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Cooke City:
An Old West Recreation Town

Cooke City is located on the northeastern edge of the Yellowstone National Park boundary, and is accessed by the Beartooth National Scenic Byway, Wyoming’s Chief Joseph Highway, or by driving through the park. Shoo-Fly, the original name of the mining town now known as Cooke City, was changed by the miners in 1880 to honor Jay Cooke, Jr., a Northern Pacific Railroad contractor and the son of a Northern Pacific Railroad investor. He promised not only to promote the area’s development, but also to help bring a railroad to the town. However, he got into financial difficulties, forfeited his bond, and his bonded mining claims reverted back to the original owners. By the 1870s, the town was booming. A few years later, Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce stormed through town and burnt down much of the gold mining facilities. Although the facilities were reconstructed, due to the city’s hard to reach location, the boom did not last very long. Old cabins remain from the mining days, and the town reflects its past very well.

The town of Cooke City and the land around it were within the Crow Reservation until 1882, when the boundaries of the reservation were shifted eastward. Shortly after moving these boundaries,1,450 mining claims were staked and recorded in the New World District. Most of these claims lapsed after a year. By 1883, Cooke City had grown to a community of about 135 log huts and tents.

John P. Allen was the first person to drive a four-horse team and loaded wagon to town. In 1883 he built the Allen Hotel, later renamed the Cosmopolitan. Eventually he opened three mines: the O-Hara, War Eagle, and McKinley. The town site was platted in 1883 and included two-hundred twenty-seven voters, two smelters, two sawmills, three general stores, two hotels, two livery stables, and a meat market. However, because of the large number of irregularly shaped mining claims and the problems of organizing them, it took eight years to complete the surveying and platting.

Today, Cooke City has a year around population of approximately 90 people. The population expands to over three hundred when summer residents

arrive and swells again in the winter-time when snowmobilers and backcountry skiers rush into town to tackle the impressive mountains. The town has a rustic “old west” atmosphere, which can be traced to its mining roots. However, tourism is currently the economic mainstay in this year-round recreation community.

Source: Cooke City Chamber of Commerce
Reprinted from “The Ultimate Montana Atlas and Travel Encyclopedia.”

This Date in History: December 26, 1881

Although railroad and military survey crews scoured the Montana landscape for possible routes as early as 1853, it wasn’t until December 26, 1881 that the iron horse finally arrived in Montana Territory. One day after Christmas, the Utah and Northern Railroad’s first train along with fifty passengers chugged into Butte. The line connected Butte and essentially all of Montana Territory with the rest of the world and played a key role in making Butte one of America’s most successful mining boomtowns.

Christmas 1804 with the Lewis & Clark Expedition

Excerpt from Clark’s Journal Entry: 25th December Christmass Tuesday -

I was awakend before Day by a discharge of 3 platoons from the Party and the french [boatmen], the men merrily Disposed, I give them all a little Taffia [rum] and permitted 3 Cannon fired, at raising Our flag, Some Men Went out to hunt & the others to Danceing and Continued untill 9 oClock P.M. when the frolick ended &c.

Excerpt from Ordway’s Journal Entry: Tuesday 25th Decr 1804, cloudy.

we fired the Swivels at day break & each man fired one round. our officers Gave the party a drink of Taffee. we had the Best to eat that could be had, & continued firing dancing & frolicking dureing the whole day. the Savages did not Trouble us as we had requested them not to come as it was a Great medician day with us. We enjoyed a merry christmas dureing the day & evening untill nine oClock - all in peace & quietness.

Reprinted from “The Journals of Lewis and Clark” edited by Bernard DeVoto

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