The streets of Bozeman are named for a motley crowd. Pioneers and presidents. Mayors and land speculators. War heroes and farmers. Even a couple of journalists.

Nearly all Bozeman streets are named after men, but as local historian Phyllis Smith pointed out in her 1996 booklet, “Bozeman Names Have a History,” a few were named for women, like Ida Avenue and Julia Martin Drive.

Naming a street or city park after yourself was common among the men who first platted the town, said Derek Strahn, a Bozeman High School history teacher and former city historic preservation officer.

“A lot of the earliest guys would come as homesteaders,” Strahn said. Then they would drop farming as soon as they legally owned the land. “As soon as they’d ‘prove up’ in five years, they’d subdivide and become real estate moguls. (W.W.) Alderson’s homestead went from Main Street to Alderson Street.”

Putting your name on a new street was one way of reaching for a bit of immortality.

“It’s the same reason there are gigantic monuments in Sunset Hills Cemetery and names on buildings,” Strahn said. “People who had the bucks were interested in literally carving their names in the community.”

Ironically, the names live on in street signs, yet the people behind the names are often fading ghosts, unknown to most of today’s residents.

For anyone who has ever wondered about Bozeman’s street names, here are quick sketches of some of their namesakes:

  • Alderson Street is named for the Rev. William White Alderson, one of the town’s founders. On Aug. 9, 1864, the day the town was officially started where the Bozeman Trail (now Main Street) crossed Bozeman Creek, Alderson suggested changing its name from Jacob’s Crossing to Bozeman, after trailblazer John Bozeman, as Smith recounts in her book “Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley: A History.”

    Alderson started a dairy herd, helped found a Methodist Church, hauled logs to build the first school, gave the area’s first sermon, served as agent with the Sioux tribe at Wolf Creek and became one of Bozeman’s first aldermen. In 1877, he bought Bozeman’s Avant Courier and made it a Republican newspaper. His daughter-in-law, Mary Alderson, became a leading Montana suffragist and prohibition advocate.
  • Babcock Street — Carpenter William H. Babcock came to Bozeman in 1864 from San Francisco and became a rich man here, as Smith reported. He and partner Will Davis built an elegant house called “the Castle,” now gone, at North Church Avenue and Davis Street. Babcock took over as the architect overseeing construction of the ornate Bozeman Opera House in 1888.
  • Beall Street — William J. Beall was selling potatoes to gold miners in Virginia City when he first met John Bozeman and Daniel Rouse. The three came up with a plan to start a town in the rich farmland of the Gallatin Valley, to make money feeding and selling supplies to miners instead of struggling to find gold. When Alderson arrived in July 1864, there were no log homes to mark the future city, just a small tent made from a wagon cover, occupied by the “lonesome” Beall. He staked out a homestead northwest of Main Street and Bozeman Avenue and in 1864 finished the first log home in Bozeman, on the site of the Carnegie building. In 1866 Beall contracted to build the first church in town and in 1869 built the first school for $500. His wife, Rosa Beall, was the first white woman settler in Bozeman.
  • Black Avenue — Leander Black was a leading businessman who came from Kentucky. Black became a partner with Achilles Lamme of Missouri in one of the town’s general stores, a Southern-leaning rival to the Northern-leaning store owned by former Union Army officer Lester Willson. Black and three partners started the First National Bank of Bozeman in 1872. Black and former partner Nelson Story, who despised each other, were investigated for unscrupulous dealings on the Crow reservation, but neither was indicted.
  • Bozeman Avenue – Handsome, charismatic John Bozeman abandoned his family in Georgia to seek his fortune in the West, just as his father had done during the California gold rush. A risk-taker, Bozeman led wagon trains to Virginia City on a shortcut through Indian territory, violating treaties. He and his friends founded the town, figuring it was easier to make money fleecing newcomers than digging for gold. He liked to gamble and pick fights with Yankees. Bozeman’s mysterious killing in 1867 at age 32 was blamed on Indians, but suspicions linger to this day that he was murdered, perhaps by a jealous husband. The killing of “Col.” Bozeman set off a panic, which pressured the Army to establish Fort Ellis to protect settlers. Indians never attacked, but the fort proved financially beneficial – a federal stimulus – that helped Bozeman’s fledgling town survive.
  • Dickerson Street – John Dickerson never lived in Bozeman, according to Smith. He was a journalist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, who visited the area several times to publicize the Northern Pacific Railroad. The railroad’s arrival in 1883 was a major event ensuring the town’s survival. The railroad was so important, the town named Villard Street in honor of the NP’s president, Henry Villard, a former Civil War correspondent.

    Thinking the railroad would spark Bozeman’s growth, Dickerson joined with Nelson Story and gunsmith Walter Cooper in 1883 in platting the Park Addition, a new subdivision that included Cooper Park, the city’s first park.
  • Durston Road – John Durston had a degree from Yale, a doctorate from the University of Heidelberg and headed the classical languages department at Syracuse University before becoming editor of a Syracuse newspaper. In 1889, Montana copper king Marcus Daly hired him to be editor of the Anaconda Standard. Durston invested in real estate in Bozeman and may have had a home on his namesake road.
  • Kagy Boulevard – John and Mary Kagy of Illinois came out in 1879 and farmed at the east end of the boulevard. John was assistant agent to the Crow reservation. Smith reports the east end of the road was once the local Lovers Lane.
  • Koch Street – Peter Koch, an emigrant from Denmark, arrived in the Montana frontier in 1869, seeking his fortune. He started as a lowly woodcutter and Fort Ellis clerk and rose to become a respected bank cashier. Koch was one of the most influential directors of the new Montana Agricultural College, who fought for a broad education for students, including the arts and literature. His diaries and letters captured wild West stories of gunfights with Indians, hunting bison and wolves, and early Bozeman history. As Kim Allen Scott, who edited his letters, says, “Bozeman left his name, Story left a legend, but Koch left a university.”
  • Lindley Place – Joseph Lindley was a farmer and cattle rancher, drove freight and dealt in real estate. He had a famous fight over water with Nelson Story, who tried to dam Bozeman Creek to serve his mill and ended up flooding Lindley’s land, Smith recounted. Lindley posted notes downtown attacking Story, who dumped water on Lindley’s head and chased him down Main Street, trying to cane-whip him. Lindley escaped, running in the front door of Phillips store and out the back.
  • Mendenhall Street – John “Jack” Mendenhall was elected Gallatin County’s first sheriff in 1865. He also opened Bozeman’s first saloon at 27 E. Main St. Ironically, the street named for the first sheriff runs right by the two-story law office at 234 E. Mendenhall St. that was once the city’s best little whorehouse.
  • Rouse Avenue – Daniel Elliott Rouse was one of the town’s original founders, with John Bozeman and William Beall. Rouse built some of the first cabins and hotels, farmed and freighted goods from Salt Lake City to Virginia City. Nearby streets are named after his daughter Ida and son Wallace.
  • Story Street – Nelson Story was Bozeman’s richest man. He made a fortune finding gold in Virginia City, which he hid in his coat and brought to New York to fetch a higher price. With that, he bought cattle in Texas and made a legendary, high-risk cattle drive to Montana, which later inspired Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Lonesome Dove.” Story ran cattle, launched one of Bozeman’s first banks, owned a flour mill and donated land to start the Montana Agricultural College. Story also invested in Kitty Warren’s whorehouse on Mendenhall Street, and he was investigated for selling rotten meat to the Crow Indian agency.
  • Tracy Avenue – William Tracy started a brickworks in the 1870s, which produced the bricks that allowed more substantial buildings to be constructed, giving the town “an air of permanence,” Smith wrote. Tracy was also involved in selling real estate, hauling freight and serving on the board of the Bozeman National Bank. He was one of the first city aldermen in 1883.
  • Willson Avenue – Lester Willson, a New Yorker, enlisted as a private in the Union Army, rose to the rank of colonel and served with Gen. Tecumseh Sherman on his famous march of destruction through Georgia. After the war everyone called him “general.” In 1865, he took Horace Greeley’s advice to “Go West, young man.” Willson and his partners started Bozeman’s first general store in a tent, and he operated a store at 204 E. Main St. until 1919. When Willson died at age 79 in 1919, his funeral was the largest the town had ever seen. Central Avenue was renamed in his honor.

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