Paul J. McCormick – “Grand
Old Man of Montana”
Revised Monday, May 28, 2012[Added more details
& McCormick Trail links]
Paul was a native of New York, born in Greenwood,
Stuben County, NY on 14 June 1845. His father, James, and
mother, Margaret were both from Ireland.
He wrote a lot of early western history before his death at age 75, on January
26, 1921. He grew up in the New York area,
first attending their public schools, then the Alfred Academy.
He arrived in Montana Territory in 1866, settling first in Middle Creek, Gallatin area where brothers James and Robert had settled
in 1864 after spending some time in Virginia City.
His brothers took seven months to travel from Wisconsin by oxen. Here he tilled the soil
for a while on their land.
1870 Colonel Baker headed an expedition against the Piegan Indians. McCormick
supplied the wagons and went along on the trip. In 1874 he accompanied an
expedition from Fort Ellis led by Major Pease, in an attempt to secure a
wagon road through the hostile Yellowstone valley area that would enable them
to connect Bozeman
with the head of river navigation. This is considered to be the first invasion
of the Yellowstone valley since Captain James Stuart’s prospecting party
were evicted by warring Crow Indians in 1863. The party contained 130 soldiers
and prospectors. They left Ft Ellis on 13 February 1874. After arriving at a
place near Livingston they acquired more people trying to reach the Tongue River. The group now had 147 people, 200 horses
and mules, 28 yoke of oxen, 22 wagons with supplies for four months, two pieces
of artillery with 150 rounds of ammunition. The men carried 40,000 rounds of
ammunition for their personal guns. After 90 days they were forced back by
constant Indian attacks, reaching the safety of Ft Ellis on May 11. In August
or September 1875 he along with Zed Daniels and Major Fellows D. Pease went to
the Livingston area where they built bullboats (Mackinaws) and floated supplies
down the Yellowstone
River. This was the first
attempt to open a settlement (Trading Post – called Fort
Pease by the trappers) on the east
side of Big Horn
River, close to the banks of the Yellowstone River. [The fort can be reached by
crossing the Yellowstone
River, north of Custer,
on the old Meyers cutoff road & follow it to the old Draper (Cunningham)
ranch. There was a plaque placed at the ranch
entrance, which denoted the location of the stockade. [The Yellowstone River
flows north at this point and the fort was located on the west side of it.
Since 1875, the river has changed its course, and is now considerably east of
the actual fort site, which was located next to the riverbank.]
Sioux Indians started attacking the settlers, eventually killing six and
wounding nine members of the party before they were rescued. The Sioux warriors
eventually drove the party from the area and back to Bozeman after eight months of fighting. Major
James Brisbin, and his troops from Fort Ellis, Montana, arrived at the site on March 4, 1876, (just
north of present day Custer, near Hysham) in central Montana, where Indians had besieged the 46
members of McCormick’s group. At the time of Major Brisbin's rescue, the
major reported that “six whites were killed, eight wounded, and 13
escaped.” Major Brisbin escorted the remaining 19 members to safety at Bozeman. The post was
abandoned. [If the eight months duration of fighting was correct, McCormick
must have reached his trading post site before August 1875 two months after the
Josephine made its maiden voyage up the Yellowstone River.]
the Custer battle in June 1876, McCormick was honored to raise the first
American flag commemorating the new fort in Big
located at his original trading post site and renamed Fort Pease.
[The precise date for founding of this fort was apparently not recorded, or at
least not readily available, but would have been in late June or early July in
The fort apparently was manned until the fall of 1876, when the army took the
‘Fort Pease adventurers’ away. John Guy
(ex-sheriff of Gallatin
County) and his sons
located ground on the upper end of the valley (now named Pease Bottom) near the
fort. Soon afterwards other settlers arrived and they took the logs in the
buildings and stockade for their own use. Guy dug up the buried men who had
died during the Indian attack, and moved four of their bodies to the hill at the
upper end of the valley. The survivors of the Fort Pease
battle, and others who were interested reimbursed Guy for his trouble, and
headstones were erected. Records are scarce, but the six who died and the ones
who were moved were identified in the “Chronicles of the Yellowstone,” as:
Shivley - shot by Indians leaving the fort. (Buried at fort)
James Edwards - buried near corner of stockade. (Moved)
Fred Harlan - killed October 1, 1875. (Moved)
Mason - buried December 18, 1875, north of the fort about 15 miles above its (Big Horn
Pat Sweeney - shot January 2, 1876, and died 18 days later.
Joe Jessie - Frenchman, death date unknown. (Moved)
In June 1877, Bill Taylor settled on the north side of
the river (Yellowstone) a short distance from the fort (ten miles above) and
directly opposite of Cantonment Terry (soldiers post), he opened a store. This
was where McCormick also settled about the same time and started a lively trade
business with river men and soldiers. The trading post was named Terry’s
Landing at first, but saloons, restaurants, with a dance hall and the other
places soon came. Thus the name was not considered dignified enough so it was
changed to Junction City.
[Note: locations of towns are not exact, and according to the “Eastern
Slope”, Vol 1, No 3, September 1909]:
“The first attempt to establish a settlement at
Junction, a name derived from the confluence of the Big Horn and Yellowstone on
the opposite shore, was somewhere in 1875, when a few of the more hardy and
venturesome men on the east side of the Rockies occasionally stopped there to
barter with the Indians. But it was not until the spring of 1877 that anything
like a permanent settlement was accomplished. It was then that Paul McCormick,
now of Billings (1909) but then living in Miles City,
in the company of Major Pease, landed there with a small stock of merchandise
and opened a store which the major conducted, Mr. McCormick remaining at Miles City,
where he had another store.”
“The battle of the Little Big Horn, where Custer
and his troopers of the Seventh Cavalry fell the year before, had determined
the war department to build posts in this part of Montana. One was located at the mouth of the
Tongue, Fort Keogh, and the other, named after
General Custer, within a few miles of the battlefield where he was
“This caused great activity on the Yellowstone and steamboats were common, used if
forwarding troops and supplies for the new posts. General Terry was in command
of this department and he established a landing place for Fort Custer,
opposite Junction. For a long time this was known as Terry’s Landing, but
when the Northern Pacific railroad was projected west from Bismarck the place was renamed Custer, a name
it now bears. Buildings for shelter for men and stores were erected and a
considerable number of soldiers were maintained there in Cantonment to guard
the supplies and protect the few whites who(m) were living along the river.
Although it would seem that Terry’s Landing had it over Junction, the
later continued to grow slowly until the spring of ’78 when it had become
famous as an outfitting place for the country to the north and northwest. Mr.
McCormick closed out his business at Miles
City and removed to
Junction and the little store soon became a large concern.”
“Being the head of navigation on the
Yellowstone, Junction became the headquarters for the freighting outfits that
hauled merchandise and supplies to Fort
Maginnis and Maiden on the north and Fort McKinney
on the south. Often hundreds of men and teams could be seen there and the town
was characteristic of the times and the people. It was a
“wide-open” town with little law, save what the people made for
themselves, yet it was not a wholly bad place. “Gun plays” were
common but only one actual killing stands to its credit.”
“The last steamboat to arrive was the Batchelor,
which ran its nose against the bank in ’82, steam boating having seen its
finish upon the arrival of the railroad. While it has been said that the
Batchelor arrived at Junction, the truth is, the steamboat got no further than
Pease Bottom, twelve miles below, where it wintered and returned down the river
in the following spring. Its departure was celebrated with a dance which was
attended by almost everybody from Junction and the surrounding country.”
[Continued: See Junction
City Biography for other pioneers and more details.]
the Junction City
store, which was at first a branch outlet of the J. Ellis & Co., was
established as the firm of McCormick & Carlyle. Charles Richard Ely Spear
[brother to Paul’s wife, born 15 May 1860] arrived there in the spring of
1882. Together they handled general merchandise, groceries, clothing, dry
goods, hardware, drugs, lumber, and anything that would be needed in the
frontier. Carlyle died the next year, in the spring of 1883, and in the fall T.
C. Power & Co., bought Carlyle’s half-interest. The name was changed
to “Paul McCormick & Co.” In 1886 he entered into the cattle
business and bought out the Nelson Story herd’s “Ox Yoke”
brand, which had grazing rights established on the Crow Indian Reservation east
of the South Hills area near Billings.
He ran 20,000 head of cattle and 100,000 head of sheep on the reservation. At
the same time, he and United States Senator T. C. Power, from Helena
jointly contracted to build roads in Yellowstone
Park. Their construction
included roads from Dunraven Pass over Mount
Washburn, and from Thumb
to the South Entrance. They also built the Corbett tunnel near Powell, WY.
His son, Paul Jr, supervised the construction. He also held meat contracts with
several nearby Indian Reservations.
then had the distinction of ‘raising the flag’ between the Crow
Indian Agency and the Union Pacific Railroad [presumably bringing peace and
settlement to both sides.]Following
this ceremony he and the military commandant ventured into Crow land and established
trade routes with the Indians. After that he successfully contracted with the
Crow Indians for grazing rights, presumably an extension of the Ox Yoke brand.
He and his family held these rights until 1926. Local Crow Indian ranchers
recall Paul Jr. (Son of the pioneer elder), and liked him very much. They state
that he constructed the trail (wagon
road) leading from Pryor Creek alongside of Monument Creek, and onto the
South Hills plateau. The hilltop is
called McCormick’s Hill, and his brother Alphonso ran a small ranch
there. Part of this road was created by dynamite blasting it into the face of
the rocky-rimed area just below Collier
Road; it is believed that the road was actually
constructed by wagon team drivers in 1868, which delivered supplies to Fort C.
F. Smith. [Perry McAdow & Nelson Story-freighter owners.]. It is now closed
to all visitors. He then moved to Miles
City, started a freight
line, and also sold general merchandise there.
He moved to Junction City
in 1879, and from that time until 1883 he hauled freight from that place on a
route later taken over by Thomas C Power. [In 1869 Mr. Power opened a general store on the Missouri river and then
took over the freighting business that ran on the Benton
trail from Ft. Benton
to Helena.] He represented Custer County
at the first constitutional convention for statehood, and helped draft its
1898, with the large cattle operations phased out the costs to ship stock
increased. In addition, state taxes were being added to the cattle grazing on
the Reservation. Indians were killing stock owned by Portus Weare and Thomas
Paton. Both claimed that each lost 2,000 head to the killing. The Indians admitted
killing the stock, but denied that any belonged to these two persons. In
consideration of resolving the mess, Weare’s entire lease was transferred
to Paul McCormick, who promised in exchange to build fifty miles of fence line
to separate the affected Districts. This became known as “the McCormick
Fence” and it separated Districts 3 and 4, in a northeasterly direction.
About 500 Indians complained to Agent Stouch about the
fence. They hadn’t been interviewed on the matter, and their permission
had not been obtained. They also asserted that the first contracts (leases)
were for a period of three years, and made with their knowledge and consent,
with one-year continuance allowed; but all leases since 1895 were made without
their knowledge, and now a fence was to be constructed without their approval.
Agent Stouch stopped
construction on the fence, but Secretary Thomas Ryan approved the original
proposal; and the fence construction was restarted. The Crows continued to
complain about the fence, but it was built.
started the Paul McCormick Cattle Company, and for ten years was one of the
leading cattlemen in Montana.
He then became president of the Custer
Cattle Co with brand “7-7”, with
TC Power and AC Johnson as partners; and in 1898 was vice president of the
Spear Brothers Cattle Co. He moved to Billings
in 1891 and was general partner in the Donovan-McCormick, a general merchandise
company. He established the Custer Forwarding Company, and conducted a large
freighting business between Junction City,
Custer, Fort Maginnis,
Fort McKinney, and Buffalo (WY). Freighting
was accomplished by wagons hitched to oxen or horses. In 1894 the Billings store of Donovan & Spear purchased the
McCormick store at Junction City.
They operated it for about four years, selling their interests to Harry Scott.
The site of the store has long since been erased by the Yellowstone
when its course was changed. Paul also ran 100,000 head of sheep on the Crow
his stay in Junction City,
the local paper “Sheep Herder” often reported about his affairs.
The following are a few excerpts from the 1890 issues,
they read like a diary, and identify numerous contracts for freighting and services
to the Crow Reservation areas, many of which are directed towards Paul.
March 20 Paul
McCormick went west on No.1 Tuesday morning. [NPR train]. Paul McCormick was on
the streets again Monday, after an illness of five days. Paul McCormick is the
lowest bidder on Camp
by one-tenth of a cent. Joseph Graham & Emmerson loaded their mule teams
with 40,000 pounds of tombstones for Custer Battle Ground Monday.
April 24 “Paul
McCormick was seen making medicine for rain one day last week. He has a wolf
tail hanging at the corner of his store and the Crows claim that to be a heap
good. Joe Graham gets a thousand cords of wood to put in to Fort Custer;
price $7.17 per cord: Paul McCormick gets the other three thousand cords at a
higher rate. J.J. (James) McCormick, the new manager for the Paul McCormick
& Company, takes to the business and is winning friends daily. Charlie
Skinner, of Big Horn, had a 12-horse team at Custer Station Tuesday loading
freight for his store. Monigan & Emmerson’s mule teams pulled out
Tuesday for Crow Agency, loaded with flour. Billy Sales, with an 8-yoke bull
team is here loading for S. A. Leverton & Co., Sheridan. William Haux two
12-horse teams pulled out Monday loaded with potatoes for the commissary at Fort Custer.
Fort Custer hay went for $16.00 per ton. If
it does not rain, the contractor will wish he was at the bottom of the sea with
McGinty! Frank D. & Emmet McCormick
returned last Friday from Wyoming
with a load of saddle horses they had purchased over there for the 7-7. Four
4-horse teams passed through Junction last Thursday from Sheridan,
Wyo., enroute to Maiden and Great Falls, all young men looking for work.
That’s right, Montana
has plenty of work for working men. Idlers had better stay away.”
May 1 Paul
McCormick was awarded 1,100,000-pound oat contract to be delivered to Fort Custer.
May 15 Paul
McCormick received contract for 200 tons of baled hay to be delivered to Fort Custer
by July 1st.
June 26 Paul
McCormick is putting in ten tons of baled hay at Cantonment.
July 10 Paul
McCormick and William Hank are searching for timber lands suitable for making
railroad ties.[They returned after eight days.]
August 21 Paul
McCormick lost a bid to deliver 100 tons of baled hay to Fort Custer.
Won by a firm from St. Paul.
Sept 4 Paul
McCormick and family traveled to St
Sept 11 Paul
McCormick traveled to Helena
to partake in the State Convention.
1906 to 1911 his son Paul, Jr commanded Billings Company K of the Montana
National Guard. In 1916, as a Captain, he was sent to Douglas, Arizona
near the Mexican border. During WWI he was an artillery officer, and was sent
overseas. While traveling on the troopship “Tuscania” off the coast
in February 1918, it was torpedoed. 1,800 men were rescued, he being one, and
200 others lost their lives. He entered the Army Reserve after WWI, and was a
cavalry major from 1924 through 1945.
1908 he sold out to the Yegen Brothers, Hughes and Yates. After retirement, he
ran an elk & buffalo ranch along the edge of the north rims in Billings. He owned a
building on North 29th
Street, and a block of residences on North 31st Street.
He had a 22x34 foot long log cabin reconstructed in 1893 on the property, and
was planned to be used as a community center, later it was used for the YMCA.
The cabin was sold to Mrs. Nellie Elliot, who in turn sold it to the YMCA.
1952-1953 Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. chose the McCormick block as their new office site,
which included the cabin. On April 13, 1953, Peter Yegen and Paul McCormick,
Jr., asked the oil company for the cabin stating they planned to use it for a
museum. Oil company manager, W. W. Clawson gladly gave them the cabin, with the
stipulation it be moved within 30 days. Numerous city officials assisted in
clearing the land and property holding details that concerned the transfer. One
of the problems was that no one wanted the cabin to be placed on or near their
land. Eastern Montana College
[MSU-Billings] had land available, but the details needed to gain permission
could not be accomplished within the allotted time. Land on the Pioneer Park site’s north boundary was
originally designated to be a museum site, but 17 citizens living near by
objected stating: “the cabin would hurt the Park as it was originally
intended.” Dick & Marjorie Logan came up with idea to place it on
the rims. This idea was approved and Fred Zeier moved the building, sod roof
and all. Arthur Archibald disassembled the interior fireplace and each stone
numbered for relocation. The stone mantle was inadvertently hauled to the dump
by a workman, but was recovered. It was stated by townspeople “the reason the museum is on the rims
by Bill Hart’s monument is he was the only one who didn’t object to
it.” The first Northern
Pacific switch engine that helped create the railroad line in Billings on August 22, 1882 was donated to
the museum. The Hi-Ball Contractors moved the engine “Old 1031” to
its final resting spot after it arrived in Billings under its own power. Edward B. Stanton from St. Paul presented the engine to the town on
May 25 1957. In the fall of 1959 the Yellowstone Historical Society purchased
the Walters’ collection of Indian artifacts, the finest and oldest
collection in the county. The cabin is now called the Yellowstone County
Museum. When Paul
relocated from Junction City to Billings in 1893 he purchased the Cabin home
built by Conrad, on 31st
Ave N for his residence. This cabin was originally
bought by Alfred Myers, and then resold to Paul. After Socony-Vacuum purchased
the property, much of home furnishings were acquired by the Buffalo Bill
Museum in Cody. The home
was a landmark of elegance, and contained a hanging staircase designed by R. R.
Rowe, a Boston cabinetmaker who moved to Billings in 1892. The
home contained seven fireplaces; and a Packet Steamer originally shipped most
of the furnishings to their first home in Junction
cabin was his first home at Junction. After a few years he added a wing to the
structure to accommodate the growing family. After he made arrangements to
leave Junction and settle in Billings,
the structure was dismantled and the logs transported on or about March
1893 to its new resting place alongside the alley near his home. This he
referred to as his “Daniel Boone” cabin. It was used for guests and
parties. The window arrangements were changed to accommodate a single-room, and
a fireplace added at one end. The false ceiling was removed, and the logs left
exposed. If you visit the cabin (Yellowstone
you will be able to see the cuts made into the logs where the dividing walls
once stood. The “not identified” portion was probably the kitchen.
After the addition was created, it might have been simply a storage area.
See attached for details on the Junction City cabin. In preparation for his
relocation to Billings,
and afterwards he acquired all of one city block. Many of the lots were rented
to others. The acquisition history is presented on the Land
was an active Republican and delegate to the 1888 convention, a member of the
territorial legislature, member of the Knight’s of Columbus, member of
Lodge 394 of the BPOE, head of a committee to welcome President Taft to Billings, and a personal
friend of Theodore Roosevelt. The Montana Society of Pioneers elected
him president of that organization in 1906.
Family Lineages (Partial)
McCormick and spouse Mary Margaret _____, both of Ireland,
moved to Rexville, NY and had six sons:
Robert McCormick. Born 7 Mar 1840, Rexville, Steuben, NY.
Died 21 August 1928 in Billings.
The last of six brothers, he married Mary Moran, daughter of Martin & Mary
Lee Moran, from Ireland.
Mary was born 15 August 1854 in Rexville, died 31 Mar 1930 in Billings. Robert came to Montana
in 1864 with brother James, settling first in Virginia City, then onto farmland
in Gallatin County. They had nine children, and
resided at 510 N 22nd
St prior to their deaths.
Frank D. McCormick. Born 18 Jun 1843 in Rexville, NY.
Died 3 Mar 1926 in Billings.
Married Lillian Malvina Martin, born: 16 Mar 1868, Bellaire,
Ohio, she is buried in Mountview Cemetery,
(died 28 February 1932) as Mrs. Frank McCormick. [Note: she remarried
Francis DeSales after Frank’s death.] Was Deputy Sheriff in Junction City, and operated freighting business with the
army at Fort Custer; also cattle rancher.
John McCormick. Senator from Wyoming. Paul and he traveled to Montana in 1866, and at
first resided with brothers Robert and James in Gallatin Co.
Alphonso (Alphonsus) McCormick. Came to Montana with brother
Robert after Paul and John. Took up homesteading on the land overlooking
Monument Creek in South Hills of Billings,
at edge of Indian Reservation. (Monument Trail is also called McCormick’s
James J. McCormick. Born: February 28 1837 calculated
from age at death.) Came to Montana with
Robert in 1864, and farmed in the Gallatin
area. [Some biographies state he came with Paul in 1866 to Montana.] Died: 13 March 1922 in Chicago. [Married Mary Jane O’Hara; born 13 Mar
1847 Sheldon, VT,
died 31 Jul 1924 Billings.
Her father was Bernard (Ire), mother was Martha Hogan (Sheldon, VT). James died before 16 Mar 1916, in Billings.
Born 14 June 1845, Rexville,
NY. (Birthplace sometimes listed
in biographies as: Greenwood, Stuben County, NY).
Died 21 June 1921 in Billings, following a long
illness; and is buried in Mountview
Cemetery. He married Mary
Catherine Spear on 23 February 1879 in Helena,.
[Mary was born 23 Feb 1856 in Sweetgrass, Nodaway Co, MO. She died 11 May 1943.
Parents were Willis Bradford Spear (born 12 Jan 1824 in Chautauqua,
NY) and Jane Ferguson (born 2 Feb 1826 in Ashtabula, OH.)
They had five children: Paul Jr, Myrl, Blythe,
Edith (died at age 2), and Guy (died at age 4).