The Interesting History Behind Bozeman Street Names
Established in peak times of the Gold Rush, Bozeman, Montana has an interesting background with some extraordinary founders. Much of Bozeman’s roads were named in honor of individuals who were monumental to the town’s success.
Here are few meaningful road names in Bozeman with an interesting history.
The city founder, John Bozeman, left his family behind to travel west in his quest for gold. He failed to find gold, so he took on a different venture—trail blazing. He guided wagon trains on the Bozeman Trail to Virginia City. Mr. Bozeman was a risk-taking gambling man. He embraced the dangers of breaking treaties with local Indian tribes by traveling through their territory.
Admiring the landscape of the Gallatin Valley, he eventually settled and began his most instrumental work in 1864—building the city of Bozeman. With help of his two partners, William J. Beall and Daniel Elliott Rouse, he built the first log homes, church, and school.
Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to see his city prosper. In 1867, at age 32, he was found murdered along the Yellowstone River. While the Blackfeet Indians were originally blamed for his murder, rumors have spread that his partner, Thomas Cover, had motive to murder him as a jealous husband. Historians even suspected that a henchman was hired to kill Mr. Bozeman on behalf of Nelson Story, the richest man in Bozeman. There is still no physical evidence to prove who the true killer was.
William J. Beall helped build the first church and school in Bozeman. Mr. Beall met John Bozeman and Daniel Rouse on his way to sell potatoes to gold miners in Virginia City. Giving up on their hopes in the gold rush, the three men decided to build a town in the fertile farmland of the Gallatin Valley. He built his home just north of Main Street, marking one of the first homes in Bozeman.
Daniel Elliott Rouse was a traveler and farmer who lived in and helped establish settlements all over the United States. He moved to the Gallatin Valley in 1862, where he met John Bozeman and William Beall. Mr. Rouse helped build the first cabins and hotels in 1864.
William White Alderson contributed a lot to the success of the town. He helped build a Methodist Church, hauled in logs for the town’s first school, started a dairy herd, served as an agent with the Sioux tribe, and became one of the first members of Bozeman’s municipal council.
Carpenter William H. Babcock made the long journey to Bozeman from San Francisco in 1864. As an architect, he oversaw the construction of the Bozeman Opera House in 1888. Mr. Babcock became a rich man in Bozeman. He built a mansion known as “the Castle” on North Church Avenue and Davis Street, which is now long gone.
This road was named after a successful businessman in Bozeman, Leander Black. Straight from Kentucky, he partnered with Achilles Lamme from Missouri to open a general store, competing with Lester Willson’s general store on the north-side of the street. With three other partners, Mr. Black expanded his business by opening the First National Bank of Bozeman in 1872.
Durston Road was named after an iconic Montana newspaper editor, John Durston. He was a highly educated man with a degree from Yale and a doctorate in Philosophy from the Heidelberg University. In 1887, Mr. Durston moved to Anaconda, Montana. In 1889, he became editor of the Anaconda Standard. After leaving the Anaconda Standard in 1912, he established the Butte Daily Post in 1913. Although he didn’t live in Bozeman, he invested in Bozeman real estate, and presumably owned a home on what is now Durston Road.
Nelson Story had better luck in the gold rush than Mr. Bozeman and the other founders, making a fortune in Virginia City. With his riches, he bought approximately 1000 head of Texas Longhorns and took a big risk in the first major cattle drive through dangerous Indian territory from Texas to Montana. Mr. Story became Bozeman’s first millionaire and built the first Story Mansion on Main Street in Bozeman, then later built a second Story Mansion on the corner of Willson and College for his son, T. Byron Story. He also owned one of Bozeman’s first banks and flour mill, and donated land to launch the Montana Agricultural College.
Lester Willson served in the Union Army during the Civil War. He rose through the rankings after enlisting as a private in 1861, reaching the rank of colonel by 1865. He was known for his “gallant and meritorious services under General Sherman, resulting in the fall of Atlanta, Georgia.”
In 1867, he left New York to take on a business venture in Bozeman, opening Bozeman’s first general store on 204 E. Main Street. He lived a long, fulfilling life, dying at age 79 in 1919. The community showed their respect for Willson by honoring him with the largest funeral the town had ever seen. Central Avenue was then renamed Willson Avenue in his honor.
The city of Bozeman had grown and prospered, becoming a major city of Montana with a population of 8,500 by 1910.
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