George Eliot wrote “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” The Extreme History Project hopes to remember some of our dearly departed in Bozeman and surrounding region by sharing with you the stories of people buried in our local cemeteries. Watch this space to learn just who those people are in the cemetery. They all have lifetimes of stories to tell.
Charles Wheeler Hoffman: Bozeman’s Unknown Founding Father
Have you ever heard of Charles Wheeler Hoffman? Throughout the late 1800s, he was a well-known and much loved man around Bozeman, a prominent pioneer, business owner, state senator, and breeder of fine horses. After he died suddenly while attending a movie in Los Angeles, his body was transported back to Bozeman and he is buried in Sunset Hills Cemetery.
Born in Michigan in 1846 as the last of five children, Hoffman received a common school education, first in Detroit, then Burlington, VT after his family moved. Joining the army at an early age, (before 1863) he was posted to Fort Randall, situated on the banks of the Missouri River in what is now South Dakota. In 1866 when Fort Buford was built near today’s Williston, ND, Hoffman was transferred and given the position of “Sutler”. A sutler is a civilian merchant who sells non-military goods to the army, sometimes at extortionate prices. As Joquiam Miller writes in 1894 in History of the State of Montana, “This was at that time the very heart of the Sioux country. Hostile [I]ndians surrounded Fort Buford nearly all the time and his life there was necessarily full of thrilling experiences and narrow escapes.”
After being appointed as Sutler at the newly established military post, Fort Ellis in Montana, Charles Hoffman returned to the east coast where he married Elizabeth Byron Penfield. After their marriage in Buffalo, NY on April 27th 1869, they quickly returned to Montana, making their home in Bozeman. Census records tell us that the couple was fairly well off, in 1900 they employed two servants and lived at 19 South Tracy Ave. Elizabeth and Charles had two children together. Mary, who unfortunately died as a child, and Eugene, who graduated from Gallatin County High School. He married a Bozeman girl before moving to New York to attend law school at Columbia, he later practiced law in Buffalo.
We don’t have many records of Charles Hoffman’s exact movement in the years that followed his appointment to Fort Ellis but we do know that he was quite a diversified businessman. Several sources tell us that Hoffman was involved in several different businesses: including banking, mining, farming, horse breeding, and stock raising. He later became very involved in local politics serving as Gallatin County commissioner, Alderman of the city, a member of Montana’s first State Senate, president of successive sessions, and was appointed quartermaster general of Governor Leslie’s staff in 1888, a post he held for several years.
Despite all of his successes, tragedy befell Hoffman in the year 1916, when both his wife and son died within weeks of each other. Elizabeth, his wife, died August 10th and Eugene died a few weeks later on September 2nd, in Washington DC, of a short but severe illness. Perhaps due to this great tragedy, Hoffman moved to California settling in Los Angeles and remarried in 1918. Charles Hoffman died in 1923 in a movie theatre in Los Angeles. Per his request, his body was transported back to Bozeman where he was buried in Sunset Hills Cemetery next to his first wife Elizabeth.
-History of the State of Montana by Joaquim Miller
-Bozeman, Montana 1900 Census
-The Bozeman Courier, “Senator Hoffman Dies Suddenly” May 16, 1923
-“Eugene Hoffman Dies in Washington: Son of Prominent Bozeman Pioneer Succumbs in East After a Short Illness”
Look for our next Cemetery Story, featuring Lizzie Williams.
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