top of page

Yellowstone's Supporting Railroads 

Chicago & Milwaukee RR



Copyright 2020 by Robert V. Goss. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by an information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the author.

The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad
Yellowstone's Western Rail Access at Gallatin Gateway


The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway

      The CM & SP was originally known as the Milwaukee & Waukesha RR until the name was changed in 1874. They completed their rail line across Montana to the West Coast in 1909. In 1915 the Milwaukee Road completed its first electrified section of rail line, from Harlowton to Deer Lodge, Montana, a feat that was advertised to passengers since electrification eliminated the soot normally associated with steam-powered rail travel. Extensions in the 1910s and 1920s resulted in 649 miles of electrified main line, in Montana, Idaho and over the Cascades in Washington. The 440 miles of electrified line between Harlowton, Montana and Avery, Idaho was said to be the longest continuous electrified rail line in the world at that time. By 1927, the company operated 11,000 miles of track in twelve Northwestern States and was one of the largest railroad systems in the country.

Olympian, Milwaukee Road

Top:  The Olympian open-air cars, ca1915. Because the train was electrified, passengers were not bothered by the coast dust and soot that was normal  on other railroads of the time.

Right:  The modern Olympian Hiawatha, as shown in a 1947 brochure

Olympian Hiawatha, Milwaukee Road

The Olympian and its successor the Olympian Hiawatha were passenger trains operated by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (the "Milwaukee Road") between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest. The Olympian operated from 1911 to 1947 and was, along with its running mate the Columbian, the first all-steel train to operate in the Pacific Northwest. The streamlined Olympian Hiawatha operated from 1947 to 1961 and was one of several Milwaukee Road trains to carry the name "Hiawatha." The Olympian Hiawatha was designed by industrial designer Brooks Stevens and included the distinctive glassed-in "Skytop" observation-sleeping cars. It later featured full-length "Super Dome" cars. The Olympian Hiawatha was never a financial success. On May 22, 1961 the train was discontinued, one of the first of the great name trains to end service. With the discontinuance of the Olympian Hiawatha in 1961, trains No. 15 and 16 continued to operate as an unnamed passenger train between Minneapolis and Deer Lodge, Montana with coaches, a Touralux open-berth sleeper and cafe car. In 1964 it was cut back to a coach-only train to Aberdeen, South Dakota, discontinued in 1969.

Salesville Montana
Salesville Depot Montana

In 1909, the Gallatin Valley Electric Railway Co., a concern from Bozeman, built an electric railway from Bozeman, south to Salesville.  Zachariah Sales built a sawmill in the area in 1865 and founded the town of Salesville in 1883.  A post office was established in 1880, but by 1890, it had closed. In 1910 the CM&SP took over the electric railway and linked it to their main line at Three Forks.

Top Left:  Downtown Salesville ca1912. 

[Museum of the Rockies #x80.6.453b]

Top Right: The original depot at Salesville, ca1920.

[Museum of the Rockies, #97.19.77]

Rails to Gallatin Gateway . . . 


To compete with the other railroads accessing Yellowstone. The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, also known as the Milwaukee Railroad, began promoting the Gallatin Canyon as a “Gateway to Yellowstone” in 1926 The president of the Milwaukee Railroad, Henry Scandrett, knew the canyon, as his family were early guests in the early 1920s at Elkhorn Ranch along the upper West Gallatin. As part of its promotion, in 1927, the railroad constructed an arch over the highway 191 just north of present-day Rockhaven Camp and Retreat Center across the Gallatin River from Sheep Rock Mountain. In August of 1926 a second log arch was built over the road some 12 miles below Karst's Camp at the southern entrance to the canyon. Both were removed sometime in the 1950s when Hwy 191 was widened and improved.

Gallatin Gateway Arch, Yellowstone Park

The CM&SP began passenger rail service to Gallatin Gateway on August 1, 1926 with a spur from the main line at Three Forks.  They replaced the previous electric railway system of 1909, allowing standard rail cars to access the area. Buses of the Yellowstone Park Transportation Co. carried visitors from Gallatin through the West entrance and transported them on tours around the park. 

Top Left:  The 2nd arch was built at the north end of Gallatin Canyon.  JC Robbins postcard, author collection

Top Right:  Celebration being held at the 2nd arch in he beginning of August 1927.

Right:  1st arch constructed toward the south end of Gallatin Canyon.  Milwaukee Road postcard

Gallatin Gateway Arch, Yellowstone Park
Gallatin Gateway Arch, Yellowstone Park

Gallatin Gateway Inn & A New Gateway to Yellowstone

The Great Falls Tribune announced on Jan. 6, 1927, that a new Milwaukee rail line would replace the old line from Three Forks beginning on March 1st and extend to Salesville. They also planned to build a depot, hotel and restaurant there. From that point, buses of the Yellowstone Park Transportation Co. would take guests to and from Yellowstone National Park. The railroad depot was established inside of the new Inn. The Gallatin Gateway Inn, newest Gateway to Yellowstone, would officially open on June 17. The Anaconda Standard proclaimed on May 29, that, “Elaborate preparations have been made to take care of all guests. Harry Childs of the Yellowstone Hotels company will bring: down an orchestra of 50 pieces from the park to play for the biggest dance ever given in Montana. The huge Yellowstone park busses which already have made the Gallatin Gateway famous, will be on hand to accommodate passengers en route to the park.” Around the same time, Milwaukee officials convinced local folks of Salesville and the area to rename the town Gallatin Gateway.

Gallatin Gateway Inn
Gallatin Gateway Inn
Gallatin Gateway Inn

Top Left:  Gallatin Gateway Inn postcard

Top Right:  Gallatin Gateway Inn postcard, ca1930s. Published by the Milwaukee Road.

Left:  Gallatin Gateway Inn, ca1928. Photo from Montana Historical Society, posted on the Gallatin Gateway Inn website.

Sacajawea Inn

The Sacajawea Hotel, also known as Sacajawea Inn, was constructed in 1910 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The hotel served passengers on the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, which terminated in Three Forks until 1927, when the line was extended to Gallatin Gateway. The original building was the Madison Hotel, built in 1862 on the Three Forks townsite, and moved on log rollers a mile to its present location. At the time, the Milwaukee Depot was across the street. In 1910, the main lobby and 29 rooms were constructed by railroad agent John Q. Adams, who hired Bozeman architect Fred Willson to create a grand but warm and welcoming design.

Sacajawea Hotel, Sacajawea Hotel

Top Left:  Back side of the Sacajawea Hotel under construction, ca1910. Photo courtesy Sacajawea Inn website.

Top Right: Front of the Sacajawea Hotel, ca19-teens.

Left:  Sacajawea Inn with of downtown Three Forks. Photo courtesy Sacajawea Inn website.

Sacajawea Hotel, Sacajawea Hotel
Sacajawea Hotel, Sacajawea Hotel, Three Forks


Special Dispatch to the Standard.


Bozeman, Dec. 15.—The formal opening of the Sacajawea hotel at Three Forks took place last evening, and a large delegation of Bozeman citizens went down on a special train over the Gallatin valley branch of the Milwaukee road. The special was arranged
through the influence of the Gallatin Valley club and nearly every branch of business and Bozeman had a representative. In the party were several ladies and some young people. All had a good time and pronounced the new hotel one of the finest in the state.
The proprietor, J. N. Kleber, and his wife did everything to make the visitors enjoy themselves.

 [From the Anaconda Standard, Dec. 16, 1910]

Three Forks Montana, Olympian train
Three Forks Depot, Sacajawea Inn

Top Left:  Three Forks railroad depot in 1911, with the Olympian in front.

Top Right:  The new depot at Sacajawea Inn, undated postcard.

Gallatin Gateway, Milwaukee Road
bottom of page