The First Gateway to Yellowstone


Historic Cinnabar

Cinnabar, circa 1901




I am going to tell you a story about a Montana town that existed for a short time and then in a flash it disappeared.  No, this is not a ghost story.  This is the story of a town called Cinnabar, Montana.  It was a few miles north of Gardiner, Montana.  It is also not the story of a ghost town because, unlike most ghost towns, there are no buildings there to investigate or to restore.  None of the buildings of Cinnabar are in existence today.

My sources of information are from Geyser Bob’s Yellowstone, the National Park Service and Yellowstone Insider.  While the information varies a bit from source to source, I have attempted to combine those sources and hopefully come up with a version of the truth about Cinnabar.  They all agree that the town did exist and now has disappeared.  The above photo is courtesy of the National Park Service.

So – off to Cinnabar we go.

Abel Bart Henderson began prospecting around Yellowstone in 1867.  In 1871 he began building a road from Bottler’s Ranch near Emigrant to what is now Mammoth Hot Springs.  He was able to acquire land around Stevens Creek and he and his brothers established a ranch there in 1877.  On November 19, 1883 George Huston and Joe Kenney purchased 116.45 acres of the Henderson Ranch at Stephens Creek.    Later that year they resold the property to Carroll T. Hobart who was a superintendent for the Northern Pacific Railroad.  Mr. Hobart,  it turns out, was also the manager of the Yellowstone Park Improvement Company.

After the sale to Mr. Hobart was completes a plat map was created and the site became the location for was to become the town of Cinnabar.  The town was incorporated in 1895 by J. D. Finn, H. J. Hoppe and A. J. Campbell.

The railroads first choice was to bring the railroad into Gardiner but there was a dispute with a Mr. Buckskin Jim Cutler over the land and some mining claims.  They  decided  to go elsewhere in the area and construction on the Norther Pacific’s Park Branch Line began in April of 1883 from Livingston to Cinnabar.

In 1882 the Cinnabar post office was established in anticipation of the arrival of the railroad.  A small depot was build and provided basic services to the visitors arriving to see Yellowstone.

Beginning in 1884 during the summer season (June to mid September) trains ran daily for Livingston to Cinnabar providing transportation for tourists to and from Yellowstone.  During the off seasons trains ran to Cinnabar one to three days a week depending on the demand.

Businesses began to appear in Cinnabar to take advantage of the tourist business.  Some of those business were:

In 1885 Hugo J. Hoppe had constructed a crude log establishment that became known at the Cinnabar Hotel.   Prior to the opening of this hotel the Northern Pacific RR had a pair of sleeper cars and a dining car stationed at Cinnabar for Yellowstone travelers to use.  The log cabin that was the original Cinnabar Hotel was rebuilt/replaced in 1889 probably by Joe Keeney who had assumed ownership. The known owners of the hotel were listed as Hugo Hoppe Walter M.Hoppe, Joe Keeney, M. T. Williams, W. A. Hall and finally George Hoppe.  As you can easily see, ownership/management of the hotel frequently changed hands.

Lee B Hoppe, Hugo’s son, operated the Cinnabar Store which was billed at the only store in town.

Joe Keeney ran a couple of saloons and a boarding house.

J. Loughlin and F.R. Brazil operated a restaurant and saloon

A. Hall operated the Golden RuleCash Store beginning is 1892. The store housed a general store, a beer hall and a restaurant. He closed this store and moved his stock to Gardiner in 1903 when the railroad continued on to Gardiner

M. Hefferin of Livingston operated the OK Store.

Larry Link ran a saloon and pool hall with Alfred R. Christie.

Early & Holmes had a livery, feed and sale horses.

W. Wylie maintained a barn and livery for his equipment to transport visitors into the Park.

Shaw & Powell arranged camping trips into the park from the depot and certainly had facilities in the area.

These are just some of the business enterprises that sprung up in Cinnabar.

The existence of Cinnabar depended entirely on the train and everyone was well aware of that fact.  When the dispute with Buckskin Jim was resolved in 1902 the railroad was able to finally enter Gardiner, which had been their primary location all along. This spelled doom for the little town of Cinnabar.  On May 3 1903 Cinnabar was no longer a rail stop.  On June 15, 1903 the post office closed.  The original depot building was loaded on the train and moved to Gardiner where it was used as the freight depot.

An effort was made to change the name of Gardiner to Cinnabar but this met with swift and stiff objections from the residents of Gardiner and so the name Cinnabar was destined to fade away.  Many of the buildings from the town were moved to Gardiner while others were transported to Horr, Montana.  Those buildings that were not moved were left to decay and, over time,  Mother Nature reclaimed her own.

There will be a later post about the archaeological dig that took place at the site of the town of Cinnabar as well as one about some of the notable residents (dare I say characters) that were the residents of Cinnabar.

When one thinks about ghost towns we tend to envision vacant buildings that we can explore.  This is not the case with Cinnabar.  All that you will find there are indentations in the ground that are believed to be the locations of some of the various businesses.

The National Park Service was scheduled to mark the locations of those indentations, cover them over and then re-seed the area with native grasses and vegetation to help the antelope.  I am assuming that this plan was carried out though I have not been there to check and see.