The thing that most impressed Anderson School third-graders about Bozeman’s town founders was that John Bozeman simply abandoned his wife and three daughters in Georgia to seek his fortune in Montana.

“Just to go mine some gold!” said Sully Luckay.

“I was amazed,” said Nicky Thompson, 8.

Students in teacher Leita Zimmerman’s class visited Sunset Hills Cemetery on Friday to learn some local history at the graves of people whose names are commonplace in Bozeman — like Lester Willson and William Alderson, John Bogert and William Tracy.

Zimmerman said her classes used to learn about Mexico and Canada for social studies, but has adopted the Bozeman School District’s curriculum, which focuses more on westward expansion and Montana history.

It certainly gave the kids a chance for hands-on lessons. They were busily rubbing crayons on paper over gravestones to create mementoes of their visit. Friday’s field trip included the Pioneer Museum and the Story Mansion.

The students were impressed that the metal statue of a cowboy roping cattle, which stands in Lindley Park facing Main Street, depicts Nelson Story, one of Montana’s first cattle barons and millionaires.

The irony wasn’t lost on Kaden Kinney, 9, that Joseph Lindley, for whom the park is named, hated Nelson Story.

In fact, the two men feuded after Nelson Story diverted water from Lindley’s Ice Pond property to run the Story flour mill, said Jim Webster. Story once dumped wastewater on Lindley’s head, and chased Lindley into Phillips Bookstore intending to pistol-whip him.

An investment adviser and history buff, Webster led the cemetery tour, wearing a black top hat and cribbing from a script by Derek Strahn, former city historic preservation officer, now a Bozeman High history teacher.

Standing by John Bozeman’s marker, Webster said the town’s namesake was alleged to have been murdered by Indians, but today we think he was probably killed by another townsperson.

Webster told the children about Nelson Story making his money in the gold fields, and then making more money by double- and triple-charging the federal government for the same sacks of flour supplied to Fort Ellis.

“We learned so much, it was very fun,” said Nia Zilis, 9.

But for Tavin Stacy, 8, being in a cemetery felt “super strange.”

“You feel like dead people are going to come and hurt you!” she said, sounding more excited than scared. “I’d never, ever go there in the night.”

*Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633. *

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