Ironically, considering our desert climate and dry surface terrain, water aplenty lies in the gravel substrata of the benches below Heart Mountain on its southeast side, seldom making it to the …
Ironically, considering our desert climate and dry surface terrain, water aplenty lies in the gravel substrata of the benches below Heart Mountain on its southeast side, seldom making it to the surface, but there for the taking if you wanted to dig down to it. Which the homesteaders did when they arrived, and we still do.
Before that, people and animals relied on the seasonal creeks and the springs that bubbled up in places along their routes. One of these was Eaglenest Creek (variously called Eagles Nest or Eaglesnest) which carried spring runoff from Heart Mountain to the Shoshone River.
While it was seasonal then, its bed wandered through an often deep cut, bordered by grasses and clusters of high sagebrush, which made excellent wildlife habitat and camp sites.
We played down there as kids on property which included a cluster of springs adjacent to the creek. Right up until the 1970s, there were several sets of tipi rings still in place. What kid playing cowboys and Indians could ask for more!
But wait — we had more. Across the creek stood a log and dirt tower that loomed far above our heads yet was easily climbed and stable enough, being set into the side of the cut. We pretended it was a fort. Many years later, when I consulted records at the courthouse, I discovered its true purpose — as an abutment for an earth-fill dam. The rest of the structure had washed away.
The dam’s story began when Thomas Lanchbury, an employee of Bell Stage and Freight Lines out of Red Lodge, was hired to build a stage station somewhere near Eaglenest Springs.
“Perfect or darn near,” he probably said after riding into the cut and seeing how it narrowed close to the springs. Maybe the creek was seasonal, but snowmelt and ground water from the springs would keep a reservoir filled.
Getting the timber for home, station, and corrals — not to mention for the necessary abutments of the earth-fill dam — would be the problem. Presumably, Bell paid.
One way or the other, the resulting reservoir held enough water to do a bit of farming and provide water for livestock and household. And, while the dam washed away long before I first saw the site, that one abutment remained, a testimony to Tom’s hard work.
Remember we’re talking about 1893, when people came by wagon and horse and 15 years before Powell saw its early days — a decade-plus before it was even a glimmer in some Bureau of Reclamation engineer’s eyes.
Did people like Tom Lanchbury see what was coming? I’m betting they had a fair idea, it being no secret that various special interests had their eye on the valley. But in the meantime, they struggled to eke out a livelihood.
Stage station and social center
Not long ago you could read all about it on a highway marker on U.S. Highway 14-A heading for Cody, just before the turn to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, but bulldozers cleared that out to make way for the four-lane. Here’s part of what the state historian wrote for the marker:
“... The Eagle’s Nest Stage Station was the midway point on the run between Red Lodge, Montana, and Meeteetse, Wyoming. Stages pulled by four and six-horse teams traveled 60 to 80 miles in a day, changing teams every 15 to 20 miles. Mrs. Emma Lanchbury provided meals for stage travelers. For 25 cents, passengers arriving at Eagle’s Nest Station could purchase a hearty meal served on a properly set table with a white linen tablecloth. The customary charge for supper, one night’s lodging, and breakfast was $1.”
The state historian goes on to tell us about the variety of other people who used the stage stop as a place to gather, socialize, and exchange gossip. Tom and Emma added large corrals and the first sheep dipping facility in the area, which meant more activity. Herds came from as far away as Montana. No wonder a fiddler would play on many Saturday nights, the young making matches, their parents and older siblings momentarily forgetting their hard lives.
Even after the railroad arrived in 1900 and the wagon freight and stage lines went out of business, people continued congregating at the Lanchbury’s. The Lincoln Land Company was selling lots in the nearby railway community of Ralston, but, the state historian said, “the Eagle’s Nest Station remained an important way station for local sheep and cattlemen”
“When the Powell Valley was opened for homesteading, survey partiers were headquartered there,” the marker continues. “Following Thomas Lanchbury’s death in 1916, Eagle’s Nest was taken over by his son, Samuel Moore Lanchbury. Samuel Lanchbury combined his adjacent homestead with the land occupied by the Eagle’s Nest Stage Station to form the Eagle’s Nest Ranch.”
Stop and consider
All something to think about next time you drive to Cody. After the Badger Basin road and as you’re approaching the Garland Canal bridge (before the two trees at the turn to the Relocation Center) glance to your right and you’ll see where Eaglenest Creek forms a broad break in the bench. Then, let your imagination take you back to the journeys and lives of early peoples and later travelers, to the way it was ... before.