Yellowstone Genealogy Forum


Perry W. McAdow


Revised 8 November 2002 [Added details]

 Perry W. McAdow (Bud) was among the Billings’ area first settlers and real estate dealers. He is probably best known of the Montana gold mining men. He arrived in Fort Owen [Bitterroot Valley of Western Montana] in July1861. He went on to Portland, and returned to Montana with Major Owens in the fall. Later in December he and his future partner A. S. Blake started prospecting for gold in the dry gulches near Deer Lodge. At Gold Creek they found gold, but cold weather and snow forced them to seek Fort Owen for shelter. Early in the spring of 1862 they returned and found placer gold at Pioneer Gulch (the first in Montana), causing a flood of prospectors to come to the site in droves of wagon trains. Next he moved to Grasshopper Creek [Willard’s Creek – Lewis & Clark map], which in turn led to Bannack and Bill Fairweather’s May 26, 1863 discovery of gold at Alder Gulch, richest gold strike in the state.  Perry subsequently filed mining claims at Fort Maginnis, near the town of Maiden [now a ghost town]. His arrival in the Clark’s Fork Valley area is not documented, but would have been after Thomas McGirl had arrived, probably mid May 1877. Before Coulson was named as a town, he operated his store (also referred to as “Coulson”) from a tent presumably on his property, as did a few others until after September 1877. The Nez Perce Indians, retreating toward Canada, burned a saloon tent, near his store, at that time. (The Nez Perce, escaping from Cottonwood Canyon on Canyon Creek (north of Laurel), split into three groups, the main body rushing to get to Canada, Chief Joseph and six followers, and those who acted as rear guards.)

Perry was a merchant by heart, and he and Tom Cooper operated a sawmill in the Grasshopper Creek area. He sold the mill in the summer of 1864, and moved to Gallatin Valley to try his hand at ranching and operating a gristmill [probably a flour mill].  In 1867 he and Nelson Story obtained a contract from Fort CF Smith to provide produce to the soldiers stationed there. He purchased 160 acres there for cash entry on May 1, 1871. The land consisted of two Aliquot parts: E1/2NE Section 7, Tp 2S,Rn 6E and W1/2NW Section 8, Tp 2S, Rn 6E.  He sold his land in the Bozeman area to NPR for construction of a roundhouse on January 9, 1882. At Montana’s Constitutional Convention in 1883, Perry sought to have the legislature include a provision that gave women voting rights. This didn’t sit very well with the committees and it was rejected for fear that U. S. Congressmen would reject statehood.[1]

[Note: It is reported in his biography, author unknown, that he moved from Gallatin Valley to Coulson in 1867 to become a merchant and sawmill operator. However, these dates to not seem to be consistent with the land purchases and the founding date for Coulson, in June 1877; and according to the War Department’s military expedition on the riverboat “Josephine”, piloted by Captain Grant Marsh, in 1875, there were no white men in the area. A Billings Gazette 1914 article states he relocated to the Yellowstone Valley in the summer of 1877. This must have been in May.] The Josephine riverboat reached Duck Creek on June 7, 1875. See Cochran files for details.

He purchased 457.86 acres of land (Desert Claim Land identified later by land surveyors in 1878) south of the Coulson area in Section 2, Rn26E, Tp 1S [Josephine Park – City Water Plant sites, directly south of John Alderson’s land, whose property was used for creation of Coulson. The filing date for the land is not evident as the land filing records held by the BLM were not microfilmed and apparently have been lost. Homestead applications are supposedly available through NARA. He did claim ownership of these lands prior to the arrival of Northern Pacific railroad and had tried unsuccessfully, along with John Alderson and John Shock, to sell their land to the railroad at an exorbitant price ($30,000?) for establishment of a permanent town in Coulson, which was later platted in 1881 by Alderson. He located his land in the summer of 1876, when the railroad surveyors were creating boundary lines.

Perry published his water rights in Book A, Custer County on November 15, 1879. In that document he identified that he filed for his desert land claim under Desert Land Act on March 8, 1877, Bozeman District Series. He received formal title on March 18, 1879. He had the right to 2,000 inches of water for reclamation and irrigation with water extracted from the Yellowstone River situated on the south line of Section 10, Lot #4. This ditch crosses many other parcels (See Abstract Title #2432-YGF Forum Files for details and property transfers.) [2]

        On October 24, 1881 Perry made his final payment of $457.86 to JV Bogert, Receiver in Custer County.

        At time of filing Perry paid the Receiver in Bozeman $.25 per acre as down payment, with balance due before he could take legal title.

        On December 10, 1883 the United States issued Perry a Patent for his land.

After Billings was created, McAdow was asked to sell about 300 acres to support Billings. This was later known as “McAdow Subdivision”. The attempt by Alderson to create a town out of Coulson failed, and the town of Billings was created adjacent to it. [Coulson mainly ran in a northeast direction essentially parallel to the Interstate Highway that runs through its center, fully on John Alderson’s land and midway between where the fairgrounds and Conoco refinery are presently located, according to photographs of the town, and the land plat. A corner of the western edge of the property was just before it reached the Headquarters Building, owned by the railroad.] On June 22, 1885 he granted right-of-way to the Billings Water Power Company to install pipes and ditches on his land. The ditch connected to the Yellowstone River was called Coulson Ditch. Perry was operating a sawmill, with virtually all of his output devoted to the railroad’s needs. Joseph Cochran was one of his suppliers of logs, others ferried them down river from areas as far away as Livingston.  The arrival date of the sawmill has not been identified, but had to have been before September 1877.[3]

 Initially he had the mill located on his land, along with a general store (tent), and a saloon (tent). In early 1878 John Alderson apparently had decided to change his land plans from farming to the creation of a more permanent settlement, and encouraged others to locate there. This would make the town and businesses more accessible to the ferry across the Yellowstone, which was located about mile to the north of the main business center. No land was platted at the time, but as businesses came into being, they generally added to the line of businesses already there. John Alderson asked Perry to put the sawmill onto his land, so as to better serve the entire community. It is not known when this occurred, but was before October 1878, and probably in early spring before cutting could begin. Walter W. de Lacy located the mill as being on the north riverbank, about 0.6 miles south of the ferry. Perry’s “saw house” was located a few hundred feet south of the mill. There is no definition of what a “saw house” was, but presumably it stored various tools and parts for the sawmill. The origination of Billings contains more details. In the 1880 Federal Census, Perry’s family and his ten workers were not listed. At that time he had a large farm on his land, and a store on John Alderson’s land. There were 11 buildings reported as being in “Coulson” [John Alderson’s land] according to the 1880 Census. (Photo – Parmly Billings Library – Reprint of 1882 Picture. View looking south toward river.)

When Billings became a real town, Perry created a streetcar connection between Coulson and Billings. He operated two horse-drawn coaches, and offered patrons FREE BEER at his Coulson store in exchange for the two-bit ride. This track ran from the railroad at 27th Street down to 6th Avenue South, then northeast to the town’s Main Street.  Perry, along with T. S. Wadsworth and George B. Hulme (originally from New York City), formed the “Billings Street Car Company” on 25 May 1882. The organization of the company took place on the 20th. Its function was to serve residents and merchants with trade and passage in the City of Billings. This line was the first in Montana, and ran from 27th Street & Minnesota Avenue south to 6th Street, then northwest to where the Conoco refinery is located, and into Coulson’s Main Street.  The total distance was two miles. The town of Coulson lay adjacent to Billings, and was only a few blocks actual travel to its edges. Extensive lines were later created that essentially created the bus line routes as currently in use. Perry McAdow and Fred H. Foster jointly owned the McAdow store, founded in 1881 and placed on the Coulson land at the north edge of the tract. This partnership lasted until 1883. Joining them was Jules Breuchard, who bought supplies for Perry on his trip east in 1881 to get married. (Both Jules and Fred were employed by the NPR at the time.) The local mail carrier, Billy Needham, upon completing his last trip with the Lavina stage made arrangements to go back to live with his mother in the east. He pulled off his coat in McAdow’s store and accidentally dropped a pistol he carried in a pocket. The gun went off wounding him in the leg, and he died a month later despite the efforts of J. H. Rinehart, hospital steward at Fort Custer, to save him.

Perry created the McAdow Subdivision from his land, with Cleve & Wadsworth as agents specializing in selling his lots. In 1886 he quit the area and moved to Judith Gap, where he mined a little and operated yet another sawmill. He struck it good, and established the “Spotted Horse” mine that gave him his eventual fortune that had eluded him earlier in Coulson and Billings.

A few years later in 1889 he sold out to Hauser & Holter, and he and his wife Marian A (Tomlinson) vacationed in Florida for a while, then moved to Detroit, Michigan where he built an impressive mansion that was their residence from 1891 to 1897.  [Their marriage is reported in the Billings Gazette issue Feb 7 1884. They were married January 6, 1884[4]. The Detroit mansion became the First Unitarian Universalist Church. His wife Clara died in Detroit, and her obituary is reported in the Billings Gazette (1-24-1896).]  Perry has a brother, William B. McAdow who started the first flourmill in the state, and three sisters. He was born in Kentucky, of Scottish parents. He went to California during the gold rush days, then back to his home in Missouri until the lure of the west caused him to travel to Salt Lake City for a two year stay. He returned home again, and in the spring of 1861 started out for Fort Benton. The steamer he was on caught fire and exploded. He was left with only the clothes he wore, so he traveled the remaining 350 miles by foot[5]. [6]

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[1] Bozeman Women Illegally Vote, Phyllis Smith, Oct 2004, pg 12.

[2] Perry McAdow was the first recorded settler arriving in Yellowstone Valley. Following him were: Alderson, Cochran, Colwell, Dills, Summer & Hoor (Haar) “Reference Chapter V, Part V, Yellowstone Valley, State of Montana 1907 historical pamphlet publication. Parmly Billings Library.

[3] During the Nez Perce raid on the Coulson Trading Post in September 13-14 1877, he reportedly put up a wood wall to protect the sawmill from attack. (Bio file from ID O’Donnell; 1929)

[4] Marriage Record #3, Yellowstone County Marriage Book (Billings). Note Gazette articles have different dates.

[5] Billings Gazette, Anniversary Edition for 1914. James R. Goss. [Goss was a lawyer, and first president of the Yellowstone Bar Assn. He later became Judge”

[6] Refer to article by Lawrence Small, History Professor at Rocky mountain College, “A Century of Politics on the Yellowstone”, for additional details. 1983