Yellowstone County Places

Huntley – Baker’s Battlefield


Revised 20 26 February 2002  (Frith information added)

 Huntley is 15 miles east of Billings, and was located at the head of navigation on the Yellowstone River long before Billings was created. Tom McGirl, an Irish native, was a veteran of the Fifth Missouri Mounted Infantry. In 1875 he came to Montana and operated a ferry (after 1877) across the river at the stopping place he later named Huntley. The location became a post office site in 1878. When NPR came through his post office was moved. The railroad took away his business so he turned to ranching. Originally the Huntley area was known as Baker’s Battlefield. [Edward W. Dunne, manager of a general store of the time, recorded the early history].

A stagecoach station operated by McGirl & Hoskins was established on the south side of the river for the Salisbury Line. They sold it around 1880 to Hagy & Smith, who were Fort Custer merchants. Dunne operated the ferry and the store for them. Duane bought the store, but had to quit when Billings was created.

The ferry crossed the river where eddies on both sides of the river made it an ideal spot for crossing. There were several near escapes, so he added a heavy cable to make the crossing safer. The ferry crossing was the starting point to Fort Maginnis and the Barker mining districts on the north. This was the usual place to cross the river, and a hotel was available for resting. At one time there were seven steamboats docked at Huntley loading furs and other supplies. A first option available to a hunter was that he could get credit for his furs on wagons, teams, ammunition and guns. In addition to the Coulson Packet line, there were ten other steamboats that served the area.

Discovery of the Yogo silver mines to the northwest increased the prosperity and the establishment of a branch store by ‘Henry A. Frith[1], but the miners failed to initially find the sapphires’ mother lode location, and the miner’s accounts were unpaid. Huntley was the stopping point for lawmen and judges going to Miles City with their prisoners. National Indian War Veterans of Montana, created a membership society called “Gen. Nelson A. Miles Camp No. 12”. The charter members of the camp organized February 12, 1926 were Edward W. Dunne, Henry A. Frith, John Stanley, Charles Mahr, Henry C. Klenck, Joseph Zimmerman, Frank Becker and Anthony Lafayette Barron. There were approximately 80 members throughout this region. The last of the Billings full-fledged camp members was Charles. S. Ashdown, commander of the Miles Camp. John Stanley of Joliet, adjutant and quartermaster of the unit in 1937 presented the camp flags and charter to the Parmly Billings Memorial Library for repository in their History Section after Ashdown’s death in 1937. Members of the camp served in the army during the last Crow Indian uprising in 1886, and were military men dedicated to making the west civilized so that it will never have to be done again. The Indian war veterans enlisted voluntarily and had no pension until 30 years after their discharge. Then it was $50 per month. Civil War Veterans received $100. Frith’s wife, Helen, was one of the persons who later formally dedicated Boot Hill Cemetery in Billings.

When NPR established the crossing at Billings, it spelled the doom for Huntley’s growth.

[1] Henry Albert Frith was born 13 April 1847 Edinburgh, Scotland. Married: Helen M. Miller 1905 in Billings. Henry died in Long Beach, CA March 19, 1943. 

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Katy Hestand
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