Yellowstone County History

Story &McAdow Supply Trail


Fort C.F. Smith


Revised 24 January 2003 [Added 1865 Map, Misc.]

Nelson Story had taken the John Bozeman Trail to Gallatin Valley in 1866, driving with him some 2,000 head of Long Horn cattle [accounts of the actual number vary from 500 to 3,000]. Perry McAdow, a miller and farmer from Missouri, arrived in Montana in 1861, and by 1864 Perry was in Gallatin Valley. He operated a gristmill and a sawmill, which he later sold. Both men left in the fall of 1867 to seek a government contract for supplying food to the soldiers at Fort CF Smith, on the Big Horn River. [Nelson was 29, Perry 31] They left the fort on October 13th with a contract to supply them with vegetables and chopped wheat. Prior to this contract the men at the fort were issued 0.33 pounds of vegetables per man per month; and it was felt that this wasn’t sufficient to maintain good health. Together they operated the trade route until the fort was abandoned in 1868. They then purchased most of the army equipment, including a sawmill.

Gallatin Valley had three gristmills and about 300 farms. Average prices for produce per pound in the area was: flour – 10 cents, potatoes or turnips – 5 cents, onions – 10 cents, beef – 20 cents on the hoof. Freighting cost was generally 6 cents per pound. Story charged more, but this included frost insurance to Fort CF Smith.

On 19 November 1867 the Nelson Story wagon train, with 28 wagons of potatoes arrived at the fort. Next day, on the 20th, Perry McAdow’s arrived with 12 wagons loaded with produce from Gallatin Valley[1].

The routes used by these men, and their heavy wagonloads, are not recorded in any of the military documents. It does seem doubtful that they traveled the Sawyers’ route he established in 1866, since the diarists who traveled it all said it was very rough, had wagon tip-overs, and many breakdowns. It would have been smoother, and more restful on the animals had they traveled on the edge of the South Hills plateau. However, no evidence exists that they did so.


Events Preceding the Supply Trail Route

Lt George Templeton was assigned to Col Carrington’s command, and arrived at Fort Phil Kearny[2] on 25 July 1866. There he found that it was built of tents, and had five officers in command. [It consisted of Companies A, C and H 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment.] Captain Nathaniel C Kinney was to be assigned as post commander and commander of Company D for the future Fort CF Smith. Lt Templeton would become second in command of Company D. Jim Bridger was assigned by Col Carrington to guide them up the ‘Bozeman Trail’ to the new site.

On 2 August 1866 the Kirkendall Train arrived from Fort Reno and camped on site at the new fort until the 4th. This train consisted of three trains, combined together for added strength: Hugh Kirkendall, William K Thomas, and Perry Burgess. Together they had 110 wagons, 171 men, six women and five children.

The Kirkendall train also had traveling with it prior to the 2nd, the Tootle train and the Leach train.

On 4 August 1866 Company D, and another one, Company G under the command of Captain Thomas Bredin Burrowes, departed Fort Phil Kearny for the proposed Big Horn River site. They had 2 ambulances, 9 post train wagons, 25 supply wagons and 249 personnel. They combined their strength with the Kirkendall train. The procession had 146 wagons and 409 people when it left.

On 9 August the train was ten miles from the river. After about five miles travel, Jim Bridger went on ahead to check out the river crossing. There he found several miners from Virginia City and a wagon train camped on the north bank with all their stock stolen [Beers Train attacked on July 20th.]

On 10 August 1866 the train arrived at the Big Horn River, and camped about four miles downstream of the ford. River was 240 feet wide at the ferry location where the Beer’s train was camped.

On 11 August 1866 Captain Burrowes reconnoitered the area and selected the site for the fort. Some of the soldiers were ordered to cut hay on four acres of land with a “Grimmer” harvester.

On 12 August 1866 the command moved five miles upstream to the new site, one mile above the ferry location. The Kirkendall train still had all 110 wagons. The army took over the ferry and had Mr Leighton, a fort suttler who followed the army command to the fort, to operate it. Lyman Cheney, from the Burgess train helped repair the ferry, which was constructed from cottonwood rough planks, corked with rags, and barely large enough to carry one wagon. Joining them at this juncture was the Norner train [with uncounted wagons.]

It took three days to ferry the group across, leaving the Cheney train at the Big Horn. They left the river on the 15th, with Jim Bridger as guide. Col Carrington was under written orders from General Sherman to establish three forts on the Bozeman Trail, and to create a “Wagon Road” for the emigrants and miners to use in reaching Virginia City. He assigned Jim Bridger the task of laying out the route from Fort Phil Kearny, to Fort CF Smith, to Fort Fisher [to be made on the Yellowstone – never accomplished], and on to Virginia City[3]. For that reason he was accompanying the wagon train that left on the 4th of August.

This combined group of wagon trains was the first to use the route established by Sawyers a few weeks earlier. On August 17th Thomas, who was traveling in the rear, became impatient and decided to leave the big train at Muddy Creek [fork on Hay Creek about ten miles from the river] and go on ahead. Following the Thomas train [that had arrived at the Big Horn River just after they had crossed] were two other small trains: those of James Maudlin and Captain Peter Murray. The route took them through the valley area below the South Hills. Benjamin Dailey provided a good description of the “Pryor Gap” leading into the Pryor Creek basin as they reached Hay Creek:

“we pass’d through a gap or cut or pass through the hills that look’d as if it had been cut by the hands of man. The wall of hills on each side is about 20 feet high.[4]

15 August 1866 – Blythe train made 4 miles and camped on the Big Horn, waiting to cross. Kirkendall’s train, with Jim Bridger leading, completed the crossing earlier and departed without them. The Blythe train started out following the Kirkendall’s trail [Sawyers route.] Jim Bridger traveled in the lead with the Kirkendall Trail, and led them to Virginia City.

16 August 1866 – Blythe and Wilson trains crossed Big Horn and waited to depart.

17 August 1866 – Wilson left Big Horn at 2 pm, and saw no others. Planned to travel fast and catch the heavily laden Kirkendall train. Blythe reached small creek (Muddy Creek) after nine miles. Went six more miles and camped on creek (East Buster Creek.)

18 August 1866 – Wilson train traveled 1- miles and met other trains. Bad roads and many ravines. Good water but no feed. Arrived at 5 pm in camp and found other trains there. Blythe train made 5 miles. Met with Kirkendall’s Train.

19 August 1866 – Traveled in volcanic regions. Country looked like in was in a vast river of burning lava; black cinders & huge rocks piled up (interpreted to mean large masses of sandstone). Tablelands covered with grass. Camped on small creek filled with beaver dams. Kirkendall’s train ahead. Had to drive a long way for water. Camped with Kirkendall’s at spring with cool water. Blythe made 6 miles in morning 15 miles total and camped on Sulphur spring [another name for Ice Water Springs] after passing through Pryor Gap.

20 August 1866 – Wagon trains camped in valley, walled in by bluffs and mountains. Crossed small stream and ascended into rolling valley. Hills were covered with large rocks. Blythe train made 6 miles in the morning and crossed Pryor River. In afternoon made 7 miles and camped on Cross Creek (Rock Creek.)

21 August 1866 – Wilson went ahead of Kirkendall’s train. Crossed Clark’s Fork and camped. Jim Bridger joined them later and said that this was where he would later establish a fort. [Must be Fort Fisher, third of the forts to be established by Col Carrington. Events that led to the abandonment of the other two forts prevented this one from being established.]

22 August 1866 – Kirkendall’s train crossed Rocky Fork two miles above of where the Wilson Train crossed. Wilson took the old road, crossed the creek, and passed Kirkendall’s train. Wilson travel up south side of Rocky Fork (Red Lodge Creek) all day. Crossed and camped ahead of two other trains.

23 August 1866 – Soon left the creek and entered a rolling prairie. Camped on small creek.

[After arriving in Virginia City, Jim Bridger found that the miners were suffering from hard times as the placer mines had played out. He made the return trip with fellow guide Hank Williams, Tom Cover, John Richard Jr, plus two others. According to Lt Templeton’s diary, “… Mr. Koover of Gallatin Valley … owns extensive mills there and is looking out for a chance to supply the government with timber and supplies.” Richards had three wagons loaded with potatoes. That was the reported reason he was returning with Jim Bridger. When the group reached Clark’s Fork Jim Bridger visited a group of Crow Indians at their camp. They reported that Sioux leaders visited them on September 17th, urging them to join the confederation of tribes and make war on the whites. John Richard Jr was related to Spotted Tail and Red Cloud.]

On 29 September 1866, Jim Bridger returned to Fort CF Smith from the survey trip.

[Lt Templeton was Officer of Commissary of Subsistence at Fort CF Smith. He arranged to purchase three tons of potatoes from Richards at $.24 per pound. Cover, Richards and two of the miners started back to Virginia City on October 1st. ]

The Military Bozeman Wagon Road Survey by Jim Bridger

The campsite on Muddy Creek is a junction point for two main trails, the one created by Sawyers in August 1866 and shown the 1867 Survey Map; and the new road shown on the 1868 and later survey maps, subject of this research. The Kirkendall train had CMS Millard as a member. He wrote daily letters to the Leavenworth Times describing events that occurred[5]. From the Grace Hebard 1922 investigation of the route and Col Carrington’s “Some Phases of Indian Question”, pgs 29-30 a detailed description of the wagon route from Fort Kearny to Virginia City was made. The survey showed the full distance to be 372 miles (From Fort CF Smith, 281 miles[6].) This route, upon examination passes over the bluffs between the Pryor Creek and the Clark’s Fork River. Jim Bridger led the Kirkendall train combinations to the gold fields, thus establishing this route for the army to make into a wagon road. The route from the Big Horn crossing to the Clark’s Fork was reported to be 70 miles in the diary of Col Carrington, but due to the math error, an additional 15 miles was added. [Examination of route mileages from the other diarists traveling with Jim Bridger shows the route they followed to be identical to that of the Sawyers expedition.]

1)      Fort CF Smith - Starting point at Big Horn River ferry crossing.

Remarks: Crossed at the ferry operated by Leighton, two miles downstream of the canyon exit.

2)      Dubois Creek - Creek runs northwest by west. Located at 7 miles from the mountain. Dubois Creek is a fork of Beauvais Fork of Big Horn. It was 15 feet wide and had Ash & Box-Elder timber. [10 miles to creek.]

Remarks: Followed the Sawyers’ 1866 trail and traveled up the hill in northwest direction to Gold Springs, then on to Muddy Creek, (which he called Dubois Creek), a distance of nine miles as reported by the Blythe team, ten as noted by Bridger. Stopping at Gold springs would add an additional mile to the nine reported by the Blythe team.

3)      North Fork-Dubois Creek – Creek runs northwest by north. Road crosses creeks and ravines, and bad. Stream narrow, 7 miles from mountains[7]. Good grass, fuel timber only. [10 miles to creek.]

Remarks: This would be at Buster Creek, the same place Sawyers stopped, about 1-1/2 miles south of Beauvais Creek.

4)      South Fork of Prior’s River – Creek runs northwest; road passes by a deep canyon, cutting the divide between Big Horn and Rocky ranges. Quite rough, but good grass. [15 miles to creek.]

5)      Ice Water Spring – Spring runs northwest by north. At four miles is water in a small branch. At five miles further is Millard’s Spring, with good grass and water. This spring rises and flows from a high, level prairie, four miles from base of mountains, forming a branch of Prior’s River, three feet wide and twelve inches deep. At six miles further comes Ice Water Spring, with good grass , but no timber, although at Prior’s River, two miles beyond, the timber is abundant. Road in many places quie rocky. Ice Water Spring rises from a mound in the prairie, supplying four small streams which unite in a channel six feet wide and three feet deep, flowing with great rapidity. [15 miles to spring.]

Remarks: There is a miscalculation of the distances traveled for notes 4) and 5), and the mileages are reported twice. [This is probably a copy error from the handwritten diary records. Note 4) actually summarizes the total distance traveled, and not a separate segment. There is really one entry for a 15-mile trek.] They traveled 15 miles to the campsite where Ice Water Springs is located. This is on a small stream halfway between Smallpox Creek and Pryor Creek, two miles east of Pryor Creek. Jim Bridger gave it that name, and it is not identified on the USGS maps. Cutting the divide refers to the route passage through a gap in the ridgeline along the east side of East Pryor Creek. It runs in a southwest direction. Distance traveled is 15 miles for the day, and matches the distance Sawyers traveled to reach the same point. Sawyers didn’t stop at the Ice Water Springs location. Total mileage traveled to this point is 35]

6)      Spring Creek – Road crosses Prior’s River; four miles of beautiful valley; thence up valley of Spring Creek, - north fork of Prior’s River. Here are steep bluffs, until the summit of the divide between Prior’s River and Clark’s Fork. Grass good, but timber for fuel only. [8 miles.]

Remarks: Traveling eight miles brings Bridger to a crossing point on or near to Plum Creek. Plum Creek is about nine miles in length, and is a north fork of Pryor Creek. The route follows the creek through a valley for about eight miles, the distance reported by Bridger. It is also about 1-1/2 mile from the crossroads in the “Great Basin” area immediately south of Fourth of July Creek. [This intersection was a major crossroads and is marked with a six-foot high rock cairn, age undetermined.] This would place the campsite 12 miles from Clark’s Fork.

7)      Clark’s Fork – nearly west. All prairies, except two dry crossings. Clark’s Fork is wide, with rich valley, grass, and timber. [12 miles.]

Remarks: The description fits the valley floor location leading to where Edgar would be eventually located. The two dry creeks would be Wolf Creek and Five Mile Creek. It is 12 miles from the campsite of the previous day to Clark’s Fork. Total distance traveled is 55 miles. [Sawyers reported he traveled 56 miles, 56.8 miles to campsite on the west side.]

8)      Rocky Fork – This stream is 45 yards wide, three feet deep, with good ford; with timber and grass, ten miles from mountains. [7 miles] This places him on Rock Creek.


Summary of Study

Although the terminology and map locations used in the reports depicts that Bridger’s route from the Big Horn to Clark’s Fork passed up Monument Creek and onto the hills above the South hills valley floor, correlation with members of his wagon teams clearly indicate that he followed the Sawyers’ trail made two weeks earlier.

Location and route used by Perry McAdow and Nelson Story to deliver supplies to Fort CF Smith for over ten months was not recorded in the army records. Rationale for the wagon road shown on the survey maps in 1868 and later remains a mystery. The only significant record of travel in the area would be the Nelson and McAdow heavy freighting trains. This could account for the route. It is a much easier road to travel than the Sawyers’ route, having fewer ravines to cross. This is presently referred to in part as “The McCormick Trail or Monument Trail.” [Power Point Presentation] In 1865, Walter de Lacy prepared a map of Montana Territory for use by its first Legislature. The map shows both the Bridger 1864 Bozeman Cutoff Road and the Bozeman Road leading to the Big Horn River. From there to Clark’s Fork, the map shows the road passing through the lower edge of the South Hills, and crossing at Silesia. At this time, the Sawyers’ Road went north to the Hill Climb area across from Billings, then south to Edgar. How this trail got represented on the map is a mystery; but it matches others created by the Surveyor General’s office in later years.

There is a signpost on the Pryor road, south of Bird Creek [Section 5S, Range 26E, Township 30] that identifies “the Bozeman Trail 1863-1868.” There are deep wagon ruts crossing the road going in a westerly direction aimed at the abandoned railroad grade some 1-1/2 mile distant. This trail is four miles south of the reported Sawyers route for 1866. These tracks must have belonged to a road crew for the railroad construction, or other freighters, but not the actual Bozeman Trail. {John Bozeman’s wagon train route is shown on the 1865 map prepared by Walter W. deLacy as part of the 1st Montana State Legislative Congressional meeting. This route, used only once [according to record research] followed the little Big Horn River north, to a point slightly below its confluence with the Big Horn River. It then crossed the river, and the train traveled due west until reaching the Yellowstone River [Billings], then westerly to the Clark’s Fork following the land contours on the east side of the Yellowstone River to that point.}

There are four different reports of passage through “Pryor Gap” by diarists. These reports place the gap to be a cut through the adjoining ridge of low-lying hills that line the east side of Pryor Creek between the town of Pryor and Coburn. These gaps were reported to be located at Coburn, West Wetts Creek, Hay Creek, and East Pryor Creek Fork. These locations match the four routes identified in this research. The Surveyor General identified the one at Hays Creek as “Devil’s Gap” in 1868 and again in 1871 & 1872, and none of the diarists reported traversing through that specific location. Prior to that time, the trail across the South Hills ridgeline wasn’t mapped; only the trail that Sawyers created in 1866 was represented. In 1868 and later the ridgeline road was depicted. Later, when the railroad created a route through the Pryor Mountains [Range 25, Section 6S] this was officially referred to as Pryor Gap on the maps, and designates a deep cut in the Pryor mountain Range located in Section 6S, Range 25 East. It is not the same “Pryor Gap” as referred to by the diarists.

[1] Exactly in the Right Place, Barry Hagen, Vol XII, pg 171.

[2] Fort Phillip Kearny [Fort Phil. Kearny] is the true spelling. For some reason that hasn’t been explained, the officers and enlisted men, who wrote about the fort, used two e’s. [Fort Phil. Kearney] The period after the “Phil” was the proper method to abbreviate the name, as used by the soldiers.

[3] Bridger’s survey is mentioned in ”Bozeman Trail”, by Grace Hebard & Brininstool, Vol 2, pgs 119-120, and in Jim Bridger, by Vestal.

[4] Diarists refer to passing through Pryor’s Gap just before reaching the Pryor Creek basin. There are different accounts of what it looks like. The term Pryor Gap refers to any of the canyon entrances into the basin area east of the creek. Passage by wagons from the upper plateaus onto the creek bed in the areas between Pryor and Coburn isn’t really feasible; and the canyon trails had to be followed. The Pryor Gap passage alongside of Hay Creek going in a northwest direction is called Devil’s Gap. It leads directly to the monument Creek trail, and is identified and located on the 1868, 1871 and 1872 surveyor General’s maps.

[5] See “Hugh Kirkendall’s Wagon Train” with photos by Elsa Spear.

[6] There is a 15-mile error in the compilation. One of the interval treks that passed through the South Hills region was counted twice.

[7] In the book, Absaraka by Margaret Carrington, she reports the distance to be eight miles.

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Katy Hestand
Yellowstone County Coordinator

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