Original Research of Reg Shoeman




 Deer Lodge County Business Licenses

Reveal Names of 2,000 Montana Territory Pioneer Merchants


The Montana Historical Society, organized in 1865, is the oldest historical society west of the Mississippi River.  Montana Territory business license receipts for old Deer Lodge County exist in their archives from as early as 1867. In an attempt to create a “History of Pioneer Businesses”  I have surveyed county business licenses thru 1879.  I have logged the business records of Jefferson County thru 1886, Gallatin County thru 1877, parts of Madison County were logged thru 1873. Extensive research was also conducted in Lewis and Clark County.                                                                                   

IRS Civil War era assessment records were also examined for the sates of California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, and Nevada.  As a result of this study I was able to resurrect names and locations of more than 13,000 operators of hotels, saloons, wholesale liquor dealers, eating houses, livery stables, and brewers.

County Courthouse records must be examined to pinpoint locations of these early businesses. If the name in the IRS  records also appears in the index to deeds, then we can examine the records and “pinpoint” the business locations.

Records in the western state are tougher to navigate, miners arrived prior to most land surveyors in California, Montana, Idaho and other western states. Early deed books may not indicate town site lots and blocks. Research is much easier in eastern states because surveyors preceded most of the settlers.


I am making available for download all business license data for “OLD DEER LODGE COUNTY” The county originally consisted of what is now Deer Lodge, Granite, Powell & Silver Bow.







Nearly 2,000 names of licensees appear in these records. Counting renewals I have logged nearly 10,000 entries! Saloons, Hotels, livery stables and others business types paid a license fee. A few types of businesses were exempt. More than 45 different sites had licensed businesses, more than half of these sites were placer camps. Names of the owners of hundreds of saloons, dozens of hotels, located on several dozen sites, RESURFACING AFTER 140 YEARS!



In the accompanying report  I have provided Township, Range and Section information for a number of sites.   GPS coordinates of 25 of the more important townsites are included as well. I have also provided 6 full color spreadsheets with names, business types, and months of operation. These reflect all businesses located in Cariboo, French Gulch, Mc Clellan Gulch, Pike’s Peak, Reynolds City, and Top of Deep.

I have included a breakdown of all business license fees. Wagon loads of goods were taxed as they rolled thru the streets of Helena. Dance halls paid $100 per month, serious money in the 1860’s. Saloons assessed based on the sites population. We can track the rise and fall of a sites population just by following the change in fees for the camps saloons.


We are interested in contracting to search for bottles and other artifacts on old stage stops, hotel sites, and other historic spots in Deer Lodge, Jefferson, Gallatin, and Madison counties.  Pioneer ranches, even those off of the main travel routes often had saloons and hotels, at least during the time of  a local “Gold Rush”.  We use electromagnetic imaging equipment in our searches.

We have been featured in Montana Magazine Mar/April 2011, we have also appeared in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Montana Standard (Butte), and several other Montana and Iowa newspapers.

Montana Territory


 The Deer Lodge County Gold Rush of 1867-1879

An Overview

Placer Camp Business Owners, Names & Dates

Business Histories Created From Nearly Complete Territorial Business License Receipts





Bear Station, Bearmouth, Beartown, Blackfoot Agency, Blackfoot City, Butte, Cable, Cariboo, Carpenter’s Bar, Deer Lodge, Divide, Emmetsburg, French Gulch, French Woman’s Ranch, Georgetown, German Gulch, Gold Creek, Greenwood, Gwendale, Hell Gate Valley, Highland City, Jefferson Gulch, Levengood, Lincoln, Mc Clellan Gulch, Mc Minnville, Mead’s Station, Moose, New Chicago, Phillipsburg, Pike’s Peak, Pioneer, Race Track, Red Mountain, Reynold’s City, Rocker, Silver Bow, Top of Deep, Tower, Vestal, Walkerville, Warm Spring, Washington Gulch, Yam Hill, Yreka, and more.


A Business History of placer camps, from first hole dug, until the last drink served

Montana Territory was organized under act of Congress, approved May 20, 1864, and amended March 2, 1867. In 1873 a portion of the old territory of Dakota was added to Montana, and thus the act of establishment and organization was completed. Incorporated into the new territory were present day Missoula and the placer camp of Bannack, site of the first large gold strike within the present boundaries of the State of Montana. Gold Creek, then inside the borders of Deer Lodge County, may have been the first discovery of gold.
The first territorial legislature met at Bannack  December 12, 1864. Among many problems, including bickering between the Union and Confederate sympathisers, the main problems was that newly formed Montana Territory was broke. Legislation was passed to get a cash infusion. With no funds to pay for bridge and road construction, the legislature authorized 23 companies or individuals to build privately funded works.
The territory authorized bridge and ferry companies to locate on the Jefferson, Big Hole, Beaverhead and Marias rivers. Unlicensed bridges also were built, serving a need when it arose. Some authorized tolls were as  high as $5 a wagon, close to $200 in today’s money. Others have written in some detail about this “highway robbery”.  The territory also passed license laws. Saloons, hotels, photographers, pack peddlers, bankers and most other businesses were taxed….HEAVILY.
Little, however, has been written regarding these licenses. Saloon keepers paid $30 a quarter for a business license,  the hurdy-gurdy or dancing saloon coughed up $100 a month…..5 ounces or more of gold to pay for that license. When compared to the price of gold today, about $7,000!

Territorial Business License Receipts, 1865-1893

My first knowledge of the business license receipt collection (now residing at the Montana Historical Society in Helena), was a reference to them in the book “The Mechanics of Optimism” by Jeffery J Safford, professor emeritus of history at Montana State University. This story detailed the boom, bust, and poor business decisions of eastern investors who put their money in a “sure thing”. His study of the Hot Spring Mining District near Norris cited a number of hotels, saloons, and other businesses in the district. The professor utilized the territorial business license receipts, then housed at the University of Montana. These contained names of the jurisdiction, licensee , effective dates, and price assessed per quarter. I found similar, though very localized records, years ago in the Lincoln County Courthouse in Pioche, Nevada. I mapped the town using these records…saloons, hotels, restaurants, etc. I knew the Montana collection had the potential to give an accurate picture of the business climate of the various towns and mining camps.

The Montana Historical Society (founded 1865) is the oldest historical society west of the Mississippi River. Many great collections are housed at the facility in Helena, Charles Russell, a great photograph collection, and many more. The extremely helpful staff helped me access the collection of business license receipts. I inquired, how long have you had this collection? About 7 years was the reply. This was in 2011. How many people have accessed the collection? The answer was, none.

None? No authors, nobody was curious enough to wade through the thousands of entries. Except for me. With a background in basketball handicapping I had used statistics to predict the winner and point spreads for college basketball.   Spreadsheets incorporating this data would give us the Who, Where, and When of the Montana placers camps, stage stops and a number of forgotten sites.

The first batch of records in Deer Lodge County covered just the latter part of 1867. But the year 1868 appeared complete. No less than 147 saloon licenses were issued in 1868 alone!   104 merchants and 35 hotels were licensed in 1868 as well.

Continuing the data entry thru 1879 I found nearly 2,000 different licensee entries ( individual business owners can be followed from camp to camp with these records). Most licenses were for a 3 month period and about 10,000 license extensions had to be logged to re-create the business history of the camps, first merchant in, last saloon to fold.

Vital businesses such as tanners, millers, and the blacksmiths were exempt from paying license fees. Many of these names will be lost to history. But after weeks of data entry and deciphering signatures, the names of most saloon operators now exist in a database. Also  names of the vast majority of  merchants, brewers, hotel keepers, jewelers, even the magician who came to camp, all of these have appeared, re-surfacing after 140 years.  Even the name of Hong You Ac, the Chinese Hog Peddler of Pioneer!


The county, in western Montana, at one time extended from the Big Hole River to the Canadian border. One of the 9 original counties, it has split several times. The Butte portion became Silver Bow County in 1881. Deer Lodge City lost the county seat to Anaconda, Deer Lodge City ended up as the county seat of newly formed Powell County…Anaconda became county seat of Deer Lodge County. Granite County split off in 1893. The borders have changed, but the colorful gold rush history remains.

 Now, for the first time, we can get an accurate picture of the business vitality of all of the placer camps, trade centers, even the stage stops of Old Deer Lodge County.

The story of Pike’s Peak, as told by the license receipts, shows Keenon & Myers opening the first store in May of 1869. This operation closed up shop by September, 2 saloons operated during the winter of 1869-1870.

July of 1870 saw 4 merchants and 6 saloons operating, but by the end of October all of the merchants had packed up. By December 5 saloons were still operating, 3 operated into the next placer season.

July of 1871 appears to be the peak of business activity, 4 merchants and 6 saloons were open. However, by the end of September the last of the merchants had departed..forever.

On or before the 15th of December, 1871 George Perry’s Saloon served it’s last beer, shoved the last shot of whiskey across the bar, and then tossed the last empty bottle of Kelly’s Bitters into the creek.








License Laws

The first edition of the territorial license laws went into effect on February 9, 1865.

Section 1. There shall be levied and collected by the tax collector a license tax as follows.

First– From EACH billiard table kept for public use twenty dollars per quarter.

By March 1, 1867 the rate dropped to $16 per quarter.


By January, 1870 the rate had been reduced to $10 per quarter.

Second– From the manager or lessee of every theatre $5 per day or $50 per month, and for each exhibition of serenaders, opera or concert singers, dance houses, hurdy-gurdy houses, minstrels, sleight-of-hand performers, legerdemain and all other performances at the same rate.

Monthly rate reduced to $30 by January 1870. May 8, 1873: $2 per day, $20 per month.


Third– All dance houses or hurdy-gurdy houses shall pay $5 per day, or $50 per month. By March 1, 1867 the fee had climbed to $10 per day or $100 per month.

The hurdy-gurdy, sometimes called a dancing saloon, gets it name from the hand cranked musical instrument of the same name. These mining camp dances were like a fancy dress ball, several girls, a dollar in gold got you a dance. 50 dances were on the menu for the evening, half the  gold went to the owner, half to the girl. The house may have gotten rich, but the girls did well, $25 in gold for a night of dancing.

Hurdy Gurdy Law Repealed April 28,1873


It shall be unlawful after the passage of this act it shall be unlawful for any person or persons, with the Territory of Motana to conduct or establish, or cause to be conducted or establish, or cause to be conducted or established, any dancing saloon or hurdy house.

Penalty for violation of this act not to exceed $100

Fourth– Each and every insurance company…..$50 per year in 1865, by 1867 the rate was $80 per year  May 8, 1873: $150 per year.

Fifth– From each pawn broker, $50 per quarter: dropping to $25 per quarter in 1867.

Sixth– From each keeper of an intelligence office $15 per quarter: In 1867 the fee rose to  $25 per quarter. May 8, 1873: $10

Seventh– From each assayer of minerals or quartz rock $15 per quarter; 1867: $10 per quarter.  1870: $15

May 8, 1873: $10 per quarter, providing he shall work for compensation.

Eighth– Each professsional man, before practicing as such, all lawyers, surgeons, physicians, dentists and all other  professions shall pay a license of  $20 per annum, $16 a year by 1867.

Section 2.  All keepers of livery and feed stables shall pay a license of $15 per quarter, hay yards for feeding stock or selling hay paid $10 per quarter. 1870: $8  Ranchmen who keep or herd stock for hire were charged $15 per quarter for a license, dropping to $10 by 1867.


Section 3. Relates to selling of bonds, loaning money, dealing in gold dust. $35 to $75  per quarter. According to business volume.

Section 4. Bankers, $35 to $65 a month, depending on volume of business.

Section 5.  Merchants dealing in goods, wares, merchandise, liquors, drugs or medicines: $15 to $50 a quarter, dependent on volume of business. Provided: No liquor and wines sold in quantities less than 1 gallon, but by May 8,1873 law read no quantities less than 1 quart.


 Auctioneers: Indoor auctioneers pay $10 per month, outdoors auctions license, $25 per month.

Hotels, Inns, Boarding Houses: $10 per quarter, dropping in 1867 to $4 per quarter  if quarterly volume is under $1,000, additional $4 for each $1,000 of business per quarter……..License fee $5 per $1,000 by 1873.


Saloon (Retail Liquor Licenses) $50 per quarter, rate was $15 if within 3 miles of incorporated city or town.


Saloon  Effective March 1, 1867 Quantities less than one gallon, $30 per quarter, if 2 miles or more from a town or city, $10 per quarter.


Saloons, Fees changed effective January 6, 1870:


Population: 300 or more, $30 per quarter.

Population: Less than 300, more than 50, $15 per quarter.

Population: no nearer than 3 miles to  town, city or village: $8 per quarter.


Saloons, effective May 8, 1873: All saloons where women are kept as waiters, $5 per day or $50 per quarter.


Fees changed May 8, 1873:


Population: 300 or more, or within 1 mile of the limits, $60 per quarter.

Population : 100 to 299, $40 per quarter.

Population: 40 to 99, $25 per quarter.      

Population: less than 40, $15 per quarter.


Section 8: Peddler: Every traveling merchant, hawker, or peddler who shall carry a pack or trunk, and shall sell goods or merchandise shall pay a license of $5 per month, doubling to $10 per month by 1867, ( 1870: $8)  every person who sells provisions not raised in the Territory shall pay a license of eight dollars per month.


Section 9: Wagons, pack animals: Carrying goods, wares, merchandise, or provisions not raised by himself in this Territory:


Wagons, $10 for each wagon loaded to a value of $1,000 assessed at 1% of excess of $1,000. By 1867 it was  $5 for the first $1,000, ½ of 1% of any excess. 1870, flat  fee $5 per per wagon, PER MONTH.  As stated above, this section of the law pertains to goods, wares, merchandise, or provisions not raised in the territory.

Pack animals, fee of 25 cents for the first $200 , ½ of 1% of any excess. 1870: 50 cents for each pack or load so offered for sale. 1873: $2 per month for each pack animal.

Steamboats, other water craft: Transient merchant to pay fee of ½ of 1% of the value of cargo.

The above relating to steamboats not on books in 1870


1865 Law: All person with droves of stock coming into the territory shall pay a license of $1 for each head of neat cattle, horses, mules, or asse, and thirty cents for each head of sheep or swine so offered for sale.


1867, Section 10: Any person bringing or procuring to be brought into the Territory any drove or droves of cattle or horses, mules, asses, sheep or swine for sale after the first day of September of each year, shall pay a license tax as follows.

For each head of cattle, horses, mules, or asses, fifty cents.

For each head of swine, twenty-five cents.

For each sheep, ten cents


The above not on books in 1870


1867 Laws Sections 12 thru 15


Section 12: Brewer or manufacturer of malt or spirituous liquors, or reftifier of the same, or manufacturer of pop, beer or drinks put up in bottles, shall pay a license of $10 per month. 1870: business over $1,000 per month, $20; under that amount $5 per month.


Section 13: Banking game or other game of chance or gaming table: $50 per month for each house so kept.  May 8, 1873: Population greater than 500, $40 per month; population from 100 to 499, $20 per month; in all other places, $10 per month.

Section 14: Butchers, $5 per month, those 2 miles from town and monthly receipts less that $1,000 a month, $5 per quarter.

Section 15: Picture galleries, daguerreotypist, ambrotypist, photographist or other artist, shall pay a license of ten dolars per quarter.


Additional license requirements effective January 6, 1870


Section 16: That all male persons in this territory who are now, or who may hereafter be, engaged in the laundry business shall pay a license of fifteen dollars per quarter.


Section 17: Every person who shall carry on the lottery, or gift, or prize distribution business within this territory, shall pay five per cent on the amount of property so disposed of.



Section 18: Every keeper of a bowling-alley shall procure a license, and shall pay therefore the sum of five dollars per quarter for each alley so used..


Section 19: That any company having a line or lines of telegraph in the territory shall pay a license as follows: On every business office kept in any city, town, or village containing a population of three hundred persons and over shall pay a license of ten dollars per month; all other telegraph offices kept on road or stations, where general business is transacted, shall pay a license of five dollars per month; said license to be procured in the counties where the said offices are established.





Deer Lodge, Gallatin, Jefferson, Madison Counties, Lewis & Clark Counties


The merchants of Montana Territory begain paying license fees on their business operations in 1865. Some records do survive from that year, P P Sperry paid a license fee of $10 for a business in Confederate Gulch, Gallatin County for the quarter beginning June 10th of that year. This is the oldest license receipt I have seen, but the collector failed to enter the business type. Confederate Gulch was in Gallatin County in that year, a boundary change put it in Maher County the very next year.

I have surveyed  parts of Madison County 1867-1873.  Have logged Gallatin County 1865-1877, about 70% of those records survive. Jefferson County has been entered through 1886, about 85% complete. The subject of this report, Deer Lodge County, is about 90% complete through 1879.

While 10% of Deer Lodge County license records may be missing, the fact that all retailers paid a quarterly fee allowed  me to track most licenses in spite of the missing  records. The only major gap in Deer Lodge County business receipts was for the first 11 months of 1873. Despite the lack of coverage for most of the year, the fact that due dates were exactly 3 months apart, to the day, allowed me to track a business history in spite of missing items. What records were missing in 1873 usually showed up again in 1874. A few short term businesses that opened in 1873 are lost to history, but little else appears missing except for about 2 months worth of water damaged records from 1879.

I had conducted online searches as to the existence of  any similar business license collections across the nation. Fragments of some city licenses existed in a few states, but nothing on a state level. I asked the staff at the Montana Historical Society to search for business license records held by institutions across the nation. Their searches yielded no



Similar records to these just do not appear to exist from any other state. The  license receipts are the official  record of business activity in Montana Territory 1865-1893. The Federal Census is taken every ten years, and Montana Territory never conducted a census. Newpaper accounts give us a good picture of the happenings in Deer Lodge fairly early on, Butte had grown quickly in the latter 1870’s and it expanded into the greatest mining camp in the history of the world. It had close scrutiny.

But neither a newspaper nor a census reported Henry Milot operating a saloon at Bratton’s Diggings in 1867. The Helena Daily Independent reporter passed through the placer camp of Yam Hill in July of 1875, they reported 2 hotels operating but gave no names. My research indicates that Mrs. Nesbitt ran one hotel for just three months over the summer. Horn & Barton were licensed for 6 months beginning on May 15th.

Who reported  during July of 1879, that somewhere in Deer Lodge County, “Doctor” A. Leppers was a “Peddler of pills on foot”?. You heard it here first.

Most business licenses today, and I suspect the vast majority in the past were for a period of 1 year. For some reason the Montana Territorial Legislature issued licenses mostly by the quarter.

I believe that reason was the seasonal nature of the gold placers. The saloon keeper would grin and bear the $30 a quarter license fee. He probably would not tolerate the $120  in a large chunk, or the walk to Deer Lodge for a refund after business dried up when the claims froze up or played out.

Placer Camp Businesses of Deer Lodge County


Granite County


46.7931043N  113.3394190W

T12N R14W Section 15



Blackfoot City

Powell County


46.6814158N  112.5443039W

T11N R8W Section 25


Butte City

Silver Bow County


46.0038911N 112.5325198W

T3N 8W Section 24



Deer Lodge County


46.1952031N  113.2092221W

T5N R13W Section 10



46.3116431N 112.7142570W

T7N R9W Section 34



Carpenter’s Bar

Powell County


46.6703948N  112.5328607W

T11N R7W Section 31



French Gulch

Deer Lodge


45.9374003N  112.9909147W

T2N R11W Section 8




German Gulch    


46.0201434  112.7871525

T3N R10W Section 13



Gold Creek

Powell County


46.5825574N  112.9060302W

T10N R10W Section 31





46.4963414N 113.2812233W

T9N 13W Section 31



45.7968708N 112.5161290W

T1N R7W Section 31


Jefferson Gulch

Powell County


46.8017666N 112.6956613W

R12N 9W Section 14


Lincoln Gulch

Lewis and Clark County


46.9773500N  112.7595W

T14N  R9W Section 8




Mc Clellan Gulch

Lewis & Clark County


46.8811864N  112.6362096W

T13N R8W Section 17



Mc Minnville

Silver Bow County



Moose Gulch

Deer Lodge County


45.9478387N 113.0334835W

T2N R12W Section 12


Moose Town

Silver Bow County


45.7781269N 112.5655985W

T1S R8W Section 2



Pike’s Peak

Powell County


46.5011621N 112.5075196

T9N R10W Section 30





Powell County


46.5158338N 112.9604720W

T9N R11W Section 22


Reynolds City

Powell County


46.8232258N 113.2878742W

T12N R13W Section 6

Reynolds City, named after Jack Reynolds, one of the co-discoverers of the Bear Gulch placer, was located about 3 miles North East of  Beartown. It was located on Elk Creek in what is now Powell County, on land now controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. The camp sprang up during 1865, at least one murder occurred during that year. J. B. Taylor gunned down a man named Glen Lindsay.


Reports indicate that the gold on Elk Creek was much finer than the placers in Bear Gulch, but apparently payed well for about 5 years. The population and the nature and number of businesses in early Reynolds City is unclear.

However, what is clear is, that after weeks of research by https://outhousepatrol.com/at the Montana Historical Society in Helena is that: During the last 2 years of the life of the camp a Brewer, 2 Butchers, an Inn Keeper, 5 merchants, 5 saloons and a stable operated. Unlike reports in some histories about the  winter exodus of miners to “warmer climes”, this camp did not fold up in the winter, at least the saloons did not fold.



Rocker City

Silver Bow County


46.0035675N  112.6044256W

T3N R8W Section 21


Silver Bow

Silver Bow County


46.00623N 112.6356247W

T3N R8W Section 18


Top O’ Deep

Powell County


46.8223781N 113.2561975W

T12N R13W Section 5




Uncle Ben Gulch

46.7080999N 112.4183548W

T11N 7W Section 13


Washington Gulch

Powell County


46.7661707N 112.6838515W

T12N 9W Section 16


Yam Hill

Powell County


Reportedly Two Miles West of Pioneer