By Amorette Allison
We all know who Custer County is named after and most of us are at least vaguely familiar with Miles and Keogh, Terry and Forsyth. But there is one name on the southeastern Montana landscape that the original owner of the name would probably prefer not be there.
Morris Cahn was, like many of the western frontiersmen, an immigrant. He was born in Wurtemburg, Germany and came to the United States as a young man. He lived in Indiana and Illinois before coming the very edge of the frontier in 1877. That’s when he arrived in Bismarck, Dakota Territory.
Mr. Cahn established his store in Bismarck, supplied by his wholesale business back in Illinois. He sold liquor, cigars and canned goods, the necessities of frontier life. Once he had his store going in Bismarck, he boarded a steamer and headed up river.
In late July of 1877, Morris Cahn arrived at the wharf in old Miles City. Accounts say he created quite a stir when he strode off the steamer in a high silk hat and tailcoat. Most Miles Citians of the day were not quite so well dressed.
He started in Old Town and but, like everyone else, quickly moved to the new town. By 1879, Cahn and Company was established on the northeast corner of Park, now South Fifth, and Bridge Streets.
His building appears both in an early L. A. Huffman photograph and in a water color sketch of Miles City painted in 1879 by Herman Steiffel, who was serving at Fort Keogh. The sketch is painted from the west side of the river. A number of buildings are visible but only one has a visible name. That name is CAHN.
In February of 1879, Mr. Cahn headed back east on a business trip. He didn’t travel through the wilds of eastern Montana alone. He accompanied a force of soldiers from Fort Keogh who were heading east to collect the payroll.
Along with Mr. Cahn went the Fort paymaster, two officers, and fifteen enlisted men in an army ambulance.
At a point about two miles west of where Terry is located today, this group was held up by four robbers including the notorious Big Nose George Parrott. Mr. Cahn was robbed of somewhere between $3,600 and $14,000, depending on who was doing the reporting.
Big Nose George and his cohorts were later arrested in Miles City by Lem Wilson and Fred Schmalsle. They were sent to Wyoming to face charges there for other crimes. The money, according to local legend, was never recovered and may still be buried somewhere near Terry.
In spite of this, Mr. Cahn remained in Miles City for a number of years, forming and dissolving partnerships with folks like Julius Basinski and Joe Leighton. In 1886, two of his daughters were married and living in Cincinnati, Ohio so he and the rest of his family moved back east to join them.
Mr. Cahn might be forgotten except for that robbery, which took place at a spot still known as Cahn’s Coulee.
Published Jan. 12, 2011