Introducing 2009 Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame Inductee…
Harry Rutter (1885 - 1939)
Harry Rutter was a cowboy. He lived his life by the rules of the range, integrity, fair play, loyalty to friends, honor, respect for authority, and respect for women. He loved the range in eastern Montana. From the moment he first saw the Milk River in 1885 until his death 54 years later he lived as a stockmen, lawman, civil servant, and community builder. Character can be assessed: 1) by what others say, 2) by what he says and 3) by what he does. These examples illustrate his character and his contributions. “Perhaps more than any other one person I have met since coming to Montana, Mr. Rutter typifies for me the pioneer character, with endless energy to surmount difficulties, and lovable optimism that has enabled him to enjoy doing it.” Said Georgia Reckert, who edited his story COWTALES in 1931.
His family left their home in Virginia in the decade before the Civil War for Indiana where Harry was born. He was orphaned at two years of age and grew up as a beloved son of a cousin. The family ranched in Wellington, MI where Harry attended school, then at Howard, Kansas where Harry stayed and helped the then widowed mother on the ranch until a younger son was old enough to take over. In 1877 at age 19 he went to Texas. He worked for three ranches, the Addington Brothers, Hunter Evans & Hunter, and the LX Bar. During these years he trailed herds for delivery to Indian agencies and to rail points for shipping. In 1883 at the Cimarron Crossing he joined a herd delivering to Pine Ridge, SD. He left Pine Ridge with a four mule team to winter at Deadwood, SD where he joined the N- ranch with whom he later came into Montana with the renowned 1884 N- trail herd. Teddy Blue tells the events of that drive in WE POINTED THEM NORTH and Harry Rutter tells of it in COWTALES.
EMPLOYERS TRUST: Harry first saw his beloved Milk River Valley in the spring of 1885 when the N- sent him north to scout for grass. He said “I explored the Milk from St Mary’s to the mouth and returned to report as fine a grazing country as could be found.” In 1889 the N-N put 30,000 head of cattle on Rock Creek in Valley County and Harry went to work for them as range foremen at age 31. Harry Rutter, foreman of the of the N-N of the ranch on Snow Creek brought in the hide of a mountain lion he had killed which measured 9 feet and 3 inches from tip to tip. At the horse camp at Snow Creek Harry and his crew collected horses to break. Harry stated breaking horses was his long suit and that his boss must have been satisfied as he gave him fifteen of the choice horses. In 1891, Harry went back on the trail as the trail boss for a crew that took 1600 horses to Windoor, WY and brought back 30,000 head of cattle. He was a wagon boss for the old N-N outfit for several years.
TEDDY BLUE said “In 1883, I saw Burgess and Harry Rutter water 2000 head of cattle at Skunk Springs. It was the slickest piece of Cow work I ever saw in my life.” Teddy also said that he had Cowboy Anne’s ruffled drawers on a forked stick on the wall of the cabin, until Harry Rutter got sore one day and throwed it into the stove. Harry said it wasn’t decent. Blue described Harry in 1883 as a classy looking cowpuncher with good clothes and a white handled six-shooter.
HIS HORSE RANCH: When the N-N went out in ’97 Harry Rutter filed on a homestead on the Milk River and partnered with the Harrah Brothers and Jim Stevens, all N-N men. They purchased Prince Ged, a Percheron stallion and ran the mares along the unfenced Canadian border. The horse ranch was paying well because of the increasing demand for broke horses in the newly settled agricultural areas of Dakota and Montana. Harry’s dreams of a horse ranch died with the drop in the market for horses when the homesteaders turned to tractors and the army mechanized after WWI.
After 22 years of cowboying, he married in 1899 at age 41 Miss Elsie Clough, the first woman elected Valley County Superintendent of schools. They reared their three children between the ranch and Glasgow until 1913 when he was appointed Hinsdale Postmaster. (The land is still owned by his family.)
LAWMAN: His N-N “Pals” scattered after 1897 and many of them were involved in the effort to clean out the outlaws who had been pushed to the northeast corner of Montana. While operating his ranch, Harry Rutter served as the undersheriff from 1894-1911. Since the Country was still alive with cattle thieves and train robbers Harry described that job as a lively and absorbing affair.
ART JORDAN tells of his role in the 1903 Jailbreak: “Harry Rutter stepped into the corridor, where he was instantly attacked…Rutter had a fierce fight on his hands; he had Brown on the floor and was beating his head with butt of his revolver while Pierce, who somehow had secured a brick beat Rutter over the head several times before he lost consciousness. It was a severe fight while it lasted but it shows Harry Rutter’s mental attitude. He could have shot the two men in a very few seconds but he preferred to battle it out without killing. As Rutter regained consciousness and staggered to his feet, Brown entered the cell and pressed the muzzle of his rifle against Rutter’s stomach. ‘I’ve got you just where I want you Rutter; you’ve given me trouble enough’ said Brown. Rutter answered ‘Why don’t you shoot, damn you and get it over with?’ Brown backed away, saying, ‘No, I couldn’t do it, you’ve got too much guts.’…Of the officers that helped to suppress outlaws in northeast Montana, Harry Rutter stands out among them all. He deserves more credit than he ever got.”
His role in the community shows many involvements. In 1907 Col. Harry Rutter appeared as the Parade Marshal for the 3rd of July. (The program started with a Salute of 100 pounds of dynamite at sunrise and parade prizes like a good shirt to the man with the longest arms). He attained a high degree in Masonry (32nd) and joined Glasgow #17, then the Hinsdale Kyle lodge #96 where he ‘is a past master. He belonged to Glasgow Comandery #13, Algeria Temple and the Helena Shrine. In 1913 he was a Valley County Commissioner. He was Postmaster at Hinsdale from 1913-1922. In 1915 Harry was on the Rock Creek school board. In 1916 he helped finance building the church, and also in 1916 he was an organizer and a director of the Hinsdale First National Bank. In 1917 he promoted the organization of the Rock Creek Canal Company to irrigate 9600 acres and served for many years as its secretary and treasurer. In 1918 he saved a letter from a soldier asking for recommendation from ‘someone with good standing’ so he could get into officers training. He cast his first vote at Stacey, MT for Grover Cleveland and remained politically active all of his life. In 1923 at age 64, he went to work in the auto license department at Montana State Prison under Sky Small. In 1936 he returned to Hinsdale as assistant postmaster for his son, Stubbs.
In 1938 Harry returned to his beloved Milk River Valley to die. In his last year he was visited by many of his old pals. Harry died in January of 1939. He was followed in April by Teddy Blue, who had written a tribute to his old pal Harry Rutter which ended with: “Harry has left the wagon and gone ahead to a new range, but I doubt if he finds one that looks any better than Montana did when he first saw it in 1884. One day on herd he says to me, this is sure a fine range; good water; plenty grass and shelter; Montana looks good to me. There were two of us that stayed for fifty-four years.”