Moray’s Buffalo King
Of all those Moravians who made their mark nationally or internationally, few could have had as colourful a career as the boy from Dallas, James Philip, rancher, senator, gold prospector, the man who saved the buffalo from extinction, the brother-in-law of Sioux Chief, Crazy Horse.
Born at Auchness Farm, Dallas, one of nine children of farmer George Philip and his wife Christina (nee Smith) on 30 April 1858, Jimmie Philip’s childhood was coloured by tales of the American frontier and by working on the farm, skills he would put to good use in his later life.
At the age of fifteen in 1874, Philip left Scotland to follow his older brother George to a settlement at Victoria, Kansas. He worked long hours, his already powerful stature being put to good advantage, but the lure of gold was stronger than life as a plains farmer.
Jimmie moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming where he worked as a cowboy to raise money for a gold mining expedition. Here his Moray tongue earned him the name “Scotty” by which he would be known for the rest of his life.
The gold of the Black Hills beckoned, but this was sacred territory for the native Americans and Scotty Philip was able to prospect for gold only for a short time before the army threw him out. Spring 1877 found Scotty back in Wyoming and employed as a government teamster at Fort Laramie. He moved to Fort Robinson where he worked the range as a cowboy and as a messenger for the army. With typical Scottish thrift, with the money earned he purchased a tea of mules and a freight wagon and began to build up a herd of cattle.
It was at Fort Robinson that Scotty met and in 1879 married Sarah (Sally) Laribee, daughter of a French father and Cheyenne mother and whose younger half sister was wife of Crazy Horse who defeated Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.
After their marriage they moved to Clay Creek where Scotty began ranching and hauling freight from Nebraska to the Black Hills and from Fort Pierre to Deadwood.
Freighting was very successful, he continued building his herd of cattle and in 1881 moved to a ranch at the mouth of Grindstone Creek, not far from the present day city of Philip, named after this man from Moray.
Throughout the 1880s he continued to prosper, his ranch being on part of the native American reservation and therefore free from encroachment by other white men. When South Dakota became a state Philip was one of its first senators. By 1898 he owned a cattle empire.
When building his ranching empire Philip met Pete Dupree who had managed to catch five buffalo calves during the last big hunt on the Grand River in 1881. After Dupree’s death Scotty determined to prevent the extinction of the buffalo and purchased the herd from his estate. In 1901 Scotty drove the herd, now some fifty animals, to a pasture he had specifically constructed along the Missouri River.
The herd would grow to nearly 1,000 head and would later stock national and state parks throughout the United States. Indeed, shortly after Philip’s death, Custer National Park purchased 36 head which were used, in turn, to stock other parks and refuges.
In order to collect the graves of his five deceased children Scotty laid out his family cemetery, completing it on the night of Saturday July 22, 1911. In the early hours of the next morning, July 23, without warning, Scotty died of a cerebral haemorrhage. It is recorded that people travelled for 3 days to attend his funeral. Alex Johnston, the agent for the Chicago and North Western Railroad even had to lay on a special train for mourners.
Newspapers reported “At the final resting place a great gathering assembled. The buffaloes came down from the hills to watch the funeral. Tears coursed down the cheeks of hard drinking, hard swearing, hard working cowboys – unashamed.”
In life, James “Scotty” Philip made a significant contribution to his community in South Dakota. Even more tellingly his legacy as “The Buffalo King” lives on in National Parks and in environmental practice.
James “Scotty” Philip is one of twelve Moravians whose national or international contributions are being celebrated in “Moray Connections” during this Year of Homecoming 2009, through a website, trail and events across Moray.
Other celebrities are: Macbeth; James Ogilvie, Scotland’s first saint for 400 years; William Marshall, composer; Lord Strathcona; Lord Mountstephen; Patrick Sellar; George Gordon; Hugh Falconer; William Baxter; James Ramsay MacDonald; and John Smith Grant of Glenlivet. Each will be featured in the Northern Scot in the coming months.
Through finding out about these twelve lives communities and individuals will be encouraged to discover their own history, with Family History events taking place throughout the year.