The Huffman Women: Their Lives in Pictures

Rachel Phillips

Huffman family, circa 1910s. Clockwise from left: Hugh, George R., Anna and Susan

A small collection of photograph postcards in the Gallatin History Museum archives paints a charming picture of the lives of several local women. In many ways, the Huffman family represents an average middle-class, early-twentieth century Bozeman family, although, like everyone, they experienced their own unique tragedies and triumphs.

Susan Huffman at the Huffman residence at 503 East Mendenhall Street

Susan Lovell was born in Illinois in 1858, to David and Nancy Hammond Lovell. She joined six older brothers and sisters. The Lovell family were farmers and by 1870 had moved from Illinois to Missouri, where Susan spent most of her childhood years. Susan married George Huffman in February 1881 in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. At the time of their marriage, George Huffman was already a seasoned Montanan. In the 1860s he dabbled in mining in Virginia City and Helena, and then established a ranch in the Gallatin Valley. Huffman purchased his first eighty acres in 1870 and added adjoining land to his ranch in 1873. After their marriage in 1881, George and Susan journeyed to the Gallatin Valley via rail and stagecoach. Bozeman remained their permanent home for the rest of their lives.

The Huffman ranch was located just north of Bozeman, on either side of what is today Manley Road. Susan spent her first few years of married life on the ranch, where the couple’s first several children were born. In 1889-1890, George and Susan built a modest two-story brick house on East Mendenhall Street, which became their cherished home for decades. In the 1890s George operated a saloon called the “Hermitage,” located on the south side of Main Street between Rouse and Bozeman Avenues. He also continued to farm the Huffman property north of Bozeman until his death in 1903.

Susan and George had six children—three sons and three daughters. Tragically, three of them died before reaching age two. Their surviving children—Hugh, George R., and Anna—grew up in the family home on East Mendenhall. Hugh Lovell Huffman was born in November 1881, and worked for the railroad and farmed during his adult life. George R. Huffman was born in 1883, and was also employed by local railroad companies. He served briefly as a deputy sheriff in 1914-1915.

Susan and George Huffman’s only surviving daughter, Anna, was born in 1889. Anna was a talented musician and participated in local music groups, including the Ladies’ Imperial Band. This unique troupe, established in 1906, provided an opportunity for local women to perform at a variety of events. These talented ladies were known not only for their musical talents, but for their elaborate costumes. Anna and her fellow bandmates frequently marched down Main Street during the Sweet Pea Carnival parade and delivered concerts for the Elks Convention and other local events.

Anna Huffman in her Ladies’ Imperial Band Uniform, circa 1910s

Anna Huffman married Oregon businessman George Orswell on March 23, 1912. The wedding was held at the Huffman family home on East Mendenhall Street with only a few close friends and relatives in attendance. Anna and George settled in Eugene, Oregon where they lived happily for the next twenty-five years. In 1939, Anna passed away from heart disease at the young age of forty-nine.

Hilda May Huffman in her Red Cross uniform, late 1910s

Though Susan Huffman lost two of her daughters as infants, she did gain a daughter-in-law. Hilda May Cook joined the Huffman family on August 3, 1907, when she married Susan’s son, George R. Huffman. Hilda was born in 1888 in Iowa to Harlin and Nellie Osborn Cook. Hilda and George had one daughter, Esther May, born in Bozeman on October 10, 1912. During World War I, Hilda was active with the local chapter of the American Red Cross. The Bozeman Red Cross group met regularly to sew bandages, knit sweaters and socks, and package supplies to ship to the troops in Europe. In Bozeman, the Red Cross surgical dressing room was located at 21 West Babcock Street, current home of Studio Architects. Hilda Huffman likely spent many hours there with her Red Cross compatriots.

George R. Huffman unexpectedly passed away in a railroad accident in Belgrade on May 30, 1918. His unforeseen death was a devastating blow to his wife Hilda and the rest of the Huffman family. According to a Bozeman Courier article published on June 5, 1918, George worked occasionally for the Milwaukee Railroad as a brakeman. The Courier described the accident: “[Huffman] was standing on the rear platform of the combination coach as the train was slowly backing into Belgrade from the Y switch. Huffman was leaning with his back against the chain which was hooked across the opening between the car railings. Suddenly, the chain became unhooked and the unfortunate man plunged to the track below and under the wheels of the train.” George Huffman was buried at Sunset Hills Cemetery in Bozeman.

As the years passed, Susan Huffman continued to live at 503 East Mendenhall, where her son Hugh lived with her. In her late 80s, Susan was featured in a Bozeman Daily Chronicle article after she acquired an electric cart that allowed her increased mobility. According to the article, “until the purchase of her little car [Susan] did not find it easy to get around, though her health is good. Now she visits friends and even shops downtown.” The Chronicle noted that this 87-year-old lady driving the streets of downtown Bozeman in her cart had “caused much comment.”

Susan Huffman passed away at home on East Mendenhall on May 25, 1947. She was 89 years old and had outlived her husband, five of her six children, and her granddaughter, Esther May. Susan’s son Hugh continued to live in the Mendenhall house for the next four years until he passed away in 1951. The Huffman home still stands today at 503 East Mendenhall, across Church Street from the Hawthorne School playground.   

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