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Welcome to Yellowstone County MTGenWeb Project

NPR Record Collection


Note: Most of these records inter-connect with the other record forms including the Crow Nation’s interests. Fort Manuel Lisa, located at the Big Horn & Yellowstone River Junction is directly involved, as well as Joseph MV Cochran in cutting timber for NPR track-ties in 1879 & later.


NPR Beginnings-Part 1

In looking back in time, we generally associate the building of this railroad as being a private venture, without the benefit of government money. We also are led to believe that the railroad track was following the route published within numerous early maps; excepting that in crossing the Yellowstone River, it was changed from Glendive Creek to Coulson. The NPR history files published by the railroad after Frederick Billings assumed the presidency in 1875 defined the route as such.

NPR Beginnings-Part 2 (1875 to Present)

NPR moves away from Congressional Member’s management, and Frederick Billings was named “Managing Director”, through which started the beginning of NPR as a private enterprise. The line would come out its financial slump, and completion was in sight. The track route through Montana still hadn’t been decided, although most mapping projects showed the track essentially following the extensive1871-1873 route surveys.

NPR  Routes and Patents

Land maps, original land patents copies and description of the land acquisitions and resale’s. Has descriptive links to supporting documents.

NPR & Burlington

Routing of the Burlington Railroad through Pryor Gap, and arrangements for rights of way.


Depicts expanded section plot is from the “Map Showing the Land Grant of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company”; released 1890 [Map File # ct001237.jp2]


NPR Land Title History

Continuously until after 1873, it was the Northern Pacific Railway Company’s intent to cross the Yellowstone River near the junction with the Powder River, and remain on the north side as it traversed west. As time progressed, it became evident that a change to the route would take place. This was not heavily advertised until their decision to cross the river where Coulson was located, and their new town of Billings, Montana was ready for occupancy.

NPR Presidents

Chronology of the NPR Presidents

NPR Surveys 1871-1873

Northern Pacific Railway was provided a government charter that provided for government protection against hostile Indians during the surveys and construction. In 1871 Captain Hall, along with a company of men from Fort Ellis, were assigned to accompany the NPR surveyors led by Mr. Muhlenberg.

In early spring of 1872 NPR initiated action to carry on their surveys in an intensified manner, and called upon the government to provide protection.

General DS Stanley was placed in command of the survey support party. He had 1,500 men at his command, plus an abundance of ammunition and supplies. General Custer, who commanded 450 men of the 7th Cavalry, was a part of the force. He was assigned the duty of proceeding up the Yellowstone and looking for a practical road to be used for the supply wagons and artillery

Manuel Lisa 1807 Fort & NPR


 The Big Horn River confluence with the Yellowstone is marked by the “edges” of each river’s intersecting bank. The location hasn’t noticeably changed since 1806; but our impression of what a confluence has. This impression is brought about by NPR’s re-routing of its main line external to the 1,100-ft tunnel prior to 1925 and the probable excavation of rocks from Section 28’s southern end by them or other persons or magic. Thus when one looks at the two rivers, all one sees is an awful mess! The following survey maps show that the true confluence hasn’t changed over time, only that the land mass between it and the local farm-land has diminished prior to 1951; then dramatically increased afterwards; and re-identified as a separate entity as an island; when in fact the actual land mass under consideration for Manuel Lisa’s fort hasn’t moved in over 200-years as explained below.

Water Rights

Water rights are expressively defined in “Public Land Law”. The definitive summary of these laws are expressed in the Land Opinions by the Attorney General & the General Land Office records from May 4, 1875 to April 1, 1882; Article section 422 – 424. Published 1883 to the Library of Congress. These state: “Priority of Possession”, including construction of ditches, canals, rights of way, etc., are implied to be vested in the user. Later documents, created by various legal teams appear to have verified those rulings. This is a very complicated matter. In later years, NPR filed for numerous water rights. The Big Ditch, in Yellowstone County is an offshoot of those provisions when the Billings Land Company was formed from the Minnesota & Montana Land Investment Company.

Big Horn Bridge & Tunnel Files

Stored at MN Historical Society, Some construction reports are available: