First Settlers in Yellowstone County
[Commentary on the origins of the
Revised 6 April 2002 (Added details)
Until after the Custer Battle in June 1876, the area bordering the Crow Reservation
to the mouth of the Powder River inflow into the Yellowstone River was no place
for white men. Congress broke early treaties with various Indian tribes making
the area a hostile environment for trappers, tradesmen and settlers. Many
stayed away. From the biographies of the early settlers, a time frame of Yellowstone Valley’s local area settlement can
be created in order of their appearance; actual land records defining their
origination have not been located, and appear to have been lost or destroyed.
From these early pioneer settlers, a timetable for the creation of various
first towns in Yellowstone
County can be made.
During this chaotic period from 1871 to 1876 the army had need to identify how
they can best protect settlers and their military units. To assist them with
this endeavor, they commandeered the riverboat ‘Josephine’ several
times for exploratory examination of various rivers. The Yellowstone
was one of the rivers explored during this time. The Josephine was 180 feet
long and 31 feet wide, had a top speed of about nine miles per hour, and drew
20 inches of water without cargo. It made its maiden voyage up the Yellowstone
in August 1873, piloted by Captain John Todd, reaching a point called Glendive
Creek, where the town of Glendive
would eventually be built. Refer to the Josephine
trips in the Joseph Cochran biography for more details. Commonality of
names has created confusion over time as to the ship’s crew, the purpose
for the trips into the Yellowstone
River, and where it went.
The key trips are:
Expedition up the Yellowstone River.
Commanded by Lt. Col Forsythe and Lt Col. Grant. Military
expedition ending at a point about 1 mile west of Duck Creek on June 7th,
1875. No civilians (excepting for boat crew) or photographers were
allowed. Two horses permitted.
Reconnaissance to Yellowstone.
Corps of Engineers survey trip into Yellowstone
Park in July 1875. Boat
was commandeered by the War Department while it was on a trip up the Missouri River for the army. Captain Ludlow commanded
boat, and civilian personnel were permitted. He was permitted to take four
scientists of his choosing. These were: Edwin Ludlow & assistant W. H.
Wood, George Bird Grinnell & Edward S. Dana from Yale college, all
traveling at their own expense. (Grinnell specialized in paleontology &
zoology, Dana In geology.) Crews for this trip are often reported as being the
ones on the earlier Col Forsythe trip. Boat did not travel on the Yellowstone River, but went to Carroll, MT. Five
Fur trade and cargo trip May-June 1877 up the Yellowstone River. Commanded by Captain Grant Marsh
the boat traveled up river to sell cargo to settlers and to take on fur pelts.
Arrived at Baker Ground (McGirl’s Trading Post end of May 1877) and
learned of new settlement further upstream. Arrived at McAdow’s Trading
Post (Coulson) June 7th, 1877. Tied to Cottonwood
tree on Joseph Cochran’s land. Tree became a local landmark denoting end
point for the cargo trip into the post. McAdow or Anderson renamed his post as
the town of Coulson,
in honor of the Coulson Packet Company (Owner and operator of the Josephine
riverboat). Note: In 1876, survey crews were establishing Guides and Meridians
in the area. They named the Guide passing through the future site of Coulson as
Horace Countryman (Stillwater-Columbus)
Came to Montana in the 1860’s and
settled on the Yellowstone River – Stillwater River
junction north bank in early1875. Formed trading post known as Stillwater,
later moved about three miles west and formed town of Columbus. He was the first to successfully
reside on the river between Bozeman and the Big Horn
Paul McCormick (Fort Pease)
Left the Livingston area (circa August) 1875 with 46 others, including Major
Fellows D. Pease, and floated down the river to the mouth of the Big Horn
River. He established a
trading post on the site and was immediately besieged by the Sioux Indians. His
band fought the Indians until they March 4, 1876, when Major Brisbin rescued
them. The survivors were taken to Bozeman.
Immediately a Custer was defeated, the military established a fort at the
location of where he had his trading post. McCormick
was taken back to the new fort, and officiated in the opening ceremony of the
new post before the end of June1876. Some wounded from the Custer battle were
taken there, and their letters identified the June date.
Thomas McGirl & Omar Hoskins (Baker
Arrived at Baker Ground (site of minor Sioux battle with Col Baker’s
troops) south of the River on May 9, 1877. He reported that the riverboat
‘Josephine’ stopped there at the end of May 1877. He operated a
trading post there. In 1878 he relocated
to the north side of the river, and formed Huntley, and operated a post
acquired 160 acres for cash and homesteaded two parcels of land (37.62 &
14.32 acres) in Sections 26 and 24, 2N, 27E. Hoskins, along with E. H. Lee
acquired 310.05 acres for cash in Section 18, 8S, 21E.
Alonzo Young (Young’s Point – Park City)
Date of arrival not noted, but identified by the other pioneers as being
after McGirl and before Cochran. He established trading post three miles east
of Park City. He relocated west and founded Park City.
Homesteading land records were not available.
Henry A. Frith (Baker Ground-Huntley)
Albert Frith is considered by some to be the first settler in what is now
County. He served in the
Army, and in the winter of 1876 – 1877 he, along with his regiment
commanded by General Miles, was ordered to Montana to disarm the Sioux Indians, and
establish Forts Keogh and Custer. After completing this task, in early spring
he was discharged and took up a homestead on 160 acres (NE ¼ Section 34, 2N,
27E). The title was granted on Sept 6, 1890. He operated a general store branch
opened by Thomas McGirl until 1879, when he left for the Yogo mining district
to act as deputy recorder. The Indians tributes him by saying the he was
“always talking with a straight tongue.” His place was located
about ½ mile north of the river. He might have arrived after Perry McAdow and
Bela Brockway & Edward Forest (Canyon Creek)
Both families were in the area after McGirl settled into Baker Ground on May
9th 1877, and before Joseph Cochran arrived in mid May 1877. Second
school in the Billing’s area was located here.
Joseph Cochran (Canyon Creek)
Arrived in mid May 1877, and acquired land (area immediately west of
Josephine Park, apparently including Sections 10 and 16). He is
reported to be the first to actually file at Bozeman for land in the area. However, the
BLM has no records of any filings at the Bozeman
land office from 1864 to about 1901. Congress took back some of his land for
use as school land for Montana.
The famed ‘Josephine Tree’ was located on his land, and identified
by area surveyors in 1878. The tree later washed away. Journey of the Josephine
River Boat trips identified.
Perry McAdow & John J. Alderson
Arrived after mid May 1877 immediately after Cochran arrived. Perry
McAdow established a sawmill and Anderson
started a store on property located in Sections 2 and 34. Cochran, Brockway and
Forest supplied timber for his mill. After the
Josephine appeared on June 7th, 1877, he & John Alderson named
the trading post Coulson. This small town consisted of tents originally, and
ran in a northeast direction along side the river, south of where the I-90
crosses, and was located on John Alderson’s land. It was a post office
site until 1882, when Billings
was settled. When the railroad approached the site, John Alderson drew up a
plat and filed in October 28, 1881. Perry’s land, consisting of 457 acres
eventually became site for the Billing’s water plant, some housing tracts
and Josephine Park. The Yellowstone
River rapid called
“Ramsey’s Rapids” was on the right bank of the river, across
from the south edge of McAdow’s property. In later years the river
changed course and the rapids disappeared.
Later Settlers and their Land Filing Dates
Henry Colwell’s house was near the river, and located in Sections 14
& 15. He filed on May 9, 1879.
Orson Newman filed on sections 15 & 16 on May 15, 1879.
Aaron T. Ford filed on May 17, 1879, on the southwest corner of Section 10.
Charles H. Newman filed Dec 16, 1881 on the southeast half of the southeast
quarter of Section 10.
Peter Cooper filed July 17, 1880 on an Indian Allotment in Section 19.
Benjamin Hogan filed in 1881 on a portion of Section 18.