The Stagecoach in the Judith Basin

Geoff Casey
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
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A close up of passengers on a stagecoach outside the hotel at Utica shows how cramped the quarters were. Photos from the Basin Trading Post, courtesy of Montana Historical Society

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A stagecoach sits in front of the hotel at Utica. The driver is Geyser’s late John L. Mears.

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When Hugh Wilkins got off the Great Northern train in May of 1908 and opened Stanford’s first passenger station, he became the first stationmaster. The railway had come to Stanford, Montana, and this meant that the stagecoach in the Judith Basin would soon be a thing of the past.

As far as I know, there is only one landmark that signifies that the stagecoach was a significant mode of transportation in this area at one time and that is the road sign “Stagecoach Road.” This is the name of the wellknown cut across that begins on Running Wolf Road at Fiedler’s place and emerges at Hwy 87 at the missile silo.

In the book “Furrows and Trails,” Annie Laurie Leslie, who was a daughter of one of the earliest pioneering families in the Judith Basin, is likely referring to this cut across when she writes about one of the stage runs.

“The stage ran from the Yogo Mining Camp to Fort Benton and crossed Wolf Creek at the Bill Skelton ranch west of Stanford. As there was no post office here, all the mail for Antelope Springs (the old name for Old Stanford) was put on Mrs. Bill Skelton’s table, and the settlers going to and from the mountains for timber would stop there and pick up their mail. So in reality, Mrs. Bill Skelton (Vaitleen) was the first postmaster, though unofficially so,” writes Leslie.

To clarify, Ms. Leslie is writing about a time before the establishment of presentday Stanford when Old Stanford, or “Old Town,” was still known as Antelope Butte.

This was probably the same road that is mentioned in another place by another writer. The writer said that Dr. Abram Poska was traveling by stagecoach to Utica for he was to be one of the town’s early-day medical doctors. Anyway he was traveling on the stagecoach when an interesting dude got onto the coach wearing six-guns. Dr. Poska became particularly worried when the stranger sat down opposite him and placed his six-guns on his knees. Perhaps where the good doctor came from, which may have been somewhere out east, he had never seen a everything worked out for Dr. Poska, and he arrived quite unharmed in the old cowboy town of Utica. He became a beloved doctor of Utica.

I don’t know about others, but I sometimes think it would be neat to be able to return to the stagecoach days and ride one of those conveyances. However, I think, having learned something about them, that if we were given an opportunity to take a round trip to Great Falls or anywhere else, we would soon prefer the comfort of our modern cars.

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