Sunday, January 6, 2019

Army Scout, Yellowstone Park Protector and Ashton Postmaster Felix Burgess [otd 01/06]

Army scout and Fremont County postmaster Felix Burgess was born January 6, 1847 in Reading, Pennsylvania. His father, an immigrant from northern France, moved the family from Reading to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1856. After a brief time there, they moved on to Sauk Rapids, a town about 60 miles northwest of Minneapolis.
Scout Burgess. [French]

For reasons he never explained, Felix ran away from home when he was about ten years old. He was taken in by an Army captain at Fort Ripley, about 40 miles north of the family home. Thus, Burgess began his long career as an Army scout in the Dakota Indian War of 1862. Captured by a band of Indians, he was rescued just before he could be tortured to death. Despite the close call, he continue as a scout in northern Minnesota and in the Dakotas for about five years.

Burgess was next transferred to Fort Vancouver, in Washington Territory. He almost certainly took part in the Snake War, in western Idaho and eastern Oregon when Lieutenant Colonel George Crook was placed in charge [blog, November 25]. He then followed Crook to Arizona to battle Apache Indians.

He had a brief peaceful period in 1874, scouting for the geographical survey team led by Lieutenant George M. Wheeler. But for the next fifteen years or so, he would take part in conflicts with Indian tribes in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Finally, in the summer of 1891, Burgess joined the Army contingent in charge at Yellowstone National Park [blog, March 1]. His main job was to track down poachers, who by this time were having a severe impact on the Park’s elk and buffalo herds. Thus, in 1893, he was featured in a watercolor created by Frederic Remington used as the basis for an illustration for the article “Policing Yellowstone,” published in Harper’s Weekly.

The following year, in March, Felix Burgess made a contribution to the Park’s future that echoes down to the present day. He caught a notorious poacher literally “red handed.” Coincidentally, a staff writer for the magazine Forest and Stream was visiting the Park just then.
Burgess Finding a Ford. Frederic Remington

The resulting publicity sparked legislation that made poaching in the Park a Federal crime. Before that, the Army could only confiscate the poacher’s gear (a legally questionable practice, actually) and expel them from the Park. Penalties under the new law included up to two years in prison and a $1,000 fine (over $29,000 in today’s values).

Besides his Army duties, Burgess also served two years as a Deputy U. S. Marshall for the district of Wyoming. He stayed with the Army until 1899 when, now over fifty years old, he decided it was time to settle down (he had married in 1892). He first tried farming on land northwest of St. Anthony, Idaho, but quickly found that that was not for him. He then opened a store along the main stage route about six miles northeast of St. Anthony.

In early 1905, Felix was appointed postmaster for an office in Squirrel, a tiny settlement about twenty miles northeast of St. Anthony. However, in late 1906, the railroad built a station that quickly became the village of Ashton. Within about a year, Burgess opened a hotel in the new town. Then, in December 1909, he was appointed postmaster for Ashton, a position he held until the spring of 1915.

Burgess operated a grocery store in Ashton until November 1919. He then sold that and he and his wife moved to Ocean Beach, a coastal suburb of San Diego, California. Felix passed away there in January 1921.
References: [French]
“[Felix Burgess News],” Daily Pioneer, Deadwood, South Dakota; Teton Peak-Chronicle, St. Anthony, Idaho; Idaho Statesman, Boise; San Diego Union, San Diego, California (July 1878 – January 1921).
Collections, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (retrieved, December 2018).
Glade Lyon, Ashton, Idaho: The Centennial History, 1906-2006, Waking Lion Press, West Valley, Utah (2006).
Catherine McNicol Stock, Robert D. Johnston (eds.), The Countryside in the Age of the Modern State, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York (2001).

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