Ruby Valley history may lead to naming of Tobacco Root Mountain peak

In 1866 a widow by the name of Jane Ferris moved to Sheridan with her two small children. She worked as a housekeeper for John Barber on a homestead two miles west of the town. When Barber passed away, he left the property to Ferris, who then used the 1841 Preemption Act to secure land and a home for her and her children.

Ferris was successful in securing the land for her family but passed away before the government officially awarded her the Montana homestead. She left behind two orphaned children, 13-year-old Millicent Ferris and a 15-year-old son. Though there are no records of Ferris’s son after his mother’s death, the Noble family took in Millicent and she eventually fell in love with and married Herbert Noble.

The newlywed Nobles moved back to the Ferris homestead where they lived and raised a family through the early 1880s.

Now, nearly 150 years later, Noble family descendants have pushed to name an unnamed mountain in the Tobacco Roots to Ferris Peak—honoring their ancestor. The Ferris homestead that is located two miles west of Sheridan is now known as the Fenton House. Kathleen Wuelfing of Sheridan is the current owner of the Fenton House, which she remodeled during 2006 and 2007.

“Just after I had remodeled, a gentleman by the name of Gary Noble came to Sheridan tracing his family history,” Wuelfing said. “He was looking for places to stay and stumbled across a description of the [Fenton House]. After that, it did not take him long to realize the Jane Ferris we described on the website was his great, great grandmother.”

Gary Noble quickly involved his father, Bob, and sister, Carla, in his search for family history in the Sheridan area and the Noble’s pieced together the history of the Fenton House and homestead with Wuelfing’s help.

The Hermsmeyer family occupied the property after the Ferris/Noble family left in the late 1800s. The Hermsmeyers improved the homestead with several additions and buildings that make up the property to this day. The property then witnessed a series of owners from the 1917 until 1937, when Stanley and Helen Fenton took ownership.

“They were my grandparents and they bought the property and moved there with my great grandparents,” Wuelfing explained.

Wuelfing’s connection with the property is deeper than a love for her family’s home. Her Fenton grandparents were invested in the community and got involved in the Twin Bridges orphanage from 1946 to 1951, throwing birthday parties for the kids at the ranch.

“A lot of my motivation came from wanting to preserve the history of those birthday parties,” Wuelfing said. “It is my family’s property and legacy.”

Once Wuelfing and the Noble family descendants made contact in 2008 and fully uncovered their linked histories on the homestead, they decided the storied past of the Fenton House should be remembered. Wuelfing had successfully gotten the house listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but the Nobles had a different idea.

“Bob [Noble] and his daughter Carla decided that they would love to see their ancestor [Jane Ferris] honored,” Wuelfing said. “There is an unnamed peak right next to Noble Peak and we have been working on getting it named Ferris Peak—many women of the area do not get the same credit that the men of the time do.”

Wuelfing was the Noble’s contact in Sheridan, so she started working toward building local support for naming the mountain.

“I met with the [county] commissioners in the spring of 2012 to start getting people interested,” Wuelfing said. “Then I enlisted the help of Ted Darby and we went to the Sheridan Town Council and started getting local support for naming the peak.”

The major push behind Wuelfing’s plea for the peak naming was because of Jane Ferris’s unique history as an early Montana settler. According to Wuelfing’s research and the application she submitted to the National Register of Historic Places, Ferris’s successful use of the of the 1841 Preemption Act mostly likely made her the only woman in Sheridan-area history to use preemption to secure land during Montana’s formative settling decades.

According to Wuelfing’s application, the law “was meant to encourage settlement in the American West by widows and heads of household on any 160 acres of un-surveyed land” and as the only woman in the area to use the act, the “ranch [is] historically significant within the context of the rural settlement patterns as well as women’s history during the late 19th century.”

This fact convinced the National Register of Historic Places to list the ranch, and Wuelfing believes it is the main validity for naming a peak in the Tobacco Roots after Ferris.

The Noble/Wuelfing application to the Montana State Naming Advisor’s Office is still pending, but Wuelfing and Bob Noble expect a decision around the first of the year. Since the community backed the request, it is likely the mountain will officially be named Ferris Peak.

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