The Tragic History and Sad Story of Billings’ Boothill Cemetery
On my drive into work every day, there's always one mysterious place I pass by; the Boothill Cemetery. I'd never visited the area, so I had no clue the historical significance of the former Coulson graveyard. My curiosity soon got the better of me, and I had to visit and learn more about the site. I learned about a famous scout buried there, as well as the reason for the name "Boothill," among other things.
What is the history of the Boothill Cemetery?
A boothill, or boot hill, is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as a, "burial-ground especially for men killed in gunfights." In the case of this cemetery however, it just means that the majority of people were buried with their boots on their feet. The Boothill Cemetery was formerly known as the Coulson Hill Cemetery, and served the small town of Coulson until the town's cessation in 1882. Famous military scout Luther "Yellowstone" Kelly requested to be buried at the Boothill, which solidified its name. You can read more about "Yellowstone" Kelly in my article here. Boothill Cemetery was later added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
How many people are buried there?
According to the sites numerous plaques, there are at least 67 people buried there ranging from soldiers, Native Americans, a railroad conductor, and even some infants. The causes of death vary from person to person, and very few of the gravestones remain standing today. Landmarks of the site include the story of the Coulson Hill Cemetery, and the stone obelisk that stands in the center of the graveyard; built by I.D. O'Donnell, it honors the deceased with a plaque about half-way up the obelisk that reads, "Died, 1877-1882."
The historical significance of this graveyard to the city of Billings is massive, and showcases a grim part of Yellowstone Valley history. Without it, the story of Billings and it's beginnings would be less unique and interesting. I encourage anyone at all to visit the site and witness the history laid before you.