2008 MONTANA COWBOY HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
1860 – 1920 LEGACY AWARD DISTRICT 9
Nelson Brothers - Monroe "Beaver" & Frank "Doc"(1861-1932 & 1867-1964)
Monroe “Beaver” Nelson and Frank “Doc” Nelson were two of seven children born to John & Lavine Nelson. The couple came to the Gallatin Valley of Montana in 1864, when Beaver was just three years old. They arrived in the Gallatin Valley just in time for the birth of their son Pike, one of the first white children born in the area. Their son Doc would come along three years later.
Beaver would become one of the best known cowboys in Montana history, riding as foreman of the Two Dot Wilson Cattle Company. From 1881 to 1884, Charlie Russell rode under Beaver as did the Logan boys, one of whom was Kid Curry of Butch Cassidy's "Hole in the Wall Gang". In later years, Russell claimed Beaver Nelson was the most ideal cowboy he ever knew. According to the book, Gallatin Pioneers: The First Fifty Years 1868-1918, Beaver became the subject of several Russell paintings.
Beaver was involved in one of Bozeman's biggest shoot-outs, October 31, 1879. A group of cowboys were hanging around the Headquarters Saloon on East Main in Bozeman. Among them were Beaver and Sim and Bill Roberts from Texas, who were all riding for the same cattle outfit. The three were having some drinks when Eli Keeney, a local troublemaker, came up and started badgering Bill. Bill took off his guns and proceeded to give Keeney a sound beating and ran him out the back door. Afterwards, as Bill visited with other saloon patrons, Sim and Beaver stayed at the bar. No one noticed Keeney sneak back into the saloon with gun in hand. With no warning, he shot Bill in the back. Bill, dying, whirled and fired at Keeney. The two men hit the floor, dead, in almost the same instant. Sim escaped out the back door after firing a couple of well-placed shots at the feet of deputy stock inspector Sanborn, who had made a futile attempt at arresting him. Sim later surrendered to a grand jury.
There are many conflicting accounts of this event, but it is sure that Beaver Nelson was a first-hand witness.
Beaver’s brother, Doc Nelson, became one of the more famous pioneers of the Gallatin Valley. When he was only three years old, Frank rode with his father up the West Gallatin Canyon to visit John Kested and Ben Piper. The men had just returned from the Rosebud Expedition and showed the young boy bullet holes in their wagon and trunks. Reaching into the wagon, Ben pulled out a gory-looking mess and whirled it through the air at little Frank. It was several fresh Indian scalps on a wire ring that the men had recently taken much to the horror of Frank.
At age 11, Monroe helped drive 1,000 head of cattle. At 14, he met sixteen-year-old Charlie Russell on another cattle drive and for several years the two wrangled for big brother Beaver's cattle outfit.
While wrangling for Beaver, Doc saddled a particularly ornery bronc one day and, although warned, tried to ride him. The pony bucked and stomped right through the cow camp and into the cook's campfire – with Doc aboard – spilling the meal in every direction. Later, Russell painted his most famous watercolor based on that incident: "Bronc to Breakfast." According to later accounts, both Doc and Beaver were depicted in the picture.
Although involved in many incidents and historical moments of the Old West, Doc survived through it all. In 1964, during the 100th Territorial Celebration, Doc was the oldest living pioneer in the State of Montana. He was also elected to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.