Creator: Burlingame, Merrill G. (Merrill Gildea), 1901-, collector

Provenance Note: Manuscript reminiscences, typed transcriptions, student essays, and other materials pertaining to the Willson Company of Bozeman, Montana were collected by Merrill G. Burlingame for his research. Handwritten reminiscences of Lester S. Willson, Davis Willson, and an unknown author were discovered in an old desk by William J. Sullivan of Bozeman in January 1951. These manuscripts were transcribed by Burlingame and added to student essays he had collected on the topic, along with a newspaper clipping and photograph montage taken from a newspaper advertisement. Burlingame donated all of the material to Special Collections on January 15, 1972.

Historical Note: The Willson and Rich firm of Bozeman, Montana Territory, was a merchandising operation founded in 1866 by Loren W. Tuller and Charles V. Rich, both of New York. Encouraged by their friend, Lester S. Willson, Tuller and Rich pooled their resources to organize an expedition to Montana and establish a store. In company with Lester's brother, Davis, the partners left Canton, New York in May of 1866. After a stop in Omaha, Nebraska to purchase stock, the party crossed the plains and reached the new town of Bozeman on September 2, 1866. At first they sold goods out of a tent but by November of that year they rented space in a two-story log cabin owned by the local Masonic order. They continued in business at that location until Lester Willson arrived in the spring of 1867. He became the senior partner in the firm and, on the departure of Loren Tuller in the fall of 1867, the senior partner, changing the name to "Willson and Rich." The firm built a new store in 1868 and yet another in 1883. The firm underwent a variety of name changes throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, including the "L.S. Willson Company" and, after Lester Willson incorporated the business in 1893, the "Willson Company." Willson sold the business in 1914, and it was eventually absorbed by the Croff's company of Sheridan, Wyoming, in June 1949.

Content Description Note: The Willson Company collection consists of: a handwritten manuscript reminiscence by Lester S. Wilson, "The value of a story...," likely prepared as a speech in 1912; an untitled manuscript narrative by Davis Willson; an anonymous manuscript titled "The Willson Story"; transcripts of the manuscripts prepared by Merrill G. Burlingame; student essays by Lola Ailinger and Alys Jane Watson; a photograph montage from a newspaper advertisement; a 1951 newspaper clipping pertaining to the discovery of the manuscripts. The materials have been placed in topically labeled folders.

For related material held by Special Collections see:

Collection 1076 Davis Willson papers, 1861-1915
Collection 1407 Lester S. Willson family papers, 1861-1915
Collection 632 Willson and Rich records, 1866-1871


Box 1
1. "The value of a story..." by Lester S. Willson, ca. 1912
2. "The value of a story..." by Lester S. Willson, ca. 1912 - Burlingame transcript
3. Davis Willson narrative, ca. 1912
4. Davis Willson narrative, ca. 1912 - Burlingame transcript
5. "Willson story," author unknown.
6. "Willson story," - Burlingame transcript
7. "The Development of Willson's Store," by Lola Ailinger, 1915
8. "General Lester Sebastian Willson," by Alys Jane Watson, ca. 1940s
9. Newspaper clipping, Bozeman Chronicle January 6, 1951
Photograph montage from advertisement in Bozeman Courier, August 26, 1927, p. 6 and 7

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Updated: 3/3/09