Yellowstone County MTGenWeb

Yellowstone County History

Route of the Allen Hurlbut’s 1864 Wagon Train

The John Bozeman 1864 Wagon Train

This route examination is only through the Yellowstone County areas[1].

At Richard’s Bridge the train departed the Platte River and headed north, along the trail, or closely to, the one created by Jim Bridger in 1859. The Hurlbut’s wagon train initially preceded John Bozeman’s wagon train, but was soon passed as most of his train members wanted to prospect for gold. On July 25th, Abram Voorhees captained the remaining members, after Hurlbut and some prospectors left the train. They met Jim Bridger, who was returning from Virginia City after his race with John Bozeman. He gave them new directions to follow. The train continued to separate into several smaller ones as some members wanted to prospect in different places.


The Hurlbut trail leaves the Big Horn River near Spotted Rabbit Crossing, travels northwest to a point where it traverses on the north side of East Fork of Pryor Creek. From there it goes into the Sacrifice Cliff area, and down the steep slopes to the flat land at the base of the hills, near Bitter Creek.  It then essentially follows the route depicted by the Sawyers’ 1st Expedition.


Allen Hurlbut’s 1864 Wagon Train


June 11, 1864 (From Abram Voorhees Diary)

Hurlbut’s Wagon Train consisted of 274 men, 2 women, 1 child[2] and 20 dogs[3]. At Richard’s Bridge they camped alongside of John Bozeman, who was getting his train ready to depart, but there was apparently no communication between them. They left on the 16th, and Bozeman left on the 18th, following in Hurlbut’s tracks. During the next few days, Bozeman’s train passed them. During the trip, some of the prospectors became disappointed in Hurlbut, since they were promised gold, and found none along the way. They spent much time at campsites searching for the elusive metal. On June 27th, John Bozeman’s train of 83 wagons, and Edward’s train of 25 wagons were eight miles behind him in Wyoming.


July 7, 1864

Train is camped 5 to 6 miles south of the Tongue River Valley, and the men who were prospecting for gold, found none.


July 8, 1864

The train started at 8 am, following the Bozeman wagon tracks, and intended to do so until they reached the Big Horn River. After four miles they stopped, and found that their captain was looking for a different route. At noon they stopped at Twin Creek, and continued on into the night, stopping at Pass Creek [Grizly Creek.] Traveled 15 miles.


July 9, 1864

Passed through rough and hilly area. Crossed Little Big Horn River [though to be Salmon River] which was 5-6 rods wide [about 90 feet], then Lodge Grass Creek [thought to be Clark’s Fork.] Camped on Rotten Grass Creek, in a small valley with high hills on each side. Drove 18 miles.


July 10, 1874

Hilliest road yet. Stopped at noon on small stream [Soap Creek.] Camped at night on West Soap Creek, near the Big Horn River. Drove 18 miles.


July 11, 1864

Drove to Big Horn about six miles distant. Set up camp and looked for a better route to cross than the one just ahead of us [John Bozeman] a few days before. Couldn’t locate a better crossing. The river divides into five streams at this crossing. Crossing very hard. [This is at Spotted Rabbit Crossing; at the Soap Creek junction with the river, about ten miles downstream of the canyon entrance.]


July 12, 1864

Continued crossing, than drove up river about five miles to bottom to feed animals. This would be at the ‘Emigrant Crossing”, located across from where Fort CF Smith would be built. Hurlbut’s train had 69 wagons. 232 men prospected. Charles Uptegrove decided to leave Hurlbut and catch up with the Bozeman Team. Twenty-one teams were in the group that left.


July 13, 1864

Still in camp, three miles below where river exits from canyon. Some prospected, others layed about.


July 14, 1864

Still in camp, prospected and looked at canyon.


July 15, 1864

Still in camp, some were prospecting.


July 16, 1864

Still in camp, cattle wandered off and had to be rounded up.


July 17, 1864

Some explored 40-50 miles up river, and found no break in the canyon. At the end of their trek they could see a large valley [Big Horn Basin.] Decided to leave in the morning for Yellowstone.


July 18, 1864

Left camp at 5 am and traveled downstream to where we crossed earlier. Left the river and drove over some hills for a mile or two, and arrived at some table land. Found a creek at noon [Beauvais Creek.] Continued on through the poorest country with hills. Hills covered with stones & sage brush. Arrived at Little Woody Creek and camped. Drove 16 miles from the river.


July 19, 1864

Some of the members decided to go on alone and make their way through a gap in the mountains to get to the other side and do some prospecting before heading on to Virginia City. Hurlbut started his train and five others followed, leaving 62 wagons and 205 men in the camp. The remainder elected a new captain [Voorhees], then started out. Road was rough. Passed a cool water spring at noon. Camped on a bottom that borders a small stream thought to be the Nez Perce [Pryor Creek.] drove 16-18 miles.


July 20, 1864

Indians attacked the loose horses, and stole six, plus six mules. That left three wagons without a horse or mule. They shifted the loads, and left one wagon behind. [From that time on they posted guards.] Still in camp of previous day.


July 21, 1864

Started at six, and drove 10 miles to the Yellowstone. Crossed over some crooked and hilly roads. Hardly enough room for a wagon to pass on top without sliding down. Stopped at bottom to repair axle, then traveled up river a few miles, then left it and drove until dark and camped without water or grass. [This would be in the South Hills area east of Duck Creek.] They had been following John Bozeman’s road, but took a wrong turn for about 15 miles. Drove 20 miles.


July 22, 1864

Drove down long hill into a ravine [Duck Creek] for two miles to the Yellowstone where Duck Creek enters. Went upstream 5-6 miles to crossing at Clarks Fork, and continued on for another 2-3 miles until noon. Continued upriver on south side of Yellowstone, but not within sight of river, and camped on river bank About night time came to place where John Bozeman had missed his way, and had left a note on a stick telling us not to climb the hill, but turn to the left. Drove 20 miles.


July 23, 1864

After short distance came to Bridger’s Trail that goes to Virginia City, and followed it. Crossed Rock Creek at noon, and then had to re-cross it. Camped on Red Lodge Creek. Drove 18 miles.


July 24, 1864

We left the small stream and drove over a rough and hilly road. At noon we stopped on creek [Beaver Creek] that was near dry. Camped for nite on Little Rosebud. [West Rosebud Creek] Drove 15 miles.


July 25, 1864

“Water near 3 ft deep. Before noon we crossed Stillwater River and stopped for dinner. While here captain Bridger came along in a buggy drawn by two mules. There were a number of wagons, both freight and returning emigrants with him. [Bridger was returning to Fort Laramie to assume his duties as post guide. However he led one more train to the gold fields starting on September 18th.] Bridger tells me to take the right hand road that he made today when we leave the spring as it will save five miles and a deep canyon [Bridger Canyon.] “ Drove 14 miles.



John Bozeman’s 1864 Wagon Train


John Bozeman was camped on the Platte River in Wyoming at Richard’s Bridge for at least two weeks, trying to collect enough people for his wagon train to Virginia City. He was planning on using the route he located earlier while on horseback in 1863, and again tried to trail with a wagon train some months earlier, but was turned back by Indians. On June 17th, John T. Smith, arrived at the bridge, but decided to wait and follow Bozeman at a later date. Bozeman had collected about 80 wagons, and left on the 18th. He followed Hurlbut’s wagon tracks north to the head of Salt Creek. Here it intersected the trail he made in 1863. From there he went down Salt Creek to the Powder River Crossing; and waited for the Smith party to catch up. They met at the river, and Smith made an agreement with Bozeman that allowed him to follow closely behind the others. At the time he departed, the Bozeman train consisted of 108 wagons and 360 people. While at the Big Horn River, some of Hurlbut’s train joined his, increasing the collective size. It is believed that Smith’s group joined with the Edwards train at Richard’s Bridge, and stayed together until they reached the Powder River junction.


There are no reported diaries of the actual Bozeman Train, but later in 1891, John T. Smith wrote about his activities on the train. This is the only reported record. However, the Montana Territorial Map created by Walter de Lacy in 1864 for the 1865 Legislature meeting in January, depicts the route he took. It also shows the route used by Jim Bridger’s train that same year. The John T. Smith account states they traveled northwest after crossing the Big Horn River, thus reaching the same place as the Hurlbut’s (Voorhees Train) did later on July 21st. The territorial map shows the Bozeman Trail crossing the Big Horn River south of where the Little Big Horn joins. From there they travel slightly northwest to the same place at the Sacrifice Cliff area, where they descend to the river bottom.


Comment: When Smith reported that they crossed Muddy Creek (between Tongue and Little Big Horn) before reaching the Big Horn, this is interpreted to mean that the train is still on the east side of the Little Big Horn, and they cross at the point denoted on the Territorial Map. There is no indication that the wagon train tracks they saw at Spotted Rabbit Crossing[4] was those of the Bozeman Train, but could have been the Edwards’ Train, which was apparently traveling faster than the others. Both apparently crossed at the same place.


“Halfway between present Ranchester and Dayton, the Bozeman train passed the Hurlbut train at Wolf Creek. He probably followed a visible trail from Pass Creek [15 miles north of the Tongue River] to the Big Horn River was the same route in reverse that Bridger followed when he guided the Raynolds’ Expedition in September 1859.”[5]


After reaching Fort Sarpy, the expedition traveled west, down the south side of the Yellowstone, crossing Forty-Four Mile Creek, then southwest to Tullock Creek, crossing it and moving south about 15 miles to where they camped along the Big Horn. [This is about halfway between the Yellowstone and the Little Big Horn Rivers.] They searched both directions for a way to cross the Big Horn, but found none for two days. Travel wasn’t possible with wagons on the east side. They traveled north, and found a good crossing about ¾ mile downstream of the Tullock Creek junction with the Big Horn, about twelve miles north of where they camped. This crossing is about one mile south of the Yellowstone.  From there they traveled south along the Big Horn to about a mile south of Two-Leggins Creek, where they recrossed the Big Horn. They continued south, crossing Rotten Creek, then Soap Creek. From here they followed along the base of the Big Horn Mountains, crossing the Tongue River and into the valley of Clear Creek and down to Lake De Smet. Col. Raynolds wanted to reach the Platte River, so Bridger had to guide them through some very harsh land, ending up at Red Butte, and then west to the Oregon Trail, and the river. This southward journey took a month. (Refer to Raynold’s Expedition on the Yellowstone, 1859)


The reports listed in Journey to the Land of Gold, indicate that John Bozeman followed the reverse of the Raynolds’ Expedition in reaching the Big Horn. This means that he traversed the area essentially straight north to Lake De Smet, and then on to a place somewhere in the vicinity of Two-Leggins Creek, which was later called Spotted Rabbit Crossing. After crossing the Big Horn he then traveled across the sloping badlands of the Crow Reservation towards the Sacrifice Cliff area. There he descended the cliffs and went about two miles south to a campsite, opposite of the future site of Billings. Successive travelers in 1865 and early 1866 ended up on the Motor Cycle Hill Climb area, and then descended directly to the same campsite area.







June 18, 1864 (Dates established from John T. Smith recollection of events, stated in his 1891 story of the trip; Bozeman Chronicle Dec 30th)


John Bozeman wagon train leaves Richard’s Bridge [Evansville, WY], and follows the tracks left by the Hurlbut Wagon Train two days earlier.


“The exact route taken to the Big Horn River is uncertain at best, but early researchers; Mrs. A. L. Garber, F. G. Burnett and Arthur L. Stone provided some insight to the Bozeman Road, that was used by other followers, and not John Bozeman, as to its probable location; mainly from their1908-1909 treks through the area. Jim Bridger had repeatedly stated that the John Bozeman trail (not the Bozeman Road which was developed later) was away from the base of the Big Horn Mountain range. The Bridger’s Bozeman Trail was nearer the mountains, is reflected on his map created in 1866 for Col. Carrington, and reflects the findings of these researchers. This trail also is the one reported on by Garber, Burnett and Stone. The diary notes listed below indicate generalities of the direction taken for the John Bozeman trail, which differs from that of the later followers, and are used to help establish where he was when he arrived at the Big Horn River. The journey essentially started from Fort Kearny, located on the south side of the North Platte River, in Wyoming. [This is near Casper] Col. Carrington reported that he considered the starting point for the trail to actually be at Fort Sedgwick, starting out northwest, crossing the South Platte River and continuing on to the North Platte River, following along the Lodge Pole Creek path. At Courthouse Rock [on the Oregon Trail] the trail went due west on the south side of the North Platte River; past Chimney Rock, Scotts Bluff and Fort Mitchell.


The trail then went northwest to the Laramie River crossing past Fort Laramie where there was a “natural” crossing, or ferry for later travelers. At Fort Laramie the trail passes on the south side of the river, and is on the Oregon Trail, crossing Horseshoe and Elkhorn Creeks. Next is Bridger’s Ferry [two miles east of Orin Junction] the river crossing point.


On the north side of the Platte, the trail went northwest to almost the mouth of the La Prele Creek [opposite of Fort Fetterman.] It then went north for a distance, then veered sharply to the west, then in a northwest direction to where Fort C. F. Smith was located.”[6]


June 21, 1864

The John T. Smith group departs, but was soon overtaken by Mitch Boyer[7], who rushed on ahead to the Bozeman camp. There he informed Bozeman that the Smith group was just behind. Bozeman waited at the Powder River campsite for the Smiths.


June 23, 1864

John Bozeman waited two days for the Smith group to arrive. There they agreed upon a plan to jointly spy out the route. The Smith train would follow a short distance behind that of Bozeman’s.


June 24, 1864

The full train crossed the Powder River [still in Wyoming], and traveled to Piney Creek, where they camped. This is close to where Fort Phil Kearny was later built. 


June -----

After leaving Piney Creek they traveled for some days across the country and reached Goose Creek. They crossed the creek, and then crossed Tongue River, Muddy Creek, and the Little Horn River.


July 4, 1864

The train reached the Big Horn River where they celebrated by killing 100 buffalo.


July 5, 1864

They crossed the Big Horn River and headed northwest along the base of the mountains, crossing many streams and vales until they reached the Yellowstone at a point about two miles below the present town of Billings. From there they traveled west on the south side of the Yellowstone to Clark’s Fork until they intersected the Bridger Trail. [After crossing the Clark’s Fork they traveled northwest towards Rock Creek, crossing it about a mile below Joliet, and were a few days behind the Bridger Train.]


July 6 and later

“We were out of danger of the Indians and each traveled much to suit himself. We came back on to the Yellowstone near Big Timber some distance and crossed it a little below Hunter’s Hot Springs (about four miles east of the spring) and at the mouth of Shield’s River there was a general separation, some going up the Yellowstone to Emigrant Gulch, Bozeman with a party went over the Jacob’s route as it was then called, but is now known as Bozeman Pass. My detachment went up the Shield’s River, followed Bridger’s trail westward through Bridger’s Canyon, and came to Gallatin Valley at the place where Story’s mill now stands.”


There was no mention of their meeting with the Bridger wagon train on July 25th,  or establishing a race with him from Gallatin Valley to Virginia City.




The Bridger Trail


“In 1864 mountain man Jim Bridger blazed an alternate route through Wyoming to the Montana gold fields. The trail separated from the Oregon Trail a few miles west of Red Buttes and traveled northwest, skirting the south end of the Big Horn Mountains to Bad Water Creek. From that creek they headed north up Bridger Creek and over the Bridger Mountains. At the summit of the divide the trail crossed over to Kirby Creek and descended to the Big Horn River. The emigrants passed through the canyon following the Big Horn River to the Nowood[8] River. Here, the trail departed from the Big Horn River and traveled northwest to the Greybull River, which they crossed at Big Bend. They proceeded north to the Shoshone River and followed it downstream to Sage Creek[9] and Clark’s fork of the Yellowstone River. Near here, the Bridger Trail and the Bozeman Trail converged and continued along the Yellowstone River to Shields River. There the trails diverged when crossing over the mountains into the Gallatin Valley. The Bridger Trail continued up the valley to the booming gold mine town of Virginia City, Montana. Over 700 wagons, 1000 head of stock and 2,500 men women and children traveled over the Bridger Trail to Montana in the spring and summer of 1864. Twenty-five percent of the population of Virginia City in 1864 arrived there after traveling the Bridger Trail.”

The Montana Territorial Maps from 1865 to 1868 shows the trail joining with the Bozeman Trail a few miles east of Clark’s Fork, and crossing it at Silesia. To get to Silesia, the route would have had to ascend the South Hills southern rimmed area; probably in the Cottonwood Creek Road vicinity. The later maps show the trail crossing at Five-Mile Creek where Edgar is located. The Bridger Cutoff Trail created to bypass Pryor Gap, crosses Clark’s Fork at Bridger. Intersecting Trails were created to join all the routes together as traffic increased and the need for better freighting, access to grazing lands, and stagecoach routes in the years prior to about 1913 became a necessity. The supporting files used to create the territorial map trails were copied from “Hall’s Emigrants, Settlers and Travelers’ Guide and Hand Book to California, Nevada, Oregon and the Territories”, in which were maps showing roads to the gold fields, including a table of travel distances. At the time it cost a quarter, and was mailed from the New York Tribune Office. After 1868 the maps show the main trail crossing at Edgar.

In 1864, when John Bozeman took his wagon train to Virginia City there was a reported “race” between he and Bridger, both trying to reach it first. This race is a misnomer of sorts. Bridger left the Platte River about three weeks ahead of Bozeman, and took the route through Pryor Gap described above, and after reaching the Yellowstone River ahead of Bozeman, took the trail up Shield’s River, Brackett Creek, and then down Bridger Creek, a very round-about way to reach West Gallatin Valley. There was no planned race. Bridger’s train apparently spent some time in the area between Clark’s Fork and Gallatin Valley, and arrived there to meet up with the Bozeman train. From there they proceeded to “race” to Virginia City[10]. Both arrived at the town within a few hours of each other with Bozeman being first. Had Bridger not squandered his time in the foothills, the Bridger route could have saved about three weeks travel time. Bridger returned to the Platte and guided another train to Virginia City before the end of the year. From the diary accounts it would appear that both trails lacked convenient supplies of grass and water.

“In October 1865 the federal government closed the Bridger Trail to emigrant travel and favored the Bozeman Trail (on the east side of the Big Horns) for military occupation and emigrant protection. These two factors and the [11]coming of the Pacific Railroad in 1869 rendered the Bridger & Bozeman Trails obsolete, until the 1880’s when the Bridger Trail was used regionally in the settlement of Wyoming.” The trail was used heavily for visitation between Billings and the Wyoming towns and ranchers west of the Big Horns prior to the mid 1920’s.

Bridger had guided several fur trapper excursions through the same region, starting in 1830. He had arrived on the Yellowstone in 1822, spending his first winter at Fort Henry (at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers.)

[1] Extracted portions from Journeys to the Land of Gold, Susan Doyle

[2] Ten children were also reported to be in the train. There were 69 wagons.

[3] According to the trail summary, the Hurlbut’s Wagon Train consisted of 124 wagons and 438 people on the 16th.

[4] This is the crossing that Jim Bridger established in 1859 with the Raynolds’ Expedition. Creation of the name is unknown

[5] Extracted from The Gold Rush Trail, Journey to the Land of Gold, by Susan Doyle; pg 148-149 Vol II.

[6] The Bozeman Trail, Grace Hebard, 1922

[7] Unknown as to why Mitch was traveling to the Bozeman camp.

[8] This should probably be “No Water creek”; since the trail as shown on the Montana Territorial maps do not show the trail crossing that creek.

[9] Sage Creek originates in the Pryor Gap and adjacent Pryor Mountain ranges, and flows southwest

[10] Refer to Olin Wheeler, “The Trail of Lewis & Clark, Vol ii, page 327”; where he describes the race from West Gallatin to Virginia City; and routes taken.

[11] Extracted from Wyoming State Museum, and may be freely reproduced for education purposes if proper credit is given to the Wyoming State Museum.

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Katy Hestand
Yellowstone County Coordinator

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