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John B. Catlin

PART 3 - Catlin Finds a Home

Following is a startling description of Montana, its pioneers, and the Bitterroot Valley written over 100 years ago.  It may help explain John Catlin’s fondness for Montana. (See The Province and The States: Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota – Vo 6, 1904, edited by Weston Arthur Goodspeed - p. 502)

Montana, with its 146,080 square miles, is an empire within itself. It is larger than all of New England, New York, Maryland and Delaware, and nearly 117 times as large as Rhode Island. A province equal in size to the whole of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland could be cut from Montana, and enough territory would be left to form a state nearly as large as West Virginia. It might be appropriately called the State of Magnificent distances. The average length from east to west is 535 miles and the average breadth from north to south is 275 miles...

But size alone will not build up a great state. There are other attributes of greatness, natural resources, character of the people, etc., that are even more essential than area. Because Montana is a state of Mountains, one might be led to suppose that the soil is sterile and unproductive. No greater mistake could be made. Between the mountain ranges are broad, fertile valleys where cereals, vegetables, and fruits can be grown as well as anywhere in the country. This is especially true of the Bitter Root valley, which is the great fruit belt of the State...

In the character of her people Montana is to be congratulated. The first settlers of a new country must be inured to hardships and not easily dishearted. Such were the pioneers who wrested Montana from its primeval solitude... Behind the rough exterior of the hardy miner of the early days, was generally an honest heart and a noble impulse. He loved fair play, sympathized with the unfortunate, and despised hypocrisy of any kind.


Winter was closing in when John Catlin and Steve Grover arrived at Virginia City.  As Catlin stated in the previous Stone interview, their goal was to find the “best place in Montana,” yet, their notion of how to go about that was not clear yet. The area sat smack in the heart of gold mining country and reports of new gold strikes were commonplace. Nelson Story had made a small fortune mining gold. Why not give it a try? As young adventurers they were prone to follow ‘excitement’, but apparently they were chary of the kind that Virginia City offered. With a population that may have approached 10,000, it had amenities not available elsewhere in Montana Territory. James P. Miller noted some of these in his diary on June 11, 1865:

“There was nothing visible to remind a person in the slightest degree that it was Sunday. Every store, saloon, and dancing hall was in full blast.” (See The Road to Virginia City – the diary of James P. Miller)

 Part 2 - Catlin Goes West | Part 3, Section A


Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 January 2012 15:30