Yellowstone Genealogy Forum

“Yellowstone County”


[Information provided in these files is for the personal individual use only, and not for any commercial or secular interests]

Revised Monday, July 26, 2004

Yellowstone County in Montana has a colorful and illustrious past. Most of the activity for the county history centers around the city of Billings, although it was not always so. This section depicts many major accomplishments of its leading citizens, many of whom might have been forgotten except for the generous support of their descendants and numerous ancient articles about their lives as related to various reporters on the Billings Gazette staff. In September 1960, the Gazette teamed with descendants of the areas early residents, and together successfully published biographies of their lives. Information from these biographical files, held by the Forum members, have been extracted and placed for viewing on separate pages of this section. These extracts are intended to provide the reader with keys to help them unlock the early history of the area, and become a starting point to locate other supporting files that might lead one to a complete understanding of how Billings, and Yellowstone County came to be. Some of these files were originally presented in the 75th Progress Parade issued by the Gazette, a copy of which is owned by the author. Where applicable, special credit is given to the originator, although virtually all information about the area was provided to the author without specific credits identifying the family members who created the biographies. Other sources are as noted in each separate section page. In case of conflicting dates, the reader should refer to the dates shown in the Original County Title Abstract information presented in the Early Pioneer section shown on the home page.

Billings was incorporated March 10, 1885. At the time there were 800 residents. The city was created by an ‘edict’ of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and referred to as a “fiat city” (implying that the decision to create the town was unilaterally decided by the railroad), and almost immediately tents, frame buildings, brick and stone structures sprang up from the bare land known as ‘Clark’s Fork Bottom’. Before that time it was hoped by many that the small town of Coulson would be given the nod for greatness, but it wasn’t to be. Billings was given the nickname “Magic City” as a result of over 300 buildings being erected within six months.  Considered by many to have recorded the most factual stories about the history of Billings was from a reporter on the Gazette, Kathryn Wright.

A Billings ‘Residence and Business Directory”, published by the Reynolds and Hammond, a Minnesota publishing firm in 1883 provides some insight into the events that occurred in 1882, plus predictions for the future.

Businesses and Societies were:

     Minnesota & Montana Land and Improvement Co.,

     Billings Street Railway Co.,

     Bull Mountain Coal Co.,

     Artesian Well Co.,

     Billings Library Assn.,

     Billings Literary Society,

     St. Luke’s Episcopal Guild.

     Montana Lumber Co.,     

     Billings Board of Trade,

     Young Men’s Social Club,

     Congregational Ladies society

     Masonic & Odd Fellows Lodges.

Buildings & Businesses:

     Engineers Building (left over from the railroad construction activities). This was the residence of F. B. Kennard, and provided a place for the townsite store and many activities.

     A Congregational Church was planned (courtesy of Frederick Billings donations). There were two clergy in town, a Congregational Minister: Rev. B. F. Shuart, and Episcopal Clergyman: Rev. William Horsfall. A Methodist Church was planned for the near future.

     In April 1882, weekly local papers, Herald & Post were joined by the Daily Herald. Later they linked with the Rustler in 1885 to form the Billings Gazette.

     There were four first-class places of entertainment, and claimed to have a trade territory extending 150 miles north, east, west, and 225 miles south.

     90,000 pounds of bullion came from the MaGinnus and Parker mines; and a railroad link to Benton (Fort Benton) was planned.

     Concord Stages made tri-weekly trips to ‘Missouri River Town’ 200 miles to the north.

     Brick yard

     Six hotels

     Three boarding houses

     Eleven Saloons: “Bank Exchange, Blue Grass, Brewery, City Beer Hall, Nick Closs, Henehan, William J. Lutz, Dick Mansfield, N. P. Railway Co., Red front, & The Office.”

     Ten professional men (mostly lawyers)

Street & Building Predictions:

     The Billings Street Railway would be graded in 1882, and the line established by spring, 1883. The rail line linked Billings with Coulson (a distance of about a mile). At the Coulson end, passengers were treated to free beer.

     An Artesian well was planned, and after it was created in 1884, the free beer ended, since the water was of excellent taste as predicted in the directory.

     The Northern Pacific Railway Co, had shops, a roundhouse, machine shops, freight & passenger depot and hotel. They laid the foundation for a new depot complete with a dining room. They owned the stockyards, and shipped 15,000 cattle plus some sheep during its first year of operation.

Relevant Facts:

     The population was 1,500 and that “not one acre of the 6,000 square miles of Yellowstone County is barren or unproductive”.

     Junction City had 150 residents, and was settled in 1882 by residents from the ‘Ripon Colony’ in Wisconsin.

     Huntley, Canyon, Stillwater (Columbus), and Merrill were trading posts.

     It was announced that portions of the Crow Indian Reservation, west of the Big Horn River, would soon be available for settlers. The provoked many Indians, as their six million acre piece of land served only 3,000 Indians, was subject to treaty, and the Indians obviously didn’t want to give up the land, although it was a certain fate that it would be signed. The treaty read: “The agency 40 miles west (near present Absarokee) is to be removed to the Big Horn Valley in the present year.”

     A wagon road to Cooke City had been surveyed

     The state population was claimed to be 125,000.

People & Events That Helped Create Yellowstone Valley

The histories and lives of early residents, summarized below from numerous identified, and many unidentified articles printed in the local newspapers, are by themselves, not complete entities. Most of these early settlers had very interactive lives with the other residents, and therefore it is necessary to review the biographies of the others to obtain a more complete picture about an individual’s life. The material is presented in this fashion so as to minimize the amount of duplication that would otherwise be required. Some of this material is partially duplicated in other sections of this site for reference. This is a partial listing.

Yellowstone County. Summary information about early Yellowstone County, area, name changes, Crow Indian Reservation and various statistics. Information from the settlers and explorers help locate the various trails and roads in the early area.

Yellowstone County Early Settlers Sequence of some pioneers entering Clark’s Fork Valley who founded towns or farms on the Yellowstone River.

William Alonzo Allen  Pioneer, historian, blacksmith and dentist in Coulson and Billings.

A. L. Babcock.  Major local area businessman and founder of the Billings Opera House.

Bluebird Airplane Factory. Billings fabricated two-seated aircraft.

Charle M. Bair. Nation’s largest sheep rancher.

James  BridgerMountain Man & Early Explorer life’s history and genealogical history.

Burlington RailroadIntroduction into Billings in 1894. Personal files from TC Powers and Paul McCormick.

Edgar B. Camp Billings Gazette Owner

Thomas D. Campbell. Hardin wheat rancher (the world’s largest operation), retired general, pioneer conservationist, and advisor to Presidents.

Joseph M. V. Cochran.  Reported to be first homesteader in Yellowstone County. Land owned by him included the famous landmark “Josephine’s Tree” Josephine River Boat saga included.

Indian Caves.  History summary about the caves, and name change.

Chapple, Panton & Rixon. Early settlers who kept track of the areas’ history.

Horace CountrymanFounder of Columbus

Crow Indian Reservation Leases – Leasing rights and Indian Agents ruled the reservation

Custer Cattle & Sheep Company - T. C. Powers (Ex-Montana Senator), A. C. Johnson (Helena resident), and Paul McCormick (of Billings) formed the Custer Cattle Company.

Carl Dallman Dallmann and other wheat ranchers and towns near Molt

DAR. Founding and activities of the Daughter’s of American Revolution

Marquis DeMoresNot only did he found Medora, ND, but also he planned a slaughterhouse in Billings (1883) as part of his system of shipping refrigerated beef to the eastern markets.

George & Verna Drake . Settlers in South Hills, Duck Creek Area

Eastern Montana State Prison Tales of woe in construction and ownerships

Fred Foster. NPR Engineer and partner with Perry McAdow, Five-time Billings Mayor

Henry A. Frith – Lawyer

Germans from RussiaListing of Yellowstone Valley residents (2 meg file)

William Heffner. Billings’ sandstone quarry businessman.

M26-Dragon Tank Retriever. WWII Construction of Army vehicle, “M26 Armored Tank Recovery (Dragon)” in Billings.

Fire Department. Billings Fire Brigade

Jack Herford Pioneer and Lawyer

Early Hotels. Pictures and summary information about some of the regions early hotels and businesses.

Huntley - Baker's Ground. Major trading post until Northern Pacific Railway passed through

Immel & Jones. Fur trappers who were killed at Indian Rock, stirring unrest with the British.

Junction City, Historical events about Paul McCormick and the town of Junction (in pdf format – 12 pages)

City of Laurel.  Originally only a section house called Carlton sat on the land now called Laurel.

Perry W. McAdow Original Coulson resident, gold miner, merchant and sawmill operator. Filed on the land 8 March 1877.

John D. Matheson. First editor of the “Gazette,” founder of the Billings Times, and Billings city clerk & attorney.

Billings Fire Department – Originally called the Maverick. Short bio.

Alice McCleary – Frontier woman (married to James Reed; and then John Schock, ferry operator). Tales of journey on way to Coulson from Salt Lake City 1877, and how Alonzo Allen rescued her.

Paul McCormick. Businessman and merchant in early Junction, Terry, Miles City and Billings. Started a trading post at mouth of Big Horn River in August 1875 renamed later in June 1876 as a military post to “Fort Pease”. He raised the flag to commemorate the event when the military took over in late June 1876.

Henry F. McFarlin. Co-Founder of The Billings Gazette. Charles Staffek, saloon owner.

Tom McGirl.  Thomas McGirl Ferry operator at Huntley.

Preston B. Moss.  Preston B. Moss, major businessman in Billings.

Ed Newman Pioneer and builder of first school in Yellowstone Valley.

Austin North Major land developer and eventual owner of the Eastern Montana State Prison Building. Ties to the creation of Billings and city parks.

Barry O’Leary. Concrete mixing plant in Billings

I. D. O'Donnell. Irrigation pioneer and founder of cemetery in Billings. Saved Boothill Cemetery.

Mary Osborne. Homesteader north of Roundup – nurse in Bull Mountains

Nez Perce Indians. Yellowstone area raid in 1877. Group split into three sections as it passed through the area. Coulson [Post] was located on Perry McAdow’s land at the time.

Chief Plenty-Coups Major Crow Indian Chief, his life and close ties to the settlers.

General Raynold’s  - Yellowstone River Exploration in 1859. The report was released six years later, on 13 February 1866, following the end of the Civil War. Jim Bridger was guide for the trip into the Montana & Wyoming Territories that took them from Fort Pierre to the Platte River at Richard’s Bridge.

Henry Ward RowleyFounder of Billings. Behind the scenes activities of this exceptionally dynamic man, and money trail that created the city prior to 1881, and how this was kept a secret. Fred Foster and Frederick Billings assisted.

Water Plant.  Formation of Montana Power Company: maps and pictures. Construction of second plant performed by the Yegen Brothers Construction Company. Location of Coulson integrated into Billings City shown in detail.

Matt Tschirgi.  Controlled 500,000 acres of grazing land, originally reported to be largest in the world. [Note: Paul McCormick controlled over 632,000 acres.]

John J. Walk.  Early Canyon Creek resident, description of Billings & Coulson, Chief Plenty Coups & reservation grazing, early settlers, Cattle roundups, partner of David Fratt, Cattle drives

James T. Webb.  Famed Yellowstone County Sheriff

Pierre Wibaux. Largest cattle rancher in the world had ranch land stretching from the Little Missouri to the Yellowstone River.

Yegen Brothers. The Yegen brothers ran a merchandise store before Billings was a town. Constructed the improved Power Plant located where Coulson once stood.


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