John Tilton, one of the leading merchants of Bozeman, Montana, is another one of the representative citizens who is entitled to personal mention in this work.Mr. Tilton was born in Ashland County, Ohio in 1843, son of Samuel and Mary Ramsey Tilton, both being descendants of pioneer families in Ohio, and Samuel Tilton being one of the well-to-do farmers of Ashland County. The Tiltons originated in England, while the Ramseys descended from the Irish. Grandfather Tilton was a soldier in the Colonial Army during the Revolutionary War and was present at the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. John W. Tilton has one brother and two sisters. Soon after attaining his majority, the subject of our sketch, started out on his own responsibility, going to St.Louis, Missouri, in 1864 where he secured passage on the steamer Welcome , commanded by Captain Townsend, and bound for Fort Benton Montana. The time occupied in making this trip was seventy-six days; fare, $150.00. At Fort Bentonhe joined a party consisting of Major Graham, J.C. Ramsey, and Mr. Keblinger and together they purchased pack animals and proceeded to the south side of the Missouri River on their way to Virginia City, crossing the Belt mountain rangeand going down Eldora Gulch, where n after years the famous rich placers were discovered.
The first settlement they struck was Gallatin. Mr. Tilton spent two years mining at Alder Gulch, but as he met with only fair success he decidedto leave the mines and turn his attention to agricultural pursuits. Accordingly he came to the Gallatin Valley and located near the old town of Hamilton, on the West Gallatin, where he and J.C. Ramsey each took claim to 160 acres ofland. The first two years their crops were nearly all destroyed by frost and the two years following the grasshoppers became a destructive pest and destroyed all vegetation in this locality. Thus having had four unfortunate years on the farm, he determined to try the mines again and went to Wilson Creek, twenty-five miles south of Helena, where he operated with fair success for two years.
At the end of that time he sold his mining interests and came to Bozeman. Here he engaged in the dry goods and general merchandise business, being in partnership with A.M. Tanner. Several months later he sold his share in the establishment, purchased property in the eastern limits of the town and erected a frame building thereon in which he conducted a mercantile business for four years. Then he purchased the fine business corner on Main and Rouse Streets, where in 1887 he erected his present modern business block, 44 x 110 feet, two stories and basement at a cost of $30,000. Here he is doing large cash business in general merchandise, hardware, etc.in fact handling everything except dry goods. His magnificent store building is handsomely finished inside with hard woods. The columns at the main entrance are Massachusetts polished granite. In speaking of his early experience in Montana, Mr. Tilton remarked that when he landed in Virginia City his cash capital was fifteen cents. Produce of all kinds was high in those days. Flour sold at Virginia City in 1864 for $1.25a pound; potatoes fifteen cents a pound; salt, fifty cents a pound. After he settled in the Gallatin Valley there were two weeks that he lived on meat and potatoes; flour could not be had at any price. The year of General Custer's massacre, Mr. Tilton spent three months with General Gibson down on the Yellowstone, in the employ of the Government, being in the transportation department. Mr. Tilton was married in 1878 to Mary Thompson. Her parents reside in Christiania Norway. She is a member of the Presbyterian Church.
source: An Illustrated History of the State of Montana by Joaquim Miller, 1894