Patrick Dooley and Michael Dooley were pioneering ranchers in the lower Flint Creek Valley. Though they started out as friends, bitterness and hatred created by disagreements over stolen horses, water rights and property lines led to violent encounters that left three men dead, including both Dooleys and two others serving prison sentences over an eight year period.
The two Dooleys arrived in Granite County sometime in the 1860's. The 1870 U.S. Census shows both men at Beartown, Montana Territory, but not in the same household. Although not related they originally appear to be friends as Mike was a witness at Patrick's wedding to Annie McMurray in 1871 at Frenchtown. Mike then married Annie (unknown maiden name) in Deer Lodge in 1872. By the 1880 U.S. Census both families were living in the Flint Creek Valley in the Cow Creek School District, west of Hall.
The first documented evidence of trouble involving either Dooley was on November 4, 1881 when the New Northwest carried the headline "Shooting affray at New Chicago-Julius Erick (Erich) shot by P. Dooley." The news article detailed an account where Julius had made a comment that Patrick Dooley had made a statement that Julius had put horse rustlers up to stealing a band of twenty to thirty horses. Erich, on the evening of the event, called Dooley out for the statement in front of Archie McPhail and Dan Berry. Dooley did not deny the remark and Erich demanded he retract it then drew a gun and uttering a swear word, pulled the trigger. The bullet cap did not go off and the two grappled with Dooley getting the pistol away from Erich. The ensuing result was Erich was shot as he stated he began to run away. Dooley said the gun went off in the scuffle. The bullet entered Erich's back in the middle of the ribs then traveled across and downward in his body. Dr. Mitchell was called and dressed the wounds. Erich was removed to Butte and was in the care of his mother with a critical wound when the news article was written. Dooley went home and the next morning surrendered himself to Deputy Sheriff Duffy. He was held on $7,000 bail and was to answer to the next Grand Jury. Bail was put up immediately by M. Dooley, M. Duffy and Col. G.W. Morse.
On November 11, 1881, the New Northwest reported that Undersheriff McTague had returned from Trapper and Glendale with the captured horse thieves Chris Gaffney and Mark Ryan. During the process of being charged the two escaped when the jail guard fell asleep. Gaffney had stole a horse and wandered around in the area of Philipsburg before turning himself in and Ryan was still at large when the news article was written. A warrant had also been issued for John Lannen as an accessory to the original offence. The important point in this episode is that Chris Gaffney was the nephew of Patrick Dooley.
On December 16th Patrick Dooley was indicted for assault with intent to kill Julius Erich. On December 23rd the New Northwest stated the jury returned a verdict of assault and battery and fixed the punishment at $100.00. Patrick Dooley was not pleased with the verdict and over the years took the case back to court numerous times, including to the Montana Supreme Court with the final outcome being dismissal of the charge due to a technicality.
Chris Gaffney was in and out of trouble during the next few years and settled on some land between Patrick and Michael Dooley. It is not clear if the land actually belonged to Patrick Dooley. In 1885, Chris went to Deer Lodge to spend the Christmas Holiday in the saloons. By New Years night he had tried to pick fights throughout the town and finally knocked a man named Steele down in the Peterson and Conniff corner saloon. The man did not want to engage with Gaffney and the bartender Lawrence Governey demanded that Gaffney leave him alone. The result was Gaffney reached into his pocket for a pistol (known to be on his person) and was shot by the bartender. His wound was determined to be mortal and Dr. Owings left him on the barroom floor until he died three hours later just after 5am on January 2, 1886.
Sheriff McMaster swore out a warrant for Lawrence Governey charging him with murder. Governey's reputation was sterling. He had served 7 years in the Civil War, worked for the railroad and was a guard for the Penitentiary for several years before becoming a bartender the year prior to the shooting. The prosecuting attorney concluded there was no evidence supporting an indictment and Governey was discharged from jail. Patrick Dooley arrived in Deer Lodge with fire in his eyes when he heard the charges had been dismissed. Convinced Governey should pay for his nephews death Dooley took the case on with a vengeance. He had already been through the system with the previous case of Erich and felt he could justify the murder charge. Also he had just won a case against a conviction that he had fenced off a public road. Dooley swore out a new complaint against Governey and he was arrested the day of Gaffney's funeral. On the 12th of January half of the lower Flint Creek Valley was in Deer Lodge when court was convened. Nineteen local ranchers and citizens testified for the defense that Gaffney was a trouble maker and always carried a gun. Pat Dooley brought in five witnesses. To the surprise of the crowd one was Mike Dooley. The first four were weak witnesses and said they had no knowledge of Gaffney ever threatening anyone. When it was Mike's turn on the stand. The news article stated that "It must be supposed that Mike agreed to testify to avoid making a bad situation on Willow Creek worse." When Mike was cross examined he had to admit that he knew Gaffney had "drawn" a gun on Sheriff McMaster and that on one occasion he had Henderson down and was close to killing him on another. The Judge bound Governey over to the Grand Jury at the next term of court. Again the Grand Jury found no evidence to convict and dismissed the charges during the May 1886 term of Court.
During this period of time a person described as a drifter named Jim O'Brian took over the land Gaffney had been living on and within a week of the Grand Jury dismissal the next scene in the valley was acted out. No one knows if Patrick gave O'Brian permission to live on the land. In September 1885 Mike Dooley had filed a Desert Land claim on the SW 1/4 of Section 20 and filed a water right for a ditch out of Cow Creek to irrigate it. On May 10, 1886 Mike decided to extend the ditch and sent two men: Ryan and Schetler to plow the ditch on a line he (Dooley) had surveyed. As the men approached O'Brian's property line he instructed them to cease as he was planning on turning the water onto his land. Mike went and met with O'Brian and talked over the water right that afternoon. Believing that all was okay Mike sent the men back to dig the ditch the next morning and again were stopped by O'Brian. Mike then went up to the ditch to assist with the plowing. O'Brian met them near his ranch and stated they were on his land. The following is the statement provided by Mike Dooley before his death:
I, Dooley saw the pistol inside of his shirt and said "you have a pistol there" and O'Brian put his hand inside his shirt and took his pistol out and commenced shooting, coming toward me. I think he had three shots fired before I got my pistol out. It was inside my coat. I carried my pistol to shoot coyotes. I think the first shot missed and the second shot took effect in my arm and the third shot took effect in my side. (New Northwest June 4, 1886)
Jim Campbell who worked for Pat Dooley had shown up at the moment of the shooting and stated Mike had his pistol out before O'Brian started shooting. O'Brian and Campbell went to Deer Lodge immediately after the shooting and turned themselves in: O'Brian for the shooting and Campbell as a material witness. The speed of the events was extremely rapid. Mike was shot on the 11th and died on the 16th. O'Brian was indicted on the 25th and brought to trial on the 28th. O'Brian was found guilty of murder and sentenced to fifteen years in the State Penitentiary on June 3rd. All of these events took place in 23 days.
Annie Dooley married a man named Ted Milroy (new to the valley) one year after Mike died and they continued living on the ranch.. Soon after the marriage, Milroy and Patrick Dooley began arguing over the property line between the two ranches and by the summer of 1888 a general feud broke out with many involved. The outcome was Milroy was shot in the leg. Thomas Campbell, who worked for Dooley was sentenced to five years in the State Penitentiary for intent to kill Milroy. On March 12, 1889, Milroy shot Patrick Dooley when Dooley's Stallion horse strayed onto the Milroy ranch. Patrick died a day later and after a funeral at the ranch house his body was placed on the train and sent back to Linn, Massachusetts for burial. His headstone was recently found by the Terry Kaye's family who are descendants of the Annie McMurray Dooley family.
The Anaconda Standard detailed all of the events at the beginning of the trial for Milroy on December 19, 1889. On December 31, 1889 Ted Milroy was acquitted of murder at 8pm in the evening and the "verdict was generally popular." Seems the Lower Valley became less violent after this series of episodes.
Dan Meschter detailed some of the events in Flint Chips 174, 175 and 176 and was probably intending to complete the story but stopped the series with Miss Kate #177. Appreciation is extended to his daughter Catherine for the research he initially developed and her permission extended for the use of his writings.