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A Narrative: James E. Phillips, s/o Fort Thompson Phillips, Jr.
Grandfather of James E. Phillips of Dillon, Who Recently Celebrated 90th Birthday, Served Under Washington
The Civil war veterans are gone from Montana but, there remains alive a man only one generation removed from the Revolutionary war. He is James E. Phillips of Dillon who on Sept. 18 celebrated his 90th birthday.
James E. Phillips' grandfather, Fort Thompson Phillips, was a young man when he followed, with a ragged and hungry group of other independent souls, the leadership of a man named George Washington. When he was 72 the grandfather married a younger woman and she gave him a son, Fort Thompson Phillips, Jr., father of James.
Jim was born in Prinston, N. C., Sept. 18, 1850, and spent his boyhood there-his southern upbringing is still very much in evidence in his speech.
When the Civil war broke out, the father's sympathies were with the Union, but he was forced to give his services to the Confederacy. He saw action only a short time before he was taken captive and when Jim Phillips was 12 years old his father died of scurvy contracted in a federal prison.
The young North Carolinan was grimly close to war during the next two years. Among his earliest remembrances are marching soldiers in gray-and raiding soldiers in blue.
In 1864, with his mother and two younger brothers, he moved to Illinois, and later to Missouri.
He was 18 when his adventurous spirit urged him still further westward and in February, 1868, he was working in the then unsettled Black Hills of Dakota territory as a chainman for the United States geological survey, with a Professor Jennings in charge of the crew.
Two years later he took charge of a pack train connected with an army company commanded by Captain Egan and stationed in the Black Hills. There it was that he had his first taste of Indian warfare.
He was at Red Cloud agency, on the White river in the northwest corner of Nebraska, when Sitting Bull's Sioux Indians first donned their war paint in earnest.
His first clash with an Indian took place in his own tent at the agency. A Sioux sneaked into the camp under cover of darkness and invaded the Phillips tent, on the outskirts of the agency. The owner returned to find his "home" being ransaked by an Indian in full war regalia, armed with a rifle. A few seconds later the aborigine was minus not only his rifle, but most of his regalia, and was swimming frantically across the nearby river.
In the early Spring of 1876, the Sioux and Cheyennes joined in a well organized offensive and a military campaign was launched by the government. Jim Phillips became a packer in the army division commanded by Gen. George G. Crook, described by Phillips somewhat caustically as a man who would halt and camp "every time he saw a squaw track."
Nevertheless, Crook's was one of three divisions engaged in the campaign of 1876, marching north out of Wyoming to engage the Sioux. At the same time, a division commanded by Gen. John G. Gibbon advanced from Fort Ellis, Mont., which defended Bozeman on the east, and a third division, led by Gen. Alfred H. Terry, moved westward from Fort Yankton in Dakota territory.
Serving under Terry in the latter division was Gen. George A. Custer.
General Crook's command was the first to be attacked by the Indians in force, on June 17. The battle took place on the Rosebud river, with both Sioux and Cheyennes surprising the camp. The Indians were repulsed, but not before Jim had indirectly felt the effects of an attacker's bullet.
Though officially employed as a packer, he carried a rifle and ammunition with him at all times. With one of Crook's most valued scouts, a French-Canadian named Batiste, he took refuge behind a rock when the attack came and was picking off Indians with regularity when a bullet struck the ground directly in front of him and ricocheted over his head, kicking sand into his left eye with extreme force. The eye still shows the effects of the charge.
It was Batiste who a few days later saved the entire command from destruction by overcoming Crook's stubbornness, according to Phillips. In order to save time in his advance, Crook ordered his men to advance through a narrow canyon near the Rosebud river. Batiste insisted that it was a perfect spot for an ambush and, when Crook persisted in his stand, flatly declared that if the company entered the canyon, it would be without him. Crook then yielded and deployed his men around the spot. It was later found that the canyon was literally swarming with Indians on both sides.
Little Big Horn.
General Crook's company was only 25 miles from the Little Big Horn on June 24, when General Custer and his entire command, 262 officers and soldiers, were wiped out in what is considered the greatest victory ever achieved by Indians over white soldiers.
The Crook division received word of the massacre the following morning but never visited the battlefield, though they crossed the trail followed by Custer in approaching the scene of the battle.
"Custer sold his life dearly," Phillips declares. "Dead Indians were scattered all over his trail."
Generals Crook and Miles fought the Indians throughout he following winter and finally forced Sitting Bull and his warriors to retreat into Canada.
The Crook company was frequently on short rations during the winter and dried meat was usually part of the diet. In one raid on an Indian village, 20,000 pounds of dried meat was confiscated.
The following summer, the army marched from Powder river to the Black Hills where the young North Carolinan, now a seasoned Indian fighter, had spent his first days in the west.
For the next few years Phillips remained engaged in leading pack trains and driving army vehicles of all kinds in Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.
He knew all the famous characters of that period, including Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane.
Calamity Jane he described as the "most over-rated woman in history." His description of her is far from flattering: "Ignorant as a pig, ugly as sin and only would-be tough." Wild Bill, contrary to legend and story, would have very little to do with her, the Dillon man declares.
His description of Buffalo Bill is more complimentary. "Everybody liked Bill," he says. "He was a genteel gentleman, always courteous to both men and women. If he had any outstanding fault, it was his ability to tell bigger and better tall tales than any man I've ever known."
The toughest character Jim ever ran up against, he says, was a bandit named Persimmon Bill. Lone-handed, Bill once held up a paymaster ambulance driven by Phillips and guarded by 12 soldiers. He was never captured but finally disappeared and is believed to have returned to his native Missouri.
In 1880, Jim Phillips returned to Illinois and was married to Laura Carter, a native of that state. After 12 turbulent years, he was ready to settle down.
He and his bride came west in 1882, arriving in the two-year-old town of Dillon, April 9. He has been there ever since.
During the entire period, he has been engaged in ranching interests. Shortly after his arrival there, he rented a ranch on Birch creek and operated what is now known as the Charles Meine property, north of Dillon. The Phillips Livestock Co. was organized in 1906.
He served as Beaverhead county coroner for 19 successive years, resigning this year, he said, because he "couldn't make 7 cents catch up with 20." He once was offered a post as police officer in Butte.
He raised a family of five children in Dillon, four of whom are living. They are E. E. Phillips, Los Angeles contractor; John A. Phillips, Anaconda electrician; Mrs. Grace Webster of Dillon, and Mrs. Frank Stanfield of Missoula.
Phillips' first wife died in 1914 and his second in 1926.
Still hale and hearty, he operates an employment office in the Andrus hotel in addition to supervising other activities. Held in the highest esteem by everyone in the community where he has made his home for 58 years, he will receive the heartiest congratulations from them all next Wednesday. His has been a full, useful and active life.
Source: Roundup Record and Tribune, Roundup, Montana, Thursday, September 26, 1940; Pg. 6, Columns 4-6
NOTE: This was published as a Narrative and should be verified with primary and other sources before accepting the information as factual.