Yellowstone County MTGenWeb

Yellowstone County Biographies

Ignatius Daniel O’Donnell
Area Irrigation


Revised Monday, May 28, 2012

In the 1919 “Country Gentlemen” publication, I. D. (Bud) O’Donnell was referred to as the “best farmer in America.” He was born in Simcoe, Ontario, Canada on 19 September 1860. He was the son of Daniel and Margaret (McIntosh) O'Donnell, of Scotch-Irish ancestry.  His father Daniel was born in County Mayo, Ireland; his mother Louise Orton was born in Freeland, Michigan.  The family located in 1866 in Saginaw County Michigan and came to Miles City in 1881, then to Coulson by 1882. Hearing about gold in Maiden he rushed there, only to discover he couldn’t get a job. He found one at a horse ranch near Fort Maginnis, northeast of Lewistown. There he met Parmly Billings and E. G. Bailey (son and nephew of the fifth NPR president, Frederick Billings). O’Donnell soon was in charge of the Billings ranch located at Hesper (eight miles west of Billings). Together with Bailey he bought a Hesper farm owned by Rev. Stuart; and in 1900 he bought Bailey’s interest in the farm. He continued his agricultural career by raising the first sugar beets in the valley. He was instrumental in the 1906 construction of the sugar factory in Billings.

He was a director for the Merchant’s National Bank, a leader in the affairs of the Billings Polytechnic Institute, Chamber of Commerce, Montana Farm Bureau, State and County Fairs, Horticulture Board, WWI Council of Defense, Montana Stock Commission, Montana Water Conservation Board, School Board, and various other civic societies, including compiling most the areas’ history.

He was responsible for the rebuilding of the Big Ditch, serving farmers in the local area valleys, and in 1892 he arranged for the farmers to own the ditch.  He was an active partner in the Highline, Suburban, Cove and BL&I ditches.

He was Parmly Billings Library trustee from 1901 to 1945. The library hosts many of his early Billings and Montana histories. He built the first creamery in Billings, and founded the Billings Foundry and Machine Co. His Hesper farm (operated by his family) became a showplace, and he lectured about “the gospel of alfalfa.” In 1916 Secretary Franklin K. Lane of the U. S. Reclamation Service announced that reclamation efforts in Montana would stop, O’Donnell protested and suggested an alternative. The result was the creation of a five-man reclamation commission in charge of irrigation projects. He was named U. S. Supervisor. He traveled the world lecturing on agricultural methods. He was the last member of the Pioneers of Eastern Montana, retiring in 1936. He lived at 105 Clark Avenue for over 40 years until his death on January 28, 1948. He was 87.

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Katy Hestand
Yellowstone County Coordinator

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