While scouring Montana history books in search of characters and colliding events for my new series I came across a name I’d read about a time or two before–Nelson Story. He’s always struck me as a very interesting figure of Montana history, staging the first cattle drive from Texas to Montana, eluding murderous jayhackers and defying the orders of a commanding military officer at Fort Kearny. Nelson Story was an adventurous young man and the pioneer of the Montana cattle industry.
In 1866 Montana was all a hubub of miners, military and railroad outfits. Bisen were being hunted to the brink and Native American Indians forced from thier lands, leaving thousands of acres of open grasslands awaiting to be plundered. A young miner who’d just unearthed his forturne not only saw the available grazing lands, but being a miner he knew mining camps had a dire shortage of beef.
Taking his newly acquired forturne to Texas, Story purchased a thousand long horn cattle, hired twenty seven drovers and set out on the longest and most dangerous cattle drive in history.
Crossing thousands of miles of plains and mountains was the easy part–reaching Montana was only the start of new troubles. Story chose a trail dubbed “Bloody Bozeman” (Yup, the Bozeman Trail), a trail that cut straight through designated Indian Territory, yet was riddled with Military forts—-a hot spot of military and Sioux battles. When Story stopped at Fort Laramie they urged him to sell his cattle to the military at a cheap rate and save himself the danger of continuing on. Story refused and purchased extra firearms. As feared, they were set upon by Sioux and his herd was stampeded and a portion stolen by the warriors. The drovers went after their cattle, fighting the Sioux and recovering most of their herd.
When they reached Fort Phil Kearny the commanding officer refused to allow them to continue on, certain they’d attract more hostile attention. Story was detained and ordered to make camp three miles out from the fort. The next morning when troops went out to check on the herd they only found rutted ground and cowpies–Story and his men drove their herd through the night and eventually made it to Gallatin Valley with over six hundred mooing beasts, thus starting the booming cattle trade of Montana.
After Story’s success hundreds of cattle outfits began to poor into the region. Story wasn’t satisfied with cattle, he seems to have been a jack of all trades, successful in numerous other business ventures including banks, flour mills and steamboats.
I found out while doing a web search for pictures that Nelson Story was also an inspiration behind Lonesome Dove. No wonder he sparked my interest 🙂