The first flour mill in Gallatin County, and said to be the first in the territory to make flour for commercial purposes, was built by Cover and McAdow, in the fall of 1864 and the spring of 1865, on ground a short distance northeast of the present city limits of Bozeman. It was ready for business in the fall of 1865. P. W. and W. B. McAdow later bought the interest of Thomas Cover, and the McAdow brothers continued the mill until 1879, when P. W. McAdow went down on the Yellowstone and located on a ranch, establishing the town of Coulson, now part of Billings. W. B. McAdow kept the mill operating until 1883. When the north line of the Milwaukee Railroad was built from Bozeman in 1912, the old mill was torn down, as the right of way of this road passed through the mill site. The first electric light plant used this old mill for a few years.
The millstones from this historic mill lay on the ground near the former residence of Mr. and Mrs. W. B. McAdow for several years, but were moved in the spring of 1931, through the efforts of the Board of Public Recreation of Bozeman, to another historic spot, in the southeast corner of Beall Park, City Recreation Center, four blocks north of Main Street. They were placed on a foundation of logs preserved from the former home of early pioneers. Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Beall. These millstones, one weighing approximately 1,000 pounds, and the other 1,365 pounds, were purchased by Cover and McAdow in St. Louis, Mo., and were shipped by steamboat to Fort Benton, Montana, and were brought overland from Fort Benton to Bozeman with mule teams and wagons by Cover and McAdow with the assistance of Frank Rich.
Other Pioneer Mills
The second flourmill in the valley, erected at Springhill, about 20 miles north of Bozeman in 1867-68, was known as the Union Mills, started by three Penwell brothers, who conducted the mill several years.
The mill was later owned and operated by J. F. Roll. It had not been operated for several years, and during the winter of 1930, it was destroyed by fire from some unknown cause. George D. Thomas, who had settled with his family near what was then the town of Hamilton, not far from the present city of Manhattan in 1864, moved to Gallatin City in 1871, and took charge of the Madison mills, erected the previous year. He installed new machinery, changed the name to Empire Mills, and manufactured famous brands of flour for several years.
Later Flour Mills
Nelson Story, an early Montana pioneer, built a flouring mill in 1882 at the mouth of Bridger Canyon, a few miles north of Bozeman, and with the help of his sons, Nelson Story Jr. and T. Byron Story, conducted the business several years, then sold to the Bozeman Milling Company that also erected a cereal mill. These mills were sold to the Montana Flour Mills Company, which company is continuing the business. The Gallatin Valley Milling Company operates at Belgrade, and the Bon Ton Flour Mill was built in 1932 in Bozeman.
One of the first pioneers to raise wheat in the Gallatin Valley was the late John Thomas, stepfather of Henry Davis, now living in Bozeman. He had a bushel of wheat, which he brought with him from Utah, planted it in the spring of 1864 on land about 12 miles north of Bozeman, and in the fall he reaped 50 bushels from his crop, threshing it, Mr. Davis says, by putting it on a floor with the heads out, leading horses over it to trod the grain out. The wheat and chaff were then raised to a platform and thrown clown, and the wheat became separated from the chaff. Mr. Thomas and Mr. Davis would not sell any of this crop, but the following year they sold seed for $10 a bushel to farmers in the valley.
Lorenzo B. Lyman, who had a homestead about three miles north of Bozeman, on the East Gallatin River, near Lyman Creek, which still bears his name, brought a half bushel of wheat with him from Wisconsin in 1864, planted it in the fall and from his first crop in 1865, Mr. Lyman sold all he could spare for $25 a bushel, and the year following, he sold seed to the farmers for $9 a bushel. He raised 85 bushels to the acre of spring wheat and 60 bushels of winter wheat. During the winter of 1864-65 there was little flour in the valley, and it sold for 90 cents and $1.50 a pound.
The first threshing machine brought to Gallatin Valley was purchased in 1865 by Cover and McAdow, who started the first flouring mill in Bozeman. Benjamin F. Bisel, a pioneer, farming south of Bozeman, ran the threshing machine for the owners. It was a small machine of the endless apron type, and was run by horsepower, eight horses being required to operate it. He was paid 25 cents a bushel for threshing, in 1866, but the minimum charge for any farmer was $50. Several horsepower machines were brought to the valley during the next two years, and Mr. Bisel also operated the first steam threshing machine brought to the valley by Cover and McAdow. George W. Kratteer began operating a steam-threshing machine in 1875, and continued at the business for 33 years.