Yellowstone County MTGenWeb

Yellowstone County History

Carl Dallman
Rich Lake Basin Wheat


Revised 20 June 2001c


Carl Dallman, age 92, stands beside his cabin home in Rapelje. [Story line by E. Stanley Swenson & Mrs. John Leuthold]

    The Lake Basin, north of Billings has thousands of acres of rich wheat land under cultivation, and vast land areas for sheep and cattle grazing. In the early days the farmers would pull a two or three-bottom plow with a team of seven-horses, and barely working 12 acres a day. On September 13, 1877, Chief Joseph’s Nez Perce Indians, fleeing from federal troops commanded by Col. Sturgis, attempted to reach Canada by passing through this area. An Indian scout, Pawnee Tom, spotted them at the mouth of Canyon Creek west of Billings. After a short and bloody battle, the tribe escaped by going through the Lake Basin area, and into the Musselshell River area (Rygate). Another Indian skirmish took place in February 1884 at Hailstone Basin (north edge of Lake Basin). Piegan Indians, associated with the Blackfeet Tribe, crossed the Yellowstone River near Park City and stole 60 Crow Indian horses, and some from settlers in the area. Chief Plenty Coups men and some settlers followed their tracks in the snow and ambushed them at Hailstone Basin. Joe Tate and Chauncey Ames, Park City settlers were killed, as well as a number of un-named Indians. The horses were recaptured, and Chief Plenty Coups added one more scalp to his collection.

   In the late 1880’s John T. Murphy formed the “79 Ranch” on the western edge of Lake Basin, comprising 120,000 acres. It was normally thought to be one huge ranch, but in fact it was three ranches acting as one. Most of the acreage was really public domain!  In 1908 he sold part of his holding in the basin to D. J. McMahon (manager of the McMahon Land Co of St. Paul.) He in turn sold small tracts of land to new settlers, and larger ones to adjoining farmers. Tom Busteed bought a large area on the west edge of the basin to create his own ranch. He had worked for the 79 Ranch, was its Postmaster.  His wife was cook there. Cab and Al Thomas started operations on the “Thomas Ranch.” Their holdings eventually included the R. J. Martin sheep ranch, (southwest of Molt); the Ten Springs Ranch; and a large slice of the original 79 Ranch. The Martins moved to Billings and built their home on the northwest corner of 3rd Ave N and 28th St. (site of the Albert Bair Theater-Fox Theater). The Lake Basin area (near Molt) was being settled starting in the early 1900’s. One of the first was J. L. Keefer, who started to plough the land in 1908. He built a small home there. The first post office in the area was at Stickley, established in 1909. Mrs. Jake Kraft was postmistress. The little cabin was moved to Stickley and was located on the John Leuthold wheat farm east of Molt.

   In 1910, Carl Dallman, considered to be the first settler, brought his family from Sheboygan, WI to the area just east of what was to become Rapelje. The railroad, built some seven years later, went through the middle of his farm, only a few yards from his house.

   Rudolph Molt was one of these early ranchers. He purchased large amounts of land and started a large sheep business. In 1912 he had 38,172 acres in the Broadview-Molt area. The government granted NPR a considerable amount of public domain land in exchange for constructing a spur line from Hester northwest through Canyon Creek canyon, and on to the Sweet Grass River. NPR used the Great Northern track between Mossmain and Hesper for a while. In 1916 the right-of-way was surveyed and purchased. The railroad announced plans to start construction. With the railroad’s assurance about the construction, towns were laid out along the planned route. Towns were built before the track was laid. Rudolph Molt sold some land for the construction of Molt (named in his honor.)  The Stickley post office was then moved to Molt. Nora was started 12 miles up on the right-of-way. E. J. Riopel built a store building there, and several other businesses started. Part of Nora was owned by William (Tuck) Crawford, and he surveyed the townsite, platted it and graded the streets in anticipation of home builders. Rudolph Molt did the same for his town. Nora’s name was changed to Wheat Basin by the Postal department when Mrs. Riopel became postmistress. The railroad then announced that they would only build 35 miles of track the first year. At that time, another town (platted in 1917) called Rapelje was established. This was the most populas town in the area for some time, until a fire destroyed a large part of it. The railroad ended construction at Rapelje, but had completed the route survey for another 35 miles to a point known as Melville. The route was to extend through the Six Shooter (west of Big Coulee), Gibson (renamed Eagle Point by the railroad), and on to sweet Grass River. This portion was never built. Plans to build a large city at the Big Coulee and the north edge of the Lake Basin, but wasn’t built. It was to be named “79”, in honor of the Murphy’s “79 Ranch”, on whose former property it was to be built.

  Email me:
Katy Hestand
Yellowstone County Coordinator

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