According to the late John A. Conn whom I had the pleasure of interviewing by telephone in 2012, Reuben, Joe and a cousin Seph Conn were the first Conn’s in the Flint Creek Valley. They joined a cattle drive from Texas to Montana and arrived in what was then Deer Lodge county in the year 1880. Reuben was born on December 20, 1856 in Jackson County, Missouri, so he was only 24 years of age at the time of his arrival.
The first newspaper article research revealed was Archie McPhail selling a parcel of land to Reuben on October 13, 1882 for $75.00 (New Northwest). By 1884 he was active in the Democratic Party and was elected as a Democratic Central Committee member for New Chicago in September. Reuben was named a charter member of the A.O.U.W and elected trustee on March 20, 1885 according to the New Northwest. Appearing to be a social gentleman, Reuben was on the arrangements committee for the Grand Ball at the New Hotel in Drummond on January 31, 1885. In February Reuben et al sold 2/3 of the Eldorado Quartz Lode to Allen McDonald for $500 (New Northwest).
Desiring the job of County Assessor, Reuben ran for nomination of the position in 1886 but lost the nomination to John King of Philipsburg. Continuing his community service he served as a juror during 1887 for the District Court and is listed as paying $50.00 for a saloon license and $16.66 for a gambling license in New Chicago on December 30, 1887 in the New Northwest.
Obviously, he was involved in mining as the Helena Weekly listed Reuben as a delegate from New Chicago to the Montana Territory Mineral Land Convention on February 9, 1888. He then became a trustee of the Hattie Gold and Silver Mining Company in October 1888 according to the Butte Semi-weekly Miner. I think this should read “Hatta Gold and Silver Mining Company.”
In February 1890, Reuben sold Lot 1, Block 6 in Drummond to J.A. and J.B. Featherman for $300 and John Edwards et ux sold Lot 4, Block 6 in Drummond to Reuben for $100. Reuben was appointed Postmaster of Dunkleberg, Deer Lodge County June 15, 1890 according to the Anaconda Standard and Philipsburg Mail.
He was appointed a judge for the November 4, 1890 election to Precinct 29-New Chicago along with G.W. Morse and H. Prosser. The January 1893 Mail listed Reuben delinquent on taxes for $38.85 and then the December 1893 and January 1894 Mail listed delinquent taxes in the sum of $56.53 for house, fences, combine and farm machinery, 1 stud horse, 120 horses, 1 stock cow, and 20,000 ft of lumber.
For reasons unknown Reuben and James Conn filed suit against J.H. Cole March 14, 1894. Next, March 22, 1894 the Dingwall brothers brought suit against Reuben (The Mail), but the charge or outcome was not disclosed in research. Also, a large group of land owners including Reuben were defendants in a water rights lawsuit in October, 1894. None of the defendants appeared in court and were denied any rights or interest in any water flowing in Willow Creek.
August 28, 1896, Reuben was involved in the Democratic Convention as a delegate from Quigley. He had a Philipsburg address in 1898, then was again living in the lower valley in 1899. The last early newspaper articles found was where Reuben Conn of Hall filed bankruptcy in Helena on Wednesday May 24, 1905 according to the May 26, 1905 Philipsburg Mail. He had liabilities of $8,192.00 and assets of $250.00.
Reuben died at his nephew J. Allen Conn’s home on February 16, 1937. J. Allen lived in the lower valley and was County Commissioner at the time of Reuben’s death. Mr. Conn was a member of the Masonic Lodge in Drummond and survivors were his nephews J. Allen and James E. Conn of the lower valley, niece Mrs. Freeman Tinklepaugh of Philipsburg and a sister Elizabeth Shull of Ronan and eight other nieces and nephews not named in the obituary. The funeral was held at the Methodist Church at Hall. Committal services were performed by the Masons at the Valley cemetery.
Joseph Conn, who came to Montana with Reuben, died of Congestive Heart failure in New Chicago on April 1, 1882. According to the New Northwest, and his headstone he was 30 years of age. He is buried in the valley Cemetery. His wife’s name was Nevil and they had a daughter Josephine according to John A. Conn. His recollection was after the death, wife and daughter left the valley for parts unknown.
No articles were found regarding Seph Conn.
John Conn, born on June 6, 1856 in Missouri came to Montana in 1888 with his wife Mary and children. They lived in Deer Lodge until moving to the Flint Creek Valley in 1893. Daughter, Ethel Conn was born in Montana. They made their home in the upper Willow Creek Valley about 10 miles from Hall.
At the time of John’s death on February 4, 1924, survivors were: his wife; daughters: Mrs. Freeman Tinklepaugh of Hall and Mrs. William Bryant of Idaho; sons: J. Allen Conn a member of the G.C.H.S. Board, and James E. Conn both of Hall; brother Reuben Conn of the lower Valley and sister, Mrs. Josiah Shull of Missoula. Internment was in the Valley cemetery.
Mary Angelina (Dealey) Conn, widow of John died during the week of December 24, 1943. Mary was born in Lone Jack, Missouri on March 5, 1858. Her father was one of Quantrill’s Men and was killed in Texas. John A. Conn, in a 2012 telephone interview stated the only time she remembered seeing her father was when the Union Forces pushed the people into Kansas and burned their homes. He slipped into their camp to say goodbye. Survivors were her two sons J. Allen and James, both of the lower valley. Internment was at the Valley cemetery.
The May 27, 1904 Philipsburg Mail stated James E. Conn was plowing a piece of ground on the “Old Nierling” ranch on Willow Creek when James’ plow unearthed a shoe enclosing a sock and the bones of a human foot. He immediately ceased plowing and went to Stone to telegraph the sheriff and coroner at Philipsburg. Sheriff McDonald and Coroner Ray arrived the next day and exhumed the remains. The body was not completely decomposed with pieces of flesh still attached to the bones of the hip, legs and arms. The shoes found were ones normally worn by miners with nailed soles and a single buckle. The clothing was a mackinaw coat and yellow woolen undershirt and drawers. The man’s hair was mostly gray. The only article found besides the body was a pocket knife. It appeared that a bullet had shattered the man’s cheekbone. The coroner estimated the body had been buried in about 6 inches of soil and then covered with a pile of manure. A jury impaneled by the coroner found the cause of death was unknown and the body was placed in a casket, transported to Philipsburg and burial was in the pauper section of the Philipsburg cemetery.
The people in the Valley were prone to believe that the skeleton belonged to one of the group of men that hung out at the “James Campbell” place. Three years prior this was the headquarters for a party of gentlemen that were known for rounding up horses in different parts of the state and several shipments were made from Campbell’s ranch to eastern markets. When not rounding up horses the group amused themselves by playing cards and it was known that one of these games resulted in a fight that broke up the party. It was believed that the skeleton was a man killed during the fight and buried at the Nierling place which was less than a mile from Campbell’s. All of the men known to be at Campbell’s were traced and found to be alive except one. So the sheriff believed that the bones belonged to a man named Doyle. Before the paper went to print Doyle was found, therefore the skeleton went unidentified. Campbell retired from the horse business and began to raise hogs. The story went that he fattened the hogs with horse meat or whatever products were brought to him. “The business ended rather abruptly and Mr. Campbell sold his place and left the country in a matter of two days.”
James E. Conn who found the body was born on November 2, 1881 in Missouri and came to Montana in 1891. He lived in Deer Lodge until a year later when he moved to the Valley and then settled on Willow Creek. James married Jessie Anderson (another early family in the valley) in 1907.
Jessie died in 1941 and James died at a Missoula Hospital February 13, 1963. Survivors were: son and daughter-in-law Mr. and Mrs. Bob Conn of Hall and four grandchildren. James was buried in the family plot at the Philipsburg cemetery.
James E. Conn was a brother of J. Allen Conn and uncle of the late John A. Conn. Mrs. Allen (Sarah) Conn died June 10, 1954 at the age of 66. Her husband, J. Allen Conn died on June 27, 1956 at the age of 78.
The October 31, 1902 Philipsburg Mail detailed the story of William Fahey and his sister traveling to the Conn ranch for a visit on October 29th and saw Mrs. Nierling (Nerling) by the ranch gate, bleeding and in great distress. Mrs. Nierling told the Fahey’s that no one was home at the ranch as Mrs. Conn was at the John Conn ranch. The Fahey’s put Mrs. Nierling into their buggy and headed for the John Conn ranch. Enroute they met William Smith and he stated Patience Conn was not at the John Conn ranch, as he had just left there. Smith, Fahey’s and Mrs. Nierling all returned to the old Conn place and found a horrible sight.
James Conn was lying on the floor cold in death with a rifle across his left leg and a bullet hole in his left eye. Mrs. Patience Conn, his aged mother, was lying on a bed with just a spark of life remaining and blood oozing from wounds about her head. The October 29, 1902 Philipsburg Call stated that the only witness, Mrs. Nierling was crazy and “…also an aged woman [who] is deranged and can give no coherent account of what happened at the Conn ranch yesterday.”
Patience was the late John A. Conn’s great-grandmother and he provided family history and accounts of the newspaper articles in a 2011 Philipsburg Mail. The newspaper and family accounts state that Patience was killed by a hit to the head with a hammer and Jim was shot in the head. Mrs. Nierling was close to 80 years old at the time of the incident and had previously murdered a husband. The previous summer she had almost been committed to an “asylum.”
John A. Conn stated in the Mail that his great-uncle Jim had been kicked in the head by a mule back in Missouri and had been a little addled by that so may have had a hand in the episode. He believes James found his mother in a pool of blood and picked her up and placed her on the bed. James then committed suicide by shooting himself in the eye. The bullet lodged in the ceiling (personal communication with John A. Conn 2012).
According to the 2011 Mail account Mary Nierling married a man about half her age when she was 46. This was the first marriage recorded in Philipsburg and she murdered him a few years later. The October 29, 1902 Call related the story that Mary Nierling shot and killed her husband Henry twenty years prior to 1902. The article stated she was insanely jealous. Her husband went to the woods to get a load of wood and decided to “aggravate” his wife by fixing up a dummy made out of a shawl, a hat and some brush and securing it in the passenger seat of the loaded wagon. Mary was watching for her husband to come home and when she saw the dummy sitting beside him believed it to be another woman. She returned to the house and secured a shot gun, then commenced riddling him with buckshot before he could tell her it was a joke.
She was tried for the murder in Deer Lodge and acquitted as Judge Hiram Knowles showed that Henry was a worthless fellow. Henry, a blacksmith born in Prussia, was only 23 years of age when he married Mary.
Apparently Patience Conn objected to anyone putting Mrs. Nierling in an asylum because she did not think her dangerous and had cared for her. After the murders and the inquest it was determined that she must be placed in Warm Springs and she ended up living out the rest of her life there.
The home where Patience and her son James Conn lived was torn down to construct the Willow Creek Dam in the early 1960’s and according to John A. Conn the remains of the root cellar can still be seen on an island in the reservoir. Patience and James Conn are buried in the Valley cemetery.
The January 2, 1903 Mail, stated County Commissioner Chairman J.B. Featherman presided over a commission to “examine and inquire into the mental condition of Mrs. Mary Nerling, an aged woman, who since last October has been a patient at the county hospital in Philipsburg.” Mary was judged insane and taken by Sheriff Metcalf to Warm Springs the last week in December 1902.
This was the closing chapter of the unfortunate incident at the Conn ranch where Patience Conn and her son were killed. The coroner’s jury failed to agree if it was murder or suicide, but Mrs. Nerling during rational moments at the county hospital had stated that she “put them to sleep.”