Thunder Butte

July 27, 2009

Neal Crowley

Mr. and Mrs. Tom Crowley homesteaded near Thunder Butte, Ziebach County, in 1910-12. They had four children; three boys, Joseph, Neal, Eugene and one girl, Cecil. They all attended a country school.

The Crowley's raised cattle and horses. There were a lot of range horses in those days, and quite often, the Crowley boys would help to gather and brand them.

When Neal Crowley was 16 years old, he went to work for an early day rancher, John Barthold. Randy Foster now lives at what was the Barthold headquarters.

Bartholds (John had a brother Fred, who moved to a place on the Cheyenne River south of Faith) ran cattle and a lot of horses. Neal enjoyed the years that he worked there, as he did most of the riding.

Neal was tall, weighed 200 pounds and carried himself well. He had an interest in and had learned some about boxing.

Following is the way he told of an early boxing event: “I thought I was pretty good. The boys at the ranch were an easy mark for me. One day at noon there was a stranger among the group of men (haying crew). That evening, I said, 'Come on someone, go a round or two with me'. No one offered. I looked at the stranger, Billy Cavin, and asked, 'Do you know anything about boxing?' Billy, a smaller man than I, said that he did. 'Well come on, I need a workout.' Rather slowly, Billy prepared himself and we squared away. When our little bout was over, I was more confused and deflated than I had ever been. I hadn't been hurt physically, but my pride has been severely damaged. Bill was well scienced and later that evening offered to help me if I cared to go on. I admitted that I would like to learn. Bill Cavin was a real nice fellow and a good instructor.”

The first time that I saw Neal Crowley box was in an outdoor ring at Usta, SD, July 4, 1933. He was matched with Babe (Thomas) Joyce from Faith. Babe got the decision, which was no dishonor for Neal, as Babe, a good fighter in general, had also taken boxing lessons.

Neal Crowley married Dorothy Tidball the summer of 1936. That fall, along with Mr. and Mrs. Dick McCord, they (because of the drought) moved their cattle to Martin, SD. I worked three months for Dick and Neal at their location four miles north of Martin on Bear Creek. Both couples moved back to Faith in the spring of 1937.

The Crowleys stayed on a ranch on the Moreau River until the mid 1940's when they moved into Faith. They had two adopted children. A boy Patrick, and a girl Pamela, (Mrs. Ted Escott) of Box Elder, SD.

Neal had a mail route north west of Faith. He was also Faith's Marshal and Municipal Liquor Store manager and part-time bartender. He served in all three capacities for a number of years.

Neal's scrapping and or boxing abilities, were brought to a test numerous times during his life. As a Marshal, Neal was instructed to carry a pistol. Because he dreaded the thought of shooting and perhaps killing someone, he was reluctant to carry a gun, which he seldom did.

One afternoon in 1953, just seconds after Neal had entered the liquor store's front door, a stranger (A.G. Akin or F.K. Pickett) took a hefty swing at Neal. Crowley dodged the blow and came back with a right to the jaw which put the man on the floor. Neal instinctively dropped down on the fellow with intentions of holding him and getting an explanation. He was suddenly attacked by two more men, also strangers. They were hitting and kicking him and momentarily, Neal was unable to rise. He managed to get on his back and by using both his fists and feet, was able to clear himself enough to regain his footing. Neal worked his way behind the bar. There, George Hoyle, an assistant bartender, handed him the gun which he should have been carrying. Neal walked toward the front door intending to put the fellows out. There was a hand gate at the end of the bar. One of the three men, Darrell Powell, jumped up on the gate expecting to get behind the bar and “clean house”. Neal struck Powell a stunning blow square on the left side of his face with the gun still in his hand. For balance, Darrell had thrown his left arm up and as the end of the barrel struck his temple, the gun fired. The bullet went through the upper part of Darrel's arm severing an artery. Powell fell back on the barroom floor, blood spurting from his wound. His two comrades walked past him, out the front door and disappeared.

First, Neal called the doctor and then John Eggar, Meade County Sheriff. Darrel was taken to the Faith Hospital. The doctor assured Neal that Darrel Powell's injury wasn't real serious and that he would be O.K. When John Eggar arrived, he and Neal went in search of the two remaining troublesome fellows. They found them in their room at the West Hotel. The two surrendered peacefully. The three fellows were part of a seismograph crew, and had the reputation of having had things their own way in some other small towns.

Neal was a temperamental man, but, for those in need, was compassionate and generous. He helped many people in numerous ways during his 25 years in Faith. The Crowleys left Faith in 1968. They spent some time in California where Neal's mother, brothers and sister lived. From there to Redstone, CO.

Neal and Dorothy were divorced in 1972; he married Jennie (Escott) Imslad. They lived two years in Rapid City where Neal managed the Western Bar owned by Mr. and Mrs. Guy Simmons. They moved from there to Presho, SD, where Neal managed the City Liquor Store. He succumbed to cancer in September 1977, and is buried in the Catholic Cemetery at Presho.

– Gene Ulrich

Editors Note – On a visit to Faith the weekend before last, I spoke with Gene Ulrich, who was kind enough to let me post this story on-line, which he wrote a few years ago about one of my favorite relatives. The story was originally published in: Gene Ulrich, Faith Country Heritage: 1910-1985, “Neal Crowley,” page. 386. Gene was a good friend of Neal's for many years and visited him during his final days in the hospital in Pierre. Gene also was one of the pallbearers at Neal's funeral.
Mike Crowley Monday, July 27, 2009 | (2) comments |

July 13, 2009

Author of Thunder Butte Blog Will be in Faith

As many of my readers know, I don't actually live in the Thunder Butte area. In fact, I live far from it. But I will be in the area this coming weekend. With luck, I'll get in Friday afternoon and need to head out by about 11 a.m. on Sunday. I plan to be staying at the Prairie Vista Inn in Faith. I'm interested in talking with people who knew any of my family members, including the Crowleys (Gene Ulrich – are you still around?) or the Shockleys who lived out toward Glad Valley and some of who gravitated to Lemmon and other parts. I'm also interested in interesting stories about the area. Basically, I'm looking to keep this little blog and website going and I need new stories.

If you would like to contact or meet with me, please call me at (605) 593-4530, which should forward to my cell phone. Or please call and leave a message for me at the Prairie Vista Inn, (605) 967-2343, where I'll be staying next Friday and Saturday night, July 17th and 19th. I would really appreciate hearing from you.

My Dad, John – who used to go by the name of Gene – grew up on a ranch out on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation about halfway between the butte and the town of Faith and left the area to fight in World War II. His departure was followed by my grandmother, who went by Mayme, and my Aunt Cecelia, who typically was called Cece. My Uncle Joe also left the area to join the service during the war. And, my grandfather Tom left the area not long afterward. In contrast, my Uncle Neal stayed on and did some ranching, mail delivery, and law enforcement as Faith's police chief for many years afterward – at least through the 1960's, before he moved on to Colorado, back to Faith, and then ultimately to Presho, where he died in the late 1970's. If you knew any of these people, please let me know. If you have any information on the whereabouts of Neal's adopted son, Pat, I'd like to know that as well.

Again, though, I am interested in stories about other people who live in the area and things happening locally, so please get in touch with me if you'd like to talk. If we can find a place to sit down for a cup of coffee, it's on me.

--Mike Crowley

Postscript--Apologies to my readers, but I got the dates wrong. I actually was in Faith the evenings of July 17th and 18th, not the 19th as I'd previously indicated. Also, my little bit of technology -- the phone number -- didn't work as planned. I am using an internet service called Google Voice, and had intended for any calls to the phone number above to be routed directly to my cellphone. Either I set up the phone forwarding incorrectly, or the service may not work all the time as planned. One kind reader did leave a couple of messages for me, I just discovered by logging into the service. Thanks for calling and I will get back to you!
Mike Crowley Monday, July 13, 2009 | (1) comments |

July 12, 2009

Bigfoot Afoot on the Prairie?

Just a Boot Print or the Real Deal?

Readers of my last piece on dinosaur bones may have been left wondering, but I'm often drawn to stories that have a strange and unique angle. That's also one of the reasons I've shared the family's old stories of things ghostly or surreal from back in the days they lived around Thunder Butte. Something seemingly strange or unnatural happens in many peoples lives at one time or another.

For example, in my own life there was one night when there were unexplained footsteps in the house that ended in front of my bedroom door the night when I was in college and my favorite uncle, Neal – the former police chief of Faith, South Dakota, died – I didn't learn of his death until the following morning. And, there was the time many years ago when I was working late in a congressman's office on Capitol Hill, and looked up from my desk only to see a man in old garb standing staring at me and disappear before my eyes. Also, there was the time backpacking in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virgina when I and my fellow campers were awakened in the middle of the night by a large creature that came galloping (with the sound of horse-like hooves) by the tent and let out a loud and frightening mountain cat-like caterwauling. (We were too afraid to step out of the tent with our flashlights until the creature galloped off into the distance and could be heard no more.) But, again, these were rarities and didn't affect my fundamental beliefs or the way I live my life.

For most people, such events are rare, perhaps even a trick of the mind, and we go about our personal lives. However, I do scan the local South Dakota news occasionally and read with interest recently that there have been a number of sightings in and not far from Thunder Butte country of Bigfoot, Sasquatch, or as the Lakota apparently all him in English, the Big Man. I also discovered that there is some lore among the Lakota about such creatures, who they reportedly describe in their own tongue as chiye-tanka or chiha-tonka, which means great or big elder brother.

You see, I grew up on tales of Sasquatch in Northern California – and it was something I used to think about when we took family camping trips to California's Trinity Alps. My childhood nightmares would be filled with images of the big hairy ape man ripping our tent open and carrying us off into the woods at night. But, frankly, this is something that doesn't pass down to me through family tales, and I've never heard of it before as part of South Dakota lore – until now.

Loren Coleman, at just posted last week a photo (here) supposedly taken of a Bigfoot footprint on the Pine Ridge reservation in April. To my admittedly untrained eyes, the photo looks suspiciously like a boot print, although I'm not in a position to say what it is. Coleman also reports a wave of Bigfoot sightings in South Dakota in 1977, including one up by Timber Lake (here), which isn't very far at all from my favorite butte. Although Loren Coleman often appears on the History Channel on programs such as Monster Quest, this programming is often entertainment-oriented, and there is no reason one should check their healthy skepticism at the door. I don't vouch for the credibility of Coleman's work, nor am I necessarily impugning it. People see strange things and he collects, writes, and talks about some of those reports. Even South Dakota Magazine has reported on Bigfoot sightings in the past, including the Badlands – perhaps with some tongue in cheek.

Interestingly, too, there is an outfit called the Bigfoot Researcher's Association, which maintains an online database of Bigfoot sightings, including 16 reported sightings in South Dakota from 1986 through 2008. You can view the sightings reports here. Some of these sightings have been near enough to the Thunder Butte area, including Corson, Dewey, Meade, and Pennington counties. Now, as far as I can tell, these supposed eye witness reports are of varying quality, and the Association does not provide identifying information about those who have reported to its database. One thing is certain, however. People see strange things.

Don't let me leave you with the wrong impression – I'm not saying Bigfoot is real. If such things existed, I can't imagine where they would hide themselves out on the prairie. But, one thing is sure. The stories are curious and add to the local lore of an interesting place.

--Mike Crowley
Mike Crowley Sunday, July 12, 2009 | (2) comments |