Big Timber, 33 miles east of Livingston, is located near a geographical transition point. West of town, the Absaroka Range rises to lofty heights, while east stretches the vast Great Plains. The Crazy Mountains’ jagged summits rise to the north of Big Timber towering more than 11,000 feet. Predominantly a livestock-producing and recreational community, Big Timber is surrounded by the Gallatin National Forest.
Sweet Grass-land of livestock knee-deep in good grass, sparkling clear water, and air scented by sage and pine-became a county in 1895. The history of this 1,849 square mile area goes back many years before that to the Indian tribes who hunted the area. Crow, Cheyenne, Blackfoot, and raiding Sioux all claimed the area as hunting grounds.
William Clark came through the region in 1806 on his way back from the Pacific. "Rivers Across" in his journal refers to the spot on the Yellowstone just below Big Timber where, directly across from one another, the Boulder River and Big Timber Creek empty into the Yellowstone. Clark named Big Timber Creek for the unusually large cottonwood trees growing by its mouth.
The early 1880s brought the railroad to the country. At its projected westward advancement for the winter of 1882, at the spot Clark named Rivers Across, a few enterprising individuals constructed the settlement of Dornix, meaning "large, smooth stones". Unfortunately, due to an open winter, the railroad didn’t stop but went on to the foot of the Bozeman Hill. Having hurt Dornix, the railroad now gave it a purpose for existence. To build the roadbed, vast numbers of ties were cut in the mountains during the winter, then floated down the creeks during spring high water to points on the railroad. With its position, Dornix was the logical spot for docking ties coming down the Boulder.
Again the railroad interfered. Dornix was just below a hill; it was difficult for the trains to stop and then make a standing start at the hill. They preferred to run on up to the long flat above Dornix and then stop. In 1883, Dornix was moved lock, stock, and barrel to its present site. Within several months of the move, nothing remained of Dornix. Several years after the move, the railroad again high-handedly affected the town when the officials in St. Paul renamed it Big Timber.
Parts are reprinted from the Sweetgrass Chamber information sheet.