Homesteading in Montana

John Jacob decided to get his own homestead in Montana.  He got a piece of land near the back waters of Hebgen Dam.  You can read the land grant at this site.  It’s dated November 5, 1925.  I thought it interesting that, after the date, the documents states the number of years of independence–150 years.  The United States was so young!  And it still is, relatively.

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I wondered if Calvin Coolidge signed the grant personally.  So I did a little research and found that autopens, machines that use a pen to write a signature, were not really employed until the late 1940’s.   But most presidents had at least one person that signed documents for them, especially land grants.  So it’s very unlikely that the signature was by Coolidge himself.

Even thought he Land Grant is dated November 1925, John J. lived there before that time.  A few biographical accounts place them on the property in 1920, after leaving the hay ranch.  In addition, we have photos of Lizzie on the property, and she passed away the month before the land grant date.  So we know they were on the property before the dated document.  So I did a little research and found that under the 1862 Homestead Act, a person could fill out an application, move onto the land, and live on it for five years.  After the five years, they could complete paperwork to receive a patent upon providing evidence that they met all the stipulations of living on the land continuously for the five years.  So if they filed the initial application in 1920, then the five years would be up in 1925.  And that corroborates the biographies that they moved to the homestead in 1920.

The property included 147.58 acres. Here’s a map that shows the property, which is the yellow highlighted area.

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If you have ever driven from Island Park to West Yellowstone on Highway 20, you have driven right through what was John Jacob’s property.  I have driven right through it and didn’t know!  It’s quite a large piece of land.  Below is a photo taken before June 13, 1934. I know that because there is a stamp on the back that it was received in a loan office on that date.

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Also on the back of this photo it says Hwy 191.  That confused me for a bit because the highway that runs through John J.’s property today is Highway 20.  After a little research, I discovered that Highway 191 was designated in 1926 and ran from Idaho Falls, Idaho to West Yellowstone, Montana on what is now numbered Highway 20.  So that confusion was cleared up.

The winters in that part of Montana were brutal.  The following is from a newspaper article (see image below).  Sorry I don’t have the newspaper name and date, but I will add it if I am able to learn it.

Snow fell to the depth of seven feet and Grandpa Parmer had to crawl through a window in order to remove the snow from the blocked doorway.  Then the mercury hit a winter stride and did loops and banks to finally call the whole thing off when 65 degrees below zero was registered.  The mercury had hit the bottom of the deck with no room to go lower.

This was not the winter of the great snow but was just an average event for the sourdoughs at West Yellowstone.  Tunnels were dug from house to store and an eskimo would have declared “This is it” and gone seal hunting during the inclement weather.

Then that was not all.  The ranger in the park called upon the citizens to state that the weather was really cold in the area known as Yellowstone Park.  The thermometer had hit a frigid 72 below and the North Pole called off all competition with West Yellowstone and sent to a mail order house for gadgets that started at zero and went the other way.

Here’s an image of the newspaper article, which you can probably read if you enlarge it on the screen.  It tells about John J. becoming a great great grandfather.

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And here are some winter photos from various years.  The first shows just how much snow there was.  There’s a house under there somewhere!

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I love this next photo simply because it’s not really staged and it seems to really capture the emotions of the moment.  You can tell it’s a large gathering and everyone is having a great time.

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Notice the girls are all in dresses and bundled up.  Some of the guys have skis on still, and there’s a pair of skis stuck in the snow.  Kids are on top of a big snow pile in the background by the building.

Here’s another picture with the kids on the roof of a home surrounded by snow. This may be their home on one of the ranches, not the homestead.  Or it could be an early photo of the homestead before windows were installed.  In addition, June Parmer Steinmetz said they lived across the street from John J., so this could be their home.

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For this next photo, I’m not sure who is standing and who is on the sled, but it looks like the person on the left could be John J. and the person on the sled could be Lizzie.

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Eventually, John Jacob had a store and gas station at his homestead.  Here are a couple pictures taken at different angles so you can see the surrounding terrain.  The road in front would be Highway 191/Highway 20.

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You can see that there were a lot of trees on the property.  And the earlier photo shows some of the land had a lot of sage brush.  It was a lot of acres of undeveloped, unused land.  How much of it has changed in the last 100 years?  There’s more homes for sure.  Maybe less trees?  But still a lot of pure nature.  Here’s an image from google earth that shows the same property today.

google earth image of jj parmer land grant

John and Lizzie’s granddaughter, June Parmer Steinmetz lived across the street from the gas station when she was a  child.  She remembers her grandfather being a jolly, happy person. She also said that her grandmother Parmer was very strict.  I imagine she was strict at times, but she also looks like she knew how to have fun.  You’ll read more about Lizzie in the next post.

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