Yankee Jim

Yellowstone Trail

Yankee Jim

Yankee Jimís cabin
National Park Service

Yankee Jim

James “Yankee Jim” George was a squatter and an early road builder in Montana.  Originally hailing from the East, Yankee Jim headed west when, in his own words, he “left home on the toe of his father’s boot.” (Whithorn, 13)  In November 1871, Yankee Jim seized an opportunity to settle on the newly built wagon road from Bozeman, Montana to Mammoth Hot Springs located within today’s Yellowstone National Park boundary.  It was a fortunate land grab.  Just four months after Yankee Jim claimed his plot of land, Yellowstone was designated America’s first National Park.

Settling in a canyon near the park boundary, Yankee Jim built a cabin on the only road leading into the park from the north.  For the next year and a half, Jim made improvements to the rough wagon road, expanding it and clearing out rocks that would slide onto the road after the spring thaws.  Yankee Jim also built an addition to his modest cabin—a way station for the accommodation of travelers and, more significantly, a crude gate across the road that he would use to stop those travelers and charge a toll.  In July 1873, Yankee Jim announced the completion of the National Park Toll Road.  It was open for business.

Yankee Jim ran the National Park Toll Road for the next twenty years, maintaining the road, feeding and lodging travelers, and charging his toll, which some said was changeable with Jim’s temper. (Whithorn, 13)  However, business was not always brisk.  After ten years of working his road, the Northern Pacific railroad infringed upon Yankee Jim’s property with plans to lay its rails to the Park, in places appropriating Jim’s road and forcing detours for those taking Jim’s route.  Yankee Jim briefly scared the first railroad construction crews away with threats and a shotgun, but his success was short-lived.  Yankee Jim lost his battle with modern technology, and the railroad severely lowered his toll business.  In September 1893, ten years after the Northern Pacific ran through Jim’s canyon, Yankee Jim sold his road to Park County for the sum of $1000.

Yankee Jim continued to offer food and lodging to weary tourists for the next 27 years, providing victuals, rest, and an unending string of tall tales about his pioneer exploits; but by 1920, Yankee Jim was scarcely able to care for himself.  His younger brother was summoned to negotiate the sale of Jim’s land, and immediately thereafter Yankee Jim left his canyon to live the last four years of his life with relatives.  Yankee Jim may be gone, but he is not forgotten.  Today travelers driving Highway 89 between the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park and Livingston, Montana have a constant reminder of Jim’s presence.  The highway takes them through the aptly named Yankee Jim Canyon.

Link to illustration of Yankee Jimís road and the Yellowstone Trail on modern map.

Whithorn, Doris. Yankee Jim’s National Park Toll Road and the Yellowstone Trail. Privately printed, 1989.

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