Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Lannon and Commerce at the Mouth of Bear


In Captain John Mullan’s  Report on the Construction of a Military Road From Fort Walla Walla to Fort Benton is a list of petitioner signers on December 15, 1859.   The forty eight men desired that the new county in Washington Territory be named “Bitterroot”, but the legislative body chose the name Missoula. On this petition is the name Lannon, but there is no first name.
In Mullan’s Journal he speaks about sending Lannon out to set up a working camp during the winter of 1859.  On the Mullan maps is a designation for Lannon’s camp at the mouth of Bear gulch. Mullan’s  journal notes state “Thirty First day -move to Lannon’s camp.”

Research reveals a story that a John Lannen (Lannon, Lannan), moved his family from Bannock to Helena in 1865 and then hearing about gold in the Elk and Bear Creek area went to that area and mined through out the winter. He returned to Helena in the spring, traded his claim for a cow, and with his wife and sons returned to Bearmouth, where he ran a ferry across Hell Gate River. It is not a real leap to believe that this John Lannon is the same person as the one who worked for Mullan and had his work camp at the mouth of Bear Creek in 1859-1860.

The U.S. Census of 1870 shows the Lannon family: John age 40, Bridget 40, Edward 13, Peter 11, John Jr. 9, and Christopher 2, living in the Beartown area. This census states Edward and Peter were born in Colorado, whereas later Census and Historical Society records state New York. Research has been unable to find a Census record for the family prior to 1870.  Both John and Bridget were born in Ireland.

The 1899 Montana Society of Pioneers states that Bridget arrived in Bear Mouth in 1864 as does Edward’s listing. They departed from Kansas to Montana across the plains via the Lander Cut Off.  Nothing is said about them spending the winter in Helena.

John’s ferry was large enough to carry a wagon and team. It was hauled across the river by pulling on a cable strung from one side of the river to the other. This method assisted the miners traveling the Mullan Road to cross the river and travel up Bear, Deep and First Chance Gulch. A popular story is that “Once when the ferry was carrying two men and three pack mules, each loaded with 250 gallon barrels of whiskey, the cable broke and everything slid into the river. One man drowned but the whiskey was saved.” Lannon’s business also entailed running gold from the mouth of Bear to Deer Lodge and returning with currency for the miners. They also operated a milk route and a hotel.

The growing burg named Bearmouth became a stage stop on the Mullan Road and when the railroad came through in 1883, it was the station stop for the Northern Pacific (which sliced through the Lannon Homestead.)  The railroad land being on the Lannon property caused a lot of dissension and John “defaced” a Territory sign by removing it from his fence post and placing it around the corner of the rail station. The County Commissioners placed the sign to advertise a hearing for a new county road to be laid out. John was indicted for placing a piece of paper over the part containing written matter.  The original sentence was $100 and one month in jail. John appealed the case all the way to the Montana Supreme Court with his defense being that the sign was not in the vicinity of the proposed road. John lost the case and ended up  paying the fine and  all of the court costs in July of 1889.

Edward assisted father with the homestead business and was widowed with a twelve year old Edward and fifteen year old John by 1900.  In 1908 Edward filed suit against the Chicago, Milwaukee  and St. Paul Railroad for damages to his property at Bearmouth.  The Railroad appealed the county commissioners appraisal of $14,000 damages. The final award to Edward was $8,650.00.

Son Chris, labeled “the wealthy sheep owner of Bearmouth  reported that his forty odd thousand sheep clips averaged eleven and a quarter pounds in August 1911. Chris and spouse Kate  with 19 year old Nellie and 23 year old John are listed in the 1910 Census. Chris’ Montana estate taxes were $6,363.75 according to the  September 1951, Mail.

John Jr. married Elizabeth Ryan. They lived their lives in Philipsburg with children Rose and  Edwin.  

So far research has failed to determine  the life of Peter after the 1880 Census when he was working on the Ferry at the age of  21.

The final appraisal is that from road builder to homesteader, ferry man and business man, Lannon  was a successful man.

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