John Baronett, also known as Yellowstone Jack, built the first bridge over the Yellowstone River near Tower Junction in the summer of 1871.
He was looking to profit by charging miners a toll as they attempted to reach the mining district around what is now Cooke City.
Baronett was quite the character. Born in Scotland, he explored the world before arriving in the United States. After serving in the Civil War as a Confederate scout, he set out in 1864 on a prospecting trip to what would become Montana.
It was Baronett, along with George Pritchett, who found Truman Everts in 1870 after he became lost while riding with a group from Helena that was exploring what would become Yellowstone National Park. Everts was lost for 37 days before being found starving and half crazed.
The bridge was partially destroyed by the Nez Perce in 1877 as they tried to block their pursuers, the U.S. Army. During the tribe’s historic flight from Idaho to northern Montana Baronett served as an Army scout, a role he had also reportedly served for Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer in 1868, nine years before his death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Baronett later guided other groups through the park, including President Chester A. Arthur in 1883. In 1885 he was reportedly named an assistant park superintendent.
According to a 1972 Billings Gazette article, Baronett said the bridge cost him $15,000 to build, and that the government paid him only $5,000 for the structure.
With modifications the bridge was used through 1903 before being torn down in 1911.
Baronett died at age 77 in a Livingston hospital in 1906.
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