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Homestead History
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covered wagon photo
Men in covered spring wagon in Montana, 1880. Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library

side from native-born Americans, immigrants from Scandinavia, Germany, Poland, Yugoslavia, France, Italy, Spain, and Ireland flooded into the Territory. Herman Untermohle, a German immigrant, arrived in Montana in 1888 after a chance meeting in New York:

"My father ran a carriage factory in Hildesheim, Germany. At 27 years of age my mother sent me to New York, to learn something of carriage making in the United States. I arrived in October of 1887. I remained for the winter, observing and working in the Brewster Carriage Factory, and having a good time. That winter, I met a couple named Medley, who had a ranch near Big Timber, Montana, who told me about hunting and many interesting things of the West. In March, I decided to take a trip West to visit them."

Once Untermohle made it to Montana, he stayed for the next thirty years.


audioUrsula Smith explains who typically went West. Read her bio.
Those who had "borne arms against the United States, or given aid or comfort to its enemies" were denied homesteads, a significant restriction during and after the Civil War.

ne of the few similarities amongst the homesteaders was that most had moved and settled -- often many times -- before their arrival in Montana. Settlers "hopscotched" their way around the country, dropping anchor and then moving on (or moving backward) as their fortunes rose and fell. For example, Jennie C. Forsythe, a Michigan native, headed east from California to settle in Livingston, Montana, in 1881.

The same was true for Pamelia Dillin Fergus. A native of upstate New York, she spent her teenage and early adult years living in no less than three different locales across Illinois and Minnesota. In the fall of 1863, after a three-year separation, her husband summoned her to rejoin him -- and bring their four children -- for a new life in Montana Territory. It was time for another move. There were preparations to be made, supplies to be bought, and wagons to be loaded. For many settlers, "getting started" was the hardest part of their legendary journeys.

But that's another story ...

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Works Consulted:

Bierman, Henry. HEADIN' WEST. Unpublished manuscript. Montana Historical Society Archives.

Horne, Robert N. JAMES FERGUS: FRONTIER BUSINESSMAN, MINER, RANCHER, FREE THINKER. Dissertation. University of Montana, 1971.

Lamar, Howard, ed. THE READER'S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE AMERICAN WEST. New York: Thomas Crowell Company, 1977.

Malone, Michael, and Roeder, Richard. MONTANA: A HISTORY OF TWO CENTURIES. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991.

MONTANA IN OUR OWN WORDS. Compiled by the Western Heritage Center and Anneke-Jan Boden. Western Heritage Center, Billings, Montana.

NOT IN PRECIOUS METALS ALONE. Compiled and edited by the Montana Historical Society. Undated. Helena: Montana Historical Society.

Peavy, Linda, and Smith, Ursula. THE GOLD RUSH WIDOWS OF LITTLE FALLS. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Press, 1990.

---. PIONEER WOMEN. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

PIONEER MEMORIES. By the Pioneer Society of Sweet Grass County, Montana, 1960. From the collection of the Montana Historical Society.

Unruh, John D. THE PLAINS ACROSS. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979.

Ward, Geoffrey C. THE WEST: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY. Boston: Little, Brown, 1996.

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