A Movie Worthy Story

Amorette Allison
Friday, September 4, 2020
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L. W. Stacy was a man whose life story should be turned into a movie. He started hunting to support himself and his brother as a child and died in his elegant Main Street home in 1920. His obituary appeared in the Saturday, September 4, 1920 Miles City Daily Star.

Lorenzo Winchester Stacy was born in Marietta, Ohio, August 24, 1850. His father died when he was young and his mother soon after so when he was 12 and his younger brother, Webster, was 10, they left the family home to support themselves.

These two boys, whom we would consider children today, initially supported themselves by hunting for game to feed the railroad crews in Kansas. They soon started trading with Indians and had a trading post in New Mexico in their teens.

Their first investment in cattle ended badly, when all the animals died of fever, but as young as they were, starting over was hardly a problem.

Because Webster had tuberculosis, they decided to come to eastern Montana in 1883 because the dry air was supposed to be good for bad lungs.

The obituary explained “In reviewing his friends life and trading in the early days of the cattle industry in Custer county, Judge Loud stated yesterday that he had always found ‘Winchester was a man whose word was as good as a bond with the ability to make and keep friends and whose record stands out as a model of integrity, without a single blot to mar its perfection.”

Judge Loud had first become acquainted with the Stacy brothers when “the Judge located a large tract of land in the south country in 1883 and the following year, Stacy and his brother Webster located an adjoining tract of land.” According to Loud, “Harmony was the keynote of the relations existing between the two largest cow outfits in that part of the country, Judge Loud and the Stacy brothers riding together on their range handling their herds.”

Sadly, even southeastern Montana’s bone dry air wasn’t enough for Webster and the younger Stacy brother died in 1889.

Winchester found love before Webster’s death so he had comfort when his brother died. “While riding his ranges he met Miss Mary Hotchkiss, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Steven G. Hotchkiss, who conducted a road house on Pumpkin creek, and on December 6, 1888, they were married in Miles City.”

When L. W. died in 1920, his obituary listed his widow and four children, Edward W., Lorenzo Winchester, Jr., Mary Frances and Alvin Webster.”

The obituary did not mention Stacy’s beloved daughter Florence. In 1913, at age 21, Florence Stacy was stricken with appendicitis. In an era before there was a way to control infection, Florence developed peritonitis. There were no antibiotics. Every few days, surgeons reopened the incision and removed more dying tissue, but there was no hope. It was a slow and painful death.

Stacy was deeply effected. He retired to his magnificent home at 2206 Main Street, sitting in his bedroom with the shades drawn, refusing comfort.

At about the same time, Pierre Wibaux, another early Montana cattleman, died and left the city of Miles City a sum of $10,000 to be used to develop a park to be named after Mr. Wibaux. The city fathers approached Stacy and asked for assistance in designing the park and a memorial fountain to be placed in honor of Florence. It brought Stacy out of his deep mourning and back into the community.

The fountain survived for a century but is now gone, the stone parts in storage until the city can determine how to rebuild it. But for many years, the Florence Stacy Memorial Fountain beautified Wibaux Park and provided pleasure and even playground for generations of children.

In addition his deep commitment to his family, he was also a very astute businessman. In addition to his cattle ranch, he became a banker. He was a director of the State National Bank of Miles City and later helped organize the Commercial Bank of Miles City.

He was also involved in a merchandizing concern with partners C. T. Lakin, Jerome Westfall and C. H. Loud. He was connected with C. B. Towers, his brother-in-law Arthur Hotchkiss, Frank Kelsey, H. F. Albers and, again, Judge Loud, in the Montana Petroleum Company, which was involved in natural gas production in Baker.

With all this financial success, Stacy built one of Miles City’s most beautiful homes, which still stands at 2206 Main.

Stacy Street and Winchester Street are both named after L. W. Stacy.

And it was from the Stacy family, his descendants, that the city purchased the property in 1945 on which the VA Medical Center now stands.

From an orphan striking out on his own as a child, to a successful businessman and family man, L. W. Stacy lived an exciting life that followed the western frontier.

I think it would make a great movie. Or a mini-series. They could film part of it at his house.

(Amorette Allison is a local history columnist.)