By J.B. Chandler
There’s the famous Dutch Henry, the handsome outlaw from Colorado who talked his way out of a livestock theft conviction in Dodge City because the cowboy jurors couldn’t imprison their outlaw hero. Then there’s Dutch Henry Ieuch (pronounced “Yaw”) who haunted the coulees and pastures of northern Montana. A short, squat fellow, born in Switzerland, who wouldn’t be considered handsome, but was kind and had a good sense of humor. A man able to leverage people’s confusion over his alias to build his own gang in northeast Montana, where his memory remains strong today.
Dutch Henry entered Montana around 1888, and began his career like many other outlaws of the time, with cows in Saco. Saco lay on the railroad, and was called “Hay Town” due to the thick grass growing along the Milk River bottoms. Any good horse or cattle thief worth their spit could make a living, lawfully or not. Dutch lost his lawful job as a ranch hand because he was loose with the branding iron. Altering brands was the easiest way to steal cattle.
By 1895, Dutch Henry had moved east to Culbertson, and eventually north into the Big Muddy River Valley. Dutch founded a ranch (or two) along small tributaries of the Big Muddy that had many deep coulees for storing stolen cattle. A network of dugout caves formed the outline of the Outlaw Trail, and with the sheriff 125 miles away in Glasgow, the outlaw life was relatively safe.
People remembered Dutch as being a good natured, humorous fellow, who told stories to kids (about the more famous Dutch Henry) and who was also an accomplished cattle thief. A great cowboy, he once rounded up a neighbor’s wandering herd and when the thankful rancher tried to pay Dutch for the deed, he responded, “If I’da known you’da pay me for the herd, I wouldn’t have brought it back.”
An area rancher claimed to have the fastest horse in the countryside. Dutch asked to use the horse, test the horse, and finally buy the horse, each time being told no. One day, soon afterward, the rancher discovered his prized horse gone. A week later, the horse mysteriously returned to pasture, plus she had 25 dollars wrapped up in her mane. Quite the rental fee.
Eventually Dutch was robbing from one rancher, gifting them to another rancher, only to rob the horses again. His gang had grown, and where earlier Dutch had evaded capture because of inept or absentee deputies, his actions were now attracting serious police attention. Stealing the prized horse of the Secretary of Indian Affairs led to a shootout between the law and the highwaymen, resulting in two deaths and the loss of hundreds of stolen horses.
In 1906, a trial in Regina regarding a kidnapping episode forced Dutch to leave the area, but en route to his next location, he was shot and killed over 75 dollars.
Dutch Henry’s life did have meaning, despite being an outlaw. Just like in Saco, north of Culbertson, Dutch Henry purportedly worked for the same big cattle company he stole from, Diamond Cattle Company. Of course there were many other cattle companies to steal from, but he was the camp cook for Diamond. One night, while trying to start a fire with wet buffalo chips, Dutch told the group— guaranteed the group—that if they went up the creek a few miles there would be plenty wood, so tomorrow’s meals wouldn’t smell so foul. The next day, as the camp moved upstream a few miles with the herds, of course, the group didn’t find any wood. To mock this guarantee, the group danced around Dutch Henry making fun of him, chanting and laughing, “Plenty wood, plenty wood.” So though the move was a failure, camp spirits were high. The nearby creek and the future county seat would be named Plentywood. A large bar in small Peerless, Montana is called Dutch Henry’s Club and a road leading north from Daleview toward Canada is called Dutch Henry Road. His memory continues to live on in northeastern Montana, so it should come as no surprise that in 1910, four years after his death, local newspapers were reporting of his death once again. Local residents didn’t want to believe that Dutch Henry was gone; these Montanans yearned for a simpler time where cowboys, outlaws, and deputies drank at the same saloon.
Let’s meet up at Dutch Henry’s!