Pioneers of Eastern Montana and Their Descendants


Early Society Meetings 

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


This partial listing contains extracted information from the pioneer meetings held at various times throughout the state. It forms an historical background about the pioneer leaders. Noted are several instrumental events: Parmly Billings Library’s museum opening and call for donations, Yellowstone County Museum opening and call for artifacts, preservation of Clark’s signature at Pompey’s Pillar, dedication of Ralston’s painting “After the Battle,” and the change of membership to those who arrived in the state prior to 1900’s end. Membership was previously restricted to a cutoff date of 1884.

The Montana State Pioneer Society, by contrast, was organized in September 1884 in Helena, and included membership of the pioneers and their sons and daughters. It is called the “Society of Montana Pioneers, and the Sons and Daughters of Montana Pioneers.”

Full listing of each year’s presidency will be posted later.

10 Feb 1917 - Elks Club Rathskelter[1]

Mrs. RB Crampton, VP, presided. President DG O’Shea from Red Lodge was absent. Mrs. Crampton was a former Superintendent of Schools in Yellowstone County.  About 150 pioneers and their families were present. Mrs. Helen A Frith, Secretary, presented a poem she had written.

John D Matheson, former society president had recently passed away (7 April 1916), and she honored a tribute to his life. Telegrams from Thomas W. King (Rancher, MT), Gen. Charles S. Warren (Butte, MT), E.S. Paxton (Missoula, MT), plus Frank D. Brown, Senator D. G. O’Shea, David B. Weaver & Granville Stewart each submitted telegrams expressing their regret in missing the meeting.

Talks and reminiscences from the past were presented by Judge James L. Goss, Mrs. E. J. Salsbury, Henry A. Frith, O. F. Goddard, S. P. Panton, Charles McFarlin, M. Flannery, Dr. W. A. Allen, Lou Chapple, T. C. Armitage, and Reverend Mr. Guiler. They had earlier elected the next year’s president L. A. Nutting, plus the Vice Presidents from each of the representative membership counties. The meeting closed with Helen Frith reciting her poem “THE PIONEER.”

The Pioneer rides in his cylinder six, along the Yellowstone Trail, and passes the time as he spins along, with many a marvelous tale.

He tells of the days when the trail was blazed, by men that dared to do, and were nothing daunted by perils such as Wilderness or the Sioux.

Those were the days when one’s mettle was tried, and a man had to prove his grit, when one false move might deliver the bunch. Leaving only the fit.

Yet many a hero’s bones have bleached under the open sky. For Fate played false with the bravest ones, and lured them here to die.

And always at night on the lonesome height, with the murmuring of pine tree near, you can hear the whispers of other ploits, if you have a listening ear.

They were not all drawn by the lust for gold, nor yet for sordid pelf. But many a one in the flush of his youth, sought only to find himself.

And such as these found the widest plains, as free as the mountain air. Where a man might choose as his fancy willed, and just stake out his share.

Women was truly “new” in those days, and God knows she did her part. For only He knew the hopes and fears of a pioneer woman’s heart.

Toil and the hardship and longing for home were often her daily lot. With many a lonely vigil by night, when it seemed that God forgot.

But He has a way of remembering, though all forget besides, and He’ll keep watch ‘till the last pioneer crosses the Great Divide.


15 January 1918 – Billings City Hall[2]

The usual annual meeting will be cancelled, due to patriotic reasons, and election of officers will take place tonight in the council chamber at 8:00 pm. The pioneers fell that the Government’s request to save food should be obeyed and for that reason the banquet and reminiscences will be omitted. They agreed to reschedule the annual meeting in February, and would have a “Hooverized” luncheon in place of a banquet. President LA Nutting of Laurel motored to Billings  to attend the meeting, which was joined by ID O’Donnell, Judge James R Goss, County Assessor EW Duane, Postmaster TC Armitage, JW Vaughn, Charles McFarlin and Secretary Henry Frith. Judge Goss stated that by holding a “Hooverizing” the “eats”, the pioneers would remain within the bounds of patriotism in holding the affair. He further stated that it would only be a few more years until all the pioneers who are here now would not be, and “we should not deny ourselves the right to meet in the spirit of comradery that has always featured these meetings.” The group then appointed a banquet (Hooverized) Luncheon” committee, entertainment committee and a reception committee. Many of the committee members appointed were not present.

1 March 1918 – Methodist Church Basement[3]

The society met for their annual meeting and numerous tales of adventures not mentioned before were told. George O. Miles (Miles City), nephew of General Miles, was elected President for the ensuing year. The Vice Presidents that volunteered to represent their counties were:

            Big Horn                      GW Barry

            Custer                          John S Truscott

            Carbon             John Tolman

The President appointed all the other counties representatives. Mr. Frith then re-traced the association’s history, followed by a report by the new President, George Miles, and others.

George reported that the first sheep brought into Montana were delivered into Miles City from Red Bluss, CA in 1875. An aged flock master, named Burgess, managed the sheep. It was his original plan to drive the herd on through to the hills, but Indians prevented him from doing so.

Paul McCormick then spoke about Sam Gordon (Miles City), a friend of his, who wrote an editorial in which he urged the legislature to enact a law requiring Paul to “talk about the law before it had been enacted.” Later on Paul spoke again about his trek with 24 others downstream from Bozeman (to Pease Bottom) on the Yellowstone in a flatboat during the spring of 1875. He described the events and the deaths that incurred from Indian attacks. The Sioux War followed.

 Mrs. HP Nelson then spoke about her early days in the Yellowstone Valley. She claimed to be the first white woman to have purchased a washboard and washtub.

RW Cl_______ then spoke for a half hour about his adventures in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, all with amusing anecdotes.

CD Camp laid claim to be the first person to sell a stove in Yellowstone County.

William F _______ spoke about the Civil War and his entry into Indian fighting along with other brave men.

Other speakers were: Joseph L Ashbridge, J  Crampton, John W Truscott, Goddard, Henry Frith, Charles Farland, WW Beeman, TC Armitage and ID O’Donnell.

Judge Goss then recommended that the state legislature and congregation memorialize Pompey’s Pillar and provide protection to the signature of Captain Clark. This motion was adopted.

1 March 1924 – Billings Commercial Club[4]

The society met in the club, and Mrs. Harry Smith served dinner. It was noted that the anniversary meeting was normally held about the time of Washington’s Birthday. Present membership was about 100, and 200 persons were expected to attend. President John S Truscott (Miles City) and brother to Harry W. Truscott (Billings)  will preside. Pioneer tales will be impromptu and led by ID O’Donnell. A prize will be offered to the best true story. The Ron Ton Serenaders provided music. [Henry A. Frith was elected President.]

12 March 1927 – Billings Commercial Club[5]

Charles Spear, retiring President (1926-1927), presided over the event. Over 100 pioneers plus their families attended. Elbert N. Cooper (son of Daniel J. Cooper) was elected President for the next year (1927-1928). Tales about the first settlements in the valley and territorial disputes were talked about. The heated arguments about the correct area history occurred, but much less than in previous years. No agreement apparently was reached. Early habits of wild geese were questioned when August Anderson (Glendive) gravely asserted that they nested in the cottonwood trees along the Yellowstone River. TC Armitage vigorously opposed the statement, but Dr. WA Allen voted in favor of putting them back into the trees!

George W. Steeples (Bridger) was born in one of Jim Bridger’s houses on Green River, WY in 1854, and was the eldest pioneer at the meeting. He arrived in Montana in 1867. He displayed a combination pistol & jackknife found by some boys poking around the caves near Bridger, MT several years ago.

Mrs. Sarah Thompson, spoke about her husband, Hiram, who came to Montana in 1878, and told about life they had at Old Fort Custer, where he operated a stage line, and the difficulties they had in acquiring provisions. (Note: Details are available in History of Early Pioneers by ID O’Donnell) One of their drivers was lost in a blizzard and a search was conducted to look for him. While the searchers were away, the man and his horse drifted in to Thompson home. He was so cold that he couldn’t get off his horse, With great difficulty Mrs. Thompson got him off and and into the house, where she restored his health.

Henry Frith then spoke about the soldiers assigned to the west. In speaking about their hardships he noted that these regular army soldiers who took part in the Indian wars were the earliest pioneers of the west, and attributed more states to the Union than the original colonists. Men, who enlisted, were usually sent to the South for their first experience in military duty during the early times of post Civil War reconstruction. Fom there they were sent to the blizzard areas of the Dakotas and Canadian border. Most of their grub was hard tack and bacon left over from the Civil War. He told of the battle areas of Custer, Sturgis, Nez Perces on Canyon Creek, General Howard at Baker’s Battleground, and General Miles battle with the Bannocks at Bennett’s Creek in the Clarke’s Fork area, and the Wolf Mountain Battle.

Mrs. RR Crampton, an early pioneer teacher in Yellowstone County, read her original poem “My Montana.” George Swords played several favorite tunes on his violin, and George M Hays (member of the men’s quartet of which Dr. Allen was a member) sang several selections.

Judge Goss described the machinery Billings’ merchants set in motion to create a vigilante group to thwart plans for several strangers in town to rob the merchants. Learning of the group, the thieves promptly left town. He related several tales from Granville Stuart’s books about pioneer days. He described the pioneer museum started by the Billings Parmly Library and urged members to donate their photographs to the collections.

Gus Anderson, pioneer conductor for the NPR in Glendive, gave a humorous tale about his 45 years of service with the line. His career started when he spoke with Jim Hill (MN) on whose farm he was working at the time. Jim said, “You don’t know how to milk a cow. You might make a railroad man.” His first experience was on construction work at Glendive. He was one of about 250 “green Swedes” who followed a Scotchman with a bagpipe to the election booths in Dawson County. Each was given a ticket to vote. When the returns were counted the county showed 700 Democratic tickets cast, more than cast there ever since! He described traveling on Frank Mann’s streetcar from Billings to Coulson, and a celebration in Livingston when a Chinaman lost his queue. When the golden spike was driven into the connecting lines, he was marooned in Forsythe for two hours waiting for General Grant’s train to clear the tracks. The Coxey Army Brigade run from Butte to Billings and the ensuing battle was described. Tom Hogan, the brigade’s leader stated, “he would enter the house of representatives and get the eye of the speaker.” He told of an incident when they took a handcar from Forsythe to Glendive.

15 February 1929 – Special Meeting of the Executive Committee[6]

August Anderson, elected president for the 1928-1929 year, was killed in August 1928 in a railroad accident while on a run with the NPR. At a special meeting, Dr. William A. Allen was elected President to fill the vacancy left by Anderson’s death. Dr. Allen arrived in the valley area in 1877 along with a large body of other immigrants.

24 March 1929 – Commercial Club Business Meeting [7]

The plans for the Saturday business meeting caused by so many member deaths were completed on Friday. Bad weather prevented many from attending. It was noted that only those who came to Montana prior to 1884 are eligible for membership. On Saturday the group met, with Dr. Allen presiding. The current membership is 276, down by ten due to recent deaths of Charles Spear, AP Hart, AB Cook, EN Cooper, Frank E Stearns, Henry W Ostrander, SH Mendenhall, Nathaniel Hayden, John Lee and AE Anderson. Dr. Allen retained the Presidency for the 1929-1930 year.

29 March 1930 – Billings Commercial Club[8]

Plans for the annual meeting were formulated in Dr. Allen’s office on Wednesday, preceding the event. ID O’Donnell and HB Drum will head the program committee. The meeting was scheduled for a week later than the one held last year so as to accommodate other community members committed activities. Tall tales were expected as the pioneers were instructed to tell the truth about times in Coulson. (Apparently this was a tough thing to do, since all were accomplished liars!) WP Rixon was elected president for 1930-1931 year. Arrangements for a combined meeting with the State’s pioneers were planned for August 1930 at the Commercial Club and other locations[9]. Mr. Hedges (Saco, MT) described his trip into the Yellowstone Valley by the Boothill Trail off Alkali Creek. It was built with the slope going the wrong direction and it was virtually impossible to descend without sliding off during wet weather. He also describes Buffalo Rock near his ranch at Saco in detail.

March – 1931 – Billings Commercial Club[10]

Robert Leavens, pioneer stockman and organizer of the Rough Riders Troop in the Spanish American War was honored with the presidency (1931-1932). About this time the use of Vice Presidents for each representative county was changed to have three designated: 1st Vice President was Dr. OB Prickett (chairman of the Yellowstone County Commissioners); 2nd Vice President was EO Ballsback, (one of the areas earliest pioneer); and 3rd Vice President was HS Withington (Forsythe). Rixon, former president motioned that they establish a junior organization called “Sons and Daughters of Pioneers.”

Members that have died since the previous March 29, 1930 meeting were read to a stilled audience: Benning M Bean, (Valentine), WS Snell (miles City), Philip E Server (California), Edward W Dunne (Spokane), Grant Lamport (California), Jason D Miles (Livingston), Mrs. Georgia E Foster (Spokane), EA Richardson (Lodge Grass), Frank D “Sandbar” Brown (Missoula, William L. Linton (California), Capt. Arnold E Neate (Seattle), Benjamin J Wyant (Forsythe), William Freese (Ekalaka), Thomas McGirl (Long Beach), and Fred Kirch, Harry B Drum, RR Crowe & AS Shannon of Billings.

A competition was held to determine who could tell the best tale. Many taletellers obviously took lessons from Jim Bridger. Mark T. Newman won 1st prize. Ed Forrest was considered one of the best, and he often stated, “that he was so full of lead form Indian rifles that he couldn’t swim, cause he would sink from all that weight.”

Members present were recorded, along with their arrival date and place. See attached.

WH Banfill noted that Col. Ike Allen, Park City, came to Montana via the Spread Eagle steamboat in 1862. This was two years after the first boats arrived in Fort Benton.  Mrs. Ida Lamport  Wright read an article written by AK Yerkes,from the Coulson Post about Boothill Cemetery. CO Marcyes, historian for the association noted that there was a need to collect local and family history about eastern Montana while the makers are still living. Dr, Fran Bell had a large scrapbook full of deeds and tales; the book was originally belonging to Mrs. Henry Terill. Many others told of their experiences. Fifty-seven persons who resided in the state prior to 1885 attended the banquet. 120 persons in all attended.

6 April 1932 – Billings Commercial Club[11]

Membership is still restricted to those who came to Montana before 1884. Past President Robert Leavens (1931-1932) was toastmaster for the event. A poultry dinner was served. The association was founded in 1903 “for the purpose of bringing the pioneers together annually that they might reminisce about the days when the state consisted of a few shack and tent towns.” HS Wittington was elected president (1932-1933).


24 March 1934 – Commercial Club[12]

120 persons, including 57 members [see next year’s data sheet] gathered to relive the early days. DF Slayton was noted as being president for the preceding year (1933-1934). The election of officers slated to occur later in the day elected Dr. OB Prickett as president for the year 1934-1935[13]. Entertainment committee was comprised of: Mrs. EN Cooper, Mrs. Lou Chapple, and Robert Leavens. An open forum followed the banquet.

April 1935 – Billings Commercial Club[14]

Fifty persons who came into the state prior to 1884 were in attendance. There were 115 total, with many from Red Lodge, Hardin, Missoula, Forsythe, Silesia, Laurel, Joliet, Livingston, and Bridger. The members by unanimous vote elected George L. Danford (RFD #1) to the presidency for the 1935-1936 term of office. He came to Montana in 1880, arriving from Ohio. Among the out-of-town guests were HS Withington (Forsythe-past president), Robert A Vickers (Hardin-born in Virginia City 1870), CO Marcyes, (society historian residing in Missoula), and OHP Shelley (Red Lodge- editor of the Carbon County News.) Mark T. Newman won the liar’s contest with his tracking coyote tale. During the past year death claimed 11 more members: Mr. And Mrs. Harry M Allen, William F Strait, Louis Summerville, Mrs. Catherine Kennedy and Henry C. Klenck of Billlings; HF Clement (Flatwillow), William B. Nutting & James A Virtue (Red Lodge), and George M Miles (Miles City.) Listing of the attendees was noted, and it was decided to establish a practice of photographing the members in a group picture.

28 May 1955 – Chamber of Commerce[15]

Mrs. TW Brewington (Fromberg) was elected president of the association (1955-1956). Mrs. Alice (Walk) Peckham was the previous year’s president. About 70 members attended this historic occasion. A special nominating committee consisting of Paul McCormick, Jr., Dick Logan, Robert Vickers (Hardin), and Peter Yegen, Jr. Effective immediately “membership is now limited to persons coming to Montana by 1900, and their sons and daughters.” The group then toured the county museum now located on the rims in the former Paul McCormick cabin. [Note: the Parmly Billings Library originally held the artifacts and pictures of pioneer life, starting in 1927; but the building proved to be too small to hold the items.] They then visited the Chamber lobby where an oil painting by J. K. Ralston[16], depicting an Indian at the Custer Battle site, was unveiled by Montana State’s Historical Society president, Fred C. Krieg. This picture is about 17 x 4 feet in size, and will hang in the Montana Historical Museum in Helena, owned by Don C. Foote. The picture is considered to be the masterpiece of all Custer paintings, and is titled “After the Battle.” Associated with the painting is a supplemental picture with coded keys to define the specific action.  Major ES Luce, superintendent at the Custer Battlefield National Monument spoke on history of paintings made of the battle.



Figure 1- Photo submitted to Gazette & copied from reprint



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[1] Published in Billings Gazette, February 11, 1917.

[2] Published in Billings Gazette, January 15, 1918 (Two articles)

[3] Published in Billings Gazette, March 2, 1918 (two articles)

[4] Published in Billings Gazette, February 28 and March 1, 1924

[5] Published in Billings Gazette, March 12 & 13, 1927

[6] Published in Billings Gazette, February 16, 1929.

[7] Published in Billings Gazette, March 23, 1929

[8] Published in Billings Gazette, March 6 & 29, 1930

[9] Published in Billings Gazette, August 10, 1930

[10] Published in Billings Gazette, March __ 1931

[11] Published in Billings Gazette, March 22, 1932 & April 2, 1932

[12] Published in Billings Gazette, March 24, 1934

[13] Presidency was not reported in the Gazette until the following year.

[14] Published in Billings Gazette, April 1935

[15] Published in Billings Gazette, May 29, 1955

[16] Ralston was born in Choteau in 1896 and came to Eastern Montana in 1906 with his father, and started painting at age 14. He had a studio on Grand Avenue, Billings.