Solomon Meredith and the Initial Point of Montana

This is a brief review of the times just preceding the establishment of the initial point, with a look at the principal characters involved with the actual location of the point.

Background Information
Principal Characters in the Location of the Initial Point
Historic Correspondence
Conclusion

Background Information
The area which we now think of as the state of Montana was a part of several larger areas before it was definitely defined by an Act of Congress on 26 May 1864. All of that area lying east of the Continental Divide was acquired from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase on 30 April 1803. The state of Louisiana was created on 12 April 1812, and the remaining part of the Louisiana Purchase was renamed the Missouri Territory on 4 June 1812. That part of present day Montana east of the Divide became part of the Nebraska Territory on 30 May 1854, and changed to a part of the Dakota Territory on 2 March 1861. That part of present day Montana lying west of the Divide was acquired from Great Britain by treaty on 15 June 1846, and was incorporated with the Oregon Territory on 14 August 1848. This designation changed again on 2 March 1853, when this part of Montana became part of the newly created Washington Territory. All of Montana became part of the Territory of Idaho on the establishment of that new territory on 3 March 1863. There was no more administrative shuffling until the establishment of the Montana Territory in 1864.

In the mid-1850's there were less than 600 settlers, miners, mountain men, and other immigrants in the area later known as the Montana Territory. At this time access from the States to the territory was principally by boat to Fort Benton, or across present Wyoming on the Emigrant Trail to the west side of the Rockies, and then up through Idaho and into Montana through the southwestern corner of the territory.

On 28 July 1862 John White's party discovered a rich gold placer at Grasshopper Creek, later known as Bannack, and immigration jumped. On 26 May 1863 William Fairweather's party found another rich gold placer deposit at Alder, a few miles west of present Virginia City. One year later, the four Georgians found gold in Last Chance Gulch on 21 July 1864--the site was later called Helena, after Helena, Minnesota. Many came to mine--some came to establish stores and other services to provide the miners, and some came to farm, with a ready market among the miners for their crops. Some who came to mine turned to farming. The farmers moved into the surrounding valleys such as the Gallatin. The result of the gold strikes in the southwest corner of the territory was a sudden population growth in the present counties of Madison, Gallatin, Deer Lodge, Lewis and Clark, and Beaverhead. There were some clashes with the Indians, but the major conflicts occurred further east as the Sioux contested the use of the newly established wagon routes along the east side of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming and into the Yellowstone River area in south central Montana. In the spring of 1863 John Bozeman and John M. Jacobs scouted out a wagon trail from Bannack through the Gallatin Valley and down the east side of the Big Horns to a point where the old Emigrant Trail crossed the North Platte River, between present day Casper and Glenrock, Wyoming, thus cutting off over 400 miles from the Monida pass route. At about the same time Jim Bridger established a route down the west side of the Big Horns. This was a less comfortable route than the Bozeman-Jacobs route, although it was considerably safer from attacks by the Sioux. The Sioux regarded the Bozeman trail as an inroad on their hunting grounds, and their frequent raids on immigrant wagon trains continued until the Fetterman disaster caused the government in November 1868 to close the road and three forts built to protect the immigrants. By this time the road had served its purpose--the Union Pacĩc reached west of the Rockies, and stage and wagon travel from Corinne, Utah to Virgina City became possible.

In early 1864 the Vigilantes swept the Virgina City area clear of road agents. A few days later Sidney Edgerton and several business men in the Bannack area decided that the area needed more attention from Congress. Liberally supplied with samples of the gold which the area was producing, they went to Washington by way of Salt Lake City to plead their case. The result was the creation of the Montana Territory, with the geographical limits which we know today. Up until this time the name "Montana" had never been used. Apparently great discussion went into the choice of a name, with Congressman James Ashley of Ohio favoring "Montana." Some favored using an Indian name, but no one could come up with one. "Shoshone" was suggested until someone pointed out that it meant "Snake." There was some doubt that a Territory on the Canadian border should have a Spanish name, but some advocates of the name maintained that it was actually Latin, and so was quite acceptable. James Ashley, to whom we are indebted for the name, was eventually named Territorial Governor of Montana.

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Solomon Meredith and the Initial Point of Montana