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Letters written by famous Miles City, Montana resident, Dola his cousin "Tomy Ruppe" in Gaffney, South Carolina between the years 1910 and 1915.

Dirk Allman here again.  If you enjoyed reading the World War I-era letters from Gaffney, South Carolina addressed to Thomas E. Ruppe, who served in an artillery unit in France, you will find this page about his cousin, Dola Wilson, interesting as well.  You can view Thomas Ruppe's World War I page on this website here at 

Herein are the letters written by Dola Wilson to his cousin "Tomy Ruppe" between the years 1910 and 1915.  These letters were found in a World War I personal effects bag in which Thomas Ruppe saved the letters he received from the years 1910 until 1920.  Dola Wilson was born in Gaffney, South Carolina and was a cousin of Thomas Ruppe.  The letters that Tom Ruppe wrote to Dola are probably long gone, but we are fortunate to have the letters that Dola wrote to him.

I did a Google search of Dola Wilson...and found out some mighty interesting information about him courtesy of the Montana Historical Society Archives and the Northwest Digital Archives.  And yes, Dola Wilson was a native of Gaffney, South Carolina.  Here is their summary as follows: 

Dola Wilson was born in Gaffney, South Carolina, in 1891, the son of Charles and Elizabeth Wilson. He came to Miles City, Montana, in 1912, and worked on a ranch for three years. He then worked for the Milwaukee Road. In 1934 he bought the Blue Ribbon Bar and re-named it the Range Riders Bar and Restaurant. To decorate his establishment he collected photographs of prominent area stockmen. In 1944 he began to compile biographical materials about the stockmen and attempted to expand the number of photographs. He hired Charles M. Boucher, a retired newspaperman, to research and write the biographical material. He retired in 1957 and his son Dola Jr. took over the bar. Dola Wilson Sr. died in November, 1972. Charles M. Boucher was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on July 16, 1864, the son of William F. Boucher. When Charles was two and a half, his father died leaving his mother with 5 young children. The family moved to her parents' farm at Terwood, Pennsylvania. In 1885 he graduated from Girard College, an institution endowed by financier Stephen Girard to educate white male orphans. The following year he apprenticed as a pattern maker. In 1892 he headed west to Nebraska. He went to work for his brother-in-law George Conn's Ogallala Record and Baxton Pilot. The following year he moved to Miles City, Montana, and worked as a reporter, first for the Yellowstone Journal and later for the Miles City Star. After his retirement he was engaged by Dola Wilson to write biographical sketches of the cowboys and ranchers whose photographs were in the Range Riders Bar and Cafe. He died in 1954.

(Early photo of Dola Wilson, circa 1910, most likely from his days in Gaffney, South Carolia before he headed north for Montana in 1912.  Photo courtesy of the family archives of Mrs. J. Lee Hunter.)

And yes, as I was going through these letters, along with the great help of Ruppe family genealogist, Mrs. J. Lee Hunter, we began to find that Dola Wilson had quite an interesting life...not in Gaffney, South Carolina...but all the way over in Miles City, Montana!  (As seen in the quote above.)  Quite a leap from one culture to another, I'll say!  (From the "Palmetto State" to the "Treasure State.")  I have since found out, courtesy of Mrs. Hunter, that Dola married Minnesota native, Blanch Clarice Sarff, around 1916.  In 1918, they had a son, Charles E. Wilson.  According to the 1920 U. S. Census, Dola and Blanch were living in Miles City in the household of Blanch's brother, Glenn Sarff.  The occupation of both Glen and Dola was "locomotive engineer."  Taking over and running a bar is something he sure couldn't have done in "dry" and very Baptist Cherokee County, South Carolina!  And later he was a founding member of the local Range Rider's Museum, which is still in business today.  (And so is his bar...which now even has a gambling casino!  My, my, that would have certainly caused a lot of trouble in Cherokee County "back in the day."  But South Carolina has a state lottery now.)  Dola Wilson died in Miles City, Custer County, Montana in November of 1972.  

Well folks, what I have here are some very early letters that Dola wrote...and have never before been published until now.  Perhaps the only people interested in them today would be family researchers looking up ancestors in Cherokee County, South Carolina or Rutherford County, North Carolina.  But above all, they will have a special significance to the residents of Miles City in Custer County, Montana.  The memory of Dola Wilson is still quite special there.  

Herein is a letter Dola wrote to his cousin "Tomy Ruppe" before he ever set forth for his long journey to the Great Western Plains.  Let's go back to a letter he wrote from Hot Springs, North Carolina, dated November 10th, 1910....nearly a hundred years ago.  Just amazing folks!  (There are transcriptions following the scans of each of Dola's original letters if you can't make out his handwriting.  All transcriptions are courtesy of the patient work of Mrs. J. Lee Hunter.)  

Ruppe family genealogist, J. Lee Hunter, provided the following transcription, complete with all of the grammar and spelling mistakes that Dola Wilson made.  In fact, he even apologizes for them at the end.  We find out that he liked to go with the boys and roll 500 pound boulders down hills, destroying small trees and such.  Otherwise, he did a lot of laundry and dishes.  Where the school was that he was staying at in 1910 no one has been able to locate...and it may be long gone from the landscape.  What I have been able to find out is that Madison County once had 19 mission schools that were operated by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  And he probably went to one of those.  How he got to go there, leaving Cherokee County, South Carolina for Madison County in the hills of the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains is, I'm afraid, lost in the mists of time.  But anyway, for you folks in Miles City, Montana, this is how your dear old Dola was starting out...when he was just 19 years old.

Transcription of 11 -19-1910 Letter from Dola Wilson in Hot Springs, NC



Hot Springs N.C.

Nov 19, 1910


Mr  Tommy Ruppe,


I will ancer your card which I recived yesterday and glad to hear from you. I am liking school fine.  us boys have a nice time  I have been to preaching to day.  Two of the girls was home sick and crying   Jessy Redwine, the other one I dident know her name.

I guess you all are having a nice time. they aire something doing even Sunday sence I left. but we are going to have a nice time Thanks-giving. We will get to be with (the girls-?)




them all day and part of the night. and fridy after Thanks giving I am going to Walnut to see Minnie and Bessie. I went up on the Mtn yesterday and had a nice time.  Some of the boys and me roll some rocks down that weight about 500 lbs   they torn down small trees and went on. We will get a penalty if Miss Philips find it out.  I have just got done drying dishing  I have a lot to day.  We have about 60 people with matrons so I guess you think it wood be job to day for all.

but I have a place where they take them to me




and some other one to tate them a way   it only take me 35 minutes to dry them and just once a day is all that I have to dry them.  the first two week I had to work in the laundry, next four week I had to make  up beds in Vester Place.  We are having some cold wether now.  And the old boys says that the cold wether hasent come yet.  I sleep in the Dormatory  they are 14 beds in there.  and it is a cold place.  it is in the third story so we have plenty of fresh air.  I have gained 17 lbs since I have been here.




Tell ever body Hello for me.  and give them my best reguards. if you see any of my people tell them that I am just like I always was   I am going to write them this week at the last of the week. So I will ring off  tell ever body to write to me.


Your Cousin

Dola Wilson


excuse bad writing and mistakes.

The envelope containing this letter indicates that it was mailed from Miles City, Montana on January 10, 1913 at 10:00 AM  It was addressed to Tomy Ruppe at R# 9, Gaffney, SC.  A transcription will be found beneath the original letter.


Transcription of Dola Wilson Letter Jan. 1913



Miles City, Mont.

Jan. 9, 1913.


Dear Tomy;


Just rec’d you nice letter and was glad to hear from you.

Xmas day when I wrote you that card, I had a severe cold, and hadent eat anything for a day. Then was called to go to Marmarth N.D. and under the conditions I was in. I could not lay off, so I had to go just the same. I had nothing to say,



nor nothing to write. I have just come in from Melstone, Mont., and am very tired as usual. I have quite a large engine now.* 7 ft. 6 in. drivecab. Fire –box 11 ft.long 4 ½ ft wide. So you can wonder how much coal that she will eat in 124 miles.

The weather is fierce here, although it is only zero, now, trying to snow.

Glad you had a good times in 1912.  Girls doesen’t  bother



my mine anymore. Would been glad to been in Mnts. with you.  I hope Cousin Vada** is better by now. Tell Cousin John T***. I hope he will be in a good humor, when I get back to see you all again.

Hope you are in school and doing well.

Well I am still fireing yet and like it alright But it is a job to keep up steam now. I like this country fine in Summer, but it is to cold now.



Tell my people that I am well as usual. How do you think you would like fireing on the road. You make very good money, but you earn it.

Tell your people hello for me, and give my reguards to all I know.

Guess I had better close as I am tired and sleepy. Hoping to hear from you soon.


Your Cousin,

Dola Wilson

The envelope of this letter is addressed to Tomy Ruppe at R #9, Gaffney, SC, postmarked July 15th, 1913 11pm, Miles City, Montana.  Transcription follows the written letter.

Transcription of Dola Wilson Letter July, 1913



                             Miles City, Mont.

                             July 15, 1913


Dear Tomy,


Rec’d your letter and was glad to hear from you. Guess

you are about through work by now aun’t you?

Did you have a nice time the 4th of July? They had a

swell time here.

How is Cousin Vada and John Thomas getting along?

Do you every see Fitzhugh Ruppe. Tell




him hello for me and ask him what is he doing for him self.

You must write me a long letter and tell me how you and

 your girls are getting along.


Give my reguards to all.


Your Cousin,


Dola Wilson

The envelope for this letter addressed to Thomas at Route #9, Gaffney, SC, and was postmarked Alder, Montana on August 11, 1915, three days after it was written. . It bears one 2 cent stamp.  Again, transcription follows the hand-written letter. 


Transcription of 08-08-1915 Letter from Dola Wilson from Alder, Montana



Alder, Mont.



Hello Tomy:


Rec’d your letter and sure glad to hear from you. You ask for my opinion about MontanaPeople’s opinions are different – One might boast the State while an other one would knock it.

They pay from  $40.00 to $50.00 per month for ranch work. Depending on what you know. Work in the City from $2.50 to $4.00 per day. Board 35 cents to 50 cents  per meal, room from $7.00 to $8.00 per month.  Ranch work is the best place to save money. They are two men for every man’s job in the West, now. A rancher will use five or six men in the



Summer where he will only keep one in the Winter.

Winter commence the middle of Oct. and last till the middle of Apr.  I don’t know where I could get you a job for this Winter.  My advice would be wait till next Apr.  If you cant milk, you had better learn and with both hands.  Also cooking, as you are where you have it to do sometimes.

A job on the Railroad is a thing of the past. They have all the men they need. I am trying to find me a job for this Winter.  I am driving a four horse team an a grader on the County road. Get $3.00 per day, taken an other persons place. He be back by Spt.


Write and tell me what you think.

Dola Wilson

Here is a photo of Dola Wilson's cousin, Thomas Ruppe, taken circa 1918 when he served in France during World War I.  Do see the Gaffney, South Carolina photo of Dola Wilson near the top of this page.  They do look somewhat similar.  After all, they were cousins.

(Photo courtesy of J. Lee Hunter.)

For the record, Thomas E. Ruppe's last address was at 408 Hetty Hill Street in Gaffney, South Carolina.  He was married to Lillian Sanders and lived to the age of 82, passing away at the Oteen, North Carolina VA hospital, near Asheville, North Carolina on May 16th, 1975, and is buried at Frederick Memorial Gardens.  As far as I know, after 1915, Thomas Ruppe had no further correspondence with his Cousin Dola, both having perhaps gone their separate ways, the distance being so great that it was inevitable.  But thank goodness, I accidentally came across Ruppe's letters, containing Dola's letters at a Charlotte, North Carolina fleamarket so many years ago, back during the mid-1990's.  (Maybe it wasn't accident...but fate.)  Genealogist J. Lee Hunter has informed me that the Wilson homeplace on Buck Shoals Road in Cherokee County, South Carolina recently burned down back in 2008, taking any possible Dola artifacts with it.  It was only recently that I even realized that any of Ruppe's letters had a Montana connection.  I just never know what I will find in a pile of old papers.  Truthfully, I tell people...that God helps me find this stuff.  Hopefully...the good people of Miles City, Montana will find this webpage as well. 

Just a small note here:  Many of the ephemeral artifacts found on this website are now, due to age, in the public domain and are from my private collection.  Items and quotes of a more recent vintage, that are used here in part for newsworthy commentary and/or educational purposes, are covered by the Fair Use Act of The US Copyright Office.  Thank you.

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