An Introduction to Winifred History

The Winifred Area saw its share of colorful history comprising of trappers, traders, Indians, Indian Councils, steamboat days, outlaws, cattle drives, settlers, homesteaders and hearty businessmen.

The construction of Fort F.A. Chadron was completed in 1843.  This was the beginning of Indian trade, trapping and hunting of the buffalo in this area.

One of the largest Indian Councils ever held took place in 1855.  The location of the Council was across the Missouri River from the mouth of Dog Creek.

1860 saw the beginning of steamboat travel on the Missouri.  By 1880 the steamboat days were all but history.

The first military post in Montana, Camp Cooke, was established in 1866.  Camp Cooke, located at the mouth of the Judith River, saw a very short life before being abandoned in 1870.  Fort Claggett followed the construction of Camp Cooke in 1869.  It continued to serve as a trading post for many years.

The fall of 1877 saw the passing of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians on their flight to Canada.  They travelled down Dog Creek to about where Winifred now stands, then took an Easterly direction to the Cow Island Crossing.  A brief skirmish took place at this location before they continued on North.

The U.S. Government land survey records at 1884 reveal a scattering of settlers throughout the area.  Some of these were G.R. Norris, mouth of the Judith River; Jacob L. Gjerde, Winifred area; William T. Swope, East of Suffolk and John Brooks, West of Suffolk.

James and Andrew Fergus had arrived at the Armells Ranch the summer of 1880 and was ranging a vast area including the Dog Creek-Armells drainages.  This was soon to come to an end as squatters started moving in during the 1880s and early 1890s. However, the great influx of people to this area was not seen until about 1910.

The town of Winifred was established in 1913.  An article in the Winifred Times, dated January 16, 1914 reads, "Milwaukee Railroad carrying passengers the last few trips."  It is believed the railroad arrived in Winifred late in 1913.


The Early Forts

Fort Chadron

Fort F.A. Chadron was built opposite the mouth of the Judith River on the north bank of the Missouri River in 1843.  It was a log structure built by Francois A. Chadron and Alexander Harvey, agents of the American Fur Company.

Chadron and Harvey built this fort after abandoning Fort McKenzie due to lack of trade with the Blackfoot Indians, the reason being an incident which led to the Blackfoot hatred traveled downriver with new location, precluding the success of this post also. Chadron was replaced by Alexander Culbertson, a kindly trader married to an Indian woman who was a great help in trading with the Indians.  It was decided to abandon and burn Fort Chadron and build Fort Lewis on a new located better situated for carrying on trade with the Indians.

Camp Cooke

Camp Cooke, located on the west bank of the mouth of the Judith Infantry Battalion on May 19, 1866.  Camp (Fort) Cooke
was the first military post to be built in Montana, the purpose being to provide protection to river traffic and settlers in the
area.  The 31st day of March, 1870, saw the end of Camp Cooke.  The old site of Camp Cooke is presently eroding away the Judith Channel continues to meander to the west.

Fort Claggett

Powers built this trading post to serve the soldiers garrisoned at Camp Cooke and possible get some steamboat trade. Steamboat traffic had reached a peak by 1867 and was showing a decline by 1869.  With the closing of Camp Cooke in 1870 it
become quite apparent that Fort Claggett was located in the wrong spot.  Fort Claggett, mostly named after William H. Claggett, who owned land in the area and at the time was a delegate to the U.S. Congress, was soon destined to be moved.

The new Fort Claggett was moved by Powers in 1872 to a point about one-quarter of a mile below the mouth of the Judith River. On June 14th, 1872, the Claggett Post Office was established with Abel Quintance as postmaster.  This post office In about 1878, a large stone warehouse and trading post was built by T.C. Power and named Judith Landing.  The remains of this old building are still standing and it was used as a barn at the PN Ranch for many years.  A part of the warehouse was washed away by the Judith River as it changed channels.

Fort Claggett served as an Indian trading post, trading post to Camp Cooke, steamboat stop, stockman and rancher post and probably served as a garrison to military troops after the abandonment of Camp Cooke.


The Birth of the Town on the Hill above Dog Creek

Winifred has existed as a community and Post Office since 1913.  The National Archives and Records Service show the Winifred Post Office was established September 26, 1913.  

The first Postmaster was Lawrence C. Porter.  In order to get a mail route (or a "star route" as they were called) the neighbors had to carry the mail free

Where did Winifred get its name?  There are two stories, neither of which has been proven to be undeniably true.  A letter from the Montana Historical Society reads, "According to our records, Winifred was named after the daughter of E.D. Sewall, an official of the Milwaukee Railroad when it was constructing through Montana. Many other references and oldtimers believe Winifred was named after Miss Winifred Rockefeller, daughter of Percy A. Rockefeller, a heavy stockholder of the Milwaukee Railroad.  Miss Winifred Rockefeller is credited with designing the Winifred depot that later burned.


The types and numbers of businesses that existed in Winifred in the past was large as compared to what we see in town today.  At its peak, the town had a newspapers, two livery barns, a pool hall, a drugstore, a doctor, three hardware stores, and at least one grocery

Interestingly, however, there was never more than two bars, the same as today.

Norman Asbjornson:  Investing in the Future of Winifred

Winifred has benefited greatly from the generosity of one of its own.  Norman Asbjornson grew up in Winifred before departing to join the army and serve in Korea. He then attended Montana State University in Bozeman before ultimately leaving Montana to pursue his professional aspirations.  

Asbjornson founded the vastly successful NASDAQ listed corporation (
AAON) and still serves as CEO.  Several years ago, he returned to Winifred with the goal of giving back to the community that raised him.

Norman has been the driving force behind the ideas and the financing for many of Winifred's recent improvements.  From these contributions, Winifred's infrastructure is stronger, more attractive, and better structured to make the community of Winifred more successful now and in the future.

Norman's giving and advocacy for Winifred is an inspiration for others to do what they can do to give back to their hometown with the goal of seeing Winifred be the vibrant and successful town it has been and that we all want to see it continue to be for
generations to come.

Norman's contributions to Winifred include:

  • The Winifred Community Center;
  • Improvements to the Winifred Community Pool;
  • The planting of hundreds of spruce trees all over Winifred;
  • Improvements to the Winifred Cemetery.
  • A large home sufficient to house the Wichman Family;
  • A scholarship fund for graduating seniors from Winifred High School;
  • The new hangar and storage unit facility at the Winifred Airport;
  • The construction of a new building to house Mid-State Signs;
  • The construction of the hotel/restaurant/bar/bowling alley/hostel in downtown Winifred;
  • Construction of heated and covered bleachers for the school football field;
  • The purchase and installation of new bleachers in the school gym;
  • The moving the Flax School into Winifred and its restoration;
  • and numerous other Winifred projects.

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