The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

History of how Big Sandy got its name


February 9, 2022

How Big Sandy got its name is a bit of a mystery, but an article from the February 2, 1922 issue of the Mountaineer offers a reasonable answer. Karen Reinertson and Renee Hanson found it last week while researching for the Old Timer’s Column. It’s an interesting story, which explains how Big Sandy Creek, which runs near our little community, was named. The town itself is named after the creek. Here is the account published around a century ago. —Erik

HERE IS THE STORY (The original headline!)

The following account of the origin of the names Big Sandy and Little Sandy was sent to us for publication. Whether authentic or not, it is an interesting account. There may be some basis in fact for the story. if anyone can give any authentic history as to whether Alex MacPherson lived on the present site of Big Sandy, The Mountaineer would be pleased to have them let us know about it. Here is the story as it was sent:

Way back in May 1834, a birch bark canoe was seen slowly making its way up the Missouri River. Two occupants bent energetically to the paddle and while progress against the current was slow, it was steady. Baggage in the canoe consisted of a few provisions, two rifles, ammunition, tobacco, glass beads, blankets, clothing, axes and knives. Two adventurers were making their way into the, then unknown, Northwest on a hunting and trading expedition. They were two Scotchmen, born in Scotland, who had migrated to the new world in search of fortune. They had worked, hunted and fought their way westward, and in 1734 outfitted themselves at St. Louis for a venture up the “Big Muddy.” They had been boys together at school in Old Scotia, crossed the water together, worked and fought together and continued as partners in all their later lives.

One was tall, broad shouldered, big-boned and very muscular; the other was small in stature, but big in heart, wiry, agile, quick-eyed and alert. The big fellow was Alex MacPherson, the other, little Alec Hay, known everywhere they went as Big Sandy and Little Sandy. They traveled up that big river hunting, fishing, and trading with the Indians. Several years passed, and they were still on good terms with the Indians.

Big Sandy married the daughter of an Indian chief and built a wigwam near the present site of Big Sandy. Little Sandy rescued another squaw from a brave of a neighboring tribe, who had carried her off without consent of her own people, scalped the troublesome brave in the fray and himself escaped unharmed. Little Sandy settled down on the other stream near his friend, and together they continued to work in close friendship all their days. They raised cattle, horses, corn, shipped out furs in great quantities, and became wealthy and very influential among the natives of what is now Montana, and their nicknames attached to the streams on which they made their homes. If we look around among the sand hills, we will find remains of the old buildings which they put up—stone foundations and fallen-in cellars, long since abandoned by the Native and Scotch descendants of our two friends.


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