2019 Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Inductee
Rosebud County area had a notable number of cowboys in earlier days, but one of the most remembered is Joseph H. “Proc” Proctor. Proc was born into slavery in Texas and spent his first 15 years on a cotton plantation. Uncertain of the year of his birth, he did remember that when he was about age six, he was put to work chopping weeds out of a cotton field, but he didn’t know the weeds from the cotton plants; therefore, he was soon tasked with keeping the chickens out of the front yard. Proc distinctly remembered the day his master released all the slaves, giving each a sack of corn, thus completely depleting the plantation’s stores.
Proc immediately set out to find employment and began herding and horse wrangling. In 1876, he headed for Wyoming and Montana with one of Matt Murphy’s trail herds. When they reached the Platte River, they were informed of the Custer Massacre.
Proc recounted, “We turned them loose on the Platte.”
When the Murphys moved to the Crow Reservation in Montana, Proc was sent to the new range as one of the top cow hands. There he remained for many years. His hiring spoke volumes, as most of the old-time Texas hands wouldn’t work with a black man unless he was an exceptional hand—and exceptional he was.
After marrying “Lizzie” McHarg, an African-American girl raised in Missouri, Proc ranched a number of years near present-day Colstrip. In 1931, the couple sold their ranch and bought a small place on Sheep Creek.
In 1934, the 50th Anniversary of the Montana Stockgrowers Association Convention was held in Miles City. In spite of Proc feeling he should not participate, area ranchers were steadfast that he should. Word is they had the county attorney serve him a subpoena to attend. Proc even rode in a chuckwagon with the roundup cook during the Stockgrowers parade.
One of Proc’s obituaries reads: “Though of a different race, the tolerant, generous minded folks of the West accorded the late Mr. Proctor every consideration and courtesy and kindly disposition and gentlemanly traits of character served to implant in the minds of those who knew him that their confidence in, and esteem for, him were never misplaced.”