31 December 2009

Millie Ringgold's Fascinating Story

Millie Ringgold's Grave in the Utica, Montana Cemetery

From an undated article in the Great Falls Tribune: Millie’s Story Recalled by Finch David. Martinsdale--"Rose Gordon of White Sulphur Springs, a sister of the singer and author, Taylor Gordon, remembers seeing Yogo sapphires sold on the streets of Lewistown in 1910," said Finch David, oldtimer who spent many years in central Montana when he read a report by S. E. Clabaugh, survey field geologist for the U. S. geological survey, which stated the Yogo sapphire deposit was one of the most productive gem deposits in the United States in the past.

“Rose owns several of the deep cornflower blue sapphires for which Yogo was famous, bought for a song years ago and now greatly appreciated in value," Finch added.

“When Rose was a child, Millie Ringold [sic Ringgold] of the Yogo country spent a week in White Sulphur Springs at the Gordon home. Rose says of her:
‘Millie was an interesting person, very musical. She played such odd instruments as hand saws, mouth harps and dishpans. We couldn’t get home from school fast enough to visit Millie.’

“Rose had a photograph of Millie given to her brother, the late George Gordon, for years steward of the Bozeman Elks club . It was given to George by T. B. Story of Bozeman and bears Story’s autograph. The photograph shows a comely young face with earnest, beautiful eyes, a far different woman from the one I remember who knew poverty, excessive outdoor work and exposure."

Finch recalls that he landed in Utica on May 19, 1882, and met Millie Ringold a few days later. She cooked for the family in such busy times as lambing, shearing and haying and Finch knew her until her death.

“Millie was born a slave in Maryland," he said, "and when freed went to Washington, D. C. to work as nurse and servant. She came up the river in Fort Benton with the Gen. Switzer family and on to the Fort Shaw on Sun river.

“When the general was transferred east Millie stayed in Montana. She bought a pair of condemned army mules and wagon and went to Fort Benton, where she loaded up with grub and a barrel of whiskey and headed for Yogo, then a boom town. She had $1,600.

“She established a hotel, restaurant and saloon and located several mining claims, one the James A. Garfield and one the Martha Washington. She worked the claims and hired a Negro man to work for her until she was broke and reduced to living on frozen rutabagas.

“Someone wrote the county commissioners of Meagher county and sent Sheriff Rader after her. She fought so against going to the poor house that Rader got her jobs working for families. She could make better music in an empty five-gallon can than most people can on a piano and her favorite tunes were ‘Coming Through the Rye’ and 'Coal Oil Johnnie on a Bum-Bum Solree.’

“She could get up the best meal with the least grub of anyone I ever saw. She expected to make quite a stake raising horses out of those old condemned mules. Two ranchers put in a bill for about $25 for care of the mules, but they took their pay home in whisky so there was not much harm done.

“Millie never owned any part of the sapphire mines, nor did she discover any sapphires. The first sapphires discovered in that part of the country were found by Sandy Nobel and Al Littrel on the Peck ranch, now owned by William Korell. They were placer mining for gold and found the gems in the sluice boxes. Jack 'Jake' Hoover, who later located the Yogo mines, found lots of sapphires in sluice boxes in Yogo creek on the trail to middle Fork.

“No one realized the value of these stones at first," Finch recalls, which reminded him that he is one of the last persons in Montana alive who knew these oldtimers. [Great Falls Tribune Daily unknown date.]

Upon her death in December 2, 1906, the Great Falls Tribune reported: "The Passing of One of the Oldtimers of Yogo. Word was received in the city yesterday morning of the death at Yogo of Millie Ringold [Ringgold], an old colored woman, who has been a county charge for several years. The cause of death was dropsy. The county auditor was notified a few days ago that the old woman was sick and he instructed persons at Utica to have a doctor sent up to Yogo from that place at the expense of the county. Sunday morning a physician from Utica drove up to the old gold camp, but found the sick woman beyond medical aid. She died that evening in the old cabin in which she had made her home for 28 years. The remains were taken to Utica Monday, and were buried in the cemetery at that place. Her relatives, some of whom reside in Baltimore, Maryland, will be notified of her demise. Millie Ringold was a well known character in the Judith country. When gold was struck on Yogo creek in 1879, she among the earlies to reach the camp. She had come up the Missouri from the south where she was born a slave and had cooked at Fort Benton and also for an army officer's family at Fort Shaw, and was considered one of the best cooks in this section in the early days. At Yogo she had cabins built and conducted a hotel in a small way, making a comfortable living for herself for several years. Finally the camp was abandoned by all but a handful of prospectors, but the old colored woman believed that there was gold there, and she refused to leave. She staked a number of claims named 'The Garfield,' 'The Lincoln,' and other names of presidents, which she claimed as her property until the time of her death. On these it was her habit to keep a pick, shovel and goldpan, to show other prospectors that the ground was taken up. During the past 10 years, she has made a precarious living by washing for prospectors, raising a few chickens and turkeys, and occasionally cooking or nursing for ranchers. Last winter she spent in the poor farm in this city, insisting on returning to her home in the mountains as soon as the weather permitted. Here she was always happy and contented, believing that in time the camp would boom and her mining claims would make her wealthy. At the time of her death she was 64 years of age." [p. 10] [Great Falls Tribune Daily 5 December 1906]


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