Babb hosts first-ever Christmas Parade

This headline was confusing to me when I first saw it too. The Town of Babb, Montana, which is named for Cyrus Cates Babb (1867-1937).

Cyrus’ number in the Babb Tree is 1-5-3-2-3-1-5-2, which means his trail back up the tree reads as follows:
Cyrus Cates, Cyrus Knapp, Henry Cates, Joseph, Peter, James, Peter, Phillip Babb of the Isles of Shoals.

Watch the Video here

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Cyrus became a Major in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. and in 1905 under the U.S. Reclamation Service, he was put in charge of a project to divert water from the Swift Current River across the Blackfeet Indian Reservation for use in Chinook, MT. The tiny post office was renamed “Babb” because he would be getting the most mail, and a little town has now evolved around the post office by the name of Babb, Montana.


Travelers of Babb ancestry who suddenly arrive at a tiny town named Babb tucked away among the beautiful mountains of Montana, next to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation on the one hand and Glacier National Park on the other, are usually startled and then become curious about its history and how it came to be named “Babb.” It becomes even more interesting when they learn it was named for an engineer named Babb from the State of Maine.

Well, the history goes like this, according to the “History of Glacier County, MT” dated 1984, and a newspaper write-up by Joe Sherbourne dated 21 July 1955, as well as correspondence from the retired postmaster of Babb, and an April 1994 letter from Debra Thoronson of the current generation of manager of the town.

The “Powers that be” in the US Reclamations Service decided back in the early 1900’s to survey and build an irrigation canal (now called St. Mary’s Canal) to take water from the Swift Current River down through Spider Lake and then across the north end of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation to Milk River, drop the waters into the Milk River which winds into Canada and back again, and then run the waters near the city of Havre to a prospective irrigation project near Chinook, MY, about 200 miles away. This was to be put to good use further east in Montana some of the melting snow and ice of the mountainous areas in and near Glacier National Park which had formerly flowed into Hudson Bay via the St. Mary’s River.

The engineer designated to head the project was Major Cyrus Cates Babb, b. 18 Jun 1867 in Portland, Maine, a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a hydrographer with the US Geological Survey 1890-1902, and engineer with them 1906-1909. Major Babb must have arrived in Montana before September 1905, according to a preserved letter, addressed to Babb.

The first post office in the area had been established in 1899 for the convenience of the copper miners, and it was named Altyn for a race horse belonging to a prominent miner. In a few years with the decline in mining activities, Mr. Cicero L. Bristol moved the little post office building from the mining area to a location across the river from the O.S. Main Ranch which was on the stage coach route. Then Bristol applied for the position of postmaster, naming the location “Babb” for the engineer Major Cyrus Babb who along with his crew surveying the area would be receiving most of the mail. A record has been found of a letter addressed to the “Babb” post office on 30 Sep 1905.

It is interesting that the Blackfeet Indian Reservation was surveyed by an Act of Congress, 1 May 1907, with allotments made to the Indians and an area reserved for the towns of Babb & Browning. Later there was a town named Blackfoot nearby on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

After the irrigation project was completed, the first Post Office site was abandoned, and some buildings were moved to a new site near the crossroads of the highway into Canada and the highway to Glacier National Park. Mr. Oscar H. Thronson arrived in Babb in 1918, and he became postmaster and began to develop a little rest stop for travelers, including a service station, café motel, and garage. The Thronson family has kept the little town thriving for four generations. Another family named Burns has opened a bar and dance hall, but otherwise it has changed little since the 1920’s. Aside from the tourists, there are a number of ranchers in the area, and within 20 miles there are about 200 voters.

Winter storms in the area are fairly rugged, and in the “hard winter” of 1950, stories got out over the radio that babb was isolated, people were starving, and that Christmas mail did not reach babb until February. The national radio hook-up called Oscar Thronson, and his conversation went out nation wide, which brough the little town considerable fame.

Major Cyrus Babb moved on to do other interesting projects. He was district engineer, US Geological Survey in 1910; chief engineer Maine State Water Storage Commission, 1 Jul 1911-Dec 1914; consulting hydraulic engineer, 1914-17; supervisor of lands, water power, etc., The Rhodhies (N.C.) Mfg Co.; and E.A. Smith Mfg Co., 1917-18; consulting engineer, 1919. Also he was Member American Society of Civil Engineers; President Maine Society Civil Engineers, 1911; Honorary member Maine Association of Engineers, Associate member Legal Advisory Board, and Chairman American Red Cross and war savings drives, World War I. He died in 1937.

(Sources: Materials referenced furnished by the Babbs and by Mr. Oscar Thronson and Lucy B. Wright, granddaughter of Major Cyrus Babb. This editor (Jean A. Sargent) passed through the town about 35 years ago on way to Glacier National Park, never dreaming that it would prove significant many years later).– (Excerpt from Babb Families of America by Jean A. Sargent)

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