History of the Jersey Lilly in Ingomar
The Jersey Lilly building was completed as the Wiley, Clark, and Greening bank in October 1914, in the small town of lngomar, Montana. This would be lngomar’s first brick building. Later it became the lngomar State Bank. In 1917, they expanded the bank building size which included a basement under the addition that housed one of the new walk-in safes, along with the one they added on the main floor. The bank had a total of three walk-in safes when it went into receivership in 1921. lngomar was established in 1910 by the Milwaukee Road Railroad. The town had 46 businesses in it at the height of its existence and was known as the sheep shearing capital of the world at one time.
In 1933, Clyde Easterday established the Oasis Bar in the bank building. The cherry wood back bar that is currently in the Jersey Lilly was one of two that were transported from St. Louis up the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers to Forsyth in the early 1900s. It remained in “quarantine” in Forsyth until prohibition was over in 1933, then was installed at the Jersey Lilly. Les Seward (son of Bill Seward) told the story once of how the back bar was transported to Ingomar in the back of a Model T pickup causing the “scratches” that you can see in the mirror… from motion and dust.
In 1948, Bob Seward came to own the Oasis Bar. At the time he was a Range Rider for the Grazing District by Ingomar. When I asked one of my sources how Bob came to own the Jersey Lilly, he said with a sly grin… “I heard he won it in a poker game” and he believes that to be the truth. He also said that Bob was a master story teller and he could convince you to do just about anything. The Seward Family, who were originally from Texas, didn’t want their bar to have a common bar name so they decided they would name their bar The Jersey Lilly. This name was taken from the story of Judge Roy Bean from Langtry, Texas. Judge Roy Bean was an eccentric saloon keeper and Justice of the Peace, who called himself “The Law West of the Pecos.” He was quite taken with the British actress Lilly Langtry. Lilly’s (originally spelled Lillie) nickname was Jersey Lilly due to the fact that she was from the Channel Island of Jersey in the United Kingdom. Judge Roy Bean often boasted of his acquaintance with Lilly Langtry when in reality he never did meet her. He built a wooden saloon/courthouse and named it The Jersey after the famous actress in hopes that one day she would come to see him. Side note: Lilly did visit Judge Roy Bean’s establishment nearly a year after he passed away. lngomar’s Jersey Lilly was named after this famous story.
In 1958, Bob sold The Jersey Lilly to his son Bill. Bill was a character all his own… he gave the Jersey character and life. Bill was best known for his sailor hat and the string he tied around his head to hold his glasses up. You see, Bill had been a boxer. From 1939 through 1941 he won 45 fights, 38 by knockouts. He lost 1 and had 2 draws. His nose had been broken numerous times and was no longer able to support his glasses. His solution… the string around his head. For years Bill slept on a simple bed in the basement of the Jersey, which was an unfortunate thing for a man who broke into the Jersey one time through the coal chute going into the basement. He was met in the basement hallway, by Bill, the boxer… enough said. The story has been told how Bill drank his coffee cold and his buttermilk straight off the dashboard of his 110-degree vehicle. How it was nothing to see him outside in the middle of the winter chopping wood with only a t-shirt on, steam rolling off him, or sponge bathing himself in the sink behind the front door of the Jersey in the early morning. For Bill, the Jersey was the Hub of the Universe. Bill and his wife Martha are the ones responsible for coming up with the famous Sheepherder Hors d’oeuvres, Jersey Lilly Bean Soup and homemade salsa. Bill believed that the
salsa should only be put in the beans so if you used your salsa on crackers and then asked for more, he would bring you his “special” salsa and it was HOT! You didn’t ask again. 90% of the patrons that come through the doors of the Jersey Lilly have a “Bill Story” as we fondly refer to them as. Bill wanted the Jersey Lilly to make people feel like they were at home when they were here. That was one of the reasons he started his special Thanksgiving and Christmas day feeds. Those occasions were for folks who couldn’t or didn’t have a place to go for the holidays, like those working for the Milwaukee Road Railroad that ran through Ingomar. Those gatherings ended in 1995 due to the sale of the Jersey Lilly. In 2012, the Bill Seward Thanksgiving Day celebration was re-born. While the railroad no longer runs through Ingomar, the reason for the celebration is still the same, open to anyone who chooses to participate.
After 37 years, Bill decided it was time to pass the Jersey Lilly on to someone else and so he sold it to Jerry Brown. Jerry had been coming out to Ingomar on various hunting trips since 1970. It was through his visits that he became friends with Bill and had told Bill many times that if he ever decided to sell the Jersey he was interested in buying it. In 1995, Bill took him up on his offer and sold him one of Montana’s treasures, the Jersey Lilly. Jerry was originally from Colorado Springs, Colorado but was living in Minnesota and had been in the burial vault business. Jerry breathed fresh life into the Jersey by bringing out many guests from the Midwest to experience the forever frontier of Ingomar and the Jersey Lilly. In the 15 years that Jerry owned it, he made several improvements, the biggest being the upgrade in the building connected to the Jersey Lilly, making it a functional addition to the main building. This building had its start as the JA Bookman General Store, which is now used for parties, meetings and overflow to the main dining area. The walls are filled with history of the Jersey Lilly and Ingomar, along with an array of photos from throughout time.
Once again it was time to pass the torch as Jerry was ready to retire. In 2010, the torch was passed to Boots Kope, originally from Miles City and June Nygren, originally from Wisconsin… two people who actually got their start as a couple right at the Jersey Lilly when June was visiting on vacation, while Boots was working for a local ranch. June began working at the Jersey in 2005 when she moved to lngomar along with her children and Grandma. In 2010 the opportunity was presented to Boots and June to take over the Jersey Lilly. With much thought they decided they wanted to help preserve the legacy of the Jersey and so decided to accept the opportunity.
Customers to the Jersey Lilly range from cowhands to world travelers. Many come because they have heard about it from someone else. The Jersey Lilly is known all around the world and has been featured in many different media forms such as Backroads of Montana, The Food Network, several Montana newspapers and magazines, along with numerous Pub Books. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. When visiting the Jersey Lilly visitors often describe it as a step back in time. They enjoy strolling through the buildings taking in as much history as they can. They admire the original pressed tin ceilings and beautiful back bar. They often ask about the cement outline that runs through the old wood floor where the bank teller windows used to stand. Visitors also reminisce about the old phone booth, Copenhagen dispensers and of course its most charming feature, the outhouses. While the Jersey Lilly has running water inside, visitors have to venture outside to find the restrooms. Follow the wooden boardwalk around back of the Jersey and there you will find the “Heifer Pen” and “Bull Pen,” complete with the “Cowboy Rain Gutter Urinal.” Some folks are “spooked” by the outhouses but most say they wouldn’t want it any other way. The three bank vaults are a must-see as well,
although the third vault is in the basement and now only houses the bed frame that Bill used to sleep on. A visit to the Jersey Lilly wouldn’t be complete without the story of how the old moose head came to hang on the wall. You see, the old moose has a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and word has it that Bill told folks that he shot that moose when it stopped to have a cigarette. Bill did indeed shoot that moose, but as Bud Seward (Bill’s brother) told the story, “There was an Indian in here. He was about 9 feet tall and he put the cigarette there.” Why it was never taken out… no one really knows for sure. Bill made the Jersey what it is. His image and character are still very much alive here. Although Ingomar has shrunk to a population of 16, the Jersey remains open and welcoming to all who visit. As I conclude this nomination I will end with what Bill would say to customers as they were leaving… Thank you for sharing your day with us!
Svee, Gary. “Jersey Lilly survived drought.” The Billings Gazette, 5 July 1976, sec. D:1.
Matthews, Mark. “Old Yule tradition dies at famed Ingomar bar.” The Billings Gazette, 24 December 1995, sec. C:5.
Ingomar, Montana. Ingomar, MT: Sage Hens Extension Homemakers Club of lngomar, 1991.
Clifton, Ed. Personal interview. November 2015
Kope, Boots. Personal stories as told to Jersey Lilly customers. Jersey Lilly Bar and Café, Ingomar, MT.