Saturday, November 2, 2013

What kind of station was Betters' Station?

Do you ever receive a response to an email you sent so long ago that you forgot that you sent it? Earlier this week I had that experience, when the Montana Historical Society Research Center responded to the email inquiry I sent to them back in March. 

In the book, Montana Place Names, published by the Montana Historical Society, it says "When it was established in 1883 as a stage stop and post office on the Mullan Road, Clinton was known as Betters' Station, after settler Austin Betters."

In all of my research, I have yet to come across any mention of Betters' Station, or find any existence of a stage station run by the Betters in old Montana maps, history books, and land records. So I emailed MHS to see if they could provide me with the original source of their information. Here is their response:
As far as I can determine, the info came from two sources---1) similar information is in "Names on the Face of Montana," by Roberta Cheney, 1984.  2) Another source reports information from a Missoula County U.S. Postal guide, 1918.
So I guess I have a couple more leads to follow up on, but neither source is from the 1880s, so I imagine this won't be the final word.

While you will find this tidbit about Clinton originally being a stage stop called Betters' Station repeated in a few places across the internet, I am suspicious about its accuracy, for a few reasons:
  • As I stated before, I have not  found "Betters' Station mentioned in any period sources (newspapers, maps, etc.).
  • The Northern Pacific Railroad was completed in 1883. Why would a stage stop be started in what is now Clinton in the same year that the "iron horse" came through town?
  • According an article about Fanny Betters when she was in her 90s, the family came to Montana from Vermont on the train. If the NPRR wasn't completed until 1883, how could the Betters have been in the Clinton area long enough to have the town named after them?
  • The plat maps I've found from the time period have stage stops listed, and there is not one in the Clinton area.
When I met with Guy Howlett, unofficial historian of Clinton, earlier this year, he proposed an alternate theory, which he said came from Rex Flansburg. Before steam trains switched to coal, they were wood-fired, so they needed to stop and take on wood and water regularly. The water towers were usually at the depots, but the wood stations were probably close by. Apparently there was a wood station in Clinton, and the wood supplies were hauled down from Starvation Gulch. Based on some other research that Guy has done for me, Starvation Gulch was either part of, or close by, the original Betters homestead. But that's a topic for another post...

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