Interview with Reuben Humes
Finding Land for Immigrants
Born in Illinois in 1880 Reuben Humes traveled with his father to a homestead near Redfield, Dakota Territory in the late 1880s. After his father disappeared in 1892, he herded sheep at age twelve for $20 a month. Since 1900 he has made his home in Dickinson and his livelihood as a land locator for settlers and as a ranch hand or cowboy.
What exactly did you do as a land locator?
In 1907 many settlers were coming into Dickinson, looking for homesteads. I made considerable money helping the settlers get located. I acted as guide and furnished a team and a two-seated buggy. I received seven dollars for each day I was out. The settlers paid all expenses on the trip such as hay and feed for the horses. On some of these trips I would be out in the country six or seven days before the settler would find a homestead that suited him. Some trips took us almost to the South Dakota line. At night we would stay at a ranch or some deserted shack or sleep out in the open. Food on these trips consisted of bacon, bologna, canned tomatoes, bread, and coffee.
How did ranchers react to immigrant settlers? Any story?
The ranchers did not like to see the settlers come in, especially foreigners. If I went near a ranch with a load of foreigners, they usually bawled me out and told me to take them away, the farther the better. The worst experience I had was with three Finlanders. They hired me to take them out late in the fall. We left Dickinson about five o’clock in the morning and traveled south. They were very surly, and as they could not talk any English I had a hard time to understand them. After we were about five miles out of Dickinson, one of the men pulled out a bottle of whiskey. From that time on they were drunk all the time. As soon as one bottle was empty they pulled out another. They offered me a drink from time to time, but I would not drink. They started arguing with each other, and the next minute the two men in the back seat started to fight. I was afraid they would break the buggy seat, so I stopped and pulled them out on the ground. After fighting about half an hour, they both had enough. They quit and got back in the buggy. After a few more drinks the fighting started again. This time all three of them were engaged. I was so disgusted I tried to go back to Dickinson, but they did not want to go. I then decided to try and sober them up. We were near a creek that ran into the Heart River, and in place of taking the regular crossing where the river could be forded easily, I drove two miles east. The stream was four or five feet deep at this place. I drove the horses into the water. As the water came up over the buggy, the men started to yell. We all got wet. The bank on the other side of the river was steep and bumpy. The buggy hit a bump just as it came out of the river. One of the men was bumped out backwards and hit the mud with his head. This sort of sobered them up. We built a fire and dried our clothes. I could tell they were angry at me, but I did not care. I then drove on a few more miles, then circled around and went back to Dickinson. They did not want to go but I had enough of them. I drove up to the livery stable. They got out of the buggy and started to walk off. I yelled and motioned at them to come back, as I had not been paid. They kept right on walking. I had just started after them when Abe Morse and five of his men from the Stone Ranch rode up. They wanted to know what the trouble was as they had heard me yelling. I told them I had not been paid. They took after the Finlanders on horseback. As they rode, they let out a few war whoops. The Finlanders heard them and stopped. They knew the men were coming after them and they were badly frightened. The men rode around in front of them and motioned for them to go back to the barn. They did not lose any time coming back to me and paid up in full. That was the last I ever saw of them.
Did you ever try ranching?
I hired out to the Stone Ranch in 1900. I had worked on farms at various times but ranching was altogether different. I was given a bunk in the bunkhouse and told to make myself at home. About a dozen cowboys were in the bunkhouse. They were all happy and good natured. It did not take them long to start calling me Rube. They figured I was a green hand, and they kidded me plenty but it was all in fun, so I did not get mad. I cowboyed for three years.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.