As you cruise by Southside Lions Park or Sentinel High School in Missoula on one of the city’s well-known streets you might think of him.
He was a Civil War veteran, a native of New Hampshire who found his way to Missoula County in 1869. Nearly broke, he and two traveling companions barely made it through that first winter.
In March of the following year, the three got a contract to build a cabin for a Frenchman and figured their luck had changed. But it only got worse.
While on the job, William E. Bancroft (the namesake of Bancroft Street) became snow-blind, unable to see for a month. Another of the trio became sick, and the third fell off a log and broke his leg.
Bancroft took a variety of jobs to get back on his feet. By 1886, he was able to buy a steam-powered sawmill, “sawing the greater part of the wood used for fuel in the city.” Soon, he was able to build a nice home and acquire other properties in town.
A decade later, Bancroft was nearly killed when he was run over by a hack (taxi) while crossing a downtown street at night. “He was struck by one of the horses and knocked to the ground,” reported the local paper.
As a wheel rolled over his chest, he was able to grab hold of a spoke and “slid along like a sleigh runner” on the icy street. Amazingly, he escaped virtually uninjured.
Over the years, the self-described “straight out-and-out Democrat” served as county assessor and as city marshal. He was a Master Mason and member of the Odd Fellows.
Another young fellow, whose name can be found on one of Missoula’s “Slant Streets,” arrived in the Garden City in 1884.
Walter M. Bickford was a Maine native who practiced law in Pennsylvania and Colorado before moving to Missoula at age 32.
Bickford was driven. In a span of four years, he became a celebrated name in Missoula in both mining and real estate.
“He was elected to the Territorial Council, from Missoula County (and) also served his county in the constitutional convention of 1890,” according to his autobiography in Joaquin Miller’s Illustrated History of The State of Montana.
He and his wife, the former Miss Emma Woodford, a grandniece of President Fillmore, became prominent in Missoula society.
Newspaper accounts reported Mrs. Bickford routinely hosted “fashionable social functions” at their “palatial residence in South Missoula.” One “musicale” featured Professor Steele’s orchestra and 75 “leading society ladies of the city and Fort Missoula.”
One of Missoula’s relatively newer streets takes you to Costco and Lowe’s, westward past the Grant Creek Town Center and eventually to Flynn Lane.
Back in the earliest days of Missoula’s history that was farm country and England Boulevard bears the name of one of the area’s most successful farmers, Abner G. England.
Born in Lawrence County, Illinois, he was only 7 years old when his mother died. Abner was sent to live with a nearby farm family – his introduction to agriculture.
As a young adult, he rented farm land, conserved his money and eventually joined a wagon train to the gold fields of California. There, he went through what he described as “the usual life of a miner – sometimes lucky, sometimes broke.”
In 1864, England moved to Missoula where he returned to his roots, renting some farmland. His timing was perfect.
“Although the crops were small that year, prices were high,” he said. Wheat went for $7.50 per bushel and potatoes as high as 10 cents per pound. He cleared a remarkable $4,000.
Over the years, he acquired considerable farmland “about four miles … from Missoula City,” and was praised in the Rocky Mountain Husbandman newspaper as “an example of what good cultivation will accomplish.”
He also raised cattle. In a newspaper bragging contest, the Butte Miner claimed the biggest steer ever brought to slaughter in Montana was a 1,200-pounder. The Madisonian reported a 1,392-pounder and the Courierclaimed one weighing 50 pounds more.
But the Missoulian outdid them all, citing Abner England’s 1,475-pound steer brought into H. C. Meyers & Company. “Twelve and thirteen hundred pound steers may be considered very fair beeves in Silver Bow, Madison and Meagher counties, but they are altogether too light muscled, gentlemen, to lock horns with Missoula County.”
In 1873, well-established in farming, England married Miss Mary Cosins. He began investing in various local enterprises. He was one of the organizers and stockholders of the First National Bank of Missoula, eventually serving as its vice president.
By 1891, Rand McNally’s Banker’s Monthly magazine called Abner England “one of the wealthiest farmers of (the) region.”
So many streets, so many stories. Perhaps another chapter, one day soon.
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at email@example.com.