The Rich History of Highland Glen

November 15, 2021

Did you know that the north-south path through Highland Glen began as an ancient bison trail connecting the Gallatin Valley with the Yellowstone River Valley and beyond? Indigenous peoples traveled this path to hunt bison for 5,000-6,000 years before William Clark and members of the Corps of Discovery were the first Euro-Americans to visit Highland Glen on July 14, 1806. In 1864, the bison trail became a wagon road and part of the Bozeman Trail, which brought settlers to the Gallatin Valley and prospectors to Virginia City, MT. Later, the wagon road was relocated to the level plain above Highland Glen to the east, but the new route retained the name Bozeman Trail Road. This route continued to be the eastern entrance into downtown Bozeman until 1925 when today’s Frontage Road was extended from Main Street eastward to Chestnut, MT, a former coal mining town located where present-day Interstate 90 intersects Trail Creek Road.

Wildlife and domestic cattle have coexisted sustainably in Highland Glen since the 1870s. For 150 years, families such as the Kings, Knutsons, and Molendyks have stewarded the landscape, while current farming and ranching lessees, Darrell Kurk and Vaughn Kraft, both descendants of pioneer settlers in the Gallatin Valley, remind us that ‘if you take care of the land, it will take care of you.’

William Clark and the Corps of Discovery

In July 1806, during the Corps of Discovery’s return trip east to St. Louis, William Clark led a party of 10 men, Sacagawea and her baby, Pomp, through the Gallatin Valley. They traveled by horseback with a total of 49 horses and one colt.

After spending the night of July 13, 1806, camped on the north side of the Gallatin River, about 1 mile east of present-day Logan, Montana, Clark’s group crossed the Gallatin River and traveled southeast, roughly parallel to today’s Interstate 90, passing near Meadow View Cemetery southeast of Manhattan, Montana, and south of Belgrade, Montana, near where Amsterdam Road meets Jackrabbit Lane. Clark’s group continued southeasterly through present-day Bozeman, reaching Bozeman Creek (sometimes called Sourdough Creek) near the entrance to present-day Burke Park. After Clark marked his name, date and year in a cottonwood tree, the group topped what we now know as Peets Hill near the present-day location of Bozeman Health Hospital. From there, the group traveled east along an old bison trail, crossing Rocky Creek one-and-a-half miles below where they camped for the night at the mouth of Kelly Canyon.

The next day on July 15, 1806, the expedition followed the buffalo trail up the Kelly Creek drainage and over the ridge into the Jackson Creek drainage, traveling south of Green Mountain along today’s route of Stublar Road. Next, the group crossed Jackson Creek and proceeded up its east fork, crossing Bozeman Pass and traveling down the north side of Quinn Creek and then Billman Creek. The group reached the Yellowstone River near present-day Livingston, Montana, and continued traveling on the north side of the Yellowstone River, camping three miles east of the Shields River at the base of Sheep Mountain. William Clark named the Shields River for Private John Shields, a scout, hunter, gunsmith, and blacksmith in the Corps of Discovery.

The Bozeman Trail

From Highland Glen, the Bozeman Trail followed today’s Bozeman Trail Road east to the present-day Bear Canyon Road interchange on Interstate 90. Next, the Bozeman Trail followed present-day Moffit Gulch Road and then Laurel Ranch Road (formerly Shadoan Sawmill Road), crossing Jackson Creek near the present-day Interstate 90 interchange with Jackson Creek Road. The Bozeman Trail then crossed Bozeman Pass following the route of today’s Frontage Road.

Land Acknowledgement 

This landscape holds countless stories, and it would be remiss of us to not recognize the cultures that created and carried forward stories long before us. The Blackfeet Nation calls the Gallatin Valley “Ahkoto Waktai Sakum.” This translates to “Many Come Together,”  because for thousands of years, this land, with its generous rivers, wildlife abundance, and soils, was not claimed by any one indigenous nation, but shared by many seasonally, including the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Salish Kootenai, Blackfeet, Bannock, Lakota, Nez Perce, Flathead, Shoshone, and Snake tribes. Acknowledging whose land we sit on today is to bring the necessary indigenous visibility on the longer history of this land and the history that continues. Today, we acknowledge with respect and honor the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Salish Kootenai, Blackfeet, Bannock, Lakota, Nez Perce, Flathead, Shoshone, and Snake tribes who stewarded this land for thousands of years. Remember, we are all settled on indigenous land.