While working summers at the Fountain Hotel in Yellowstone National Park, Sam and Ida Eagle saw opportunity upon learning that the Oregon Short Line of the Union Pacific Railroad planned to run a spur route to the West entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Sam negotiated with the US Forest Service to survey and later lease property across from the proposed rail station in West Yellowstone. This is where the Eagle’s Store story begins.
Sam and Ida partnered with friends Alex and Laura Stuart to build and open a general store in 1908. By 1910, Alex and Laura had purchased Murray’s Store across the street and began a separate business. Sam and Ida built a second store in 1910 and had expanded into a third section by 1916.
The early store buildings were replaced by the current 3-story rough-hewn log and stone structure designed by Bozeman architect Fred F. Willson. The rustic park architecture-styled building housed the business and was home for the Eagle family of 10 children. Construction began in 1928 and was completed during the middle of the 1930 season with all work being done by the Eagle family and Sam’s Pennsylvania cousin, Raymond Mauger. The store was built in three sections around the older stores allowing the Eagles to continue operations during the profitable tourist season. The east wing was the last section finished and included the 1910 soda fountain.
Sam worked diligently to have the leased land near the railroad changed to land for purchase, which was instrumental in the development of West Yellowstone as a town. Sam and Ida were leaders in the community, active both in business and personally. Sam held Sunday school for children and adults. He applied to the state requesting and securing a school teacher for the children of the area. Eagle children were 4 of the 8 children in the first class. Sam and Ida provided land for the Protestant church and lobbied for an airport.
Ida was storekeeper, cook and seamstress, making sure each of the 10 children knew his or her responsibilities in the store and within the community. Sam was an entrepreneur who worked hard to assure the financial success of his family. For years he worked as a fishing and hunting guide. He and Ida sold staples including food, camping, fishing and hunting equipment, and outdoor wear. They later added products like gas, cameras and film, western wear and jewelry. Space in the store was rented to a barber and a baker. Sam served as postmaster from 1909 to 1935 and housed the post office within the store. Sam expanded his business further when he bought a 1915 Ford so he could take tourists fishing and sightseeing. Eagle’s Store had the only telephone switchboard in West Yellowstone for years. Sam and his older children built rental properties including storefronts, cabins and an auto garage in West Yellowstone. Sam and Ida were never idle and taught their children to have the same work ethic as they had.
Not having had the opportunity to attend college, Sam stated he wanted to have as many children as he and Ida could afford to educate. They purchased a home in Bozeman so their children could attend high school and Montana State College (now MSU) which all 10 children attended.
Visitors today can wander through the wings of Eagle’s Store and treat themselves to ice cream at the original 1910 soda fountain. Mom Eagle’s recipe is still used for the chocolate sauce. Old photos of the Eagle family and early West Yellowstone life adorn the walls inside the east wing of the store. The original skis that Sam used to travel 14 miles to Henry’s Lake, Idaho to exchange the winter mail when he was postmaster are proudly displayed in the clothing area of the store. In the tackle shop, one finds Sam’s duck boat, photos of the family fishermen and some of their fish mounts.
June 21-24, 2018, is a special celebration for Eagle’s Store’s 110th year of business. The Yellowstone Historic Center (YHC) will feature the summer exhibits Eagle’s Wings: Generations of the Eagle Family and Store and Fred F. Willson: Diaries of a Dreamer. The West Yellowstone Library will have a photo show related to the YHC exhibits. Watch the following websites for information on these events: