(From City of Billings Press Release)
BILLINGS - Our cities share the same name.
Although we’re 1,200 miles apart, Billings, Montana, and Billings, Missouri have a strong historical connection.
Both were named after the famous railroad baron, lawyer, and conservationist Frederick H. Billings.
Last week, a group from Billings (Missouri) traveled to Billings (Montana) to meet with Mayor Bill Cole for a potential sister city kick-off.
“We had an excellent visit with the group of ambassadors from Billings, Missouri. It was an honor to host them and make compelling historical connections. We packed a lot of conversation into our three-hour visit, and I hope to make a trip of my own there one day to connect more dots between our two railroad towns,” said Cole.
Sponsored by local businesses and families, the group of four made the drive on their Harley Davidson motorcycles and arrived in Billings (Montana) on Monday, Sept. 12, then met with Cole the following day.
“We have worked very, very hard and we’re very excited to come up here because of the opportunity to see exactly how you grew,” Mike McCoy, an ambassador from Billings (Missouri), said during the meeting.
There’s a stark contrast in population size between the two cities.
Billings (Missouri) is just a few community members shy of 1,000 residents.
Billings (Montana) has just over 117,000 residents, according to the 2020 census.
Despite the smaller population, Billings (Missouri) does surpass Billings (Montana) in another aspect.
Billings (Missouri) is 10 years older than Billings (Montana).
In 1872, Frederick Billings offered to give the town of Billings (Missouri) $1,000 to build a church in exchange for naming rights.
Billings (Montana) was established in 1882 and named in honor of Billings, who served as president of the Northern Pacific Railway from 1879 to 1881.
The group from Missouri presented Cole with gifts to share and display, including a photo of their city council standing in front of the Billings (Missouri) City Hall.
Some other gifts included a letter from their Mayor Mickey Brown, a framed map of their route, a copy of the original Billings (Missouri) plat map, gear from the Billings (Misosuri) High School Wildcats, and railroad spikes that were once hand driven into the tracks that go through town.
“It was a thriving community. Billings had the second largest livestock market in the state. We had a car dealership down there and there were a lot of great opportunities for Billings,” said Jeff (“Jumper”) Yates, another member of the group of ambassadors from Missouri.
Cole gave the group several items with the Billings (Montana) logo and showed them the USS Billings display located inside the Billings (Montana) Public Library.
Billings (Montana) historian and executive director of the Western Heritage Center, Kevin Kooistra, was also invited to share some local history.
McCoy joked they would like to take the center’s bronze statue of Frederick Billings back home since their Billings was founded first.
Billings (Missouri) celebrated its 150th birthday in 2021, and this year Billings (Montana) is celebrating its 140th anniversary.
“We need to make some new history. We need to influence and make sure Billings grows with quality, and our local city leadership has been very responsive with that,” Yates said.
With Springfield, Mo. only 11 miles away and the family vacation destination city of Branson less than an hour's drive away, the Missouri ambassadors are hopeful anyone visiting the area from Billings (Montana) will take time to stop in their city.
“We would love to have you guys come down there. I’m sure we have gaps in our history. Maybe there’s some way we can fill those in by talking to each other,” McCoy told Cole and Kooistra.
One of Cole’s favorite parts of Billings (Missouri) history that he learned during the visit is the fact it’s home to the first compound bow.
Holless Wilbur Allen had a shop on Washington Avenue in Billings where he invented and sold his bow in the 1960s and 1970s. An ad found online shows Allen promised “Knock Down Power No Other Bow Can Equal.”
As far as further establishing the sister city relationship, Cole said he’d like to think that we’re already sister cities.
“Billings Missouri is our older sister. We were born into the Billings family, and we are proud to be part of it,” said Cole.
McCoy and Yates are business owners in Billings (Missouri). They were accompanied by Chad Atnip and Travis Cook.
Together, they own the Twisted Tavern Coffee Company, serving up drive-thru coffee.
“We’re really hoping in the future that the folks from Billings Montana can come all the way down to Missouri,” Yates said.
Cole echoed those thoughts and said he also hopes establishing this relationship will persuade residents to explore his city’s own history and the man it was named after.
“Frederick Billings was an honorable man with a fascinating history of entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and conservation. Those are timeless values that are in our city’s DNA,” Cole said.