Bozeman Pioneers: William and Ellen Flannery Arnold

Chris Marie Forest  |   Sunday Dec. 1st, 2019

My maternal great-great-grandparents, William and Ellen Flannery Arnold, were some of the earliest settlers of Bozeman, Montana.   Both of them came separately in the 1860s and were from hearty farm families.

William, the oldest son, was born on August 8, 1842 to William M. and Mary Marr Arnold, owners of a 100-acre farm near Bowling Green, Kentucky. By the time he was 18, he had lost 4 younger siblings and his mother due to illness and disease. His mother and one brother died on the same day in February 1857. Around the time he was 19, another tragedy stuck the family that dramatically shaped William’s future.

It was around the beginning of the Civil War in 1861/1862, and Kentucky was very divided between Union and Confederate loyalties. The Arnolds were caught in the middle.  William Sr.’s brother served in the Union Army as a chaplain and was camped not far from the Arnold Farm.  William Sr. tried to help out as best as he could by providing extra food when supplies ran low.  At one point, the Confederates came through the Arnold farm and stole all the food and livestock. In an attempt to save his family and his brother’s unit, William Sr. attempted to steal back the food.  He was caught and hung on the spot.

William Jr. attempted to keep his remaining 4 orphaned siblings together as best he could.  They stayed on the farm for another 2 years until May of 1864, when William was drafted into the Union Army.  Deciding he wanted nothing to do with the war, he sold the farm and divided the money among his siblings, making sure the younger ones were secure with extended family members. William then left for the gold fields of Montana.

William left Kentucky and traveled to Booneville, Missouri by stagecoach and joined a wagon train there. He traveled the Oregon Trail and then up Badger Pass arriving in Virginia City, Montana in September 1864. It was here that he met Billy Flannery, who became his lifelong friend.  Not finding their fortune in gold after several months, the two decided to head to Bozeman to claim a homestead. They worked at Flanders sawmill at the base of Ross Peak for a couple of years.  In 1866, William acquired 120 acres of land on the East Gallatin River, in what is now known as Springhill district, northeast of Bozeman.  The Flannery homestead was nearby.

It was here on this homestead that William met Billy’s sister Ellen. Ellen and Billy were both born in the 1840s in Woodford County, Galway, Ireland to Matthew and Catherine Fogarty Flannery. This was during the worst potato famine in Ireland, in an area that was the hardest hit by the potato blight.  It is not known how their family was affected by the famine.  However, in the early 1860s, their dad died and left mom with 7 children. Over the course of 20 years, the Flannery family immigrated to America to start a new life. They all originally stayed with Catherine Fogarty’s relatives on their farm in Omaha, Nebraska, and then moved to Montana in waves.  In 1869, Ellen joined Billy and sister Anne, a school teacher, on the Flannery homestead.

William and Ellen were married on May 21, 1870, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Helena. They built an 18 x 24-ft. log cabin on the initial 120-acre homestead and became very successful farmers. They originally grew wheat and then expanded to raising chickens, pigs and livestock.  Their self-sufficient farm grew to 620 acres by 1892. One of the successful crops they grew was the red wheat of the Gallatin Valley. Because of the quality of wheat, Pillsbury and other bread companies were buying the wheat in large quantities.  This crop was very easy to transport to the flour mill in downtown Bozeman on the Turkey Red Train. This train would stop almost at the Arnold’s front door at a stop called the Camona. Here the train picked up grain, livestock and eggs.  

During this time, the Arnolds had 12 children, 10 who survived: William, Mary, Lizzie, Louis, Anne, James, Ella, Alice, Alberta and Josephine. Mary was my great-grandmother. She would marry Charles Waterman in 1894.

In 1871, Billy Flannery acquired 158 acres in the Bear Canyon area of the Gallatin Valley. He ran one of the first steam-engine lumber mills in the Bozeman area. In May 1874, he sold this mill to his sister Ellen Arnold. It is unknown how long Ellen and William continued to own and operate it.

In 1882, the Arnolds built a large two-story home which, in the 1980s, was at 5339 Springhill Rd. at the crossroads of what is today Springhill and Toohey roads in Camona.  In order to accommodate all the additional farm hands needed during the harvest, a wall was knocked out of the parlor into the kitchen area, to have space to feed the seasonal hired farm hands.  The space could provide seating for 40 people at a time. It was not uncommon for 20-25 men to be sitting with the family for a meal. This was also the gathering place of all the extended family during the holidays. They were big affairs and were remembered fondly by many younger generations.

The Arnolds had a strong belief in education, even on a large farm that needed many helping hands.  All 10 children were sent to school from elementary to college. In the 1890s and 1900s, the Arnolds rented a home in downtown Bozeman that provided a place where the children would have closer access to further education. This house was at 220 W. Lamme St., now 22 W. Lamme, a property listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  By the 1910s, the family had bought a home at 545 W. Lamme, now 421. Both homes are still standing today.

All the children attended college. The two oldest sons went to All Hallows College in Salt Lake City, Utah. The two oldest daughters went to St Vincent’s in Helena and the 6 youngest went to Montana State College in Bozeman.

William was one of the original prominent members of the Gallatin Pioneer Society and a founding member of the Bozeman Pioneer Catholic community. He and Ellen were original members when the church community first met in the Chestnut Saloon, and they were instrumental in the building of Holy Rosary, the first Catholic Church in Bozeman in 1885.

At the turn of the century, the Arnolds traveled to California during the winter months and stayed at the Poinsettia Hotel in Long Beach (outside of Los Angeles), California, with eleven other Bozeman families as well.

One of the highlights of the family’s travels was to attend 3 World Fairs in the early 1900s.  Their first one was the St Louis Fair in 1904, where Ella was crowned a “Princess of the Royal Court” of the fair. They were introduced to America’s first ice cream cones while perhaps watching the Summer Olympics that were held there that year.

In 1909, after purchasing land in Long Beach for a new home, they attended the Seattle World’s Fair.   Buildings that were constructed for the fair are still standing at the University of Washington, and used as classrooms today. Little did the Arnolds know that 100 years later, their great-great-great-grandson Sean Allen would walk in those same halls as a student.

In 1915, the Arnolds traveled to the San Francisco World’s Fair where there were over 80,000 displays, including ones that were staffed by Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Luther Burbank who were discussing their latest inventions. There was also a 43-story building that was bejeweled with over 100,000 pieces of cut glass that shimmered in the light day and at night. The liberty bell was also on exhibit as well as a 7,000 piece pipe organ.

In 1919, the Arnolds traveled again to Long Beach, this time permanently.  Within a year, William died on Feb 21, 1920. He is buried in Sunset Hills Cemetery in Bozeman, Montana.

After William’s death, Ellen decided to sell the vacant land and buy a home. This home was at 537 W. Olive Rd., across from St Anthony’s Catholic Church in Long Beach, and is still standing today. One year later in 1921, a local oil company discovered the world’s richest oil field (at the time) in Long Beach, right in the area where the Arnold property had been! This made the property worth an exorbitant amount of money.  If my great-great-grandparents had kept the property, they would have been very, very wealthy people and perhaps all the younger generations as well!

Ellen continued to live in Long Beach with three of her daughters—Anne, Alice and Josephine—and one granddaughter Roberta, until age 92, when she passed away on June 7, 1937. The house stayed in the family until 1960, when her daughters Anne and Alice passed away within a month of each other. There had always been out-of-town family members visiting or the local family members stopping by or celebrating the holidays in that home.  I remember fondly visiting my “aunties” in my childhood and still have several treasured mementos that were given to me.   

• Progressive Men of Montana, History of Montana, and Society of
   Montana Pioneers
• Roberta Anderson (granddaughter of William and Ellen Arnold)
   “The Arnolds” in 1982
• Lei Anna Bertelson interview of Roberta Anderson for a school
   project in 2006
• Chris Forest   40+ year research of Arnold History

About the Author(s)

Chris Marie Forest

Chris Marie Forest is the great-great-granddaughter of William and Ellen Arnold. She was born and raised in Southern California, listening to bits and pieces of her Arnold family stories. She has now spent almost fifty years researching and weaving them all together.

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