15 May 2010

The Bigbee Family of Montana

After hearing from Jimmy McKisic, a Tennessee member of the Bigbee family, I spent this afternoon (15 May) walking through Old Highland Cemetery in Great Falls looking, for among others, for the Bigbee family. The following are listed in the cemetery records:

Charles E. Bigbee died 13 April 1957
Porter Bigbee died 31 May 1897
John H. Bigbee died 7 January 1915
Elizabeth Bigbee died 28 January 1917

I found only Thomas P. Bigbee--Porter Bigbee:

Bigbee, Charles Edward and Virgil Mary Brooks. Charles Edward (C. E.) Bigbee was a son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Porter Bigbee. He was born 11 Nov 1871 in Springfield, KY, and came to Great Falls at age 15. In 1893 he worked in Great Falls as a porter at the West Corner Saloon at 213 Seventh Avenue South. In 1901, Bigbee worked as a porter and resided at 713 Seventh Avenue South. In May 1904, C. E. Bigbee was a member of the Masonic order and attended the Colored Masons Hard Time Ball in Great Falls. On 31 Dec 1907, Charles Bigbee married Virgil Mary Brooks of Helena at the A. M. E. Church in Great Falls with the wedding conducted by Rev. E. D. Abbott and witnesses George N. Hagin and F. Monroe. She was born in 1877 in TX, daughter of Pebedee Mitchell and Elizabeth Allen. Virgil Mary had been previously married to ____ Brooks. In the 1910 census, her son Jesse Lee Brooks was in the household of Edward and Virgie Bigbee at 614 Seventh Avenue South. From 1900 to about 1910, Charles worked as a farm laborer on his brother John’s farm near Comer. He then ranched for a number of years on Box Elder Creek and later sold his interests and became a porter on the Great Northern Railroad, retiring in 1946. Before 1915 Charles and Virgil Mary were divorced. On 14 Apr 1915, Charles E. Bigbee married Miss Corra Lee Allen of Nashville, TN, with Rev. W. H. Prince of the A. M. E. church officiating. Corra Lee was born in 1887 in TN, the daughter of Lytle and Martha Allen. C. E. Bigbee, of 713 Seventh Avenue South, died 13 Apr 1957 at a local hospital at age 85. Funerals services were held at Croxford’s Mortuary and conducted by the Rev. Ellis Casson, followed by burial at Highland Cemetery. [See also entries for Porter and Elizabeth Bigbee] [GFLD 8 May 1901, p. 4; GFLD 10 May 1904, p. 2; GFLD 15 Apr 1957, p. 3; GFLD 17 Apr 1957, p. 2; 1880 Census Tennessee; 1900, 1910 Census MT Cascade Co.; 1893, 1899, 1919, 1923 GFCD; CC Cemetery; CC Marriage Licenses Book 6, No. 3733; CC Marriage Licenses Book 10, No. 7689]

Bigbee, Mrs. Elizabeth Clara Thompson. Mrs. Elizabeth Clara Thompson Bigbee was a mixed race black woman born in Jul 1840 in AL or about 1838 in TN and christened in TN. Elizabeth was the daughter of Thomas P. and Roda Grays Childress. She came to Great Falls about 1896 with her husband, Porter Bigbee, to be with her children, who had come to MT: Tennessee Finn Hagan about 1856; Susan Payne 1866; John H. born 1860 [see separate entry]; Charlotte Glovina born 1863; Charles Edward born 1871 [see separate entry]; Margaret (Maggie) born Jun 1883; and Emma born Jan 1886. In addition Mr. and Mrs. Porter Bigbee had several other children: James W. born 1856; Benjamin born 1857. According to the Montana Plain Dealer in Dec 1909, “Mrs. Bigbee of Great Falls visited her sister Mrs. Ed. Johnson [in Helena] last week." Mrs. Elizabeth Bigbee lived with her family at 713 Seventh Avenue South. She died 28 Jan 1917 following a long illness at her home, aged about 79 years. Three daughters survived her: Tennie Hagan, Susie Payne and Glovina Smith of Great Falls; and one son, Charles E. Bigbee of Anaconda. Three grandsons, Omar Connell of Anaconda, and John and Henry Connell of Great Falls, also survived. Her funeral was held in O'Connor's undertaking chapel with services conducted by Rev. G. Edward Horsey, pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal church. Mrs. Bigbee was buried in Old Highland cemetery. [1870, 1880 Census Tennessee; 1900 Cascade Co. Census; 1913, 1914 GFCD; CC Cemeteries, I; MTPD 1 Dec 1909, p. 4; GFLD 29 Jan 1917, p. 3; GFLD 30 Jan 1917, p. 6]

Bigbee, Glovinna. See Glovinna Bigbee Connell Smith.

Bigbee, John H. John H. Bigbee, a mixed race black man born in TN in 1860 by the 1880 census [KY by Cemetery Records, or MO in Dec 1867 by his obituary], the son of Thomas P. and Elizabeth Childress Bigbee. John settled in Great Falls about 1890. In 1893 John lived at 213 Seventh Avenue South, and by 1896 he was living at 713 Seventh Avenue South. By the late 1890s John was farming and ranching but still living in Great Falls. In 1910 John was farming outside Great Falls at Comer, and his brother Charles worked for him. John was unmarried born about 1863 in KY in the 1910 census. On 7 Jan 1915, he died at the family home, 713 Seventh Avenue South after a long illness. Mr. Bigbee was survived by his mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Bigbee of Great Falls; three sisters, Mrs. Susan Payne, Mrs. Charlotte Glovina Smith and Mrs. M. T. Hagin, all of Great Falls, also one brother, Charles E. Bigbee of Anaconda, MT. His funeral was held in the family home and at the Union Bethel A. M. E. Church with services conducted by Rev. Prince, pastor. Mr. Bigbee is buried at Highland Cemetery. [GFTD 8 Jan 1915; GFTD 9 Jan 1915; 1910 Census MT Cascade Co.; 1913 GFCD]

Bigbee, Porter T or G. Porter G. Bigbee [probably Porter Thomas Bigbee, a mixed race black man who was born in TN about 1824 and came to Great Falls with his wife Clara Elizabeth about June 1896 from TN to join his children here. He died a year later, 31 May 1897 at age 74 years at the home of his daughter, Mrs. W. W. Inglemon, at 713 Seventh Avenue South. The funeral was held at his daughter’s home 1 Jun 1897, and he was buried at Highland Cemetery. He left five children, all adults, four of whom resided in Great Falls. [GFTD 1 Jun 1897, p. 3, CC Cemetery, I; 1870, 1880 Census Tennessee]

18 April 2010

Millie Ringgold of Old Yogo Mining Camp

P. W. Korell, Stanford Pioneer, Tells Yogo Gulch History in Address Before Women’s Club.
Special to the Tribune. Stanford, No. 6.—Judge J. H. Huntoon, Lewistown, and P. W. Korell, Stanford, spoke at a meeting of the Stanford woman’s club on local history.

Mr. Korell, who landed at Fort Benton in 1876, came into the Judith basin with the Yogo stampeders in 1880 and to Stanford in 1923. Referring to early days in the basin he says:

"Jack Wirth and I left Fort Benton Aug. 2, 1880, with two four-horse teams and wagons loaded with tobacco, four barrels of whisky, a crate of picks and shovels, flour, sugar and bacon. We were headed for Fort Maginnis and Yogo.

"Arriving at the Judith river Aug. 7, 1880, we camped on the flat now owned by C. M. Belden, formerly the Murphy ranch, half way between Utica and the Belden residence. We made camp in brush along the old channel of the Judith as a precaution against Indians, who were traveling across the country frequently.

"Whisky is Stolen. When I went to my wagon in the morning the wagon sheet was untied. Investigating, I found the load was short two 55-gallon barrels of whisky. Jack Murphy, Wirth and myself noticed grass had been tramped and w could see where the barrels had been rolled away.

"We followed the trail back and forth across the bottom until it was lost. The following January, in 1881, a man known as Cherokee Jim, coming from Yogo, stopped to kill a deer and found one of the barrels containing 20 gallons of whisky.

"Jim came down to the Murphy cabin, where the postoffice had been established after being moved from Yogo. It consisted of one empty beer case and a rubber stamp. Jim was feeling pretty good but refused to tell where he got his ‘jag,’ so he was followed when he returned to the cache and the barrel was found. Two years later the other barrel, empty, was found in a patch of brush on the Korrel ranch.

"At the time the liquor was taken, two white men were camped where the Utica schoolhouse now stands. One was known as Mike Henderson and the other, Aleck Jesup. The latter, years afterward served a term at Deer Lodge for burglary at Butte, dying shortly after he was released. Whereabouts of Henderson is unknown.

"Yogo did not produce the gold that was expected, the bedrock being too deep. Small bars paid only small returns. However, quite a number of miners remained, expecting to strike it some day.

"Among those who stayed was a colored woman by the name of Millie Ringold. Her faith was so strong in her mine, the Garfield, that she worked it for more than 30 years, doing anything she could to earn a few dollars, washing nursing white women and doing manual labor generally performed by men, returning at intervals to the hills to work her mine.

"Old Millie, as she was called, came to Fort Benton in 1878 as a maid for Colonel Switzer’s wife, and when rumors of the Yogo gold stampede came to Fort Benton, Millie was one of the first to hit the trail. She opened a hotel and restaurant and everyone could eat whether they had money or not, all promising to pay when the cleaned up bedrock.

"Millie had a coal oil can for a musical instrument, with which she entertained her guests. She would drum on it and sing southern songs as long as she had an audience.

"In after years, when dollars were scarce, many of her meals were provided for her by the cat, George Washington. It would catch a rabbit and bring it to the cabin, where it was enjoyed by himself and his mistress. Sometimes Bedrock Jim, another Yogo character, would share in the feast by providing potatoes and an onion or a carrot to make a mulligan. Millie died at her old cabin in Yogo and was buried in the cemetery at Utica by a few old timers.

"Bercham a Character. Jim Bercham, better known as ‘Bedrock’ Jim was another of the old guard who would not leave Yogo. He had his boxes going all the time, shoveling every day, and making regular trips to Utica for me to send his dust to Helena to the assay office. His cleanup averaged an ounce and a half of gold dust, which, at $16 an ounce, kept him in provisions.

"A few years later Mr. Weatherwax built a machine at the mouth of Skunk gulch to work some of his ore. The machine was all homemade and power was furnished by water from Yogo creek.

"One windy day he climbed on the wheel to lubricate it and, losing his balance, fell and was killed.

"Placer mining and prospecting since 1879 has been entirely abandoned on Yogo Creek. My predictions are that some day a corporation with money for development work will show the world that there is gold in Yogo and lots of it."
Source: Great Falls Tribune Daily 7 Nov 1931, p. 13]

08 March 2010

Idaho Black History Museum

Two years ago, my wife, Michele, and I visited Boise, Idaho. While there I visited the Idaho Black History Museum. Located in downtown Boise near the Public Library, the Museum is housed in an historic black church. From their website at: http://www.ibhm.org/about.php

The Museum

Founded in 1995, the Idaho Black History Museum is a 501 (c)3 organization established to educate individuals about the history and culture of African Americans, with special emphasis on African Americans in Idaho. Housed in the historic St. Paul Baptist Church building and located in Boise's Julia Davis Park, the museum presents exhibits and provides educational and community outreach programs including lectures, films, workshops, literacy programs, and musical performances.


The Idaho Black History Museum is housed in the former St. Paul Baptist Church Building. St. Paul is one of two African American churches that were founded by Boiseans in 1908. St. Paul was built in 1921, and is one of the oldest buildings constructed by Idaho African Americans. When the St. Paul congregation moved to a new church in 1993, the historic church was donated to a preservation committee, which formed to save and restore the 72-year-old building.

The Idaho Black History Museum is well worth the visit, and a model that we could follow in Montana.

16 February 2010

"Uncle Alex" of Lewistown MT, First to Enlist in Civil War in Famed 54th Massachusetts Regiment

Was the First to Enlist in the 54th Mass. Volunteers. Served Through Entire Period of the Civil War From 1863 to 1865. [Photo: Alexander “Uncle Alex” Branson, Lewistown Pioneer, Was First Colored Soldier to Enlist in the North in 1863]

A Resident of Montana For 43 Years “Uncle Alex” One of Lewistown’s Best Known Characters, Leaves to Spend Last Days in the East.

“Uncle Alex,” as he is familiarly known in Lewistown, where he had made his home for the past 43 years, claims that he was the first colored man living in the north, east of the Mississippi river, to enlist in the Civil war, and the records of his company and regiment bear him out in the claim. He was a member of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and the history of that regiment was written by Luis F. Emilio, and comprises a volume of about 450 pages.

It was early in 1863 that Governor John A. Andrew, war governor of Massachusetts succeeded in obtaining the permission of President Lincoln to recruit a regiment of colored men in that state. Only three colored regiments had been recruited prior to that time; General Butler began organizing the Louisiana Native Guards from free negroes in the fall of 1862; General Saxon formed the First North Carolina from contrabands in October of the same year and Colonel James Williams had organized the First Kansas Colored about the middle of the summer of ‘62.

When Governor Andrew was given his order by Secretary Stanton he immediately set about toward organization and at once appointed Captain Shaw of his state as Colonel and the post of Lieutenant-Colonel was given to Captain Hallowell, also of Massachusetts. Both men accepted.

They were on duty in the south at the time and Captain Hallowell was the first to start north to help organize the new regiment. He stopped en route to Boston to visit relatives at Philadelphia for a few days and while there he recruited a number of colored men for the new Massachusetts regiment.

Alexander Branson was the first man to sign up with Hallowell, and as no recruiting had yet been started in Boston, he was in fact, the first recruit of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts. So great was the sentiment against allowing olored men to take up arms that Captain Hallowell was compelled to slip his colored recruits out of Philadelphia by stealth, in small squads, and Branson was in the first squad to be sent to Boston. He served until April 1865.

Out of a former good-sized post of the G. A. R. in Lewistown only six living members remain and “Uncle Alex” is one of them.

Alex. Branson came to Montana in 1872 and lived for some time in Helena. In 1881 he moved into the Judith Basin, before there was such a town as Lewistown, and engaged in stock raising. When the town began to grow he moved into Lewistown and started a barber shop and later was engaged in the saloon business, when that business was legal.

He retired several years ago by reason of the infirmities of old age, being nearly 85, and with what property he had accumulated and his pension from the government he has lived comfortably until the last winter when he was striken with rheumatism and has since been unable to help himself.

At this writing he is preparing to go back to the home of his niece, in Pittsburg, Pa., where he hopes to spend his remaining days in peace and happiness, which he richly deserves.

“Uncle Alex” has long been a noted character around Lewistown and all during the eyars of his residence there has enjoyed the respect and good will of the “white folks” as well as his colored friends.

It was his greatest desire to attend the National Encampment of the G. A. R. in Boston this year, and see the Boston Commons where he was mustered out nearly 60 years ago, but ill-health prevented.

“Uncle Alex” is true to the type of fast disappearing contingent of our citizenry whom all delight to honor in their declining days. [Montana Newspaper Assocation 13 Oct 1924 Judith Basin County Press]

12 February 2010

Black Americans in Great Falls in 1920

Colored Survey is Interesting Census of Colored Population of City Shows Some Interesting Facts--Every Colored Family Visited.

A survey made under the direction of Dr. D. A. Graham, commissioner of survey of the African Methodist Episcopal church, as recently been completed for this city. The result shows the colored people of Great Falls engaged in the following kinds of work, the total number of colored people accounted for in this part of the survey being 85:

Laborers, 34; porters, 10; janitors, 8; ranchers, 5; chefs, 4; barbers, 2; mechanics, 2; chauffeurs, 2; trucking and teaming, 2; waiters, 2; R. R. clerks, 2; maids, 2; clerk, 1; physician, 1; lawyer, 1; R. R. fireman, 1; tailor, 1
There are two colored churches in the city and the survey shows these churches divided as to membership as follows:
Methodist members, 37; Methodist leaning, 34; Baptist members, 13; Baptist leaning, 7; Roman Catholic, 6; Episcopal, 2; Christian Scientist, 1; without church preference, 83.

Other facts of interest itemized in the survey are that there are five college graduates among the colored people here and two graduates of musical conservatories. Colored people in Great Falls and immediate vicinity own $91,900 in taxable property and $12,900 in church property. The survey was made under the direction of Dr. Graham assisted by Rev. A. w. Johnson, pastor of the local church. Every colored family in Great Falls was visited. [p. 2] [Great Falls Leader Daily 24 Sep 1920]