BEDFORD TWP. — Meigs County’s third Bicentennial Marker was unveiled last week in Bedford Township.
The Bedford Township marker is in recognition of Nelson Story, who was born in Burlingham in 1838. The marker was placed at the intersection of U.S. Route 33 and Bedford Town Hall Road (the last road to the left on the four-lane coming from Pomeroy toward Athens).
Bicentennial Ambassadors Grant Adams, Cooper Schagel, Mattison Finlaw and Brielle Newland led the unveiling ceremony, reading information about Story’s life.
The marker for Story reads, “Born in Burlingham, Ohio,Story was a famous pioneer, businessman, philanthropist and magnate of the American West. He migrated west, and after striking it rich on a gold claim, purchased 1,000 head of longhorn cattle, which he drove from Texas to Montana. There he would spend much of his life and help establish Montana State University. His cattle drive later inspired the novel and movie Lonesome Dove.”
In an column last fall, local historian Jordan Pickens wrote about Story.
Nelson Story was born on April 4, 1838, in Burlingham, Meigs County, Ohio, to Ira and Hannah Story, originally from New Hampshire. Nelson was their youngest son; by the time he turned 18, both of his parents had died. After trying his hand at teaching school, then spending two years at Ohio University, Story headed west to Kansas Territory. He made his way to the Army Post of Fort Leavenworth where he was hired on as a “bullwhacker” or teamster, someone who would drive pack animals hauling goods across long distances. By 1862, Story was hauling goods out of Denver, Colorado, and once on a trip to Missouri he met Ellen Trent and married her in Kansas later that year. By 1863, Story, tired of the teamster life, decided to try his hand as a prospector in the Montana gold fields.
By June, Story had mined about $30,000 worth of gold around Alder Gulch, Montana. By today’s standards, Nelson Story would have mined nearly $607,000 worth of gold. During his tenure in Montana, Story went on to become a charter member of one of Montana’s first Masonic lodges, as well as served on a vigilance committee, a group voluntarily enforcing law and order. Story decided to trade his $30,000 worth of gold for $20,000 cash.
Story traveled to Fort Worth, Texas, and purchased 1,000 head of cattle (although some sources say closer to 3,000) for around $10 a head. At this time, cattle could be purchased for very little in Texas due to post-confederate economies, and a high supply due to eastern and British interests in the market which led to overpopulation. From April to December 1866, Story overcame “jayhawkers” in Kansas, after being denied putting cattle on trains from fear of disease. He then decided to head the cattle up the Bozeman trail. During that drive, Story defied orders from Colonel Henry B. Carrington of The United States Army to stop his advance north due to the threat of Indians. Story eventually fought Sioux and Crow Indians in Wyoming while on his way to Montana. Fortunately for Story’s crew of around 30, only one died and two were injured in the drive from Texas to Montana. While this was not the first cattle to be driven to Montana, it is the first herd of cattle to be driven from Texas to Montana.
Once he arrived in Bozeman, Montana, Story sold some of his beef to miners at an astounding profit, making 10 times more than he paid for them in Texas. Others he kept and started his own ranch in Paradise Valley, Montana. In 1882, Story opened the Story Flour Mill at the mouth of Bridger Creek, producing up to 100 bushels of flour a day. Story was the major supplier of beef and flour for the U.S. Army at Fort Ellis, Fort C.F. Smith, and for the nearby Indian Reservations in southeastern Montana. This business deal eventually made Story the first millionaire in Bozeman.
In 1876, the Army accused him of defrauding the Crow nation by filling pork barrels with offal, double-counting single sacks of flour, passing off calves as fully-grown cattle, and attempting to bribe an officer. Story never stood trial, reportedly later boasting about avoiding prosecution by bribing the grand jurors. He also had a terrible temper which resulted in violence on more than one occasion. According to one account, he was notorious for pistol- or cane-whipping those who incurred his wrath and once threw a brick at his own son in anger.
Because of his fortune, Story went on to build a mansion on West Main Street in Bozeman, and it was so elaborate and grand in design, it was often mistaken as the Gallatin County Courthouse which sat across the street.
Nelson Story died on March 10, 1926, at age 87 in Los Angeles, California, and is buried in Sunset Hills Cemetery, Bozeman, Montana. In 1959, Nelson Story was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, as a Great Westerner. In 2008, Story was inducted into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame as a founding legacy member.
Previous markers have been place in Salisbury Township in recognition of the Kerr’s Run Colored School and Sutton Township in recognition of Weaver Skiff Works.
The next Bicentennial Marker will be placed the third Wednesday in April in Letart Township with the time and location to be announced closer to the event.
Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.