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HISTORY OF WOLF POINT
(Excerpts from Marvin Presser’s – “Wolf Point, City of Destiny”
 

{ Wolf Point Historical Photos }

Wolf Point sign :: Lewis and ClarkEarly Exploration
The Lewis and Clark expedition began in 1804, passing through the Wolf Point area in early May, 1805. In the years that followed, a fur trade came to eastern Montana with the establishment of Fort Union and many other smaller posts along the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.

The first actual settlement of Wolf Point has been difficult to document. A map by John Arrowsmith dated 1834 show a notation “Indian Fort” and the location coincides with the location of “Old Town”. The 1856 journal of James H. Chambers, known as the “Fort Sarpy Journal” refers to Wolf Point several times. Also, a Major Edwin A.C. Hatch mentions Wolf Point in his diary of the same year.

Many old-timers from the area claim that Wolf Point was originally a Hudson Bay Trading Post but the Hudson Bay Company says this is not so. The first non-Indian settlement appears to have been in the early 1875 and is documented by the diary of William W. Alderson, Indian agent. He brought a crew of workmen and a steam engine/sawmill to Wolf Point, establishing a subagency for the Assiniboine people.

The origin of the name “Wolf Point” has also been difficult to verify. In her journal (1875-1876), missionary Lydia A. Fitch noted that Wolf Point was named for Wolf Creek, which emptied into the Missouri nearby. The most popular story is one passed down from William Bent, nephew of Kit Carson, who spent the winter of 1868-1869 hunting wolves in the area.

From 1867 to 1868, William Bent was a Pony Express rider from Fort Union to Helena (a failed attempt to get fast mail from Minneapolis to the gold fields of western Montana). William Bent told that “Wolf Point got its name from the fact that one winter the wolfers killed such a large number of wolves that they froze before the skins could be removed. The frozen carcasses were piled near the river to wait the coming of spring and the pile was so high, it became a landmark for all the country around.”

Another story is that as river steamboats approached the “point” or high ground on the river where Wolf Point had its beginnings, that hill appeared to have the shape of a wolf. The Lewis and Clark journals tell us that “the wolves are also very abundant” but were “lower, shorter in legs, and thicker than the Atlantic wolf.” We will probably never know the truth behind the naming of Wolf Point; however, someone back in the mid-nineteenth century chose a name both colorful and unique.

A little trading post on the banks of the Missouri grew into a small village as permanent houses and buildings were built for the agency. The Presbyterian Church established a mission school (in 1895) for the Indian children, building dormitories and a church. In 1898, Joseph Pipal came to “Old Town” as a blacksmith and maintenance man for the Indian Service. He built a water system, complete with windmill and water storage tank, to supply the needs of the little hamlet.

1887, the Great Northern Railroad reached eastern Montana, providing safe, dependable, year-round transportation. The railroad spelled doom for the magnificent fleet of river steamboats. These boats had opened the west and supported the needs of the gold rush in western Montana. Nevertheless, Jim Hill’s railroad could do the job faster and cheaper ( and in cold weather), quickly making the Missouri River steamboat a relic of the past.

Soon after the rails of steel reached into Montana, the railroad established a depot in an old boxcar at Wolf Point and built a section house. “Old Town” was about a mile to the south. Thus, our sleepy little village passed into the twentieth century, oblivious to the rapid changes occurring in the outside world.

The Homestead Era
Jim Hill had a dream. James. J. Hill, the empire builder who built the Great Northern Railroad without the normal government land grants, foresaw a family farm on every 160—or 320—acre tract on the high plains. He needed traffic for his north line and he believed homesteaders would provide the traffic. He expounded the virtues of this rich and fertile land—and the people came.

Homesteaders poured into Montana, the last great acre of “free” land. (Homesteaders on the reservation had to pay the government a few dollars per acre for their homestead.) They were encouraged by Hill and helped by the government which passage of the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909, which expanded the free land to 320 acres. This law was changed again in 1912, reducing the “prove up” time for a homesteader from five years to three years and allowing five months absence from the homestead claim each year.

The die was cast; thousands upon thousands came to Montana. From 1910 to 1922 the “Honyockers” claimed 93 million areas—most of it unfit for farming. There were land rushes before, but there was never anything like the rush to settle Montana nor anything like the collapse that came just a few years later.

In this way the stage was set for the birth of a little “boomer” town or along the Great Northern mainline just about a mile north of the trading post. Only one more thing was needed. Wolf Point was on an Indian reservation—a huge reservation with very few Indians. With so many people surging westward, the Secretary of the Interior was under great pressure to open the Fort Peck Reservation to homesteading. He obliged. By 1909 the wheels were in motion, although the actual effective date was not until 1914.

A “New Town” Near the Tracks
Although the Fort Peck Reservation was not yet open for homesteading, activity began as early as 1910 in the recently-platted town site near the Great Northern mainline. The first buildings in Wolf Point were built on government land. Although the town site had been surveyed, land could not be purchased until the reservation was officially opened up for settlement. In the early summer of 1914 the date everyone was waiting for arrived—the official opening of the Fort Peck Reservation to homesteading. June 30th was the big day and there were long lines at the Federal Land Office in Glasgow.

In early 1915, business leaders formed a Commercial Club to promote their new community. Deciding it was time to incorporate as a municipality they filed a petition with the Board of Commissioners of Sheridan County and took a census. The official population count was 340 residents in the proposed town site, forty more than legally required to incorporate. When the election was held on July 15, 1915, the “yes” votes carried, 33-17. In September, 1915, the first town election was held and the following people were selected: Mayor , Joe Klinkhammer; Alderman, -Ole Erickson, Ward 1; Alderman, O.C. Johnson, Ward 1; Alderman, O.T. Stennes, Ward 2; Alderman, Fred C. Williams, Ward 2.

{ Wolf Point Historical Photos }

 


CITY OF WOLF POINT, MONTANA
201 4th Avenue South :: Wolf Point, MT 59201
Phone: 406-653-1852
FAX: 406-653-3240
E-mail: ctywlfpt@nemont.net

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