Yellowstone County MTGenWeb

Yellowstone County History

Early Postal Routes


The postal routes and mail delivery system within Montana were established by the Postmaster General in Washington City (eg., DC). He generally took advice from the Territorial Delegates and Governors regarding where routes are needed. Mail delivery was essentially picked up and delivered to a postal location, such as a town or army post. Individuals went to those locations for their mail; and the postal offices were generally combined with an existing business; saloon, store and the like. When steamboats proved to be effective in transportation within Montana, the Postmaster General ordered that mail shall be delivered in the following sequence between points: 1) by steam “steamboat or train”, and then; 2) by stagecoach. With the land mass so very wide-spread in Montana, this allowed for some unique delivery systems and opportunities for fraud in the mail contracts. There were no Yellowstone County specific mail delivery systems in the early days, as all were linked as part of another over-all delivery contracting system. General mail delivery essentially started after 1863; prior to that the mail between military forts was handled by army couriers. The Postal Service map of service for the United States in 1867 (ED Boyd – mf000055.sid) shows delivery in the local area being delivered to Fort CF Smith over the Bozeman Road and Hazen Trail. Mail delivery to Big Horn City is noted; but no route indicated. Hazen Trail is a spur that connects Fort Benton with Fort CF Smith. The Bozeman Trail (Road) connects Fort Kearney, NB with Virginia City. Not shown on this map are secondary roads (wagon roads) connecting Fort CF Smith with Big Horn City and Sully’s Point on the Powder River. These roads are on the west and south sides of the Big Horn and Yellowstone Rivers. It continues to Fort Keogh. (Identified by Walter DeLacy in 1864-5 on ct001859.jp2) Concurrently with these postal roads, there existed a trail/road on the north side of the Yellowstone River connecting Bozeman with Fort Union (later passing through Fort Keogh and Miles City). This was known after 1877 as the Tongue River Road (going east), or the Bozeman Road (going west). This later route had many controversial issues with the local residents, the postal delivery operators and the Postmaster General.


Hazen Trail Route


This trail (road) was created by General Hazen in 1866 after a visit to Fort Phil Kearney. Fort CF Smith’s site was about to be located by Jim Bridger when the General arrived at Fort Phil Kearny and took a small group of soldiers along to provide protection – and to show the way to Fort Benton. It is believed that Jim

Bridger most likely gave the route description to the group before departing; as he was very familiar with that region of Montana. Most of the route is on private land today, and used in-part by the ranchers for their use. The segment leaving Fort CF Smith follows the John Bozeman route for a short distance, then cuts north and crosses the Yellowstone River below Pompey’s Pillar.


Portions of the route near the Yellowstone River today are only passable by foot. Land erosion has created deep channels in the earth; and these sections of the route haven’t been used for many decades. At the river crossing there were some ‘rings’ set into the banks, apparently used for drawing a ferry across during high water. [These artifacts haven’t been located nor verified.]


This Postal Mail Contract hasn’t been researched nor located.














Yellowstone Stage Line


This line was established soon after Fort Keogh and Miles City were established. This route followed the survey made by Lt Maynadier in 1860. In existence for over a decade prior to this time, the Wells Fargo stage/postal lines from Fort Benton to Fort Hall were in constant operation. They established a new standard for mail delivery. Although they called themselves a stage line, one apparently had to be ‘connected’ in order to gain access to the coaches that were usually filled with mail. They ran a tight and honest operation concentrating upon the timely delivery of mail. Way stations and horse feed lots were spread about 20 miles apart. All of their animals were ‘grain’ fed, and could easily outrun the grass-fed horses of the Indians. They used six horses on the flat lands, and eight on the hilly areas. From the various reports – these horses loved their job, and really desired the running aspect. Although Wells Fargo has published some great books about their stages, the best review can be obtained from “Carrie Adell Strahorn’s Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage,” Two-Volume Diary, pub 1911. The Yellowstone Stage line originated in Helena and went south to Bozeman, then eastward to Miles City. The mail contract was held by the Salsbury’s etal. [Mail Contract not yet researched] According to the postal rules, there can be no over-lapping of mail delivery contracted routes. Thus this line must have picked up and delivered mail at one of the Wells Fargo postal stops between Helena and Bozeman. [Transfer location needs to be established, along with the contract number and issuance date.] This was an honest postal route. There were two humors incidents that occurred on this line:


1)      After 1877 the line delivered mail and passengers to Terry’s Landing (a local name). This location was opposite of Cantonment Terry, which was constructed by the military for transportation and storage of army supplies delivered by riverboats, and was located slightly to the west of that place. Later it was renamed Junction City.  A swing ferry was in operation by saloon owners, Brown & Davis in 1878, and that ferry was soon replaced by a better style. Mail wasn’t delivered to Terry’s Landing until the townsfolk petitioned for service. Prior to that, mail was delivered to Pompey’s Pillar (to the west), and Pease Bottom (to the east.) John C Guy operated a small PO & stage stop in Pease Bottom where he had 160 acres of farm land. This was eight miles from Junction City. Junction City had no PO facility at the time, so some folks stole John’s PO. It was returned under a threat of a federal offense.

2)      In 1879 the Postal Service established a mail route from Rock Springs, WY (junction point with the Union Pacific RR) connecting with John C Guy’s PO, now called Eschetah. This route connected with the military forts north of Rock Springs, Fort Custer, and the Eschetah, the terminus. This now meant that mail was being delivered in parallel between Junction City and Eschetah, a direct violation of the law. Besides that, the mail arriving at Junction City from the Rock Springs line was being sorted at that PO, and Junction City wasn’t a legal postal stop for that line. This and several other fraudulent lines caused the Postmaster General to be removed from office. The next mail delivery stop on the Yellowstone Stage line heading east was restricted to Froze to Death Station (26-miles distant). None of the mail arriving at Junction City from the south was to be off-loaded or sorted there, as this wasn’t a designated stop.



South Hills, Yellowstone County and Crow Reservation Postal Service


As homesteaders arrived, and permanent residences were created, numerous mail routes were established throughout the region. These local areas were virtually ‘riddled’ with trails that ‘criss-crossed’ each other. Postal boxes and home delivery was started. A few of the many post offices are recorded on some topo maps. The delivery routes and addition of all the others is a ‘work in progress.” These are planned to be added when the initial route contracts for each are located. Mail service in South Hills[1] is partially defined in “Tales and Trails”, by Birdie Street and Monica Weldon.





Cleve Kimmel – ([email protected])

Original Release Date: January 1, 2010.

Referenced documents that contain current copy rights cannot be copied and submitted in their entirety – only granted excerpts. No file that is downloaded to a recipient can be utilized in multiple-mailing lists; or for a fee or profit. Files downloaded are for the expressed usage by the recipient in pursuit of historical information or genealogical background.


[1] South Hills is the land mass area between the Yellowstone River and The Crow Reservation boundary; and the Blue Creek Road and Pryor Valley area. The highest point in Yellowstone County is at the edge of South Hills, located at Stratford Hill.

  Email me:
Katy Hestand
Yellowstone County Coordinator

© 2014 MTGenWeb