Martin Ranmael Tells Story of Early Cooke City History
Livingston Enterprise: Plans are under way to place a bronze tablet near the junction of Crandall creek and Clark’s Fork at the spot where Crandall and a companion were killed by Indians in 1870 while on a prospecting trip, according to Martin Ranmael, Crandall creek rancher, who formerly lived at Cooke City during the early days of Park county. The tablet, a gift of Miss Caroline Lockhart, the Cody, Wyo., novelist, will be erected this summer, according to word received here.
The setting for the tablet will be made by Clark’s Fork residents and it is planned to hold the dedication services about a week after the Cody stampede. Miss Lockhart and others from Cody will be present and there will also be a number of old timers from Cooke City who will join the exercises.
Mr. Ranmael, while visiting in Billings, discussed the plans for the tablet, and also gave many interesting sidelights on his early day residence in Cooke City, which will be of interest to many Park county people.
According to Mr. Ranmael, Crandall was a man of middle age who was a leader among the early miners and prospectors who explored the upper Yellowstone country. Mr. Ranmael says that the companion of Crandall was a youth named Cunningham, and not Findley, as is generally give.
There is about two and a half feet of snow on the level in the upper Clark’s Fork country at present, according to Mr. Ranmael. This is about a foot more than the average for this time of year. The last winter, however, has been one of the mildest in that region.
Mr. Ranmael first came to Cooke City in 1883, although he was in Yellowstone park before that time. The worst winter in all his experience was that of 1886 and 1887, the same year that so many cattle perished on the Montana plains. Two men were killed by a snowslide while working in the Stillwater mines about 10 miles from Cooke City on New Year’s day, 1887. Mr. Ranmael, who had been packing provisions to the mines, was in Cooke City the day of the disaster.
“There were about a dozen miners at work on two tunnels in the mountain above Goose creek on the Stillwater divide and their cook and bunk houses were protected by some cliffs,” said Mr. Ranmael. “The snow was 10 feet deep on the roof and the men ran tunnels in the snow out to the blacksmith shop and other buildings and a shaft up from the windows to the top of the snow. It was necessary to burn lamps and candles through the day. Steps were cut in the snow up one of the shafts in order to get to the top.”
On the day of the disaster, Mr. Ranmael was in Cooke City for supplies, but a blizzard was raging and he turned back and did not go out to the camp until the following day, when he found everyone in a panic because of the slide.
In the forenoon a small slide had come down the mountain and filled the mouths of both tunnels. The miners shoveled their way out and came home for their dinner. In the afternoon several of the men decided to go back and finish the work of shoveling out the entrance.
N.J. Tredennick, the foreman, who is now general manager of the Tredennick claims on Scotch Bonnet, near Cooke City, went out to call the men back. He reached a timbered stretch about 75 yards from where Tony Wise and Clarence Martin were at work, when the whole mass of snow along the mountain for two miles broke loose and swept down the side, taking everything before it, even breaking down spruce trees two feet thick.
Tredennick, on hearing the roar of the descending snow, grabbed a sapling, but the snow tore him loose, although he clung to tightly that the back came off in his hands. He was flung in the air, but caught hold of the limb of a large spruce tree.
He hung there for his life, dangling in the air until he was out of breath and he was finally obliged to release his grip. The main force of the snow was spent, however, and he was only carried down about 50 yards where he was stopped by another tree.
The two miners went down with this slide. Everything was packed so hard that it was impossible for their comrades to do anything in seeking to recover their bodies. Wise was found late in June on the side of the long draw near the timber with his shovel still grasped in his hand. Martin’s body was carried clear across the bottom land and it was not discovered until after the thawing of the snow. He was found on July 4. Nearly every bone in the bodies of the two men was broken. Both were buried in the Cooke cemetery.
The slide came within about 75 yards of the camp and several of the men were so frightened that they quit, but there were many idle men in Cooke that winter and more came to take their places. Mr. Ranmael took an Italian named Ben who had lost his nerve because of the experience into Cooke City. On the way in the Italian lost one of his skis and they had a difficult time getting along. Finally when they got on top of Fairview, about 900 feet above Cooke City, Mr. Ranmael made a toboggan of the three skis and grabbing Ben’s feet so he could not wriggle away, he steered down the mountain side into Cooke. The Italian yelled, “You keel me. you keel me.” but he held his feet firmly in ‘spite of his protests and they made the descent safely.
At another time he was packing the mail into camp and was going along Sheep mountain when a large mass of snow broke off about 10 feet below him while the snow began to roar and settle above him. He had an 11-month-old pup with him that he had taught to ride on his pack when he was making such fast time on his skis that the pup could not keep up. Instinctively he jumped to the left and down a steep incline at an angle of 60 degrees.
He even pushed on the skis to make greater speed. He felt something tighten around his neck and discovered it was the dog which was trying to hold on by its paws. When he finally glanced back he saw the snow which had broken above him had only settled slightly but he slide below had accumulated force until it had gone over a cliff and dislodged a great mass of snow, enough to make 36 carloads.
During the next winter, while working with some miners on location work on the north side of Sheep mountain, Mr. Ranmael took what he says was the fastest trip he ever made on skis. There was a crust on the snow, excellent for skiing, and in a spirit of adventure he started down the steep slopes from near the top of the mountain. The slope was so steep that he lost his breath and more or less automatically slowed down.
Finally there was a deep sag and with his eyes blinded by the snow, he found himself sailing into space. He dipped toward the snow and finally one ski and then another struck again and he finally had them under control again. The men who were with him estimated that he went nearly 100 feet in the air which was near enough a record to satisfy him. He says he doubts if Lindbergh ever went through the air faster than he did coming down Sheep mountain.
Mr. Ranmael has had close calls in his life in the mountains, including a fall over a 60-foot cliff with only a sprained wrist as a consequence and a slide down an icy slope of Pilot and Index which was stopped by an opportune rock with no other loss than the sear of his trousers.
Copyright to this collection is held by Yellowstone Newspaper Group, Livingston, Montana.
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