’ll heat a wheel".
Harry sold the water business and had an offer to take a crew of 45 men to build a road through Bad Rock Canyon up by Kalispell, Montana, where the railroad was going through. It was about 200 miles northwest of Great Falls. The road was to be used to haul supplies for the railroad. It was a very narrow canyon with high cliffs on each side. To get started they had to let the wagons down the side of the [cliffs] with ropes by snubbing them to a big tree. In the 1930's he was back there on a trip and the old tree was still standing with the rope marks on it. Today there is a double highway along with the railroad. Modern machinery can do wonders.
While up there, his friend, Mr. Lang, had a homestead down here south of Great Falls and Harry had taken up one near Columbia Falls close to where this road work was being done. Somehow they decided to trade homesteads, so when Harry finished the job he returned to the falls. He and Maggie moved out to the place on Smith River, or Deep Creek as the old pioneers called it. It is a tributary to the Missouri River. The place was at the mouth of a coulee called Spanish Coulee, named after old Spanish Joe as he was called. Joe had a truck garden and hauled his produce and butter to the state capital at Helena, about 100 miles. This move was made in 1892.
Here, the family was raised. The oldest boy, Clarence, was born but died in infancy. Then Nettie Victoria was born two years later. Alfred Berton was born three years later. Then three years after that, Maggie was born, but she also died in infancy, and four years later [on] June 4, 1902, Rosella was born.
The first years on the homestead were hard. There were no fences as it was all open range and in the winter time the range cattle and antelope were chased over into the timber by packs of wolves where they made their kills. The range cattle would get mixed up with the homesteaders’ cattle, so when you fed yours hay you had to keep them in a corral.
Those homesteading days were hard ones and any recreation was really enjoyed. They would have dances and card parties in their homes, which were not very large, and the neighbors would come from miles by horseback, buggy and wagon. They would come early and dance all night till daylight so they could see the road home. The bedrooms would be full of the little children sleeping, all they could get in the beds and also on the floor. Baby sitters were never heard of in those days; where the folks went, the kids, big and small, went with them. It would take a good part of the day to get home.
Finally, a Mr. McGee built a dance hall in the center of the community and the dances were held there as most of the homes had been outgrown. The music for these dances was homegrown, a fiddle and a guitar and sometimes someone would chord on an old pump organ. These dances always lasted till daylight so they could see to travel home. Nothing was as soothing as to be half asleep and listen to the rhythm of the horses’ feet and the tug chains jingling as the horses trotted home. In the wintertime, the horses stood out in the cold during the dance, and when it was time to go home it usually was a faster trip. Mother loved to dance, but my dad never did. He just never had the rhythm, but he always took her to them. He loved to visit, and had a good time visiting with the neighbors talking about this farm or crop, or whatever was being discussed.
At threshing time, the neighbors went from farm to farm helping each other, the men pitching bundles and the women would cook and feed the crews, as well as visit. The kids had a good time playing if it happened to be when there was no school. The first threshing rigs [were] run by horse power, and then the more modern steam engine and wooden separator, then it came to the gas engine and all-metal separator, then the combine.
(Continue to Part II)
Please contact Allan if you have any additions, comments or questions.
We would enjoy hearing from you.
The Simpson family of Brighton.
Obediah Simpson Introduction
Obediah Simpson Genealogy page
Obediah Simpson's Last Will and Testament
Obediah Simpson's Estate Inventory
John C. Simpson
Mary Polly Simpson & Joseph Gibson
For Genealogical correspondence concerning Obediah Simpson, please
Email Allan Simpson at firstname.lastname@example.org.