John Bozeman – Blazing the Bozeman Trail

John M. Bozeman

John M. Bozeman

John M. Bozeman was a pioneer and frontiersman who helped establish the Bozeman Trail through Wyoming Territory into the goldfields of southwestern Montana Territory in the early 1860s. He also helped found the city of Bozeman, Montana, in 1864.

John Merin Bozeman was born in Pickens County, Georgia, in January 1837 to William and Delila Sims Bozeman. When he grew up he married Lucinda Catherine Ingram, with whom he would have three daughters. Bozeman headed west in 1858, abandoning his wife and children.

By 1861 he was working in the gold fields of Colorado. When his mining claims failed, he headed to Deer Lodge, Montana, in 1862. In 1863, he and a companion named John Jacobs returned to Colorado, taking a route from Bannack, Montana, east of the Bighorn Mountains through lands reserved by treaty to the Native Americans. The only other approaches into Montana from the east were from the Missouri River or a trail leading north from the Oregon Trail to Idaho.

Bozeman was excited about his shortcut and began to lead people along the path from central Wyoming to Virginia City, Montana, providing a more direct and better-watered trail. The shortcut became known as the Bozeman Trail, and John settled in the Gallatin Valley, laying out the town of Bozeman, Montana, in 1864.

In 1865–66 the federal government built Forts Reno, Phil Kearny, and C.F. Smith to guard the trail. However, after the Fetterman Massacre in December 1866, the trail south and east of Fort C.F. Smith was abandoned. In April 1867, Bozeman was murdered while traveling along the Yellowstone River. His partner, Tom Cover, reported a band of Blackfoot Indians had attacked them. Inconsistencies in his story, however, later caused historians to suspect that Cover may have murdered Bozeman himself.

Bozeman Trail, Montana by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

Bozeman Trail, Montana by Kathy Alexander.

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, September 2022.

Also See:

Adventures on the Bozeman Trail

Adventures in the Old West

Cowboys, Trail Blazers & Stagecoach Drivers 

Tales & Trails of the American West