Return To Powder River
                              A Journey into the Past by Two Laneys

Miles City, Powder River, Ekalaka. While strange and unfamiliar to most people, these names
stir the memories of the Laney clan. These are the places so often referred to by my
grandfather, J. Carl Laney, as he told stories of growing up in southeastern Montana. I located
these places on the map during my research for my book about my grandfather and the Laney
family history, "Story of the Montana Kid." But as any traveler knows, there is a world of
difference between looking at dots on a map and actually visiting the sites. So, in the interest
of furthering our understanding of the Laney family history, my dad, Carl Eugene Laney, and I
(J. Carl Laney) decided it was time for some Laneys to visit some of the places in the
Yellowstone Valley known so well to grandfather Laney.


We left Oregon for eastern Montana on July 13, 1998. Our first stop was Kennewick,
Washington where Carl and Harriet lived out their golden years at 947 Metaline Lane. We
visited the United Methodist Church were the Laneys worshipped. Dad had arranged for a
small plaque to be placed on the wooden cross which grandfather made for the sanctuary. We
were pleased to find the plaque in place, reminding worshipers of Carl and Harriet Laney and
their dedication to the church.

After visiting the church we drove by the family home on Metaline Lane. The home was in
good repair. The backyard has been fenced and a deck built on the back of the house. It was
encouraging to see that the lawn and yard were being well maintained. Some of the pine trees
which Carl planted as Christmas trees are quite large and break the view toward to the dike.

Miles City

We arrived in Miles City on the afternoon of July 14th, the second day of our travels. The city is
a small town, but bigger than we expected. Still known as the "Cow Capital," Miles City has a
population of 8,461 and is the county seat of Custer County. Miles City is located where the
Tongue and Yellowstone Rivers meet, an site well known to early Indian tribes, fur trappers
and explorers. Captain William Clark camped near the mouth of the Tongue on July 29, 1806.
In early June, 1876, Generals Custer and Terry conferred aboard the steamer "Far West"
near what was to become Miles City. Custer and his men then set out overland for the long
march that was to end in disaster at the Little Bighorn on June 26, 1876.

As a direct result of Custer's defeat, Fort Keogh and Miles City were founded. The Tongue
River Cantonment, under command of Colonel Nelson Miles, was built in the fall and winter of
1876. The first civilians arrived at the same time, reportedly with a keg of whiskey, and Col.
Miles advised them to set up shop several miles downstream from the soldiers. When the
permanent Fort Keogh was built in 1877, several miles upstream from the Cantonment, "Miles
Town" moved to its present location.

The population of soldiers, buffalo hunters, mule skinners, cowboys and Indians was serviced
by saloons, dance halls, bordellos, boarding houses and general stores. The Northern Pacific
Railroad arrived in town in 1881 and the town took on a new importance and permanence.
Miles City became the terminus for the long trail drives up from Texas and many big ranches
headquartered there. Sheep and cattle grazed the "free grass" on the open range. In 1884 the
Custer County Woolhouse handled more than 2,000,000 pounds of wool. The town was
incorporated as "Miles City" in 1887, just five years after Arnon Laney had
established a sheep ranch on Powder River near Miles City.

We drove through town to survey the motels and settled for the Olive Hotel, a historic building
in downtown Miles City. It opened as the Hotel Leighton in 1898 during the time when the
Laneys were living in Montana. After securing accommodations for the evening, we drove
across the Tongue River to the Range Riders Museum. The museum features the history of
the area, honoring the early pioneers, cowboys and stockmen. There is a wonderful collection
of pioneer artifacts, guns, tools, and wagons.

We explained to the curator of the museum that we were on a family history trip and wanted to
learn more about the Laney family who lived in the region between about 1892 and 1913. He
said, "Well I grew up in the area just west of Laney Creek." This was our first discovery. There
is a creek in Montana named after the Laneys! We soon learned that he was familiar with the
Laney ranch on Powder River (near the mouth of the Mizpah), now owned by the Buemers. He
drew us a map to help us find the place. He also advised us that it
would not be a good idea to take our car down the dirt road to the ranch. I appreciated the
information provided us, but how could I be sure that what he told us was accurate? Could this
information be confirmed?  

While Dad was talking to this helpful gentleman, I was exploring the museum. Then I noticed a
large map designated, "The Official Map of Custer County Montana, William P. Flynn, 1903." I
looked on the map and soon found "Laney Creek" flowing into Powder River. Several miles
south of the creek was a dot identified as "Laney's Ranch." Now I knew without a doubt the
location of the Laney property on Powder River. The Arnon Laney ranch is located on Powder
River across from Horse Creek about five miles north of Mizpah.

On Wednesday morning, July 15, we went to the Custer County Court House to see if there
were any records of the Laney's purchasing land in Miles City or on Powder River around the
turn of the century. We hit the jackpot. In the Index of Deeds and Index to Mortgages of Real
Property appeared the names "Arnon Laney," "John W. Laney," "Sallie Laney," and "David A.
Laney." We then turned to the deed records and found the actual deeds which had been
prepared for these property purchases.  These records showed that the Laneys were making
significant land purchases in southeastern Montana.

Two of these purchases were especially interesting. First was the purchase of a lot by Sallie
Laney in Miles City on June 3, 1894. The lot is located at 7th and Washington (704
Washington). It seems that after living on the Arnon Laney ranch for some time, Sallie decided
that the best place to raise her children was in town. We suspect that Judge Heren supplied
the funds to purchase the home. Another interesting purchase was that of a cemetery plot in
block 23 at the Beaver Lodge Cemetery in Ekalaka (September 16, 1912). We found
ourselves with a mystery. Who might be buried in that cemetery plot?

In addition to the record of land purchases, we also found some interesting records at the
United Methodist Church. The Methodist Episcopal Church was established in Miles City in
1881. Arnon Laney joined the church on March 30, 1884. John and Sallie joined on July 10,
1892. The wooden church building where the Laneys attended burned and was replaced by a
brick building at the same site.             

Laney's Ranch on Powder River

Having located "Laney's Ranch" on Powder River, Dad and I were anxious to visit the
property. We left Miles City after lunch on Wednesday, July 15th, and headed east on
Interstate 94. We turned off about five miles out of town onto Highway 12 which we followed
until we reached Mizpah Road. Mizpah Road is a gravel road which leads to the Mizpah
where the Arnon Laney family attended school. We drove past the turn off to the Laney ranch
in order to reach Powder River. It was quite a bit different than I expected. It is a fast flowing,
muddy river with a wide flood plain. We are told that the river is very shallow, but broad. It has
been said that the Powder River is "a mile wide, an inch deep, and flows uphill." The last
phrase refers to the fact that it flows north (rather than south) into the Yellowstone.

The Laney Ranch is located on a dirt road that turns off the Mizpah Road at a mailbox marked
"Buemers," the current owners of the property. We followed the dirt road through rich grain
fields toward the ranch. The road was smooth at first. But then we encountered a few rocks
that rumbled beneath the car. As I was wishing for more clearance we whacked a large stone.
More on that later.

We reached a modern house and knocked on the door. The lady who came to the door
explained that her husband managed the cattle business for the Buemers. She also said that
the small white building in the distance was the original ranch house. She said it was
abandoned and that we were welcome to look around and go in.

The ranch house was built of logs, but part was covered over with siding. The doors and
windows looked very original. We learned from the lady that the front part of the house was
part of a school house that had been added later. It seems that the log home was modified
over the years. It was gratifying to know that the Laney children, including my grandfather, John
Carl Laney, lived in this home. We also walked through the cottonwood trees down to Powder
River. No doubt the Laney children played along this river and waded in its muddy water. The
land around the river is rugged, but beautiful. The river and fields made it an ideal place for
raising sheep. With the arrival of the wrecker, we returned to Miles City to see about getting
the transmission repaired.

Custer County Courthouse

The next day (Thursday, July 16), I went back to the Custer County Courthouse to search for
more Laney family documents while Dad checked on the car repair. In the Index to Mortgages
of Personal Property I found that the Laneys had mortgaged their property to borrow money.
The document is interesting in that it reveals what kind of property the Laneys owned and
purchased at this time. All listings are under the name "Laney." I'll just record the
first name or initials. Here is what I found:

A.                         Oct. 24, 1895          $200            Steam pump and boiler
J.W. & D.A.         Dec. 20, 1895        $714            Cattle, hogs, etc.
J.W. & D.A.         Apr. 24, 1896         $700            Ice, 3 horses, wagon, harness, furniture
J.W. & D.A.         Feb. 26, 1897        $650            3 horses, fixtures & tools & ice in ice house
A.                         March 1, 1897        $400            wool on 1900 sheep
A.                         July 22, 1897          $600            pump, boiler, 2  wagons & 7 horses
Arnon                   Dec. 28, 1897        $2,029        1340 sheep
A.                          Dec. 19, 1898        $3,000        1900 sheep
John W.                Oct. 3,  1899          $1,800        1200 sheep & wool
J. W.                     Oct. 16, 1900         $1,800        1100 sheep, increase & wool
A. & D. A.             July 19, 1901         $3,000        4000 sheep, wool, increase
David A.                Oct. 14, 1901        $9,612        2830 sheep, wool, increase
J. W.                      Oct. 21, 1901        $1,530        1000 sheep, wool,increase
A. & David A.       Oct. 6,  1902          $9,612        5000 sheep
J. W.                      Oct. 16, 1902        $2,000        2000 sheep, wool, increase
A.                          Nov. 16, 1902        $3,800        3500 sheep, wool, increase
John W.                 Nov. 29, 1902       $5,350        2240 Sheep, wool, increase
Jn. W.                    Oct. 20, 1903        $450           31 cattle, 17 horses
A.                           Dec. 1,  1903        $2,800        2600 sheep, wool, increase
Bros.                      Dec. 14, 1903       $9,600        5000 sheep, wool, increase
John W.                 Aug. 3,  1904        $8,200        5500 sheep, wool, 40 cattle, 15 horses
A.                          Sept. 28, 1904       $2,500        3500 sheep, wool, increase
Bros.                     Nov. 22,  1904       $6,000        5000 sheep & increase        
It should be noted that several of these loans were renewed. John W. renewed one loan twice.
Most of the loans were in the fall of the year, apparently to get the family through the winter until
the spring shearing. The Laneys often carried significant debt to maintain their ranching
business and carry their families through another year. It is also interesting to note that John
W. and David A. shared in some of the early loans, but later Arnon and David shared in
several loans. And for the first time we have a reference to the "Laney Bros." as involved in
business together.        


Dad picked me up at the Courthouse around 9:30 AM and we headed up Interstate 94 to
Terry, Montana. According to the family history, the John W. Laneys "made a winter camp on
open range near Terry." But a harsh winter made things very difficult. An article on the Laneys
in "Shifting Scenes" (a history of Carter County, Montana, 1978) records the following: "John
W. lost his gamble of trying to winter without some hay. An unusual and prolonged snow cover
buried the rich range grass so deep that the sheep could not reach it. John spent the
winter skinning sheep and cutting down cottonwood trees so starving sheep could browse on
tender cottonwood buds. By spring the pelts of most of the sheep were hanging on the fence."
According to family records, the Laneys lived their first winter somewhere along O'Fallon
Creek near Terry. The exact location is unknown.

We enjoyed our visit at the Prairie County Museum. We also visited the Cameron Gallery
which contains the photographs if Evelyn Cameron, a photographer who lived and worked in
the area  during the time when the Laneys were in Montana. Her photographs give us
significant insight into the way of life of the early Montanans.

The most significant site for the Laneys in Terry is probably the train station. This is probably
the place were the Laneys first stepped off the train in Montana. Arnon was on the ranch on
Powder River, but the log house was small. We think that the Laneys stayed in the area
around Terry until the log house could be enlarged. John W. then joined the Arnon Laneys on
the Powder River ranch.

Southeastern Montana Research Library

In the Miles City Visitor's Guide I discovered the existence of a research library devoted to
preserving historical information on former residents and the development of the area. The
library was to be open on Thursday afternoon 2-4 PM. I arrived at 2:00 PM but found that it
closed. After some phone calls Robin Gerber agreed to meet me at the library at 4:00 PM. In
the mean time Dad met Elaine Swanson at the office of the newspaper, the Miles City Star.
Elaine also works with the research library and agreed to come over after work at 4:00 PM.
Our two helpers arrived as scheduled and we went to work.

We examined the 1890 census and found the John W. Laney family. Interestingly, John's
occupation at that time is listed as a "day laborer." We also found the Laney horse brand in
the Directory of Marks and Brands. It looks like this {= and is placed on the left thigh. We also
found an article about the Laneys in the book "Shifting Scenes." But the most exciting
discover was the high school annual, "The Lariat," of Custer County Free High School, 1909.
Turning to the second page of the annual I found the following inscription:

              In Memoriam

Dolley Laney, '10
   Died April 7, 1909
           Spokane, Wash.
                                                   Marguerite Laney, '11
                                                           Died March 25, 1909
                                                                   Spokane, Wash.

       What to thy soul its glad assurance gave,
       Its hope in death, its triumph o'er the grave?
      The sweet remembrance of unblemished youth,
      The inspiring voice of Innocence and Truth!

Reading through the annual we discovered that Dolly Laney served as Junior class treasurer.
Don't be alarmed by the different spelling of her name. It is spelled three different ways in the
annual: "Dolley," "Dolly," and "Dollie." However, as we will discover later, she spelled it
"Dollie." The annual also reports that Carl Laney played the positions right and left tackle on
the football team and is referred to as "our heavy tackle." The annual also notes that Carl was
on the track team. He ran the half-mile and threw the discus, hammer and shot.  


Friday, July 17, will remain in my memory as the highlight of the trip. That was the day we
drove to Ekalaka. How well I remember grandfather talking about this place. It was further from
Miles City than I had anticipated--about 120 miles through Baker. The Laneys would have no
doubt used the more direct route along the Powder River, but we took the highway.

The first place we went was the Carter County Courthouse. There we met Pam Castleberry in
the Records Office. She was most helpful. We told her that we were looking for my
grandfather's ranch on Beaver Creek where it joins Russell Creek. We described the property
based on our research. Having checked some maps, Pam said she thought that the property
was on her father-in-laws ranch!  We looked at some land purchase records and confirmed
that J. W. Laney (spelled "haney" in the documents) had purchased property from Forest
Parkhurst in 1906. Pam called her mother-in-law, Betty-Jo, who arranged for her
husband, Fulton Castleberry, to take us to the property after lunch that afternoon.

From the land purchase documents we had discovered that a grave site had been purchased
by David A. Laney, of Odessa, Washington, from the Beaver Lodge Cemetery Association in
1912. This was a bit of a mystery since we did not know of any deaths in the Laney family
during their time at Ekalaka. The cemetery deed described the plot as being located in Block
No. 23 of the I. O. O.F. Cemetery. Not knowing what we might find, we drove to the cemetery.
Fortunately, the blocks were numbered. We found Block 23 and began our

Soon Dad spotted the name "Laney" on a small white headstone. It was the grave of Edmund
Fenton Laney, born March 28, 1906. The date of death was March 31st, two days later. We
had discovered a previously unknown descendant of David H. Laney--a little Laney in
Ekalaka. The grave stone was very touching. It was made of white limestone and featured a
small, dead dove. Why was the grave purchased in 1912 when the child died in 1906? We
suspect that the child was originally buried on the Laney ranch. But when they sold the ranch to
move to Odessa, Washington, they apparently had the grave moved to the Ekalaka

After our visit to the cemetery, we made our way to the Carter County Museum. The museum
features items from the early days of Ekalaka as well as an extensive exhibit of dinosaur
bones and fossils. The most complete skeleton is the duck-billed Anatosaurus which roamed
the Montana countryside many years ago.

At 1:00 PM we met Fulton Castleberry along with his wife, Betty-Jo and son-in-law, Dane. We
climbed into his four-wheel drive pick-up truck and headed across his pasture land to the
Laney homesite. Fulton explained that the buildings which had once been on the site had
been dismantled and the lumber used for other buildings on the ranch. We forded Beaver
Creek with his 4-wheel drive pickup on the way to the site.

The Laney family homesite is located on a terrace above Beaver Creek. There we found
foundation stones of the ranch house, the rock wall of part of the barn, and a small log cabin
with a door and windows. The roof was gone and the sides were fallen down, but you could
see that it had been a quality building. There was still a shiny black door knob on the door. At
the site we also discovered an old iron cookstove, but it was dated 1915, several years after
the Laneys left Montana. One has a nice view of Ekalaka about four or five miles from the site.
We could imagine the Laney children riding the "monkey wagon" across the grassy fields to
school in Ekalaka. Fulton Castleberry told us that his grandmother taught at the school at
Ekalaka during the same time the Laney children were attending there!

On our way back to the Castleberrys, Fulton said that he had always been pretty sure that the
Laneys had lived at this place. But on the basis of what we had told him about the Laney
family, he said that he was now absolutely positive that we had visited the Laney family
homesite. He said, "There is one more thing I'd like to show you."

We drove up his driveway and he stopped outside a large garage. He explained that his
father had used lumber from the barn on the Laney homesite to build the garage. He opened
the door and walked inside. He said, "come in and look up." As I looked up I saw a name
painted with black letters on an old board. The name was "Dollie Laney." This was no doubt
the highlight of the day. Fulton explained that the name was painted with sheep paint which
was used to mark and identify sheep.

One other place well worth visiting in the area is Medicine Rocks State Park about 10 miles
north of Ekalaka. Here you will find large, sandstone rocks of unusual size and shape. In the
early days, Indians visited the place to conjure up magical spirits that would help bolster
courage and give them success in hunting. I am sure that the Laneys would have visited this
natural wonder for picnics. Young Carl Laney's interest in geology may have been stirred by
the Swiss cheese look of Medicine Rocks.


We spent Saturday morning at the Miles City Library looking at books in the Montana History
Room. At 2:00 PM our car was ready. After Dad paid the repair bill we turned in the rental car
and left Miles City. Dad regretted later that he did not pick up the rock which he had hit. It was
the most expensive rock on the road!

On our way back to Oregon we decided that we needed one more stop to conclude our
adventure. We needed to visit the Laney plot at the Greenwood Cemetery in Spokane,
Washington. On Sunday morning, July 19th, we went to the cemetery. I should mention that
there are actually four cemeteries in close proximity on Government Way. There is the
Riverside Cemetery where the Stewarts are buried, Mt. Nebo Cemetery (Jewish) and the
upper and lower sections of the Greenwood Cemetery. We searched the upper section of
Greenwood Cemetery where we expected to find the grave site, but the property has been
cleaned up and brush cleared away. Neither Dad nor I could recognize the plot.

After an hour of searching we decided to drive through the cemetery once again. Driving
along a perimeter road I spotted the name "Laney" on a tombstone. There we found the
graves of John W. Laney, Sallie Laney, Marguerite and Dollie Laney, Eveline Laney, and
Auntie Rachel Heren.

                 Carl E. Laney at the grave site of Sallie and John Laney

The name Rachel Heren may be unfamiliar to some of the younger Laney descendants.
"Auntie Rachel," as she was affectionately called, was Sallie Laney's older sister who came to
live with John and Sallie while they were living at Ekalaka. Apparently she came out for a visit
and saw that her sister Sallie, who was not in good health, needed help with her many
children. Auntie Rachel, being unmarried, saw this as her duty and became an important
member of the Laney household during their time in Montana. Appropriately, she is buried in
the Laney family plot. My Dad, Carl Eugene Laney was just establishing his household in
1951 at the time of her death and was given Auntie Rachel's chair. It has a prominent place in
his home today. I am told that she had a special fondness for me since we share the same
birthday--April 18th. Auntie Rachel's younger sister, Mabel Heren, was head of the Chemistry
Department at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. My Dad sometimes visited her when he
was in the area.

If you go searching for the Laney grave site at the Greenwood Cemetery, drive past the main
entrance on Government Way, past the mausoleum on the right, and turn left into the upper
part of the cemetery. Take an immediate left turn on the gravel road and drive about 100 feet
past the smaller road to the right. In the vicinity of a large stone with the name Pratt, you will
find the Laney family plot. The headstones can be seen from the road, but the Laney name
can be seen only from the opposite direction.

Home Again

As I reflect on our adventure and the things we learned about our Laney ancestors, I have a
greater appreciation for those who have gone before us and the heritage they left us. I see
that life on a sheep ranch in Montana was difficult .No wonder Judge Heren's daughter, Sallie
Laney, moved her family into Miles City where they could attend school and partake a bit
more of civilization. And yet in spite of the heat, dirt, and hardships, the Laneys survived and
even prospered.

It is interesting to me how my grandfather, J. Carl Laney, looked back on his years in
southeastern Montana with such fondness. These were the years of his youth. The sheep
ranch on Powder River, the homestead on Beaver Creek near Ekalaka, the experience of
living in Miles City often served as the basis for stories told in later life. And the difficulties of
living in the harsh environment faded into the background as he remembered the colorful and
exciting life he once lived in Montana. It is little wonder that grandfather liked to refer to himself
as "the Montana Kid."