Where it All Began

by Heidi M. Thomas

In the early 1940s my grandparents moved from the Cut Bank, Montana area to Ingomar to the ranch I picture from my earliest memories. This is truly “the middle of nowhere”: 42 miles from Forsyth and 26 to Melstone on Highway 12, 100 miles to Billings and 87 to Miles City via I-94. (See my post Childhood Memories, Adult Discoveries from 2014. https://heidiwriter.wordpress.com/category/travel/)

My Grandparents’ House Still Stands

The town was established in 1908, as a station stop on the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. Although the area attracted numerous homesteaders during the decade following the railroad’s completion, the region proved to be far too arid and inhospitable for intensive agricultural use, and by the 1920s the town was in decline. The railroad through the area was abandoned in 1980, and only a handful of people remain in Ingomar today—population 14.

Ingomar was a trade center for the surrounding sheep raising area and had one of the largest sheep shearing plants in the state. In the early days, Ingomar and Sumatra were the chief trading towns for the homesteaders in western Garfield County. Freight wagons were often caught in the Gumbo Flats—a wide strip of land south of Sand Springs that can’t be crossed when it’s wet. (From Cheney’s Names on the Face of Montana, Mountain Press Publishing Company)

Old Main Street Ingomar (photo courtesy Billings Gazette)

At one time, Ingomar featured 46 businesses, including a bank, railroad station, two elevators, two general stores, two hotels, two lumber yards, plus rooming houses, saloons, cafes, a drugstore, blacksmith shop, claims office, doctor, dentist and maternity home. The original school building still stands, although in disrepair. Bookman’s General Store has been incorporated into the bar/cafe.

A fire in 1921 destroyed much of the town, and while some businesses rebuilt, others moved on.

Depression and drought killed off most of the rest of Ingomar, until the Jersey Lilly Bar and Café was, if not the last place standing, at least the last place open for business.

The only eatery for miles around, the Jersey Lilly is on the National Register of Historic Places and inducted into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2017. It is now for sale as the owners want to retire and spend time with their grandchildren.

The Jersey Lilly is Still Open Today

In 1914, the building was originally a bank, which closed in 1921 due to misappropriation of funds. In 1948, it began operating as the Jersey Lilly Bar & Cafe when it was purchased by Bob Seward, originally from Texas.

The name originates with the infamous “hanging judge” Roy Bean of Langtry, TX. Somewhere along his wild and wooly way, Roy Bean had developed a schoolboy crush on the beautiful English actress Lillie Langtry. He nicknamed his saloon the “Jersey Lillie,” for the British island where she was born. 

The Montana Jersey Lilly retained the original bank building character and charm, with the original tin ceiling, bank vaults and wooden flooring with the outline of teller cages still visible. Many of the original fixtures, including the beautiful cherry wood back bar remain. The piece was brought up on river boat from St. Louis to Forsyth in the early 1900s. It sat in Forsyth during prohibition before it was brought to Ingomar in 1933 in the back of a Model T. As the story goes, this is why there are scratches in the mirror.

The Beautiful Cherrywood Back Bar

The town has no other businesses besides the Jersey Lilly and the post office. The rodeo grounds are still active with the Ingomar Rodeo Club, which puts on two major events every year—in July and Labor Day Weekend.

Ingomar and the Jersey Lilly play prominent roles in my novels, beginning with Dare to Dream, which takes place in the 1940s and is based on my rodeo cowgirl grandmother. This continues with the series based on my parents in Seeking the American Dream and Finding True Home.

Book 1 in Rescue Series

Now, in Rescuing Samantha, my character has returned to her great-grandparents’ ranch to follow her own dream, at first to raise Thoroughbred horses. But she soon discovers the harsh climate and far distances are too much of a deterrent to this dream. Almost by accident, she rescues a couple of horses and begins to work with troubled teens and veterans with PTSD, continuing her story in Rescuing Hope and the third in the trilogy, Rescue Ranch Rising, which will be published later this year.

Published in: on February 10, 2022 at 10:16 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. SUPER AWESOME!!!!  This is so cool!  Great Promo for your books!!!  Great job… LOVE the pictures!  It would be interesting to see if by chance the Jersey Lilly in Prescott isn’t named after the same gal???? Loved this!  Sending it to Laurie!Love, Jane (single, sniff, sniff author… to date!)  Be Aware & Appreciate Life Jane Laurie Hirsch, Author

  2. This is all so interesting, especially having read your great books.

    • Thank you, Brenda! It was such fun, going back there several years ago and seeing the old place and the tiny town!

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