Thunder Butte

May 11, 2005

Nightfall on Thunder Butte Creek

At the height of the Great Depression, when John Crowley was 14 years old, the family lived on the old Joe Shockley homestead. The ranch was about one and half miles southwest of Thunder Butte Mountain. The Parot family were neighbors to the southeast of the Crowleys, living on Thunder Butte Creek. This family lived about eight miles from the Crowley place.

One day "Dutch" Parot came by the Crowley house and asked if John would be interested in taking care of their ranch for a month, while they took a trip out of state. Mr. Parot was going to pay a dollar a day, which was a welcome windfall at the time, so John agreed to help out.

On the first day, Mr. Parot escorted John around the ranch. He pointed out all the chores that had to be done, including treating sores on the buck sheep, feeding grain to some old hospital sheep they kept around the ranch, bringing in the milk cows and penning them up with their calves at night, etc.

Everything went smoothly the first day. As it grew dark, John tied the horse in his stall in the barn, about 300 yards from the house. He had earlier corralled the cattle and locked them in for the night. As it was getting dark, John lit the kerosene lamp, fixed himself something to eat, and settled down for a long evening of reading.

If you have never been in an isolated country setting when it gets dark, it is hard to describe. The creeks and flats come alive with giant cottonwood trees, buffalo berry bushes, and willows. The night gets very black, very fast. It can feel intimidating.

Soon after John had settled down to read, he heard the horse stomping his feet in the barn, snorting, and acting very disturbed. The old hospital sheep that had been down by the barn started to bleat and ran past the house. Then, John heard the cattle stampede out of the corral. The fence parted with a ripping sound, and the cattle could be heard running over the hill behind the house. It was pitch black outside by this time and John was not about to go out and find out what the problem was. He didn’t even have a flashlight.

The Parots had a friendly, mid-sized dog that John had fed and kept outside that night. As John sat riveted to the couch, the dog came tearing through the screen door like a shot. He just tore the screen out of the door as he came through, and then hit John in the chest as he jumped into his lap. Then, the horse tore himself loose in the barn. John could hear him whinnying as though in terror, and then there was a splintering of boards as he kicked a hole in the side of the barn. Then came the sound of his hooves thundering over the hill behind the house as he ran full tilt in the direction the cattle had taken.

John ran to the door and stood in the doorway as his eyes adjusted to the gloom. As he stood there, he thought he heard the plaintive voice of an old lady calling a name, as of a child. It sounded like she was calling, “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy….”—at least that’s the name John thinks he recalls hearing. John stood paralyzed with fear as he witnessed a pale gray figure floating along the picket fence in front of the house. Although it was hard to make out details, the grey form seemed to resemble an old lady. At this point, John called out to her, "Lady, what do you want?" She ignored him and continued to call out the name until she reached the garden gate. Then, she just melted away into the darkness.

John had an old 1925 Chevrolet automobile parked out in front of the house. He remembers literally flying out to that car, cranking it violently, racing the car across Thunder Butte Creek, and through the ranch gate, without stopping. He didn’t stop until he got back to the Crowley ranch house. The Parot’s dog followed him, and spent the night at the Crowley place.

The next morning John returned to the Parot ranch with his father. They found the place a mess. The fences were torn down where the cattle had been penned. The horse had destroyed the inside of the barn, and the dog had ruined the screen door on the house. His father helped John repair the damage, and John continued to do the chores at the Parot ranch every day without incident until the Parots returned home. They came out to the Crowley’s place and retrieved their dog. The Crowleys said not a word to them about what had happened, and they asked no questions. John has told this story many times, but it remains a true mystery to this day.
Mike Crowley Wednesday, May 11, 2005


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