Friday, February 15, 2013

Major William Y. Graham

Among Hector Horton's partners on the first claim in Philipsburg, was William Graham, a famed explorer and prospector in territorial Montana and a founder of the Montana Historical Society. He was also one of Philipsburg's first school teachers. 
As a Montana prospector, his scope was wide, and he played a key role in the discovery of the Butte and Philipsburg mining districts, and participated in the initial exploration and mining at Gold Creek as well. Respected by his peers, fellow prospector and pioneer E.R. Purple stated in his journal on August 6, 1862 that Major William Graham was "one of the most intelligent mountain men I have ever known" (Perilous Passage, 1995).  Of the great pioneering prospectors of Granite County present at Philipsburg's birth, only Graham and Dan Brown are known to be buried there.

Graham was born to Scottish parents in New York about 1817, according to the 1870 Census report. His early life history was summarized in his obituary in the New Northwest on February 29-March 1, 1878 written by his friend (and yet another Cordova co-claimant) Judge C.E. Irvine of Deer Lodge and Butte. He states William was appointed to The U.S. Military Academy at West Point by President Andrew Jackson, and that he resigned before graduation due to a personal difficulty with the commandant. This is not yet fully corroborated, as William Y. Graham does not appear in lists of cadets admitted to West Point.  Irvine stated that a brother graduated from West Point and another graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis. After a bit of time in Florida, he came west to St. Louis in 1845. That winter he spent in Mississippi and early in 1846 he and Eugene Lightendorfer & Brothers fitted out a trading expedition to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Because of the Mexican War the adventure was not as successful as anticipated. Later in 1846 "Major Graham" was employed by the government as a courier between Santa Fe and Fort Leavenworth. This employment lasted until the end of the war. It is believed that Major Graham first came to Washington Territory in 1849 with Major Owens and his "Mounted Rifles" group to St. Mary's Mission, later known as Fort Owens Trading Post. It is believed the title "Major" was given to Graham, Irvine and Owens while they were sutler's with the "Military Rifles." The title allowed them freedom on the military posts and access to the officers club (Montana Genesis, 1971). It was probably 1850 when Graham left for California where he met with "varying success both as trader and miner."  

Contrary to some accounts, Major William Graham was not the same William Graham that accompanied Governor Stevens during his railroad explorations of 1853. In that group was William Montrose Graham who served as Mullan"s "astronomer", and later went on to a distinguished military career.

Major Graham's next appearance in Montana is in April 1861, when he and P.W. McAdow traveled up the Missouri on the steamboat "Spread Eagle" to visit his old friend Major John Owen. When the boat arrived at Fort Union the passengers resumed the trip to Fort Benton on a boat named The Chippewa. On the 21st of June a fire broke out on the boat deck and because there was a large amount of gun powder aboard the captain put the passengers ashore and then pushed the boat into the current. It traveled to an island where the fire ignited the powder and the passengers witnessed a huge explosion then the entire loss of their transportation and belongings. Fortunately they had came to shore about five miles from Fort McKinley where they obtained a small boat that took all of those desiring to return to Fort Union back down the river. Graham, McAdow and a few other hardy individuals bought a team of oxen and a wagon, then hired a guide and journeyed overland to Fort Benton (Montana Magazine of History, January 1952, p.41-53).

 When the Major arrived at Fort Owen he stayed for a period of time. During this stay he attempted to find a better route (than the Burnt Fork) over the Sapphire Mountains to build a road so the Valley could easily deliver their produce and flour to the newly found mining camps such as Gold Creek. He was involved in some of the earliest gold mining in Montana, and also traveled the region on trading trips. It's clear from Francis Thompson's Book, "A Tenderfoot in Montana", that during this time-frame Graham was a man who would be chosen for leadership when a dangerous situation seemed to be developing (p. 86). According to "Men and Trade on the Northwest Frontier" by George Weisel, Graham was also chosen, along with Robert Dempsey, to attempt to free four white children captured by the Snake Indians after the notorious Salmon Falls massacre. 

Prior to Graham moving his mining explorations from Gold Creek to Bannack in early 1863 he had traveled to Fort Benton with Major Owen.  On their return trip the group had an encounter with Electa Bryan. Noted in the Journal of John Owen: "Monday December 15, 1862- I regret to say that I neglected to mention the kindness myself and party recv'd on our recent trip to Ft. Benton (October 9-21) from Mr. I.A. Vale the Indian Dept. Farmer left in charge of the Blackfoot Agency on Sun River. Mr. McWhirk was so pleased with a Miss Bryan that it was with great difficulty he could consent to leave...true Major Graham was also pleased and like myself lost his appetite for supper." (pg.263 Vol.I).  Miss Electa Bryan was none other than the future fiance and then wife of  Henry Plumer. 

In 1863, Graham's name was floated for Territorial Governor by  Henry Plumer (our spelling is as he signed his name), who  apparently became a friend of Graham (see Leeson, History of Montana, 1885). Graham perhaps learned about silver ores from Plumer, one of the few at Bannack who was familiar with silver veins (see "A Decent and Orderly Lynching", 2004, by Frederick Allen for an account of the regard prospectors had for Plumer as a silver "expert"). In the event, Sid Edgerton, Chief Justice of the territory of Idaho, arrived in Bannack, and with his nephew, Wilbur Fisk Sanders, was a leader of the campaign to hang Plumer and his deputies on an allegation that they were ringleaders of a gang of robbers. Montana was subsequently declared a territory, and Edgerton was appointed Governor. The execution of Plumer was controversial at the time.  

Joaquin Miller's "History of Montana" gives an eloquent negative evaluation of vigilantes, while Nathaniel Langford's "Vigilante Days and Ways" gives an eloquent defense of the vigilantes. Certain "neutral" accounts such as Johnny Grant's also favor the vigilantes. A "Trial of Henry Plummer" held in Virginia City in 1993 led, perhaps inevitably, to a jury hung on a perfectly split 6-6 vote, so the episode remains controversial with sharply divided opinions on the actions of the Vigilantes. 

In any case, no accusation has surfaced that Graham was part of any Plumer Gang. Shortly after Plumer was hung in early 1864, Graham's attention shifted to an area where his friend Caleb E. Irvine had a decade earlier noticed an old shaft dug with antlers for tools while waiting for a trading rendezvous with Indians. This old shaft would later be the site of the great and aptly named Original mine, immediately north of the Butte townsite on the map below. About a mile to the south, Graham found and staked a promising silver prospect he called the Deer Lodge Lode. While  the courthouse give priority to the Missoula lode, officially located in the Summer of 1864, pioneer Charles S. Warren, who worked in the Recording Office during the first mining boom, see p. 30 at link, and at this account ), states unequivocally that the Deer Lodge lode was the first claim in the Summit Valley or Butte District. In the recorded filing, Graham and A.S. Blake, his prospecting partner, are listed as discoverers, and his friends from Bannack, Dance and Stuart, are co-claimants. 

The Deer Lodge lode was located on the outcrop of the Black Chief vein system where the Travona and Emma mine would later operate.  On the map above, part of an 1877 General Land Office plat, the Travona is shown south of the Butte townsite and east of "Clark's Mill". The Deer Lodge lode doesn't show. That is because the Deer Lodge and other lodes in Butte were jumped by William Farlin at midnight on the first day of 1875, on the basis that annual assessment work required under the mining law of 1872 had not been performed. Farlin in turn borrowed money from W.A. Clark to put in the Dexter mill near the Travona. Yet as one can see on the map, by 1877 the mill was known as "Clark's mill", not the Dexter or "Farlin's." Farlin's "mill man", J.M. Venable, maintained in a later account for the Montana Standard newspaper (June 8, 1903) that Farlin paid far too much for an old scrap mill that he tried to move and get running, and failed as a result. Clark then took possession in a foreclosure, and made the mine and mill a success, something Farlin resented until his dying day (Anaconda Standard, December 29, 1901). Venable further reported that Farlin had mined some fabulously rich ore, with "an eight inch streak literally filled with horn silver and gold." So it appears Graham missed out on a chance to make his fortune in Butte. 

Aside from prospecting, 1864 was a busy year for Graham, as he also served as James Stuart's lieutenant in his second expedition to the Yellowstone country. Graham was back prospecting in 1865, and in the March 11, 1865 Montana Post  is a notation under Silver Bow News regarding "Graham and Company." More significantly for Granite County history, Graham's name is recorded on July 4, 1865 as one of a number of names on the Hector Horton's Cordova Claim on Camp Creek, along with his old placer partner Blake. (Flint Chips Number 8, Dan Meschter, Philipsburg Mail). Graham was one of the dignitaries present (a "man of quartz fame") when the James Stuart Mill was christened at Philipsburg in October of 1867.

Although the Major was spending considerable time with his mining claims in Philipsburg and Butte, he continued to explore funding for a road from the Bitterroot Valley (according to notations in Major John Owen's journals).  Also during 1868 he  spent long periods of time at Fort Owen with his dear friend while Nancy Owen was dying from "Dropsy".

The Major was also spoken of frequently during the time Major Owen was involved in the Flathead Indian Agency and later when he was involved in milling flour. Owen's Journals detail Graham spending considerable time balancing the Owen account books and enjoying many days reading in the extensive library John Owen possessed during the 1860's. 

The U.S. Census records of 1870 show William Graham with John Mendenhall at Bozeman, Gallatin County, though whether prospecting or pursuing some other activity isn't clear. The Independent Record July 21, 1874 states William Graham was nominated with Granville Stuart on the Democratic ticket for legislative office. In Leeson's "Montana History Illustrated 1885," he reports that William Graham received 926 votes against Republican J.M. Merrill's 716 (likely the prospector and assayer Josiah Merrell of Philipsburg) for the position of Joint Councilman in the 1874 election. 

Philipsburg was reviving in the mid-1870's and Major Graham was hired to teach the growing numbers of school age children. The Hope Mining Company built Philipsburg's first school in 1874 for  Major Graham and his 14 students. It is estimated by Meschter in Flint Chips that Graham probably received a salary of $50 per month.

Major William Y. Graham died in Philipsburg on February 16, 1878, according to the death notice published in The New Northwest February 22, 1878. The death notice gives his age as 72 which is inconsistent with both his obituary birth date and the census birth date. There were no particulars about the funeral published in his obituary on February 29, March 1, 1878. Major William Graham is buried in the Philipsburg Cemetery in Block 14, Lot 17, Grave 7, where the Granite County Historical Society has placed a marker. Although Major Owen teasingly refers to some episodes of Graham having "buffalo robe adventures" and enjoying the company of a Miss Blake in 1868, he apparently was too busy exploring to marry and did not leave any  known descendants.

The October 31, 1878 Helena Weekly Harold  published a memorial that I have to assume was written by F.D. "Sandbar" Brown because of the style:
There was Major Graham of Philipsburg, who under the rough habits of frontier life carried a brave, lofty, self-reliant spirit, that would under other experiences have made him a world famous hero. His tall frame, when straightened and filled by his aroused spirit, was a tower of strength. As is so often the case his large stature was fitted with a soul of as large proportions. He only lacked the culture and training in a suitable arena to have displayed a leading and commanding character in the higher spheres of activity and usefulness. Those who knew him well felt conscious that he was born for something greater than he ever attained. The faults that sometimes overshadowed his life were born of the generosity of his soul. A sketch of his life ought to be written while material and witnesses are living and preserved by the Historical Society as that of one who deserves to be reckoned as one of the pioneers and founders of our Territory.

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