The county government of Billings County was organized on this day in 1886. Created by the Dakota Territorial legislature seven years before at a meeting in Medora, the county was named for Frederick H. Billings, lawyer and railroad operator. Billings served as the president of the Northern Pacific Railroad from 1879-1881, and it was in this capacity that organizers of the county thought to honor Frederick Billings. Residents of the county believed the railroad responsible for bringing people and business to the area, ensuring the county’s future success.
Frederick Billings was born in Royalton, Vermont on September 27, 1823. He attended the University of Vermont until 1844, when he decided to pursue a career in law. During the California gold rush of 1848, Billings headed west and became the firs land claims lawyer in San Francisco. Successful in the city, Billings became a trustee of the College of California, which he suggested be named after George Berkeley. Today, the college is better known as simply Berkeley. After reading George Perkins Marsh’s memoirs on ecology, Billings returned to Vermont and began purchasing failed farms. He also purchased Marsh’s own former estate. He used these lands to put Marsh’s theories on conservation into practice. He reforested many of the areas, and today this land is a National Historical Park, probably “the oldest managed forest in the United States.” Eventually, Billings purchased interests in the Northern Pacific Railway, and later served as its president. Billings became known for his acts of humanitarianism and generosity. He built the Billings Library at the University of Vermont, and purchased 12,000 volumes for its shelves. Billings also constructed several churches across the country, including one in his namesake city, Billings, Montana. But the city and county of Billings were not the only things named for the lawyer: “In World War II, the United States liberty ship SS Frederick Billings was [also] named in his honor." Frederick Billings passed away on September 30, 1890.
-Jayme L. Job