History: Bighorn Mountains Toll Road

February 24, 2024

News – Sheridan Media


Although they are mostly associated with modern day cities and states, toll roads have been around for thousands of years. In the seventh century, B.C. the Susa-Babylon highway, under the regime of Ashurbanipal, charged a toll for travelers to use the road. In parts of Asia and India in the fourth century BC, tolls were also charged.

During the Middle Ages, tolls were charged in Europe and in the Roman Empire. Some roads offered protection in exchange for the traveler paying the toll.

However, we don’t see toll roads today Wyoming, it is one of a handful of states that does not have a toll road. However, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, Sheridan County once had a toll road, that went across the Bighorn Mountains into the Big Horn Basin country. And planning on it began 132 years ago this month.

This from The Enterprise, February 27, 1892 – Everything indicates that there will be lively times in the Bald Mountain mining region this summer. The Fortunatus Mining and Milling Co., with a capital stock of $2,000,000 and headquarters at Albany N.Y.,is taking active steps toward developing their claims in the mountains.

The following are extracts from a letter received by E. E. E Lonabaugh from H. H. Hawkins, secretary of the company. Work has been carried on all winter on the road referred to: My Dear Sir! In accordance with my statements to the officers of the toll road company and my former letters to you, our company has decided to subscribe $250 for the stock in the toll road. I enclose a draft for that amount in full instead of making the successive payments, in order that you may have the entire amount for present work. We hope you are pushing the construction of the road so that it may be ready for use in early spring. Please make out the certificate of stock to Thomas O. Murry, treasurer and trustee. I had hoped to send you this before, but as you are doubtless aware it taken some time for a company like ours to get into working order. We may think best to take more stock when we get up there in the spring.

Kindly write me what the contractors have already done on the road and the financial scheme of the company which has its charge, that I may show it to our director. They may decide to put more into it at once.

Our company is making progress slowly but surely. We have ordered a complete amalgamating plant that is ready for shipment by the first of May. We are also negotiating with the railroads for delivery. I have been busy for the last week getting the certificates of stock for the stockholders in Wyoming and am only working to have them properly registered at the bank before sending them. I expect to get them out in a day or two.

Not everyone seemed to be in favor of the road, however,

This was in The Enterprise on April 9, 1892 – Toll Road. Finding it impossible for the county to build a wagon road across the mountains to Bald Mountain and the Basin country without taxing the people to heavy and using all the means of the county for the next two or three years, etc. Again: The more liberal citizens have subscribed to this road from 5 to25 shares at $10 each. Again: Unless the road is built and kept up by the road company, some person who will make loud and profusions of great love for the “poor grainger” will bob up serenely and try to get the county to make a county road to the Bald Mountain, and then the “poor” grainger will have to pay the heaviest tax possible for the next five years.

I am the poor granger’s friend mentioned. Yes, we did bob up and ask the commissioners to grant a county road to Bald Mountain, backed by a petition signed by the citizens of Sheridan county to the number of 38, all secured in about an hour and many of them mine owners, and that petition backed by anaffidavit of well known citizens and large owners of mines in the Bald mountain district, viz: J, M. Goodnight and James H. Buckley, and which affidavit contained this statement; And that said route is a practical route, and that on said route a traveled road over which wagons passed during the summer of 1891.

And the reason why this matter was rushed in such a hurry, was that said toll road company had filed a petition for the establishing of toll rates for the route, which when once established could not be changed for two years, of which rates the following is a true copy 1st division, $2.50; 2nd division, $1.25 3rd district, $1.25 (to Bald mountains $5.00 only one way) 4th district $2.50 to the Basin for team and wagon.

And for second reason: That said corporation was claiming a part of their route a portion of the traveled route which the miners had made long before the toll road was formed, and meant to seize the only practical pass at or near the head of Tongue River and to thus completely monopolize the route to Bald Mountain; and thus prevent the poor grainger to pay tribute for 20 years to come at the above rates (unless at the end of two years the commissioner could lower them;) but we bobbed up and stopped their little games and the commissioners declared the route as made and traveled by the miners of Bald Mountain as asked for in the petition from Farnham Mill to Bald Mountain a county road. For want of space I can’t answer further this week. – W. W. J. Stover.

Merchants in Sheridan hoped that the road would bring them business from the Big Horn Basin country. This from The Enterprise, October 24, 1891 – New Companies That Will Help to Build Up Sheridan County. Articles of incorporation of the following named companies were filed in the office of the county clerk yesterday by E. E. Lonabaugh attorney. The Sheridan, Bald Mountain mid Big Horn Basin Toll Road Co.; Capital stork $5,000. into 500 shares of $10 each.

The Elkhorn Irrigation Co.; capital stock $60,000.00, divided into 250 shars of the par value of $200.00 each. The former company will construct a toll road from Sheridan to the Big Horn Basin, across the mountains, by way of Bald Mountain City, and will open up and develop the mining and timber country between this point and Bald Mountain, and will also secure to the merchants of Sheridan a large share of the trade of the basin people who now go to Billings, Montana. This trade is estimated at $50,000.00 per annum, and as the B&M Railroad will be here by the time the toll road is completed and we can easily secure that trade, as we can compete with Billings in prices and will also have 100 miles the best of it in distance, the Basin people now traveling one hundred and sixty miles to Billings, where they will have but sixty miles by the proposed road.

As soon as this enterprise is finished and the Burlington reaches here direct mail communication will be had between Sheridan and all that country on the western slope of the Big Horn Mountains, thus bringing them in close in business and social relations with us.

The books of the company are now open for subscriptions to the capital stock, at the office of Stover & Lonabaugh. The Elkhorn Irrigation Co. will construct a ditch from Tongue river in this county, southeast, crossing Little Tongue river, Wolf creek, Dry creek No. 1, Dry creek No.2, and Soldier Creek, and watering the valleys of these streams and the divides between them, including the divide between Sheridan and Soldier creek, just, north of town, and reclaiming 30,000 acres. Both these companies will materially aid in the development of the natural resources of Sheridan County and the permanent growth of Sheridan and should receive the active and substantial support of our people.

The Sheridan Post, August 27, 1891

This from The Enterprise, August 26, 1893, talking about the scenery along the road, and the appeal to tourists –Visiting the Toll Road. Last Sunday morning Messrs. E. A. Whitney, J.B. Moore, and J.D. Adams, drove up the Big Goose Creek valley and paid their respects to the Bald Mountain Toll Road. The party succeeded in getting their wagon to a point up the mountain very close to the point of rocks (Fairview Point) at the head of the Soldier Creek canyon, but farther than this no vehicle can go at present. The builders of the road claim that some material changes will soon be made, so the grade will average about ten feet all the way up the mountain. This would give people an easy method to reach the Bald Mountain gold fields from Sheridan and be of incalculable benefit to our city. The view over the valley from Fairview Point cannot be excelled from any part of the mountain and will prove a very attractive spot to tourists during the coming season.

Bald Mountain City gold rush only lasted until 1900, when it was discovered that the gold was too small and fine for a mining operation. The toll road was in operation until about 1910, however the tolls were not charged in the later years of the road.

Today, modern paved highways cross the Bighorn Mountains, 16 from Buffalo to Worland, 14A from Sheridan to Lovell and from 14 from Sheridan to Greybull. But enterprising men constructed a toll road up the mountain 132 years ago.


Last modified: February 24, 2024

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