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Historical Note - Week of May 3rd

Big Timber Pioneer, May 8, 1930


The following from Bozeman, under date of May 5, will be interesting to many old timers of this section who have known James Gourley, personally or by reputation, for the past half century. For years he mined in what is now Park and Sweet Grass counties, and in his active days was one of the best known of Montana Pioneers.

The dispatch from that city to the state papers reads:

Among the early pioneers of Montana still making their home in the state is James Gourley of Bozeman, who celebrated his ninetieth birthday anniversary on Sunday, May 4, in a quiet way, surrounded by his brother Elks, at the Elk’s home, where he has resided for 22 years. He is a life member of the Helena lodge of Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, but he prefers to make his home in Bozeman, where he has a number of friends, especially among the pioneers. He is one of the few living in the state who came to what is now Montana in 1862.

He was born in Ireland, May 4, 1840, and served an apprenticeship in his native land before coming to America under contract to work for a well known Illinois firm, with whom he was employed for three years, part of the time at Amboy, then the terminus of the Illinois Central railroad, and later at galena, Ill. He spent a short time at St. Louis, Mo., from which city he took passage on the steamer Emery for Fort Benton, where he arrived June 14, 1862.

Mr. Gourley spent most of his time for a few years mining on Prickley Pear creek and at Thompson Gulch in the summer time, and freighting in the winter. He was one of the discoverers of the Cooke city mines, with Ed Hibbard, Adam Miller and Bart Henderson, and Mr. Gourley says that their horses were stolen by Indians and they traveled on foot to Bozeman from the Cooke City mines in 1870. The men went back later to Cooke but did not find anything worth while. Mr. Gourley says that he and Adam Mille discovered the Grasshopper glacier on a prospecting trip from their camp beyond Cooke City.

In 1874 a group of men from Gallatin valley and Yellowstone valley formed the Yellowstone expedition against the Indians, the McCormick brothers, later residents of Billings, being in the group. Mr. Gourley, who was one of the group, is the only survivor in Gallatin county, and so far as known the only one living.

After he returned to Bozeman Mr. Gourley was employed for about 10 years with A. Lamme & Co. He served one term as clerk and recorder for Gallatin county, then went to Helena and was employed by John T. Murphy & Co. for five years. Mining took his attention again until he fell down a mining shaft near the town of Stemple and received injuries that prevented him from doing much work of any kind. He went back to Helena and in 1908 returned to Bozeman, where he has since resided. He attended the meeting of the Society of Montana Pioneers in Missoula in 1927, and on his way home spent a few days in Helena, meeting in both cities a number of pioneer friends of early days. He is in fairly good health and has a fine memory for one of his years.

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