Gallatin Valley Pioneer: Jerome Waterman

Chris Marie Forest  |   Wednesday Apr. 1st, 2020

Jerome Byron Waterman, my great-great-uncle, led a very full, prosperous and somewhat tragic life in his short 48 years. He was born during the American Civil War on December 17, 1862 in Saginaw, Michigan to Christopher and Catherine Boyle Waterman. Christopher had been a world-traveled sailor and Catherine was a recent immigrant from Scotland. At the time of Jerome’s birth, his father was working at the Waterman cooper business. The wooden barrels made there were used for large storage of gun powder and food.

In 1864, Jerome’s father once again caught the gold fever (he had been a successful entrepreneur during the California Gold Rush of 1849) and decided to try his hand again in Virginia City, Montana. After Jerome and his mother were settled in New York City with the Boyle family, Christopher set off for Montana, via wagon train that spring.

Upon arriving in Montana and deciding once again that gold mining was not for him, Jerome’s father settled in the Gallatin Valley on a homestead in August 1864. That next spring, after building a rudimentary house and planting a small potato crop, he sent word to his family to join him. Catherine and Jerome set off almost immediately.

Two-year-old Jerome and his mother headed by ship from New York City down to the Gulf of Mexico, across the Isthmus of Panama (soon to be the Panama Canal) in an open train, and then took another ship to San Francisco, California. There they met with Catherine’s brother John. He helped to guide them the rest of the way. The only problem was that John had sent them to Virginia City, NEVADA, instead of Virginia City, MONTANA! Catherine and Jerome returned to San Francisco and once again setting out, went thru Salt Lake City via stagecoach. Once outside the city, at one of the stagecoach stations, they were told they would not be able to go any further, due to a Native American uprising in the area. The previous stagecoach had been stopped, burned, and everyone had been killed. Catherine, who was running very low on funds at the time, persevered and convinced the all-male stage that she was not going to be stopped from reuniting with her husband. Upon arriving in Virginia City, Montana she was told, however, that everyone in the area where Christopher was living had been killed the previous week. Luckily that proved to be wrong and a few days later there was a happy reunion. When Catherine and Jerome arrived at their new home in Middle Creek in the Gallatin Valley, they were surprised to find a log house with a sod roof, not one that Catherine had envisioned.

Jerome would grow up here with two younger siblings, Catherine and Charles (my great-grandfather). There were not many settlers in the area and the family went almost two years before seeing another pioneer family, with no one else for the children to play with or a school to attend.

There were many tales of the Native Americans coming to “visit” the Watermans. Once, Christopher was asked to “sell” his wife for 40 horses to the chief of the local tribe. She had red hair and the Indians had never seen anyone like her and considered her a Queen. Of course, that did not happen. Another time and in the middle of the night and with Christopher off hunting, there was a pounding of the door and Catherine fearing the worst did not open it. After persistent knocking, and the children hiding as best they could, Catherine opened the door with a shotgun in her hand, to find a Native American woman with a sick child and accompanied by several men. They had been traveling through the area in a caravan. When Catherine decided that the home remedy of sulfur and molasses was going to help the situation, the visitors made Catherine give it to her own children first. Catherine was not happy about “wasting” a precious commodity on her healthy children, but she did share with the kids and then gave it to the sick baby. In time, the Sioux in the area became friends with the family.

Due to Christopher’s poor health, he rented out a portion of the homestead and they all moved back east to Maryland in 1875. The Watermans bought an old plantation home of 80 acres. They lived across the river from the Naval Academy of Annapolis, where they could hear taps every night. Their life must have been so different than that in the wilds of Montana. The children attended school on a regular basis and the family most probably attended many social events around town. However, after three years the family returned to Montana. This time it was the children who were becoming ill from the swamp air of the Washington D.C. area. Upon returning to Bozeman, the family sold the current homestead and bought new property between Belgrade and Bozeman. The homestead would grow to over 1,500 acres by the turn of the century.

Around 1883/1884, at the young age of 21, Jerome set his sights on being a successful entrepreneur and bought Lots 1 and 2 in the new city of Belgrade. This was across the street from the newly laid railroad in the business area of town. He later bought Lots 20 and 21 and built a butcher shop and home there on Main Street. A year later in 1884, Jerome married Dora Melvina Sales. The Sales family ran a successful sawmill and farm in an area that would come to be called Salesville. Jerome and Dora had one son, Frederick Byron, born May 4, 1887.

Jerome was becoming a young man in excellent standing in the Belgrade community. In 1890 and again in 1892 the Avant Courier wrote glowing praises about him.

“He is a wide-awake dealer in agricultural implements
   in Belgrade.” - June 12, 1890

 “Jerome Waterman one of the enterprising young
   businessmen in Belgrade.” - August 28, 1890
“Jerome is quite a young man and there is a good future
   in store for him.” - November 14, 1892

The latter was written after he had won his precinct for Sheriff as a Republican in a predominately Democratic district, but unfortunately lost in the very close race.

Indeed, there was much good fortune in store for him in his adult life. In 1891 he was heralded when he was the first of the season to harvest 60 acres of oats on his father’s farm. Using a thresher, he reaped 3,400 bushels. The oats were sold at 1 cent per pound. That would amount to about $1,100 then or $31,000 today. Not bad for a few days of work.

In 1892 Jerome’s parents gifted him with a parrot from Panama named “Polly” that had been bought on the wharfs of San Francisco, California. Polly was taught many phrases by Jerome, including “Are you serving coffee for breakfast?” and “What are you doing?” This was according to an actual newspaper obituary for Polly in the Anaconda Standard on May 21, 1914. She lived to be 22 years old and out-lived Jerome.

 In 1898 Jerome acquired an additional 316 acres from the Northern Pacific Railroad east of Bozeman. This was most probably used as his cattle ranch. A year later he was reported to be the official representative for the Sons and Daughters of the Pioneers at a local Gallatin Pioneer Picnic.

In June 1902 Jerome married Mary Miller Lang, who was the granddaughter of Mary “Granny” Yates. Granny Yates was a famous wagon train master and pioneer, and a very colorful figure in Montana’s history. She had documented that she left Missouri on May 4, 1864, the same day and same area as Jerome’s father Christopher Waterman documented that he did! It is unknown whether they met on the trail or not.

In 1903 the Watermans celebrated the reopening of the butcher shop with a hoe-down dance. The new building which included a community meeting area would be called Waterman Hall. The building still stands today and opened last summer as The Outpost Hotel.

The following year in 1906 Jerome was elected as an Alderman in Belgrade and served for many years. In 1907, he married for the third time, Rose Weaver Johnston from another pioneer family. Her father Alex Weaver owned an extensive cattle ranch.

Unfortunately, among these joys there were many sorrows as well. During the winter of 1886/1887 “The Great Die Up” happened and temperatures in the Gallatin Valley dropped to -40 to -63 degrees below zero. Many of the cattle were in the open free range at the time and by some estimates, 60-80% of the cattle died from freezing and starvation. How this affected Jerome and his butcher business is not known, and Dora was also pregnant with Frederick at the time. It would have been hard trying to stay warm in a house without insulation and no central heating in those temperatures to be sure!

Tragically, on September 20, 1900, a fire broke out at the local hotel, which was on the same block as the Waterman’s business and home. The fire ended up burning the entire block and left little but smoldering ruins. There was not a fire department at the time, and all they had were buckets to put out the fire. It was said in a newspaper article that if there had been wind that night, the whole town probably would have burned down. The Waterman property was a total loss and valued at $5,500.

Jerome was also injured about the same time during a cattle round-up, when his horse stumbled and fell upon him, causing internal damage that would bother him for the rest of his life. And a year later, in 1901, his wife Dora died after a long illness. She was buried with her Sales family in Sunset Hills Cemetery.

On July 26, 1905, the Anaconda Standard published an article about Jerome’s 18-year-old son Frederick. He had been thrown from a horse and the local paper printed that day that he was dying from broken ribs and internal injuries and would not make it through the night. Luckily, he did recover and lived to be 90.

Then in April 1907, both his wife Mary and grandmother-in-law Granny Yates died within a couple of weeks of one another. Mary is buried at East Gallatin Cemetery and Granny Yates is buried in Dry Creek Cemetery in Belgrade.

Jerome became gravely ill in 1911 and his father took him to California to see a medical specialist for the ongoing pain in his back. He was referred to the Mayo Clinic’s St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, New York where he had kidney surgery. A second surgery was recommended, but due to his declining health, he was sent back home to Montana. Six weeks later Jerome died at the young age of 48. He is buried at the old Brondel Catholic Cemetery in Bozeman. His wife Rose outlived him by almost 50 years and died at the age of 90 in Manhattan, Montana.

At the time of his death, Jerome’s estate worth was listed as $35,000. In today’s terms, that would be almost a million dollars.

Jerome’s son Fred married Vera Hogsed in 1909 and they had a daughter, Vivian “Doreen,” ten years later. Fred tried his hand at ranching for twenty years and then went into the plumbing and electrical business. He and his wife Vera, and two infant children, are buried at Fairview Cemetery in Hardin, Montana. Doreen married and had three children before dying in 1990 at the age of 87 in Oak Grove, Missouri.

Jerome’s sister Catherine married William McDonnell in 1893 and they had four children. Brother Charles married Mary Arnold in 1894 and they had four children as well, including my grandmother Marie Waterman Harper. 

Chris Marie Forest is the great-great-niece of Jerome Waterman. She was born and raised in Southern California listening to bits and pieces of her Waterman family stories. Jerome was always the mystery man in the family. Now they will know his amazing life story.

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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