James (Scotty) Philip was born on April 30, 1858, at Auchness farm, near the town of Dallas, Morayshire, in the highlands of Scotland. While growing up in Scotland he read numerous stories about the American frontier. They told of ordinary men facing death, finding riches, and becoming famous in the new frontier. These stories, mostly glorified misrepresentations, appealed to him, and in the spring of 1874, at the age of fifteen, Philip left Scotland to follow his older brother George to a settlement in Victoria, Kansas.
Life in Kansas turned out to be not what Philip had expected. In Victoria, he worked long hours doing menial labor. Meanwhile, newspapers reported about the recent discovery of gold in the Black Hills. He left Victoria to explore the West, ending up in the town of Cheyenne, Wyoming. The people in the area were excited about mining in the Black Hills. However, at that time the Black Hills belonged to the Indians as part of a reservation. The Indians believed that the Black Hills were sacred and did not want the miners desecrating the Black Hills with their attempts to find gold. The United States government sent in troops to avoid conflicts between the miners and Indians, but despite all the efforts to keep people out of the hills, they continued to sneak in.
Philip worked on a ranch for a while and managed to save enough money to buy supplies and joined the growing throng of gold-seekers in the hills. He had only been in the Black Hills a short time before the Army threw him out. He tried his luck twice more before giving up to pursue other ventures.
After he gave up mining, James Philip went to Fort Laramie, Wyoming. He was employed there for a short time as a government teamster. Later, he quit this job and moved to Fort Robinson to cut hay and carry messages for the Army. While he was there, he also worked as a cowboy for one of the first cattle ranches in that region. With the money from these enterprises, he purchased a team of mules and a freight wagon, and began to build up a herd of cattle.
It was also at Fort Robinson that Philip met Sarah Laribee, whom he married in 1879. After their marriage, they moved to Clay Creek where Scotty would begin ranching and hauling freight. From his ranch at Clay Creek, Philip hauled freight from Nebraska to the Black Hills.
Freighting was very lucrative and he continued building his herd of cattle. In 1881, he moved his ranch to the mouth of the Grindstone Creek along the Bad River. This ranchsite was near the present day location of Philip and served as the home base of Scotty's ranch operations for many years.
While he operated this ranchsite, Philip and neighbor Dan Powell established a post office. This post office was named Philip after him and was later moved into the new town bearing his name.
At this time, the area was part of an Indian reservation and white men could not run cattle on the reservation unless they had an Native American wife. Because his wife, Sarah, was part Native American he was able to ranch here without having to worry about people encroaching upon him until 1898 when the land was opened up to the settlers. By that time, however, Philip had built up a considerable herd and a vast amount of land.
While building his ranching empire, Philip met a man named Pete Dupree who had managed to catch five buffalo calves during the last big hunt on the Grand River in 1881. After Pete's death, Philip decided to prevent the extinction of the buffalo and purchased the herd from Dupree's estate. In 1901, Scotty and several of his ranch hands drove the herd, now more than fifty animals, to a pasture he had constructed specifically for that purpose. This pasture was along the Missouri River just North of the present day town of Fort Pierre.
Often, this herd of buffalo could be seen grazing along the banks of the Missouri. In time this herd would grow to nearly a thousand animals, which was, at that time, the largest in the world. This herd would later stock national and state parks throughout the United States. Shortly after Philip died, Custer State Park purchased 36 head. This herd thrived in the park and was used to stock other parks and refuges.
In 1911, James (Scotty) Philip, died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. The news shocked the West, where Scotty was well known and respected. People traveled three days to come to his funeral. Hundreds of people came, so many in fact, that Alex Johnson, a passenger agent for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, ordered a special train to haul people from Fort Pierre for free as a compliment to the memory of Scotty. The funeral procession included prosperous bankers, Indians from the reservations, cowboys, ranchers, and friends. This was a testament to Philip's kindness and compassion for all people.
Shortly before his death, Philip built a cemetery near his buffalo pasture. As the funeral procession neared the cemetery, his buffalo came down out of the hills to watch the rites. The buffalo, local newspapers claimed, were showing their respects to the man who had saved them. It was a solemn day for the people that knew Philip. One newspaper reported "Tears rolled the cheeks of hard working, hard riding, hard cursing cowboys......unashamed." (Haakon Horizons, 82)
To this day, the residents of the town named after James "Scotty" Philip are proud to pay their respects to this hard-working man who is credited with saving the buffalo from extinction. In fact, the local school adopted his nickname "Scotty" as their mascot, and are known as the mighty Philip Scotties. The town is in the process of creating a memorial in Philip's courthouse to honor the town's founder, James Scotty Philip.