James Allen's Youth in Montana
author unknown, original document online in this exhibit and in the Stanford Digital Repository
This typed two-page narrative gives many glimpses into the life of James E. Allen as a boy. Both the author and date are unknown. From the Allen family papers.
To the gently bred woman, transplanted from the familiarity of Missouri to the wilds of Montana, the answering of a knock at the door was nothing to fear at first, but soon became a matter of dread to her. The boy and the woman rushed eagerly to the door in anticipation of company and threw it open. On the threshold stood a, tall swarthy Indian chief in full regalia; feathers, buckskins; beads, jewelry and naked virility. The boy dove for the safe darkness under the bed, but the woman had to stand and try to understand what it was the Indian wished to tell her. When we were told this story Jim somehow made us feel his terror and that of his mother. They'd never before so much as seen an Indian, and now here were a whole Tribe asking permission to make Spring camp on a corner of their land. To the boy, who was always full of curiosity the Indians soon became friends. But his mother always feared them.There was a certain Mrs. Wobble-as-she-walks-along responsible for a small pair of buckskin mocassins and chaps. Also hanging in a place of honor is a redstone peacepipe with beaded tobacco pouch. And in the wintertime when the Indians had departed for another season were the strange earth mounds where people were buried sitting upright, surrounded by all their earthly possessions, including at times a dog in with cooking pots, jewelry.
Another favorite character in these stories was the Baptist grandmother who lived nearby with an ancient female relative, an aunt probably. The aunt was very zealous in her praying, spending hours on her knees twice daily and expecting grandma to do likewise. But grandma, being older and stiffer in the knees, had a habit of winking at the little boy and surreptitiously sliding onto a chair for a sit and then quickly getting back to her knees before auntie should finish & suspect. Grandmother also was in the habit of smoking a corncob pipe, behind the barn, away from Auntie’s eyes.
The cold in the Bitterroot country near Anaconda was like the Arctic, and we heard often how one had to rub one's nose and ears vigorously and often so that they would not freeze solid. In Spring the Thunderstorms were excessively violent. There was one story about the time a bolt of lightning hit the schoolhouse and all the pupils were thrown to the floor and the house itself actually moved on its foundations. The boy learned to ride a horse almost as soon as he learned to walk, which was essential to a youngster in the country for getting back and forth to school, often quite a distance. His father also taught him to hunt at an early age, and he loved it. He used to describe to us his favorite creature, a cross between a mouse and a rabbit sort of thing, very fragile and small, yet lived above timberline where none other could survive, and about the pack Rats who hid shiny objects they found in camp, including sometimes sticks of dynamite. Of course we heard many hair-raising stories about dynamite, as this is mining country, and incidents were an every day occurrence. The difficulties of hunting the Mountain Goat recurred frequently in these tales. The Goat must indeed be a wily adversary. Then too, we were assured of the care that must be exercised in shooting him so that he will not roll downhill for miles and miles into some inaccessible valley, and of cutting open the carcass and putting the hands inside to warm them after a long and arduous chase in sub-zero weather, and of the hunting-camp island, where upon crossing the stream the wagonload of supplies got thoroughly soaked. And of the nose-bleeds Jim suffered constantly at the high altitudes.
The Schoolmaster and the Minister, in this part of the wilderness continuously traveled from community to community, and often would stay at the boy’s house, which he dreaded because he would then have to be careful of his behavior, but it undoubtedly helped him in his studies because he became an excellent speller writer of stories, and won a prize for a poem he wrote.
The Baptists did not allow of such frivolity as card playing and dancing. There came a time, however, when Jim would climb out a window to attend a shindig on the sly, and often caught at it. One time he was coming home late on his horse, half asleep and letting the creature find the way home, when the horse stepped into a hole and pitched his rider into the snow head-first, emptying his pockets of change automatically and irretrievably, though when the Spring thaw came he searched and searched.
His consuming passion was to be able to study to become an artist. At that time such an occupation was not considered suitable. So, at the age of seventeen, he left Montana behind to find his own way at an Art School in Chicago, where his folks had once attended a World's Fair. It was quite a struggle, working in restaurants for meals, handling freight on the elevated, and going to school. At one time he lived on Peanut Butter almost exclusively until it made him so ill that he learned it was not a wise diet. We heard about all kinds of strange animal passengers who went through the hands of the freight offices, of snakes that got loose, and ever after he had a dread of sending packages which were improperly tied, and a mistrust of railway package handlers in general.