There are few plots of land in Montana that have as much history buried in them as the Bozeman Cemetery. The stories of the individuals buried here—their dreams, achievements, and failures—give us a rich picture of not only Bozeman’s history but also the history of the West. Here are the stories of a select few.
b. 1835 in Georgia d. 1867
When gold was discovered in Colorado, John Bozeman left Georgia in 1860 and headed West, leaving a wife and three children behind. By 1862 Bozeman had traveled to the gold strike in Bannack in what was to become Montana Territory.
The 1860s were turbulent years in Montana’s history. The successive gold strikes brought thousands of fortune seekers within weeks of each discovery. The rich mining camps were terrorized by thieves and murderers; vigilante committees were organized. Meanwhile, the steady stream of wagon trains through Indian hunting grounds convinced the Sioux and Cheyenne that they must fight to keep their land. Back in the States, the Civil War raged, creating tensions between Montana’s Northern and Southern emigrants as well as between Southerners who were Confederate Army veterans and those who had avoided military service. It was indeed, the Wild West.
The mining camps of Bannack and Alder Gulch (Virginia City) were dependent on potatoes and flour freighted in from Salt Lake City 400 miles away. The immensely fertile Gallatin Valley was only 60 miles from Virginia City, and it was here in 1863 that John Bozeman conceived the idea of starting a farming community that could supply the miners. Bozeman guided several wagon trains into the area on a trail that shortened the trip by almost two weeks. Over time, it became known as the Bozeman Trail, but after 1864 his energy went into fostering the growth of his townsite.
John Bozeman did not fit the typical image of the frontiersman in fringed buckskins. Various contemporaries described him as over six-feet tall, strong, brave, handsome, kind, stalwart, and tireless, with “the looks and ways of a manly man.” He was a Southern gentleman, a well-dressed Beau Brummel, and no doubt a heartthrob.
He was murdered in 1867, only three years after the establishment of the town of Bozeman. While on a trip with Tom Cover to solicit business for the town’s flour mill, he was shot on the banks of the Yellowstone River. The accepted story has been that he was murdered by Blackfeet Indians, but inconsistencies in the information have over time resulted in a mystery that variously points the finger of blame at Tom Cover (an interesting individual who was himself murdered under mysterious circumstances years later) or at a jealous husband of one of the few women in town.
John Bozeman’s death ensured the survival of his town. Fear of Indian attacks led to the establishment in 1867 of Fort Ellis three miles east of the town which provided both protection and a ready market for Bozeman’s farms and merchants. Bozeman’s remains were returned to the town three years later. His friend, fellow Georgian William McKenzie, died in 1913 and is buried next to him.
b. 1838 in Ohio d. 1926
Ellen Trent Story
b. 1844 in Kansas d. 1924
Nelson and Ellen met and married in Kansas before coming to Bannack and Alder Gulch in 1863. Nineteen-year-old Ellen baked pies and bread to sell to the miners while Nelson operated a store and mined a claim from which he took $40,000 in gold.
It was in Alder Gulch that Story’s famous participation in frontier justice took place. Road agent (robber) George Ives had been charged with murder by an informal judge and jury. A crowd of several thousand spectators gathered as darkness fell. Ives stood on a packing box with a noose around his neck. A rescue party of his friends stood up with their guns, but “quick as thought” Story pulled the box (or kicked it, depending on whose version you hear) out from under Ives and he was hanged.
The Storys decided to settle in Bozeman and Ellen stayed there in 1866 while Nelson went down to Texas to drive his famous herd of 3,000 longhorns and a wagon train up to Montana. Not only did he fight his way through thousands of hostile Indians, but he also had to outwit the U.S. Army who wanted to turn back the expedition for its own safety. The story had to sneak 3,000 longhorns past the troops in the dark. These cattle that were driven into the Gallatin Valley formed the nucleus for Montana’s cattle industry.
Ellen gave birth to seven children. Three sons and one daughter survived. Nelson’s successes in cattle, a flour mill, and other business ventures enabled them to build a 17 room mansion in the 1880s. This exquisite building was torn down in 1938. Marble columns from the mansion were salvaged to decorate the family plot.
The Ellen Theatre on Main Street was named for Mrs. Story. Nelson Story was instrumental in bringing Montana State College to Bozeman. Both lived long and productive lives and were major figures in building the Bozeman community.
b. 1834 in Ohio d. 1886
The life of James Chesnut was full of adventure. At the age of 19, he left for the California gold fields by steamer, but the boat exploded, killing 100 people. James escaped with only a slight scald. In San Francisco, after doing well in several- al merchandising enterprises, the 19-year-old Chesnut joined up with the audacious military adventurer, William Walker.
The prevailing mood of the times was that American civilization had a right and duty to expand itself; the lines between idealism and piracy were blurred. To the Hispanic South, there were people to be liberated and great fortunes to be made in silver, gold, and cattle ranching. As part of Walker’s illegal Independence Brigade, Chesnut was one of 300 mercenaries to invade and conquer without a shot, the small, sleepy, coastal towns of Western Mexico. Walker pro- claimed himself President of the Republic of Lower California and led his ill-equipped army on a rugged march to “liberate” mineral-rich Sonora. The brutal landscape and lack of food took their toll in desertions and death. The group never reached Sonora. All that remained of Walker’s army were 34 men who surrendered at the U.S. border and returned to San Francisco.
A year later, Chesnut chose not to accompany Walker on his next venture, the bloody and successful invasion of Nicaragua, where he made himself President. Instead, Chesnut exchanged all his valuables for $7,000 in gold and booked passage on a steamer bound for New York. The launch that was taking him to the steamer sank, and while 38 people drowned, Chesnut swam back to shore, hired a diver, retrieved his gold, and boarded the steamer in time for departure.
Later, during the Kansas border wars, Chesnut was arrested and jailed for high treason. When the Civil War began, he worked at the unique job of enlisting Indians and blacks for the Union Army. He enlisted a regiment of Delaware Indians and himself commanded a regiment of black troops, achieving the rank of Colonel.
In 1867, he came to Montana and discovered coal in the Rocky Canyon Trail Creek area. For 15 years he developed his coal-mining enterprise, benefiting the growth of the community. Chesnut liked to say that the coal in his claim ran all the way down to China, thereby making the famous coal mines of England an infringement on his rights. Coal was welcomed since wood was becoming scarce and high priced. But stove grates were not suited to coal, and the Colonel had difficulty promoting his product. The small town of Chestnut was named for him, however, the name was misspelled.
Chesnut owned extensive real estate, including the Chesnut Corner, an elegantly appointed salon, complete with a reading room and a club room in the back. This club room was Bozeman’s nerve center, where its leading male citizens discussed public problems and their genial host encouraged new enterprises for the rapidly growing town. The large upstairs floor was a social center, and in summer the Fort Ellis band played from its balcony on Main Street. Although Chesnut was the focus of several romantic stories, he never married.
“Lady” Mary Blackmore
b. in England d. 1872
The sad story of ‘Lady’ Mary Blackmore and her husband William is part of Bozeman’s lore. In 1872 they came from England to visit Yellowstone, stopping in Bozeman on their way because Lady Mary had become suddenly ill. She died of peritonitis at General Lester Willson’s home and was buried on five acres purchased by ‘Lord’ Blackmore and given to the town for use as a cemetery.
Further investigation reveals that ‘Lord’ Blackmore was in fact not a lord, although he did expect to be knighted. It was Emma Willson who started referring to them as ‘Lord’ and ‘Lady.’ William Blackmore was, however, an extraordinary man. He had become quite wealthy working as a middle man between English investors and promoters in the American West. He and Mary lived on an extensive estate where they entertained a dazzling array of guests including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Charlotte Bronte, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and “Mark Twain.” The beautiful Mary was a London social leader and an intimate of Queen Victoria. William had made several trips to the U.S., and from all evidence, he loved the West. He had provided generous financial assistance to photographer William Jackson, artist Thomas Moran, and explorer Dr. Ferdinand Hayden. He had a deep interest in anthropology and in Native American life and customs. His fourth trip to the U.S. in 1872 was to check on investments in the Southwest, as well as to join Hayden on his expedition to The Yellowstone. Mary and a nephew accompanied him on this trip, and the couple agreed that if either should die on their travels they would be buried where they died. Dr. Hayden named Mt. Blackmore in Mary’s honor. Looking south from the gravesite the mountain’s pyramid-shaped peak can be seen. Hayden also named a newly discovered mineral Blackmorite in William’s honor. In 1878 Blackmore’s American investments brought him to financial ruin. In the library of his estate, he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.
Henry T.P. Comstock
b. 1820 in Canada d. 1870
Henry Comstock, nicknamed “Old Pancake” was said to have enough badness in him for three men. Lazy and conniving, he was making a meager living in 1859 mining for gold in western Nevada. When two naive Irish immigrants made a strike, Old Pancake showed up, said that the land was his (it wasn’t), and demanded partnerships for himself and a friend if he were to allow the Irishmen to continue digging.
The odd-looking gold that came from the claim was soon discovered to be mostly silver. Comstock was a loudmouth and talked about “his” discovery and “his” claim so much that it became known as the Comstock Lode. The four prospectors sold out to a developer, and Comstock received $11,000 for his share. As was typical of the times, none of the discoverers held onto an interest in the mine that was to become the single greatest mineral strike in his- tory, producing 400 million dollars in precious metals. The developers who took over the claim became phenomenally wealthy; many of the great American fortunes were founded with revenues from the mines in the Comstock Lode. Comstock quickly spent his money. Drifting and demented, he ended up in Bozeman where he lived in a shack just off the east end of Main Street. Dead broke and lonely, he committed suicide by shooting himself.
Monroe “Beaver” Nelson
b. 1861 in Iowa d. 1932
Frank “Doc” Nelson
b. 1867 in Montana d. 1964
Beaver and Doc were two of the seven children of John and Lavine Nelson. The couple came to the Gallatin Valley in 1864, just in time for the arrival of their son Pike, one of the first white children born in the area. Monroe “Beaver” Nelson was a boy at the time, but grew up to become foreman of the Two Dot Willson Cattle Co. Kid Curry of Butch Cassidy’s “Hole in the Wall Gang” and the Logan boys rode under Beaver, as did Charlie Russell, who proclaimed Nelson the most ideal cowboy he had ever known and used him as the subject for many of his paintings.
In 1879, while drinking with two other cowboys at the Headquarters Saloon on Main Street, Beaver was involved in one of Bozeman’s biggest shoot-outs. One of the cowboys drink- ing with Beaver got into a fight with a local trouble maker, beat him up, and ran him out of the saloon. The troublemaker sneaked back in and shot him in the back. The dying cowboy, Beaver, and the other cowboy all spun around and fired at the trouble maker. The cowboy and the trouble maker both hit the floor dead.
In another incident, Beaver and his younger brother Doc witnessed the famous Lewistown shootout in which Rattlesnake Jake and three others were killed. Elsewhere in Montana, Doc was also around when a cowboy got into a gunfight and accidentally shot the local schoolmarm. This made the boys in town so mad that they hanged the cowboy and shot his body full of lead. The schoolmarm survived.
Doc had been a little boy of three when his father took him to see some friends who had just returned from the Rosebud Expedition. One of the men had a bloody mass of fresh Sioux scalps hung on a wire which he whirled through the air at the petrified child. At age 11, Doc helped on a drive of 1,000 head of cattle. At 14 he met 16-year-old Charlie Russell on another cattle drive and for several years the two wrangled for big brother Beaver’s cattle outfit. One morning, Doc and an ornery pony bucked right through the cook’s fire and became the subject of C.M. Russell’s popular painting “Bronc to Breakfast.” This image is engraved on Doc’s tombstone, and Doc is in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Chester R. “Chet” Huntley
b. 1911 in Montana d. 1974
Chet Huntley was born in the Cardwell Railroad Depot where his father worked as a telegrapher. In 1929, he came to Montana State College to study entomology, later transferring to the University of Washington. After getting a start in radio broadcasting, he went to Los Angeles where he eventually worked for all three television networks—CBS, ABC, and NBC. During the nationally televised political conventions of 1956, he was teamed with David Brinkley. The two became a popular news team which lasted until Huntley quit in 1970. The Huntley/Brinkley Report won every major TV news award, including 7 Emmy awards. When Chet Huntley resigned from NBC, he returned to Montana to develop Big Sky, Inc., of Montana, a resort and ski complex in Gallatin Canyon. He died a few years later from lung cancer.
Reprinted with permission from “Who’s Who in the Bozeman Cemetery—A Guide to Historic Gravesites” The Bozarts Press. Copyright 1987 by Anne Garner.