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Little Known Historical Facts of … Big Timber, Montana

October 22, 2013
  • Facts & Insights
  • History & Area Info

During the 1800’s the land near present-day Big Timber, Montana was somewhat of a cross roads for the Indians of the region.  The first white men know to be in the area were William Clark and his Corps of Discovery.  As noted in Clark’s journal, “Rivers Across” refers to where the Boulder River and Big Timber Creek empty into the Yellowstone River just north of Big Timber.  Between 1860 and 1880 the Indians gave way to trappers, traders, and settlers discovering the abundant opportunities this fertile area had to offer.

In 1882, the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad was a driving force in the growth of the area originally known as the town of Dornix, Greek for “large smooth stones”.  A year later Dornix moved to higher ground and was renamed Big Timber, aptly for its abundance of cottonwood trees, by Northern Pacific Railroad officials in St. Paul.  The first newspaper issue of the area, Big Timber Pioneer, as it is still called today, was published in 1890.  As this Montana town grew, it was followed in the coming years by a bank and phone system.  In 1895 Big Timber had the largest wool market in the United States, shipping more than five million pounds of wool that year. 

Disaster struck the town of Big Timber, Montana in 1908 when a fire that sparked from a passing train destroyed one third of the city.  The Grand Hotel, built in 1890 which is still used today as a hotel and restaurant was the only building on McLeod Street that survived the fire. The Grand Hotel is a mecca destination for fly fisherman, cowboys, movie stars and ranchers seeking a multi-star cuisine.

In the 1940s Gene Autry, well known as a singer and actor, owned a ranch just north of the town.  Autry, very involved in professional rodeo, owned a string of stock which he purchased from Leo Cremer of Big Timber.  Autry, a partner in the World Championship Rodeo Company, provided stock for the Cremer-Autry Rodeo in Big Timber. 

In more recent years, the entertainment industry has utilized the area’s beauty capturing it through commercials as well as the previously noted Robert Redford films, A River Runs Through It and The Horse Whisperer.  Also set in Big Timber, the award winning film Sweetgrass follows the migration of a group of cowboys and their enormous flock of sheep through the scenic mountain land of South Central Montana.