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We Call it the “Bozeman Trail”

 

28 March 2003 (Added McIntyre’s Comments)

 

                                    

As noted in the South Hills Trails research, there are numerous trail-tracks leading from the Big Horn River to the Clark’s Fork River. The trail that is generally considered to be the ”Bozeman Trail”, is essentially the one created by Jim Bridger, who led a large wagon train headed by Kirkendall across the Crow Reservation in 1866. He followed the Sawyers 2nd Expedition, which traveled almost due west between the South Hills and the Pryor Mountain ranges, about two weeks later, but made a few directional changes that allowed the wagon train to stop for more watering holes.

 

Jim Bridger was directed by Col. Carrington to establish the Military Wagon Road across the region that would provide access to the gold fields of western Montana and a new fort to be constructed on the Clark’s Fork or Yellowstone River. James Sawyers route was followed until they reached the East Pryor Creek crossing. From there they traveled northwest, essentially paralleling the current BIA Route 19, with deviations to avoid hills and gullies, stopping at Millard’s Spring. He rejoined the Sawyers Trail prior to arriving at the Pryor Creek crossing north of the Willow Creek junction.

 

This trail saw very little wagon train activity, as it was in operation for only two months. After that time period, the trail was closed, and a supply wagon train route, created by Jim Bridger on his return from leading the Kirkendall train to the gold fields, was used by the supply wagons of Perry McAdow and Nelson Story until 1868, when Fort C. F. Smith was closed. This portion of the route, called the Military Route or Montana Road, was shown on the 1868-1872 Survey General’s Maps for the Montana Territory.

 

The BIA Route 19 connects with the Bozeman Trail at the following locations (from west to east):

 

            1.         About one mile before the town of Pryor & east to Smallpox Creek

            2.         Starting at Deep Creek, for one mile towards Hay Creek

            3.         Meets the Hwy at the Hay Creek crossing

            4.         Joins the Hwy as it passes through the East Pryor Creek crossing

            5.         Intersects the Hwy ½ mile before reaching the Point Creek crossing

 

In traversing the Crow Indian Reservation, the Bozeman Trail’s position, relative to the present highway location is as noted in the table below Footnote. The trail locations are reported as close as possible from scaling the aerial topographic maps, and material processed in the South Hills Trails. The trail itself in most instances is expected to be near the locations indicated. After the Sioux Wars were concluded, the Crow Reservation area was opened for freighting and many deep ruts were created in the landscape by the wagon heavy loads. There were numerous freighters and ranchers who serviced the area. It is therefore expected that the majority of the actual Bozeman Trail, as used by the few emigrants who passed through it over a two-month time span, has simply vanished. Although numerous wagon ruts are visible throughout the area, most of them are quite deep, and probably from the freighting and supply wagons in the area from about 1878 through the mid 1910's. Distinguishing one type of rut from another isn’t really practical.

 

 

Tp 5S - East Boundary Reference of Section

Range Location

Miles N or S of Hwy (1)

6

26 E

0

5

26 E

0

4

26 E

0

3

26 E

0

2

26 E

.5 N

1

26 E

.8 N

6

27 E

0 (2)

5

27 E

0

4

27 E

.7 N + Intersection of trails

3

27 E

0

2

27 E

0

1

27 E

0

6

28 E

.3 N

5

28 E

.5 N

4

28 E

.6 N

3

28 E

1.8 N

2

28 E

3.1 N

1

28 E

3.5 N

6

29 E

3.3 N

5

29 E

.6 N

4

29 E

.3 N

3

29 E

1.8 S

2

29 E

2.4 S

1

29 E

3.5 S

 

 

 

 

                        (1) Reference 1996 USGS Topo Map, BIA # 19 Trail Route to St. Xavior Mission

                        (2) At this location, Sawyers 2nd Expedition turned southwest, and passed through a deep-walled canyon area for approximately three miles. Some of the members of his party stated in their diaries that they passed through “Pryor Gap.” This is a general phrase used by the emigrants to denote passage through the cliff-sides entering the river area channel formed alongside of Pryor Creek. It does not reflect that they passed through the gap between the West Pryor Mountains and the Pryor Mountains. Jim Bridger used that pass when he established the “Bridger Trail” in 1864. Sometimes the wagon train “Pryor Gap” has been Interpreted to mean “Devil’s Gap.” Devil’s Gap is identified on the 1871 and 1872 General Survey maps for the Montana Territory, and is shown to be located in a northwest direction running alongside of Hay Creek, just before it enters the Pryor Creek valley floor. The canyon walls there are about 20 feet straight up. Information, relating to where the name originated hasn’t been established, but from the appearance of the route through the canyon, it would seem logical that it was a dangerous place to traverse, even though it was only about two-three miles in length, as Indians (Red Devils) could ambush the wagon trains from above. Hence the term, “Devil’s Gap.” [Anyone having more detailed information about the actual naming source would be appreciated.]

 

Lorenz J. McIntyre Comments – Published in the Midland Review (Undated)

Lorenz conducted an extensive examination of the John Bozeman Trail in an effort to locate its passage and route. Details are mainly in areas on both sides of the Yellowstone County, but the following depicts the route as it entered and passed through the local area: “Some 20 miles from the Powder River it crossed Crazy Woman Creek and ran directly to the forks of Piney Creek, passing along the west shore of Lake DeSmet and west of the present town of Buffalo, Wyoming. United States Highway No. 87 between Buffalo and the forks of Piney Creek runs on that trail today. From Piney Creek Bozeman ran almost due northwest to cross the Tongue River at the present site of United States Highway No. 87. Then, hugging the eastern foothills of the Big Horn Mountains, the Little Big Horn River, Lodge Grass and Rotten Grass Creeks were forded close to their headwaters. Continuing in a general northwesterly direction, the Big Horn River was forded at the mouth of the Big Horn Canyon, in southeastern Montana, where Fort C. F. Smith was built in 1864[1]. The ford across the Big Horn River was approximately 100 yards long, and being in the middle of summer, the water was about 4 feet deep. When the land in Montana was surveyed by the government between 1890 and 1903 the surveyors noted the location of the Trail in their field books. It is possible therefore to be somewhat more exact in our statement as to the location of the Trail from Rotten Grass Creek to the Clark’s Fork at Edgar, Montana. The Trail crossed Rotten Grass Creek in Section 34, Township 7, Range 33 East of Montana Principal Meridian. Then following along the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains, in a northwesterly direction, the Big Horn River was forded in Section 15, Township 6 South, Range 31 East, at the mouth of the Big Horn Canyon. Continuing in a northwesterly direction Muddy Creek was crossed in section 19, Township 5 south, Range 30 East. Although the Trail continued on to Beauvois Creek it did not cross that creek at that point of contact, but followed an old Indian trail called ‘The Tepee Trail’ along the northern foothills of the Pryor Mountains to the Clark’s Fork River, crossing Beauvois Creek in section 15, Township 5 South, Range 28 East, the East Fork of Pryor Creek in Section 13, Township 5 south, Range 28 East, and Pryor Creek in Section 26, Township 5 South, Range 26 East, near the present town of Pryor, Montana. Bozeman did not, however, use the ‘Tepee Trail’ crossing of the Clark’s Fork River as the banks were too steep at that point. (That Tepee Trail crossing was on the farm known locally as ‘the Jean Cowan place.’) Bozeman followed on down the river some 8 miles and crossed in Section 2, Township 4 South, Range 23 East, on what is known today as ‘the Steffins farm,’ some 150 yards downriver from the present highway bridge, about one-half mile east of Edgar, Montana. Today there is a fairly good highway all the way from the Big Horn River to the Clark’s Fork River which follows that old Trail”

Comment: The trail depicted above and as recorded on the survey maps is basically the route established by James Sawyers during his 2nd Expedition in 1866, and is recorded on the survey maps. John Bozeman, according to the diarists in his train, actually traveled northwest from the Big Horn crossing, reaching Sacrifice Cliff, and descending (via ropes) onto the valley floor across from where Coulson would be located.

 

 



[1] Published date is in error, should be 1866.




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