Thunder Butte

August 13, 2008

Denizens of Thunder Butte - Part II

Richard Foster was a well known person about Thunder Butte. My parents leased his ranch on Thunder Butte Creek for many years. Dickey, as the locals referred to him, lived with his parents on upper Thunder Butte Creek. I believe their ranch was in Perkins County.

When Dickey was young, he attended the South Dakota School of Mines, a respected college in the Black Hills. I believe he obtained an engineering degree there. Dickey was very fond of the Sioux Indians, almost to the point of obsession. It is said that he lived with them on the Moreau River for a time. He spoke Sioux fluently and was frequently mimicked by local people, especially the grunting sounds he made while talking. This was a local Lakota trait, and it was thought the language was made up largely of grunts. Actually, I believe this grunting was a colloquial thing, much as the expression one hears everywhere today, "O.K." One gets the impression when talking to someone that the person needs your permission for everything said----"O.K.?" Well, I believe the grunts which interspersed the Lakota language were much the same kind of expression.

Dick Foster was interested in anything Lakota. Since he owned the ranch we lived on, he frequently stopped by, mainly because he liked to hunt arrowheads and other relics on the wind swept flats on this land. It was common for me to see him out hunting arrowheads. So, I would join him and he would explain what I found and show me faults and interesting points in the artifacts we found.

Another denizen, Tommy Escott, who herded sheep in the area, discovered my interest in Indian artifacts. So, he proceeded to teach me how to make the arrowheads. Well, I am not proud of the fact, but it is part of 'denizen' history, so I'll tell you anyway. When I was about ten years old, having learned the art of arrowhead manufacture from Tommy Escott, I sewed about a hundred of my handiwork arrowheads onto a bright cloth for display purposes. The next time I saw Dick Foster out hunting arrowheads, I pulled out this roll of artifacts. On seeing it, he proceeded to buy it from me for quite a lot of money. I never told anyone, so it remained a secret.

There are many Fosters in the area today – I see their names in the local papers, but I don't think any of them are related to Dick. I asked him at one time and he told me the Fosters around Meadow were no relations of his.

Dick Foster was "old" from the time I first knew of him, and he became a stodgy, hard drinking old rancher in the years when I grew up around there. This man was good natured, almost to a fault. People used to take advantage of his good nature, and I speak from experience. One time when I was in high school, I saw Dick driving down the street in Lemmon in a brand new Ford pick-up truck. It was the prettiest thing I ever saw. Later that night, I saw the truck parked in front of a local card room, the back room of a beer parlor. So, I went in and asked Dick to lend me his truck; I just wanted to try it out. I guess he had a good poker hand because he pulled out the keys and handed them to me.

Fast forward to Hettinger, North Dakota, where I picked up a girl friend and drove her around town. We parked on the side of a hill, sat there and talked, and being on the side of a hill, the truck slowly, very slowly, laid over on its side. Holy Cow! Jumping out of the truck, I tentatively lifted on it and, much to my surprise, it lifted back on to all four wheels. That pretty much ended my visit with 'whats-her-name'. I rushed back to Lemmon, parked the truck, and gave the keys back to Dick. I told him what had happened, and he exploded. I thought he was having a heart attack, but he wasn't – that came quite a few years later.

The last time I saw R. L. Foster, 'Dickey', was about in the 1940's. I was visiting my brother Neal in Faith, and we saw Dick sitting in his Ford pick-up with a couple of people who probably herded sheep for him. Dick said, "Humph, uh! Howdy,” and the other two said pretty much the same, and that was pretty much all that Dick ever said.

--John Crowley
Mike Crowley Wednesday, August 13, 2008


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