Cornelius Hedges Papers, 1864-1865  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Hedges, Cornelius, 1831-1907
Cornelius Hedges Papers
1864-1865 (inclusive)
3 items
Collection Number
Mss 373 (collection)
Cornelius Hedges was an early Montana settler and miner who went on to become a prominent citizen and attorney of Helena, Montana. The collection consists of two diaries and one reminiscence that Hedges wrote about his life and accomplishments.
University of Montana, Mansfield Library, Archives and Special Collections
Archives and Special Collections
Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library
University of Montana
32 Campus Dr. #9936
Missoula, MT
Telephone: 406-243-2053
Fax: 406-243-4067
Access Restrictions

Researchers must use collection in accordance with the policies of Archives and Special Collections, the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, and The University of Montana--Missoula.

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Cornelius Hedges was born in Westfield, Massachusetts, on Oct. 28, 1831 to Dennis and Alvena Hedges. His father was a farmer and blacksmith. Mr. Hedges went to school at the local academy in Westfield. He enrolled at Yale in 1849, and graduated in 1853. In 1855 he graduated from Harvard Law School and was admitted to the bar in Massachusetts. It was during his college years that he first began to keep his journals.

In July 1856 Mr. Hedges married Edna Layette Smith in Connecticut. Immediately after their marriage the new couple moved to Independence, Iowa. Here Mr. Hedges set up a law practice, while editing and publishing the Independent Civilian. The couple's first child, Wyllys A. Hedges, was born in Independence on July 3, 1857, and their second son Dennis, was born there on June 3, 1860. In 1862 the young Dennis passed away. Their third son, Cornelius Jr., was born Oct. 28, 1874. The first daughter of the family, Emma Marion, was born on Sept. 19, 1867. The Hedges ultimately had eight children, three of whom died young.

Unable to succeed financially, Mr. Hedges set out in April 1864 with a wagon, a rifle, supplies, and a mule team, for the gold mines of Idaho. He arrived in Virginia City, Montana, on July 12, 1864 and found it hard going. All the claims had been taken and there was little work to be had. He eventually resorted to shoveling tailings for $5.00 a day, which he called the hardest work he ever did. He then found easier work operating a windlass, which he did until September. He sold the mule team, and on Sept. 1 he was finally able to buy into a claim in Highland Gulch with three partners. This claim paid spottily and he often had to resort to wage labor.

In January 1865 Mr. Hedges moved to Last Chance Gulch in Helena, Montana. The Montana bar accepted him and he began to practice law, becoming a U. S. Attorney at the Territorial Supreme Court in 1865. He remained a U. S. Attorney until 1875. However, he still worked on mining claims to supplement his income.

In 1866 he returned to Iowa to get his family and bring them back to Montana. In 1867, back in Helena, he continued to practice law. In 1868 he was appointed U. S. Commissioner in Montana Territory. In 1868 he began working with the Helena Public Library Association to build a library in the state capital.

In 1870 he joined the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition into Yellowstone Park, a journey which would stimulate his interest in creating a national park system. His work toward this goal helped make Yellowstone a National Park in 1872. In 1872 Governor Benjamin F. Potts appointed Mr. Hedges superintendent of the Montana Public Schools. He served in this post until 1878, and then again from 1883 to 1885, doing much to improve the Montana Public Schools. In 1866 he helped organize a Masonic Lodge in Helena. In 1878 he was elected Grand Secretary of the Masonic lodge in Helena. Throughout his life he was a popular member of the Masons. In 1874 he ran unsuccessfully on the Republican ticket for Territorial Delegate.

From 1876 to 1888 he was the reporter for the Territorial Supreme Court. In 1875 he was elected to be the Probate Judge for Lewis and Clark County, and he served until 1880. From then on his friends affectionately called him Judge Hedges. In 1878 he purchased a new home in Helena for $4,550. The Hedge's home came to have the most extensive private library in Helena. Having arrived in Montana in 1864, Judge Hedges was considered an original pioneer, and in 1884 he became a charter member of the Society of Montana Pioneers. In 1889 he ran as a Republican for State Senator from Lewis and Clark County and won. That same year Montana was incorporated as a state. He served as a State Senator until 1892. After this he continued to practice law until ill health forced him to retire in 1901.

Hedges played an active role in the movements responsible for the national park system, the development of the territorial schools in Montana, the Helena Public Library, the Montana Masonic Home, and the development of Freemasonry as a coherent element in Montana society. He was also a member of the Montana State Historical Society.

Hedges died in Helena, Montana, April 29, 1907 at the age of seventy-six. His wife Edna died in 1912.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

Hedges kept voluminous journals and diaries, and this collection includes three of them. Includes three typed items, a diary, in two parts, and reminiscences. The first part of the diary includes daily entries from April 20, 1864 until July12, 1864. It begins with him leaving Iowa for Idaho. This part of the diary covers his daily experiences on the westward journey.

The second part of the diary describes his experiences working in the gold mines upon his arrival in Virginia City in July 1864. This part of the diary includes daily entries from July 12 to Dec. 31, 1864. He mostly writes of his daily work of mining, the cold, and business deals. This section includes a record of cash accounts from July to September.

The third manuscript in this collection consists of excerpts from his manuscript entitled "Reminiscences of Early Days in Helena". This covers his experiences just after leaving Virginia City for the mining prospects at Helena's Last Chance Gulch in January 1865.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

Researchers are responsible for using in accordance with 17 U.S.C. and any other applicable statutes. Copyright not transferred to The University of Montana.

Preferred Citation

[Name of document], Cornelius Hedges Papers, Archives and Special Collections, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, The University of Montana--Missoula.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
1 Diary 1864
2 Diary 1864
3 Excerpts from "Reminiscences of Early Days in Helena" 1865

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Montana--Helena
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Montana--Virginia City
  • Gold mines and mining--Montana--Virginia City
  • Gold miners--Montana--Virginia City--Diaries
  • Travelers--West (U.S.) -- Diaries
  • Geographical Names :
  • West (U.S.)--Description and travel
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Diaries--Montana
  • Reminiscences--Montana