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Lester Willson…by Jackie


Lester Sebastian Willson is an important historical figure in the Bozeman community.  He first came to Bozeman in 1867, two years after being disbanded from the Union Army.  He had joined the Union Army in 1861 as a private.

During the Civil War he was wounded and was then sent to a hospital to get well.  There he met Emma Weeks.  She was there to sing to the wounded soldiers as she often did.

Soon after he left the hospital he went to Horace Greely to tell him of his plans to go west.  Mr. Greely proceeded to call him a “damn fool”!

After Willson migrated to Bozeman, Montana, he and Charles Rich started a freight service between Bozeman and Helena.  Then he started a general mercantile business on Main Street.

Later on he decided to go back to New York.  There he married the girl he’d met at the hospital, Emma Weeks.  Then Lester, in the company of Emma, came back to Bozeman, Montana by covered wagon from North Dakota.  With them they brought the first grand piano that Bozeman had ever seen!  Then, after their trip, they settled down in a log cabin on Main Street.

After that, in 1872, the Lord and Lady of England came to the Bozeman area.  They were on a World Sightseeing Tour to see the “wonderland of geysers”.  While they visited the geysers they stayed at Willson’s log cabin.  Then something tragic happened, Lady Blackmore became ill.  Shortly after she became ill, she died.  Lord Blackmore then purchased five acres and buried his wife on it.  The five acres were then turned into a cemetery for Bozeman.  It was his way of saying thank you to the Bozeman community for the kindness they had received.

Lester and Emma then went on to have three children.  All of the children were boys.  Only one boy grew up to maturity.  The other two died, one at age thirteen and the other soon after birth.  The remaining child’s name was Fred.

Then after many years with his wife and child, death came to take Lester away.  He died of arteriosclerosis on January 26, 1919.  He was then buried at Sunset Hills Cemetery on January 28, 1919.  He had lived to the age of 70 and had been born on June 16, 1839 in Canton, New York.  Lester Sebastian Willson was, and is, a special man.



Information gathered at:

Pioneer Museum Archives

-Untitled document provided by: Pioneer Museum Archives

-Grave Registration Form for Mr. Lester Willson

-Document by Virginia Kippen (daughter of Fred Willson) for Montana Ghost Towns Conference, Bozeman, MT. Sept. 8, 1990.


I went to the Pioneer Museum Archives to research Lester Willson.


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