Yellowstone County Biographies
© 2014 MTGenWeb
[Huntley Experimental Station information
supplied by Ron Ross, MT State College 1960, and Huntley tales by Edward
Thomas McGirl was an Irish native who
operated a ferry at Baker Ground. This was a stopping point on the Yellowstone River for travelers. He arrived there in
May 1877 and immediately filed for a Homestead.
In 1878 he opened a post office there, and renamed the place Huntley. The post
office was relocated after the railroad arrived. He was a veteran of the Fifth
Missouri Mounted Infantry, and arrived in Montana in 1875. Paul McCormick established
a trading post near the Big
outflow in the fall of 1875, becoming his closest neighbor. The other neighbor
in 1875 was Horace Countryman at Stillwater (Columbus). Horace
operated a trading post and ferry.
According to Dunne, a station was established on the Yellowstone
at Baker Ground for the ‘Salisbury Stage Line’ and was located
south of the river. McGirl and Hoskins originally owned the station until 1879
when they sold it to Hagy & Smith. Hagy & Smith were Fort Custer
merchants. (Dunne ran the store and ferry for them.) With the proceeds from the sale McGirl and
Hoskins entered the cattle business together, becoming the largest ranchers in Yellowstone Valley.
In 1882 Dunne bought the business, but was later forced to give it up as Billings became more
prosperous than Huntley. Eddy currents on both sides of the river made it an
ideal site for a ferry. It is reported that McGirl was busy every day, and
usually ended up with a ‘sock full’ of money. Current changes in
the river made the ferry crossing dangerous, and after several accidents he added
a heavy cable to hold the ferry steady.
When the first bank in Billings was established, shortly after July
1882 (branch of Stebbins, Post & Mund from Deadwood),
Thomas reportedly made the first deposit. He had a flowing beard and a powerful
frame accompanied by distinctive marks of old age as he rode up to the bank. He
was heavily armed and called out for the banker. The banker (believed to be H.
H. Mund; the bank manager) thought it was a holdup until McGirl stuck a sack of
gold and currency into his hands, and asked to make a deposit.
The privately held bank existed for about a decade, and then the First National
Bank acquired its asset, and Preston Moss became its president. Located on
Montana Avenue and the NW corner of 27th Street (2701 Montana Avenue
– in the Belknap Block.) H. H. Mound was cashier and co-founder.
Originally the bank had $50,000
in assets when it was nationalized, then shortly thereafter the assets were
doubled. Stebbins was president for three years, and then Mund took control
until its sale in 1892.
McGirl held several warrants in the area. First being a cash sale on
8-20-1886 for 160 acres, followed by other smaller plots on former Crow
Reservation land for homesteading and mining. His 1875 claim has not been
The ferry was the starting point to Fort Maginnis and Barker mining
districts to the north, and on the communication lines between Fort Custer and
other military posts. There was a comfortable hotel, ample liquor, home cooked
meals by Mrs. Hoskins. Muddy Williams and W. A.
Allen (later was Billings
dentist) provided wild meat and fowl for the travelers.
Trappers and Indians traded furs at the site, and often the post was so busy
that the hides were kicked into the yard until they could be stored in a
warehouse, awaiting arrival of a steamboat. Once there were seven steamboats
being loaded at one time. Furs provided trappers several options: 1) credit for
various needs; wagons, teams, ammunition and guns, and 2) cash from the fur
company. Yogo silver mines in the northwest brought a boom of prosperity to the
area, and a branch store by Frith was established. The mine played out and the Huntley profits
soon vanished. Other traffic at Huntley was generated by lawyers and judges
going to the county seat at Miles City, lawmen and their prisoners passing
through, and railroad crews. The railroad ended the town’s growth. The
Coulson Packet Line and about ten other steamboats served the town before the railroad
arrived. Captain Grant Marsh, who operated the Josephine, was quoted as saying:
“being able to take his boat wherever there was a heavy dew.”
Steamboat travel ceased in 1883, and the ferry operated until 1884. At the end
of May 1877 the Josephine River boat made it’s first cargo trip to
Huntley, providing supplies for Thomas who had traveled to Bismarck for the
order, and then on to the new trading post (Coulson) founded by Perry McAdow
further upstream, arriving there on June 7th, 1877. This is when
Captain Marsh tied up to the famous “Josephine Tree.” From the
available records it appears that McAdow wasn’t onsite at the time, but
that Captain Marsh must have seen the campsite of Joseph
MV Cochran’s and stopped there (Riverfront Park.)
Originally, years before 1882, the NPR planned to cross the river at
Huntley, and lay track to Fort Benton. Surveys were completed after 1875. NPR
intended to lay a branch line south to Coulson, and place another bridge at
that site. NPR changed their mind, and selected Coulson as the prime route for
the crossing. For two years he supplied rail and performed grading operations
for NPR. With traffic essentially diverted from the town in 1883, Huntley was
doomed. McGirl stayed in the area, turning to raising livestock after the
railroad took away his other businesses.
In 1907 the U. S. Reclamation Service established a demonstration farm at
Huntley. In 1910 it was a field station for the Department of Agriculture. In 1953
it became a branch station for The Montana Agricultural Experiment Station.
This station was a guide for farmers. Irrigated and dryland crop practices were
tried from 1912 to 1953, establishing what procedures worked best for each
The Merchants’ National Bank of Deadwood was organized April 1, 1880, succeeding the bank of Stebbins, Post & Mund, W. R. Stebbins, president; Seth Bullock, vice-president; A. Fox, cashier. The directors were, S. Bullock, W. R. Stebbins, A. Fox, D. McLaughlin, F. Jensen, F. M. Allen, W. E. Adams, J. Deetken and J. A. Harding
Junction City, Haven of Bullwhackers, Trappers and Soldiers, WH Banfill, 1931 [Published in the Gazette] The Merchants National Bank dates from March, 1879, when Messrs. Stebbins, Post, & Mund opened a private bank with a capital of $20,000, which within a few weeks it was found necessary to increase to $50,000. In November of the same year the Merchants National Bank was organized, and the old one merged into it, with a capital of $100,000. A new brick building was nearly completed when the great fire destroyed it. The day succeeding the fire, work was commenced on a new building, the bank in the meantime continuing business in a temporary building. The new building was completed in the summer of 1880. The institution in the summer of 1883 had a line of deposits averaging nearly $400,000, and an annual business of several millions, with a large surplus. (Lawrence Co, SD History)
Yellowstone County Coordinator