McLeod Area History

Mountain Lore, Mountain Ore

Dateline: 1880's

The Boulder Valley becomes known far and wide as a home-seekers' paradise. Thither came W.F. McLeod from Oregon, driving a here of 125 cattle and 200 horses. W.F. McLeod was recognized as the first permanent homesteader in the valley. During the next two years, 1883-84, other permanent settlers were Charles Cottle, G.W. Baker, B.E. Fowler, A.S. Flowers and Thomas Hawley. The latter settler assisted in the discovery of many of the valuable mineral deposits when they were yet in the domain of the Crow Indians.

An irrigation canal stimulated settlement in the valley and resulted in the establishment of the McLeod Post Office on June 11, 1886, with E.E. Fowler as Postmaster. Billie Bilbro carried the mail horseback from Big Timber.

Nine votes were case in the Boulder's first election in 1884. During the spring of 1886 the first school election was held and a district organized. The following spring the first school started with five children.

In 1883, the upper Boulder, 40 miles south of Big Timber, was the discovery site of mineral-bearing ore deposits. A.S. Hubble and "Uncle Billy" Hamilton had prospected there around 1869. Joe Neeney claimed to have taken up the first claims at Independence and Solomon City in 1879. By the spring of 1887 mining operations had attracted considerable attention. In the summer of 1887 a pack trail was cut through the timber. The first stamp mill was taken in by the Independence Mining Company in 1888. By the following year, many new companies had formed. Stamp mills were taken in to work the ore, including the establishment of the Hidden Treasure Mine.

Independence Mine was running full blast in 1892 and 1893, boasting a population of 500 or more persons. It consisted of one long street with a few cabins cluster about, four saloons, and two general stores. There were also camps at Solomon City and Horseshoe Basin. For many years the remains of the camp at Independence withstood the rigors of time, and many were his excursions to the old mining city. The remains of the mining enterprise at the Independence site, and in the higher elevations a Million Dollar Basin, still give visitors a window into history.

Ore Once More

Mining interest was again revived in the chrome era and considerable work was done. It is reported that one of the largest chrome deposits in the U.S. extends from the Main Boulder to the Mouat and Benbow mines on the Stillwater. Uranium also caused some interest and many claims were located. By the summer of 1957, the operations of U.S. Steel was the hub of interest with the report that a mill was to be built at the head of the Stillwater and a road built from the Main Boulder to Iron Mountain. Currently, Stillwater Mining Company ( operates mines on the Stillwater above Nye and at the head of the East Boulder. Primary minerals mined are platinum and palladium with traces of gold, silver, lead, zinc and copper.

Area Splendor, Resort Living

Dateline: 1970 - Present

The Natural Bridge and Falls is one of the most scenic and photographed spots in the beautiful Boulder Valley. It is located about 25 miles south of Big Timber in a natural rock gorge. The river falls around 105 feet during high water into a large basin, where on sunny days a rainbow appears in the sparkling mist. During the low water season the river flows through a hole in the rock and sightseers could walk across the natural rock bridge. A few years ago, the natural bridge crumbled, but sightseers can still walk on the rocks during low water.

The East and West Boulder Rivers join the Main Boulder about 17 miles south of Big Timber after flowing through green and fertile valleys. On the upper East Boulder, John Anderson, a pioneer homesteader of the area, built a stone hotel, bathhouse and pool. The pool pulled in piping hot water from a natural mineral spring. The spring was considered government property and Anderson therefore obtained a 99-year least to operate the Anderson Lithia Springs Hotel. The Lithia Springs resort had numerous renters and the land various owners, but never returned to its hey-day; very little remains today as a reminder of days past.

A prospective oil well drilled near the McLeod Store in 1916 produced not oil but hot water, which was put to good use in establishing a swimming pool. Until the late 1970's, the current owners of McLeod operated the pool, grocery story and gas station. While McLeod underwent a succession of owners since the late 1950's, currently Vic and Judy Rue operate the cabins on the West Boulder River. Judy Rue is retired as the McLeod Postmaster in 2014.

Among the many offerings of the Boulder River Valley, hunting and fishing are very popular. Scenes of characters fly-fishing in the movie "The River Runs Through" were filmed on the upper Main Boulder River. Robert Redford returned to the Main Boulder River Valley in 1996 and 1997 to film the movie "The Horse Whisperer." Scenes from the ranch setting were filmed no more than a few minutes’ drive from McLeod.

Hunters traverse the national forest in search of moose, elk, bear, and an occasional Big Horn sheep or mountain goat. Valley pastures and mountain meadows offer summer range for cattle and sheep.

Winter snows support rugged mountain snowmobiling. Although much of the national forest is included in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, 25 mils of groomed trail on the Main Boulder road provide access to open play areas about the Independence mines.