The land around Cooke City was originally inhabited by Native Americans. Explorers and fur trappers made forays into the area before the Louisiana Purchase, which brought Lewis and Clark to the area on their expedition.
Some say John Colter, for which nearby Colter Pass was named, was the first white man to explore the area. In 1864 group of men explored the area before being attacked by Indians. By 1875, lead was being mined and smelted illegally, since the land belonged to the Crow Indian reservation.
Nez Perce Indians led by Chief Joseph raided it to make shot. They would be pursued by the U.S. Army into Canada.
Gold was discovered in 1870. The boundaries of the Crow Indian reservation was redrawn to permit mining in 1882. The gold rush was on. Cooke City was incorporated that same year as a rough and tumble mining town replete with saloons, brothels, claim jumping, fights and murders.
The town was named for Jay Cooke Jr., a Pacific Railroad Contractor, with aspirations of connecting the mountain pass to the railway system. Within a year the population of the former territory had grown to almost 300.
Mining waxed and waned until the 1920s, when the area became one of the most prolific gold producing areas in the country. Mines would produce until the 1950s. It would be proven in the 1990s that the prospectors had indeed found the Mother Lode in the late nineteeth century.
The train never materialized, but Cooke City did become the staging site for the creation of the Beartooth Highway in 1931. This opened the northeast gateway to beautiful Yellowstone National Park which brought the bonanza of tourism. Today, Cooke City retains its historical charm with restaurants and shops true to those at the turn of the 20th century.
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