Pioneer Town Scobey Montana

Old Scobey

One of the last homesteading opportunities existed along the Montana-Saskatchewan border. While much of the country had been populated by the 1880s, the region that encompasses present-day Daniels County and the town of Scobey was not brought into the fold of civilization until the 1910s. The arm of the law was little felt or heeded by many inhabitants of this wide-open country. The close proximity of the Canadian and North Dakota borders provided markets for stolen cattle or horseflesh and sanctuaries from local authorities.

Founder Mansfield Daniels and brother-in-law Jake Timmons established Old Scobey on the west bank of the Poplar River where they started a general store. The Hole in the Wall dugout saloon located in Old Scobey was the hangout of many shady characters like “Dutch” Henry, Pidgeon-Toed Kid, and Frank Jones. The dreams of Daniels and Timmons for their town were dashed when the railroad decided to build their tracks on the other side of the river about a mile and a half from their townsite.

In those days it was customary to open your home to strangers. The Code of the West required any decent sort to offer a traveler a hot meal and bed. One morning an outlaw known as Old Scarface ate breakfast at the Hughes ranchhouse north of Scobey. Another guest, Jake Davis had just ridden in on a fine sorrel horse. Old Scarface coveted the animal and said, “Mister Davis, how would you like to trade horses?”

Jake responded, “No, I don’t care to.”

To which Old Scarface declared, “Well, I generally trade whether the other guy wants to or not.”

Jake and his host resolved not to allow Scarface to take the sorrel without a scrap. Perhaps sensing this resistance, after breakfast the outlaw rode off … on his own horse.

Jake Davis had come to Old Scobey in 1904 and was the area’s first undertaker, simply because there was no one else to do the job. Some of Jake’s colorful experiences in the early undertaking business included the time a man died suddenly at the Hole in the Wall Saloon. The unfortunate was placed in a box and left overnight on the hill near where he died. The next morning the body and coffin had disappeared. Nothing supernatural had occurred. A strong wind had blown through the country in the night and deposited the body and coffin in a deep coulee. On another occasion, a bereaved father gave the wrong measurements of his son who was an accidental gunshot victim. The coffin was too small so the boy was buried with his feet sticking out of the box.

(Source: Homesteaders Golden Jubilee 1963) Reprinted with permission from the “Outlaw News,” a publication of Missouri River Country.