Gateways to Wonderland
Monida & Beaver Canyon
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.
Geyser Bob Presents: Beaver Canyon and Monida:
Early Stage Access Through the Western Entrance of Yellowstone
Beaver Canyon, Idaho
The discovery of gold on Grasshopper Creek in the mountains of western Montana in 1862 created the need for a transportation avenue to the mines. The Salt Lake Valley presented the best opportunity as a supply center, and a Montana road north to the mines through Beaver Canyon soon developed. Provisions first reached the mines by pack train, but that method eventually proved inadequate and as the region grew a freighting industry evolved. Toll roads and bridges were built to accommodate the heavy wagons. The Utah and Northern Railway reached the area on September 1, 1879. Until the railway reached the Montana border on March 9, 1880, Beaver Canyon acted as the terminus and business flourished. Stages, freighters, and a large crew of railway workers turned the area into a temporary boomtown. Sawmills sprang up in the area to provide lumber for buildings and ties for the rail tracks.
An article in the Blackfoot Register in the summer of 1880 described the route: "Leaving Red Rock at 1 p.m., on our return, a ride of two hours brought us to the foot of Beaver Canyon, and to the station of the same name. The scenery down this canyon, a distance of about ten miles, is grand. The tall pine trees, the huge rocks rising on either side, with first on one side and then on the other, a sparkling stream of water, wending its way down over the rocks and falls, make it picturesque and beautiful." The town was originally named Beaver Canon, but was changed to Beaver Canyon in 1884.
Click on maps to enlarge
Top Map: 1885 map showing the Union Pacific and Utah-Northern routes in Utah, Idaho and Montana
Above Map: Modern map showing routes to the west entrance of Yellowstone in the 1880s-90s. the green is the Monida route and red the Beaver Canyon route.
Excerpt From Camping Out in the Yellowstone - 1882
By Mary Bradshaw Richards
"At noon of the 31st [July 1882] we reached Beaver Canyon, where our camp life commenced. The village consists of a dozen log houses, two saloons and a big water tank. Its citizens are bound to other parts of the world by railroad and a telegraph office. Here are located some half a dozen of the Bassett brothers, fine enterprising fellows of the true pioneer stamp, who undertake to prepare and carry you in and through the National park in good form . . . Our hotel at Beaver Canyon was a little log house, who door opened almost into the village well . . . We slept under the logs one night, leaving at noon August first for the park, whose western boundary is one hundred miles distant from Beaver Canyon."
The Bassett Brothers operated a saloon and made preparations to start a line of spring wagons to Yellowstone National Park. They began this operation in the spring of 1881 and charged $25.00 for the round trip. Tourist travel to Yellowstone and the good railway connections greatly bolstered the local economy. A Bassett Brothers’ newspaper ad in the Salt Lake Tribune of July 30, 1882 proclaimed the Beaver Canyon route as “The Shortest and Best Route from the Railroad to the Eden of America.”
A newspaper article from the Salt Lake Tribune in August of 1881 noted that,
“Travelers can take the comfortable cars of the Utah & Northern in Ogden for Beaver Canyon, where connection can be made with Bassett Bros. through line to the Yellowstone. This line is composed of covered light spring wagons with the best of teams, and passes over one of the best roads in the country. This route is 150 miles shorter than by way of Virginia [Virginia City, Mt.] and the fare is $28 less than by that place. Experienced drivers are furnished and passengers are put through in quick time.”
Ad for Basset Bros. Beaver Canyon to Yellowstone camping tour. Salt Lake Daily Tribune, July 30, 1882
"Beaver Was Once A Lively Center"
By William Stibal Pettite
Excerpts from The Post-Register, Idaho Falls, March 18, 1970
"Beaver was once dominated in a business sense by the Bassett family. The Bassett Brothers operated a noted stage line, being headquarters for trips to Yellowstone and Fire Hole Basin, plus a branch line to Camas. They had a large hotel and saloon as well. . . . Frank Bassett, agent for the Utah and Northern Railroad, had the post office. Jules Bassett [C.J. Bassett], a polital associate of Senator Dubois, later formed the Idaho Sheep and Land Co. with Martin Patrie at Market Lake [now Roberts]. In the 1880's he served in the legislature from what was then Oneida County and later replaced partner Patrie as Idaho's Secretery of State. Brother C.H. Bassett noted that in 1880 a special - offer could be had from Bassett Brothers Stage. This special was a round trip ticket to Yellowstone for only $25.00 in gold. C.H. later lived in Pocatello and served as the first Bannock County Assessor
Due to competition in Yellowstone with the new hotel company, the Bassett Bros. decided to get out of the camping business in 1886 and seeing the hotel crowd as more lucrative, concentrated their efforts on stage transportation of tourists to the various park hotels.
In the early 1890’s the company moved the head of their operations from Beaver to Monida and in 1895 began operating as the Union Pacific Stage Lines with C.J. Bassett as proprietor. They were the only transportation company to operate through the west entrance from 1881 until 1898, when they were refused a permit to operate in the park. A new company, the Monida & Yellowstone Stage Company, was granted the sole concession to transport visitors through the west entrance into Yellowstone.
Excerpt From: A Ride Through Wonderland
By Georgina M. Synge
"Beaver Canyon is the funniest little place. As we had to wait there three days to collect our outfit (and scour the country for a side-saddle, an article which we foolishly omitted to bring), we had plenty of time for observations. It stands between two low ridges of hills which form the entrance to the canyon, and consists of several rows of little wooden houses and a few rather larger ones "dumped" here and there on its brown treeless level. Enormous signboards announced that a large percentage of these mansions were "restaurants" and "beer saloons." The hotel is decidedly primitive, [probably Bassett's] and as the air does not seem to suit either cows or hens, the luxuries produced by these useful species come from a distance, and are rather scarce. The railway runs through the middle of town, and, as there is no road (and only one or two trains in the day), forms the fashionable resort of the inhabitants on Sundays and fine evenings. One great drawback to enjoying this, however, is that one's eyes have to be more or less glued to one's footsteps, as the sleepers are raised rather high above the ground, and a glance upwards may land one upon one's nose. . . We got all our outfit together at last, Messrs. Bassett Bros., who run the stages through the Park Reservation, supplying us at about seventeen dollars per day. This included the hire and forage of the horses, a guide, a lad to drive the wagons, a tent, and cooking utensils, etc."
[Sampson Low, Marston & Company , 1892]
Top: 1891 letterhead for the Beaver Canyon Saloon & Restaurant.
Above: Utah & Northern train crossing the High Bridge enroute to Beaver Canyon.
Below: Sign at site of Beaver Canyon, 2008 by author.
(Click to expand)
Clark County town, Once rail and timber center, recalls memories
By William Stibal Pettite
Excerpts from The Post Register newspaper,
Idaho Falls, Feb. 11, 1976
"Only foundation rubble and an old graveyard mark the location of the boomtown of Beaver, once a large lumber and railroad center of 90 years ago. The many lumber firms in that region supplied a vast majority of the wood used for construction in Idaho Falls . . . When the Utah and Northern Railroad came through in the fall of 1879, the small center began to grow. Five large lumber firms were in operation, employing several hundred men. The railroad also used the center as a train center, as Beaver Canyon was a treacherous pass . . . Some of the pioneer Beaver Canyon families included David Stoddard, Peter Lawson, Joe Davidson, Abraham Redford, Sam Lee, Peter Barney, Charles and Jules Bassett, and ranchers Sam Hancock, W.H. Murray, and P.J. Owen . . . At one time the many Davidson graves at the large Beaver cemetery were the only ones cared for. Now even they are forgotten and the grounds are in sagebrush, with the many old fences in decay."
Beaver Canyon closes its doors . . .
After 1887 the town began to decline. The harsh weather and winters at Beaver Canyon made life untenable and the residents and businessmen felt Spencer would be a more optimal location. The area was somewhat lower in elevation with less snow and was wide enough to allow more land for expansion of the railroad facilities and other businesses. The town was moved in 1897, six miles south to a new town of Spencer, named after Hyrum H. Spencer, a businessman in Beaver. Many of the buildings were moved south on flat cars, including the depot after the railroad eliminated Beaver Canyon as a stop. The Beaver post office closed in 1898.
Monida was the first point in Montana that the Utah and Northern RR, a branch of the Union Pacific RR, reached around 1880. The line, originating at Brigham City, Utah was planned to extend north to Butte and the mines in Montana. Construction began in 1871 and by 1874 had only reached Franklin, Idaho. The "Panic of 1873" caused all rail construction in the United States to halt and progress on the line was not resumed until 1878. The narrow gauge line reached Monida in 1880 and was completed to Butte in December of 1881. The narrow gauge track was converted to standard gauge between 1887 - 1890. A series of mergers resulted in the railroad becoming known as the Oregon Short Line in 1897.
Top Right: Logo of "The Monida Line" advertising travel to Yellowstone from Monida. 1902 Oregon Short Line brochure, author collection.
Bottom Right: Lantern slide of the Monida Depot, undated.
Bottom Left: Monida townsite ca1898. the Summit Hotel is prominent in the center.
[F.J. Haynes photo, Montana Historical Society]
Monida was reportedly known as Spring Hill in its early stagecoach days, but the name Monida was in use at least by 1881. Mr. B.H. Paul purchased a small general store in the town and in early 1898 opened the Summit Hotel to serve rail and stage travelers. the Butte Miner noted April 1902, that Paul owned the whole town, which consisted of a rail station, section house, general store, saloon and a hotel. In May 1903, it was announced that Paul was constructing a large addition to the hotel and refurbishing the old section. Tragically, a fire in October of 1905 destroyed the Summit hotel and other nearby buildings. The hotel was later rebuilt of logs, opening by January of 1906. Another file destroyed the railroad depot in May of 1906.
Right: View of the RR depot, showing the main street of Monida. The hotel is to the right. Undated photo, ca1903
The Summit Hotel at Monida Opened Friday Night - A Fine Time
The opening of the Summit Hotel at Monida Friday night was a complete success, and the proprietors, Messrs. Burnside & Paul, certainly should feel gratified by the numerous expressions by their guests of the pleasure and satisfaction they experienced.
The Summit Hotel is built on n rise of ground east of the railroad track, at Monida station, and is intended principally for the entertainment of tourists, who take the Monida and Yellowstone stage line from that point to the National Park. The hotel is a large two-story frame building containing 22 rooms. It has large and airy office, parlor, dining room and kitchen and store rooms on the first floor, and sleeping rooms on the second floor. All the appointments are first-class and an excellent table is set. Mrs. Burnside looks after the comfort of the guests with close attention, and no one is allowed to leave the place dissatisfied.
Over 130 guests assembled at the opening of the new hotel. There were people from Lima, Redrock, Dillon, Beaver Canyon and the surrounding country. By far the larger number were from Lima, 51 tickets being sold at that station. Soon after the arrival of the train the ball opened and dancing was kept up almost continuously until 6 o’clock next morning. Soon after midnight a fine supper was served, all the delicacies of the season being found on the table. After breakfast the hosts took all who cared to go out for a drive in the fine new 12-passenger canopy-top Concord coaches. This was a feature of the occasion that was greatly appreciated by those accepting the invitation.
[Dillon Tribune, 29Jan1898]
Right Top: The Summit Hotel, probably ca1898.
Right Bottom: The Summit Hotel between 1903-1905. Note the addition on the right and to the rear.
Disastrous Fire at Monida - Oct 1905
A most disastrous fire occurred last Thursday at Monida when the Summit hotel, the hotel annex and a cottage, all the property of B. H. Paul, were burned to the ground and practically a total loss sustained. The tire must have been burning some time before it was discovered and the upper part of the inside of the hotel proper was all in flames before it was noticed . . . All three of the buildings were razed to the ground and the only things saved were a few of the
household goods from the cottage.
[4Oct1905 Dillon Examiner]
A New Hotel in 1912
“One of the largest business buildings constructed In the county thls year is the mammoth hotel at Monida, built by the genial J. J. Smith, the pioneer hotel man of that city. The hotel is constructed of red brick and, situated on the very summit of the continental divide, it commands a wonderful outlook. The name, "The Summit,’* is most appropriate. Although Monlda cannot boast of electric lights, city water or a central heating plant, this hotel has all of them, and they are superior in many ways to similar systems In most large cities.”
[15Dec1912, Anaconda Standard]
Monida is located on the crest of the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of around 7,000 feet.
The town became a large railhead for the shipment of sheep and livestock raised in the vast Centennial Valley. As many as 48,000 head of cattle and 100,000 head of sheep were shipped out annually. The town reached a population of 75-100 people at its prime. The departure of the M-Y stage line traffic in 1908 and the increased use of large truck and trailers for livestock shipping caused the rail traffic to decline, along with the population. A few buildings still exist in the town, including at least one of the original Monida-Yellowstone stage barns.
Monida & Yellowstone Stage Company
Monida became significant in Yellowstone's history in 1898 when the Monida and Yellowstone Stage Co. was organized by F.J. Haynes and W. W. Humphrey and began stage service through the west entrance of Yellowstone. The route to the park skirted along the edge of the beautiful Centennial Valley, past Red Rock lakes, through Alaska Basin, over the divide to Henrys Lake and over Targhee Pass to the west entrance. Stagecoach travelers would stay at the Grayling Inn, as known as Dwelles, for the first night, prior to entering the park. (See map at top of page) The company conducted tours of the park from Monida until the summer of 1908, when the Oregon Short Line completed a branch line from Idaho Falls to the west entrance of the park. The company moved its operation to Riverside, a location a few miles inside of the west entrance f Yellowstone. A small town soon sprung up at the end of the rail line and west entrance of the park. The town was originally known as Riverside, but changed to Yellowstone in 1909. It did not become West Yellowstone until 1920.
For additional information, check out my Monida & Yellowstone web page.
Top Left: One of the barns used by the Monida & Yellowstone Stage Co., 1957. YNP #33409
Top Right: Same barn about 50 years later. Photo by author 2008
Left: Logo of the Monida & Yellowstone Stage Co. The name later changed in 1913 to Yellowstone & Western Stage Co.