Winnett Montana

Winnett

This town took its name from a rather colorful character named Walter John Winnett. Winnett was born in the Crystal Palace—now the Queen’s Hotel—in Toronto. As a boy, he ran away from home seeking adventure in "Indian Country." He was a sharpshooter with a rifle, a skill that easily landed jobs providing fresh meat to outfits. 

He was captured by the Sioux Indians and later was adopted into the tribe. They gave him the name Eagle Eyes because of his remarkable shooting skills.

In 1879, Winnett established a ranch near an active trading post and the Hangman’s Tree utilized by the vigilantes in the area. In 1900, he built a massive ranch house that not only housed his family but served as a gathering place for the community.

Winnett built a freight line to Billings to haul supplies. His outfits each consisted of ten to twenty horses pulling huge wagons. In 1910, he built a store and petitioned for a post office. The town of Winnett was born.

Winnett built the Log Cabin Saloon to protect his horses. Seems his ranch hands and wagon drivers were stealing horses out of his barn to ride to Grass Range for a drink. He thought a nearby saloon would be a lot easier on his horses.

In 1914, when the land was opened to homesteading, the dry land farmers poured in. Drought and grasshoppers soon sent them packing.

The town saw a small revival when a sizable pool of oil was discovered at Cat Creek. At one time the town had thirty hotels and rooming houses packed to capacity. One hotel was just a big tent with bunks. They didn’t rent by the month, week, or day—they rented by the shift.

 

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