History: Montana - Yellowstone (15 Aug. 1882)

Contact: Crystal Wendt
Email: crystal@wiclarkcountyhistory.org

Surnames: Smalley, Boardman, Bender, Van Vlierden

----Sources: Neillsville Times (Neillsville, Clark County, Wis.) 15 Aug. 1882


A Trip to the Yellowstone

The Northern Pacific railroad enters Montana in the vicinity of what is called Sentinel Butte, which was pointed out to us as the train passed by. It is a long hog-hacked hill probably three hundred feet high and covered with a growth of buffalo and bunch grass. This place is 640 miles from St. Paul. From there the Gelndive, where the railroad first strikes the Yellowstone, a distance of fifty miles, and country is broken and forms a part of what is called the Bad Lands. We too dinner at Glendive, and as the hotel accommodations were not satisfactory we decided to go further before making a stop. Buffalo meat was offered us and we learned that this kind of game could be found within ten or fifteen miles. From Glendive to Miles City, a distance of eighty miles, the railroad follows the south bank of the Yellowstone, crossing Powder River about half way. The country is broken all the way, there being no extended prairie. There is a common level to all the hills or buttes, as they are called, and the strata of which they are formed are nearly horizontal and exactly correspond in height and succession through the whole country. It is evident the roughness of the country has not been caused by volcanic action but by the wearing away of the earth by water. It is suppose this whole country was once of the bed of a great sea and that the parts washed away have been carried down on the bosom of the Missouri and Mississippi and now forms the bottom land of southern Louisiana and that country about the delta of the Mississippi.

We arrived at Miles City, seven hundred and sixty-eight miles from St. Paul, at 4:40 p.m., July 20th. Here our party remained five days, during which we diligently inquired about the prospects of the city and the character of the surrounding country, the climate, soil and everything, which would make the place desirable to live in and attractive to the agriculturist or business man. We have not the space to here record much which is deemed worthy of notice and will only attempt to give our readers some general facts about this new country.

Miles City is situated on the south bank of Yellowstone and east of the Tongue River, which here empties into the former stream. The town is only three years old and has already a population of about twenty five hundred. Without doubt it will double within a year and will probably reach a population of 25,000 within a few years. In our opinion it will be a great center of business for all that country. It has forty-eight saloons, three churches, ten hotels, several of which are very good ones, a variety theatre, which is open every night, two great gambling houses, which are as open as our stores in Neillsville, one daily and two weekly newspapers and many large stores. The saloons, dance houses and gambling halls are open on Sunday as well as on weekdays. We have never observed such shocking violation of Sunday, yet there are many excellent people in the place and they assured us that within a year or two there would be a great reformation there. Miles City is the county seat of Custer, a small county about the size of the state of Pennsylvania. The county officers resided here. A new brick court house is being erected. West of the Tongue River is Fort Keogh and a reservation ten miles square connected with it. There are there 1,000 soldiers and three companies of cavalry. There is no bride across the Yellowstone, but two excellent steel cable ferries. This river is here six hundred feet wide and perhaps ten feet deep. The current is steady and rapid all along. There is no slack water at any point where we saw it, but it runs like a mill tail all the way. The water was somewhat muddy but we are informed it becomes quite clear in the fall.

The valley of the Yellowstone is usually about five miles wide. From the valley you ascend to buttes or table lands from 200 to 300 feet high. The bench lands are broken, there seldom being found more than a few sections of level country before you reach ravines and deep valleys. The Tongue River comes in from the south, having its source in northern Wyoming. The valley of the Tongue is very pretty, and all the land is taken as far as the surveys extend, about twenty-two miles. Beyond this we were told all the land for a hundred miles is claimed by squatters. There is an excellent wagon road up this valley which runs to Deadwood, a distance of two hundred and forty-six miles. North of Miles City is fine grazing country clear to the Missouri River. Miles City will be the shipping point for all the cattle, sheep and wool raised in the country south tributary of the Powder, Tongue, Rosebud and perhaps the Big Horn Rivers, and the country north drained by the Musselshell. When we consider the vast amounts of money already invested in raising stock and the rapid settlement of the country following the advent of a great railroad connecting this country with the Pacific cast, it cannot be doubted that the center of such a trade will be a great city in the near future.


The climate in Montana is delightful. The summers are cool and pleasant; the ice in the streams melts away a month earlier than on the Missouri; and seeding is all done by the 25th of March, while Dakota is still ? in snow. There is plenty of rain until about the first of July, when the dry season commences, continuing into September. On July 21st the thermometer stood at 8 o’clock a.m. at 76 degrees and at 3 p.m. at 92 degrees in the shade. On the 23rd the thermometer registered about 100 degrees, but the weather was not oppressive. Our party stated at 10 a.m. and drove up the river 16 miles, a considerable part of the way being up and down long hills, so steep that it often became necessary for us to get out and walk. We were surprised to see how little the heat affected either ourselves or the team. When we reached the top of a long hill we all noted the fact that the heat caused but little perspirations. When we reached home we learned that the thermometer had stood at from 100 to 104 degrees throughout the day. So it is said that although the thermometer sometimes indicates 40 degrees below zero in the winter, it produces no such effects as in damp climates. The air is dry and pure, and to one who has lived in Northern Wisconsin the difference is plainly perceptible. It is claimed catarrh cannot exist there and throat diseases are not prevalent. There was only one night during our stay so warm as to be uncomfortable. We arose every morning refreshed and in good spirits. E. V. Smalley, who visited that country in May, says: "Some mysterious quality in the air has a champagne effect on the blood and brain. One thinks fast, moves fast, cannot keep still, awakens at 4 o’clock in the early northern dawn and cannot sleep again, and feels a delightful sense of exhilaration all the time."

Since Mr. Boardman’s return to Neillsville he has remarked the same peculiarity of the air in the Yellowstone Country.

There is not much now in the winter. Last winter there was none, and the year before, which was unusually severe throughout the Northwest, there was about two feet for four weeks. The snow is light and the native cattle brush is aside and feed on the bunch grasses all winter long.

After we had been in Montana a day we had concluded it was an excellent grazing country but that it was not adapted to raising grain. Before we started homeward we came to very different conclusions, based on what we actually saw and the testimony of old settlers in that locality. The soil was very dry and the grass already crisp and cured into hay. We learned that but little rain was expected in July, August and September and that during these months there was no dew. Notwithstanding these facts we were compelled to believe that most excellent crops of grain and vegetables could be raised on that dry soil. We visited the farm on Henry Bender, who has forty acres improved. He had oats which he expects will yield one hundred bushels per acre. A little patch of wheat was tall and thick and the heads well filled. His garden contains onions already as large as your fist, beets twice as large, carrots, beans, sweet corn, melons already well grown, cucumbers, radishes, cabbages, potatoes, etc., all far in advance of anything we had seen in Wisconsin or Minnesota. He calculated his forty acres would net him this year about $2500.

We visited the farm of A. H. Van Vlierden, who kindly drove us out to see his place and the country. There were about ninety-acres in crop, about sixty of which were in oats which would yield from sixty to seventy bushels to the acre. He had about eight acres of choice wheat, finer than any we saw in Dakota. We brought home sample heads which can be seen at the writer’s office. Mr. Van Vlierden claimed the crops on this place would be worth $3000 to $3500. The crops on these two places, which were the most extensive of any we saw, were better than any we saw in Minnesota of Dakota. It is claimed that there is sufficient rain during April, May and June, the growing season, and that when the dry season comes crops are so far matured as to be beyond damage. The average rainfall in the Yellowstone Valley is 24.61 inches, in Minnesota 24.50 inches and in Wisconsin 35.15 inches.

The rainfall during seeding time is in Yellowstone Valley 3.55 inches, in Minnesota 2.75 inches, and in the lake region of New York and Ohio 5.45 inches.

For the growing season it is in the Yellowstone Valley 14.65 inches, in Minnesota 10.35 inches and in New York 9.60 inches.

In August and September it is in the Yellowstone Country 2.85 inches, New York 6.40 inches and in Minnesota 5.75 inches.

An examination of these figures will show that while the rainfall in Montana is less than in most of the states it comes just at the right time.

We visited no farms on the table lands, but it is the opinion of old settlers there that just as good crops can be raised on the table lands as on the bottoms. The soil is as good, there is just as much rain and no more wind. We cannot see how an elevation of from one to two hundred feet can make any difference.

The great business of this country is the raising of horses, cattle and sheep. The profits to the ranchmen are enormous, often reaching fort to fifty per cent per annum. The cattle are branded with the owner’s mark and fee on the hills and in the valleys the whole year without any thing except what nature furnishes free. There has been only one winter in five years when it has been necessary to feed cattle hay. This was in the winter of 1880-81, which was unusually severe and it was necessary to feed about three weeks/ The cattle men pay no taxes on the lands and but little on their cattle. Two men will take care of 2,000 head. The expense of raising a steer is about $1.00 per year. At four years they will weigh about 1000 to 2000 pounds and are worth $25 a head.

The increase of a head of cattle in a period of five or ten years is remarkable. Let us suppose that a farmer with a small capital should start next spring with one hundred head of cattle, all of which are three year old heifers except three, which are bulls; that each year he exchanged his bull calves for heifers, as he may do with ranchmen who desire to ship steers to market and are not desirous of increasing their herds. The figures for five years will be about as follows:

First year - 100 head, 3 years old

75 calves

Second year - 100 head, 4 years old,

75 head, 1 year old,

75 calves

Third year - 100 head, 5 years old

75 head, 2 years old

75 head, 1 year old

125 calves

Fourth year - 100 head, 6 years old

75 head, 3 years old

75 head, 2 years old

125 head, 1 year old

175 calves

Fifth year - 100 head, 7 years old

75 head, 4 years old

75 head, 3 years old

125 head, 2 years old

175 head, 1 year old

250 calves

Total number at end of five years 800 head

$20 apie?e whole value would be $16,000 Value of 100 head to start with at $30 each $3000 Increase in 5 years - $13,000.

Two per cent is said to be a large average for losses from all sources. In Montana two years old heifers usually have calves, they are strong and vigorous fro the reason that the calves are permitted to run with the cows and take all the milk which they give. Starting at the end of five years with 800 head the next five years would show more remarkable results. The increase is in the nature of a geometrical profession. If a farmer were able to support himself and family by agriculture very little deduction would have to be made on account of labor.

Raising horses and mules is also very profitable. Horse or mule teams are worth from $300 to $450 at Miles City. When we consider that the cost of raising them is reduced to almost nothing it is evident the profits are large.

Lignite coal, of good quality, is found in all this country. A specimen can be seen at the office of the local editor of Times.

Government lands in Montana are open to settlers only under the homestead, tree culture and preenuption acts. Speculators cannot buy it.

The railroads lands are sold at $2.60 per care case or $3.00 on time, one-sixth cash and balance in five annual payments with interest at seven percent.

There is much more we would like to say about this country, but we have not space which we can devote to the subject. We close by saying that we believe Montana will, in the near future, outstrip both Minnesota and Dakota in the value of her productions, that her grazing country is far more valuable than the famous wheat lands of the Red River, and the climate both more healthful and delightful than that the vast prairie country between the Mississippi and the Missouri River.



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