Ever Wonder How Billings MT Got Its Name?

How Billings Got Its Name? - Pin on Billings, MT on a map
Matt Claiborne
Matt Claiborne
October 1, 2021

Ever wonder how Billings MT got its name? Well, here's the whole story and fascinating history of Billings' name.

Billings' Early History

Current Billings City Shot

Many areas in Montana are named after their historical names or nearby landmarks. The Crow people have lived here for hundreds of years, and their name for the area was Ammalapáshkuua. Roughly translated, this meant "where they cut wood." Other tribes had similar names, all stemming, logically, from the nearby sawmill.

Evidence from nearby pictographs and archeological digs has shown that the area was occupied as far back as 2,600 BC. The Crow has been known to be here since about 1700 AD. The present-day Crow Nation is just south of town.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition passed through the area in 1806. William Clark named Pompy's Tower, a rock formation just outside of Billings, which was proclaimed a national monument in 2001.

Before Billings, there was Clark's Fork Bottom. This was a hub in the Montana Territory for freight traveling through the area. But the first real town in the area was Coulson. Coulson had a sawmill and a general store. Goods arrived and departed down by paddle riverboat. Coulson was a pretty rough Wild West sort of place, with saloons, dance halls, and mountain men.

The Railroad Comes to Billings

Train in the Pacific Railway

The Northern Pacific Railway wound up passing two miles west of Coulson. A new town was built there, named after the president of the railroad, Frederick H. Billings. The city was officially founded in 1882.

Like many towns along the tracks, the city was built as a railhead to support the rail line's further expansion west. Billings boomed and seemed to grow up overnight, earning it the nickname "Magic City."

The town of Coulson, which had been built on the river to support steamboat traffic on the Yellowstone River, was more or less ignored. Billings continued to grow, and Coulson faded into history. However, it is still remembered by Coulson Park on the bank of the river--right where the town once was.

Frederick Billings

Frederick Billings' portrait drawing

The man who was honored with a town in his name never actually lived here. He was a financier, politician, and lawyer from Vermont!

Billings moved to California in 1848 during the gold rush. While he didn't seek gold, he found fortune working as a lawyer for those who did. He was a millionaire by the age of 30.

Returning to Vermont in the 1860s, Billings served on the Board of Directors for several big companies. He also began investing in railroads, including the Northern Pacific Railway. He served as the company's president from 1879 to 1881.

Even though Billings never lived in "his" town, he gave large amounts of financial support to its development. His oldest son, Parmly, did live here.


There's always more to a story than meets the eye. Frederick Billings, a man from Vermont, was pivotal in this town's development from a Wild West outpost to the bustling city that you find here today. Now, there are plenty of family-friendly activities in Billings MT, plus gorgeous scenery and those legendary big skies. So come visit and see what all the fuss is about!

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