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Internet discovery leads to Philip visit

Visiting the buffalo ... Helen Philip, Faringdon, Oxfordshire, England, left and Diane Fitch, toured the Ray Houck buffalo herd near Ft. Pierre, last Friday. Philip was visiting the area and learning more about her third cousin, Scotty Philip.

A chance find on the Internet lead an Englishwoman on a discovery of not only American relatives but a town named after her third cousin.

Helen Philip, Faringdon, Oxfordshire, England, had known of relatives in America as her dad, Ian, had mentioned them and spoke of James (Scotty) Philip. He had also told her about Wayne C. Lee's book The Man who Saved the Buffalo.

She came across information on the Internet about Scotty Philip. The search pulled up the town of Philip, SD, and a Facebook site about the town. The site had only been up about a month so luck was in the air.

A message left on the site by Helen was directed to Diane Fitch. The two began a correspondence which lead to Helen stopping in Rapid City and Philip. As Helen had booked a horse riding adventure in Idaho for mid-July she included extra time for a stop in our locale.

Diane contacted me to fill Helen in on what I knew of Scotty. I was able to put her in touch with Scotty's great-grandniece, Cathie Draine, in Black Hawk.

Cathie and her husband, Leroy, collected Helen from the Rapid City Regional Airport Sunday, July 28. Helen was able to meet Jacqueline Means, Scotty's granddaughter, and daughter of Roderick Philip. Jaqueline, is around 90, Helen said, and she lives in Black Hawk also. "She's (Cathie) really looked after me," said Helen.

By chance a Philip relative from Hays, Kan., was also in the area at the same time. "Sheila Philip and her partner, Beau, had come up to scatter the ashes of her cats in the Scotty Philip Cemetery," said Helen. She added that Sheila had been to Scotland a couple of years ago and obtained some whiskey from a distiller in Dallas, Morayshire, Scotland, which is about two miles from Auchness, where Scotty grew up. The distillery had been shut down years ago, but some whiskey remained in barrels. She was able to bring some back with her.

Helen rented a car and drove from Rapid City to Philip Wednesday, July 28. She said she liked touring the Black Hills with Cathie but, "my happiest moment was getting on to the prairie. I was much more relaxed."

Helen was invited by the Doug West family to attend the high school rodeo practice that evening at the Philip Arena. Helen stated she had never seen any rodeo events before and she did admit that seeing the horses in the chutes did bother her some. She noted that she has great empathy for horses and is an avid horsewoman.

Diane escorted Helen to the Badlands and Wall Drug Thursday. They also went to the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center and State Archives in Pierre. Through the archives they were able to obtain several pieces of information and letters that Scotty had written.

Friday they headed back to Ft. Pierre. With the help of Sam Tidball, Ft. Pierre mayor and historian, they were able to see the house that Scotty owned in Ft. Pierre. Helen noted that it was not in very good condition as it had been abandoned for several years. The good news, she said, was that a man had recently purchased the property with the intention of renovating the house.

It was then off to meet with David Hansen. After a lunch of buffalo burgers, he took Helen on a 30-minute airplane tour of the Triple U Ranch, owned by the Ray Houck family. Afterwards David took them on a tour of the ranch, where Helen was able to get a close up view of the buffalo.

Helen said one of the highlights of the day was getting to see the 500 head of Bureau of Land Management horses that the ranch has. Diane noted that that portion of the ranch has been deemed the Mission Ridge Long-term Refuge. Helen excitedly recalled the chance to sit in the grass and having one of the wild horse come within a few feet of her before taking off to join the herd.

Helen and Diane stopped at the Scotty Philip Cemetery. "I found it very moving," said Helen. "There was this one little flower growing between Scotty's and his wife's headstones." She also found the statue of a little child very moving. It was in memory of the first child whom they lost to death along the trail from Ft. Robinson to this area.

When Scotty established the cemetery he had all their children that had passed away moved to the Ft. Pierre cemetery. They could not find the grave of that first child.

An unexpected stop was at one of Rex Haskins' wheat fields. She was able to ride in the tractor with Ed Briggs, whose grandfather was a friend of Scotty's. He related stories to her that had been passed down through his family. "It has been so great meeting people that are relatives or people who had relatives that knew him," said Helen. She said she has found out so much more about Scotty through these people and is greatful for their stories.

Helen noted that she loves the openness of the area. She added that the trips to Ft. Pierre and Pierre really gave her a chance to realize the shear size of this area. "It seems right," she said. "It feels like home."

Helen was born in Kenya, Africa where he father was employed as an accountant. When she was about four the family returned to Scotland. Her father's dad, John, was the son of David, who was a brother to Scotty's dad, George. David went to East India, while his other brothers came to America. One brother, Robert, stayed in Scotland. Robert's son, George, came to America as a young teenager after his father's death. He came to live with Scotty and eventually became a lawyer with offices in Philip and Rapid City.

Helen eventually moved to England, where she lives today. She works for a company that sells tickets at large sporting events, including the Olympics.

She is also very involved in the equine sport of dressage. Her horse is an eight-year-old German-bred Westphalian. The bay gelding's name she said is Rubens.

Dressage is not well known in the western United States. It is a sport that involves training a horse to perform different gaits, some that have the horse travel along a diagonal path. Helen is in the upper bracket of the sport and is trying for a spot on England's team for the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France.

Helen flew out of Rapid City late Saturday afternoon, bringing her whirlwind tour of the area to a close. Before departing she noted that she had plans to come back, hopefully next year. She wants to be part of the Philip to Ft. Pierre trail ride to make the 100th anniversary of Scotty's death.