Early Montana Trails

The Bridger Trail

Jim Bridger, the old mountaineer who led his first party over the divide in the early sixties, and traversed the same route many times afterward, was said to be the most famous frontiersman to act in the role of trailblazer into what is now Montana. The Bridger Trail left the main transcontinental route, the Oregon Trail, at a point on the north fork of the Platte River, a short distance east of Independence Rock, Wyoming. Proceeding northward, the trail crossed tributaries of the Big Horn River, entering Montana west of the Pryor Mountains, in what is now Carbon County; then, in a northwesterly direction, reaching the Clark’s fork of the Yellowstone, the trail struck that river at the mouth of Bridger Creek, in what is now Sweetgrass County.

The Bridger Trail proceeded along the Yellowstone River to the mouth of Shield’s River, up this tributary and a western branch of the same, through Bridger Pass of the Bridger range of mountains, down Bridger Creek and through Bridger Canyon to the present site of Bozeman, where Jim Bridger arrived with a train that he had piloted, July 6, 1864. From Bozeman in a southwesterly direction, the Bridger Trail led to Virginia City and Bannack. Bridger’s name in many places helps to outline his trail in Montana, and especially in the naming of the Bridger Mountains, Bridger Canyon and Bridger Creek.

The Bozeman Trail

It was for many years the desire of John M. Bozeman, a famous guide, to locate a trail that would shorten the distance from Omaha to the gold camps of the west, and in the face of many dangers, untold hardships and privation, through his indomitable spirit, he accomplished his aim in the Bozeman trail. This trail left the Oregon Trail at the Red Buttes, on the Platte River, going northwest, passing Fort Laramie, Fort Reno and Fort Phil Kearney. It entered Montana on the upper branch of the Big Horn River, in what is now Big Horn County. Following down this stream, the trail suddenly made a turn west, reaching the Big Horn River at Fort C. F. Smith, one of the early military posts of the northwest.

The course of the Bozeman Trail led west near the point where the town of Bridger now stands, joining the Bridger Trail for a short distance. It cut across the Clark’s Fork from the Beartooth Mountains to the Yellowstone River, east of the present town of Livingston; then by way of the Bozeman Pass over what later became nearly the main highway to the Gallatin Valley, and from there merging with other trails to Virginia City and the gold camps.

This route had been taken by John M. Bozeman when he passed through the Gallatin Valley in 1863 with a party of horsemen, on the way to some of the famous mining districts of the territory. In 1864, Mr. Bozeman succeeded in bringing a large group of people through with an emigrant train by his projected shorter route, crossing the divide on what is known as Bozeman Pass, reaching the site of the present city of Bozeman in July, and coming back from Virginia City about the first of August. He has been honored in the naming of the city of Bozeman, Bozeman Pass, Bozeman Creek, sometimes called Sour Dough Creek, and Bozeman Canyon.

John Jacobs, another guide, came through in 1864 with an ox train of emigrants, leaving the Bridger route on the Yellowstone, and coming through what is now known as Bozeman Pass.

A deed filed for record with W. M. Wright, county clerk of Gallatin County, November 11, 1865, for which a fee of $2.25 was paid, shows the transfer by John M. Bozeman of one half interest in his town property and improvements in Bozeman to J. J. Parham for $500, March 27, 1865.

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