The Homestead Era
Early Settlements – Bowler Flats and West Pryor Area
David Harvey, 1974
As Sage Creek heads southward, it runs through the Bowler Flats. This flat, rocky-soil country lies at the base of Big Pryor Mountain. Presently, much of the “Flat’ is being irrigated by Newmont Resources Corporation. On the western part of the “Flats”, at the intersection of the road to Bridger, stands the old Bowler Store. The Post Office that is used to house closed in 1936. The store closed altogether in 1938. Over the door may still be seen the fading name of “Bowler”. But two other Bowlers preceded this one. The first Bowler was born out of the “ceded strip” in 1892. Jack Bowler, a former soldier of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry at Fort Custer, was one of the first settlers on the “Flats”. “Like other settlers, Bowler hauled logs from the Pryors to build his house.” (1)» Eventually the Bowlers’ place became an overnight road ranch, taking advantage of the stage and freight route that passed nearby. The Bowlers had a good reputation for hospitality. “The only limit on helpings of food was the amount a stomach could hold !” (2)»
Previous to 1895, Sage Creek residents had to ride to Billings to get their mail. In 1895, mail service began between Billings and the Big Horn Basin. Naturally, the Bowler road ranch was selected for a Post Office site. In 1901, the CB & Q (Chicago, Burlington and Quincy) Railroad began its service through Bowler, signaling the end for the first Bowler. Mail and freight were sent by trains. So, a new Post Office was established along the tracks which were east of the Bowler Ranch.
The train was a boon for Bowler. Besides the Post Office, a few stores and a saloon were established. The Bemish family ran one of the stores and the Post Office. A “big store” (had everything) was run by Billy Gardner. Johnny Hanley was the popular saloon keeper. When the railroad was abandoned in 1911, the second Bowler went the way of the first. The third Bowler was established when residents pushed for a new Post Office. It was eventually established in the store at the intersection of Bridger Canyon Road. The store-Post Office was run by a McKissick and in the thirties by Bill Miller. “During the time McKissick ran the store, Bowler experienced its greatest growth with the influx of many dry land farmers. These farmers borrowed large sums of money from insurance companies to buy equipment and fertilizers.” (3)» But these farmers went into debt when this salt sage land failed to bloom. With little or no irrigation, the land was too dry to support a lot of farmers. This along with the Depression, was the final blow for Bowler.
There were a lot of homesteads in Bowler at one time. Between 1908-1910, ten to fifteen families lived on the “Flats”. There were up to forty families later on. Even during the mid-thirties, about 35 kids went to school in Bowler. The school house was located one-half mile south of the last Bowler Store. The old school house has since been moved to Bridger, where it houses the town library. Evidence of habitation in the Bowler area can be found at the cemetery, where about 35 people are buried.
Jesse Godfrey, of Cowley, lived on Bowler Flats, with her husband, for seven years (1922-1929). “Seven years too long,” she contended. They leased land on the George Crosby ranch. The house the Godfreys lived in used to be the section house at Crockett, which had been located along the railroad at the north end of the “Flats”. When the railroad was torn up, the Crosbys bought the section house and moved it to their Bowler ranch.
Many of the early settlers must have made use of the lime kiln nearby for the building of their homes. The kiln was “run by Gust Anderson at one time.” (4)» Today, the remains of the kiln are very evident, located along the old railroad grade at the base of the hills east of Bowler, a couple of miles south of the Sage Creek Road – Pryor Creek Road intersection.
Today, all is silent on the Bowler Flats, except for the sound of Pryor Mountain-bound autos.
Before the railroad, the stage line and freight haulers used to pass through the “Flats”, on the way to the Big Horn Basin. Cook and Morgan used to own this stage line. Jack Hash and Lon Cribbs were stage coach drivers on the line. South of Bowler the stage used to stop at Coyote Spring (north of Warren). Art Graham told me that his uncle, Jay King, used do run a road ranch at the springs. Art’s father (A.P. Graham) also used to drive a stage from Coyote Springs to Lovell for about a year. A.P. Graham also used to run a freight outfit at the mouth of Piney Creek, southwest of the Pryors near Warren. Along with his wife, they also ran a little eating house, where many freighters stopped. Lon Cribbs said that, “Mrs. Graham did all the work. He (Allan) was too lazy to do anything but hunt rabbits.” (5)»
The old Bainbridge ranch was on Piney Creek, where the Loyning ranch or the Lewis ranch is today. The Bainbridges were two brothers and a sister from England. They ran cattle on Piney Creek at one time. She was “very proper”, claiming to be of royal blood. The first Post Office on Piney Creek was located on the Jordan Bean homestead (now the Rule ranch) between 1894-1900. “This Post Office was an apple box in Mr. Bean’s log-cabin living room!” (6)» After 1900, the mail was handled from Bowler. Residents of Crooked Creek and Gyp Creek had to come all the way to Bean to get their mail in those days. (7)»
The above is excerpted with permission from: Harvey, David. A General Historical Survey of the Pryor Mountains. Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, Boulder, Colorado. 1974.
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