Yellowstone Genealogy Forum


Survey Support & Problems for NPR

Revised 12 April 2002 Added Walter de Lacy Survey Notes

After reaching Bismarck, Dakota Territory, NPR faced tough decisions as to which route would be best for them. The Sioux and Cheyenne Indians were tough adversaries, and did everything possible to stop the advance of “the iron road.” In 1866 a treaty with the Sioux Nation was attempted, with only 10% of the adult males agreeing to its terms of allowing white passage and settlement. Thus attacks on whites were many. As the railroad started to enter territory claimed by the Sioux, it became apparent that the military forces would have to protect the surveyors and the construction workers. For Montana, and the trail leading to Yellowstone Valley, the survey teams were hard hit. A summary of events, extracted from various sources[1] is:


Event Reference Discussion

August 14, 1872

John W Barlow’s diary (on microfilm AGO Roll # 3323) describe the events. NPR was planning to route their track from Bismarck to Fort Benton, with a river crossing at what would eventually become Huntley, and on to Bozeman. This was near the end of a three year study conducted by Col D S Stanley, and consisted of using 1,900 soldiers including Custer and the 7th Calvary. He had expeditions exploring areas along the Yellowstone River, north to the Musselshell River, between Fort Ellis and Glendive Creek, and eastward to Bismarck. Major Eugene Baker had 400 troops assigned to safeguard the NPR survey crews commanded by J A Hayden, along the Yellowstone River. During their encampment at the mouth of Pryor’s Creek, a Sioux war band, consisting of Arapahoe, Cheyenne and Sioux, en route to attack the Crows, chanced upon the survey camp. They killed a watchdog, stole some saddles and mules tethered by the major’s tent. The major was drunk at the time. General Sherman relieved him of command and withdrew the survey party and troops. Col Stanley’s party completed the survey in 1874.

August 1872

Col David S Stanley reports (NARA microfilm AGO 3512 & 3159) about his escort of NPR surveyors examining a proposed route from Heart River, Dakota Territory, to the Powder River.

March 1873

General Sherman testifies before Congress stating: “This railroad (NPR) is a national enterprise, and we are forced to protect the men during its survey and construction, through, probably, the most warlike nation of Indians on this continent, who will fight for every foot of the line.” Indian Chiefs who had signed the 1868 Treaty had not agreed to allowing any railroad pass through their lands.

Summer 1873

Buffalo hunters encounter Oglala hunting party in Nebraska, and killed Chief Whistler and two others. The Lakota attacked a Pawnee camp, killing 50. The Lakota and Crows in Montana were fighting over hunting grounds. (NARA)

Summer 1873

General Custer and the 7th Calvary protected NPR’s survey team of 373 men and 275 supply wagons as it passed from Fort Rice to the Yellowstone Valley. As it entered the Black hills, Sitting Bull attacked with full force of his Indians from the Hunkpapa, Oglala, Miniconjous, Sans Arcs, and Cheyennes. (Steve Schlarb)

Summer 1873

The Stampede Panic, caused by being over-extended, bankrupted NPR. They were unable to sell bonds to raise cash world-wide, and were forced to sell their North Dakota land holdings to pay off stockholders. NPR had reached a settlement on the Missouri River, and they named it Bismarck because NPR was attempting to entice German immigrants to the area.

February 1874

Non-Agency Lakota warriors started to attack whites, settlers and emigrants in eastern Montana. They got arms and ammunition from the Red Cloud & Spotted Tail agencies. They murdered the agent at Red Cloud, and more troops were deployed. (Steve Schlarb)

Summer 1874

Custer leads large expedition consisting of about 1,000 troops, with scientists and reporters, into the Black Hills to “officially” explore and set up military posts. Gold was their aim.

Septemper 1874

General Sheridan issued instructions to General Terry to use force to prevent prospectors from entering the Black Hills. He also announced that he would support Congress  should it decide to open the country for settlement and extinguish the treaty rights of the Indians.

May 19, 1875

Steamer Josephine commandeered by General Sheridan to take a military expedition up the Yellowstone River as far as possible; purpose was to establish possible forts and evacuation routes. No civilians, other than normal crew, or photographers were allowed. It was devoid of cargo. It reached a point near Duck Creek (south of Billings) on June 7th, 1875, and had to turn around without docking. A large Crow hunting party was camped by the river (north of Billings) on June 6th. They had 12,000 rounds of ammunition.

Spring 1875

Sioux Chiefs (Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, and others, were summoned to Washington to meet with President Grant and discuss taking of the Black Hills. The Indians rejected this.

November 9, 1875

General Sheridan issued orders to General Terry (under President Grant’s wishes) to stop hindering miners from occupying the Black Hills, and now the troubles really started.

The NARA holdings include numerous papers about battles and skirmishes with the Sioux along the entire Yellowstone Valley front during these troubled times. See referenced NARA Web Site for details.

Walter W. de Lacy 1878 Survey Notes & Josephine River Boat

When de Lacy and his survey crew passed through the Clark’s Fork Bottom in October, 1878 he recorded several important facts about the land and the occupants. Some of which have been misinterpreted. Following is a compilation of his notes on the fractional property in Range 26 East Township 1 South, north of the Yellowstone River.

General Information

He identified the following farmers as living in the river area of Township 1 South when he arrived, and located their residences and fence lines: Ford, Clarke, Caldwell, Taylor, Newman, and Cochran. Living on the flat treeless area in Section 5 (Billings West End) was McKinzey. [Fredrick Billings later bought this land from NPR, and there was no mention of McKinzey.]  The two separate wagon trail roads leading east to Coulson and Tongue River were located, as well as the lead off junctions to the Canyon Creek Station to the west. He identified “Ramsey’s Rapids” as being at the river curve between Sections 2 and 11. The large Island in the river at Section 21 was called “Blinkys Island.” The river changed its course dramatically over the next 100 years, and created “Lake Josephine” in Section 16 in the process. All of the land in Section 16 was reported to be good farmland, and no lake was noted. The location of McAdow’s sawmill was noted, as was the “Josephine Tree.”

Field Note Comments (Accompanying the survey maps in de Lacy’s handwriting)

General Description (Tp 1S 26E) W.W. deLacy Field Notes. Oct 22, 1878.


“This fractional township is situated at the Eastern end of Clark’s Fork Bottom. It is bounded on the South and East by the Yellowstone River which has been navigated by a steamer in 1877 to a point within this township and a little above the town of Coulson. The land is partly bench and partly bottom land. All of which is 1st rate land, on which have been grown vegetables of all kinds. There are several settlers in the Township who are acquiring farms. The only timber in the township is Cottonwood along the banks of the River and on the Islands I numbered. The lands are agricultural.”


“On the South boundary of Section 34 (Tp 1N, Rn 26E) McAdow’s Saw Mill at Coulson bears North 44 E (4. 90 chains distance = 323.4 ft) and house at Coulson bears North 38 E.”  The Section Baseline is at 45 deg 47 min North, and forms the bottom border for the section.” This places the saw mill in the SE corner of the land, near the river’s edge.” [McAdow’s homestead was a Desert Land Claim ($1.25/acre), but reported as a Cash Sale before the railroad arrived in 1882.]


“Caldwell’s house faces N about 3.00 chains (198 ft) from river. Taylor’s house is North 3.00 chains distant from river. “


General Description (Tp 1N 26E) W.W. deLacy Field Notes. Oct 17, 1878.


“This line (Baseline) passes over the East end of Clark’s Fork Bottom, supposed to be the head of navigation on the Yellowstone. The land is of first-rate quality and there are several settlers in the Township South. It should therefore be sub divided. The Township North of this line embraces the town of Coulson and some good land and should be sub divided.”


Note: Typically a slate, river stone or sandstone slab 18x12x4 to12” buried about a foot in the ground typically marked corners of adjoining Sections (or sections) throughout the valley, and a mound of earth was raised near it to about a height of 2 feet, with a 4-5 ft base on each side to denote its location. If land couldn’t be dug, a stone palisade marker (cairn) with a 2 ft base, and 1- ft height was raised. These mounds were placed about five feet away from the actual corner. Other markers were large trees or square posts when either these two methods failed. The larger Cottonwoods near the river’s edges were 20 – 24 inches in diameter. Review of the survey notes indicated that the land was riddled with numerous survey stone Cairns between 1878 and 1904. Many section markers also used the stones as location finders for the corners. Land developers have since destroyed most Cairn markers. These Cairns are not to be confused with earlier stone markers that are evident throughout the county.



De Lacy notes, page 49:


“Tree marked by steamer “Josephine” bears N 50 links distant (33 feet north from river & 33 feet west of his fence on east side of property. [Places it below Cochran’s house about same distance. There was no lake on the property in 1878, and the land was flat].) The highest point ascended to by steamboats. Cochran’s house lies North of ___ 4.00 links. Leave timber at end of River.” [His accompanying map identifies the date as 1877.]


[Note: This comment refers only to the 1877 trip of the riverboat Josephine, loaded with cargo, arriving at the Coulson area. It does not refer to the 1875 trip of the Josephine when it arrived in the same general area on June 6th, 1875 and subsequently turned around above Duck Creek on June 7t h. These two facts became mixed together over the century that followed and current maps incorrectly mixed these two events. See Cochran Files for details.]


”Blinkys Island lying partly in Sec’s 16, 20 and 21.” [This later belonged to Zimmerman.]


Return To People & Places

[1] “History of Oglala Lakota Sioux”, by Steve Schlarb presents numerous historical in-depth details. “Crazy Horse” by Mari Sandoz presents personal details on Baker Campground, NARA reports prepared by US Military battle commanders from 1872 to 1877 (see