Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pete Zortman Comes Home

Oliver Peter Zortman came west in 1888, lured by gold discovered in eastern Montana’s Little Rocky Mountains. He struck it rich several times, ran a cyanide mill, and left his name on the town of Zortman. He was part of an elite group—one of very few to leave the Little Rockies with a small fortune in gold.

Zortman, Montana, 1908. Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 951-885
He joined the Masons in Chinook and eventually ended up in Big Timber where he died of cancer in 1933, penniless. No stone marked his final resting place, but the local newspaper that documented his passing mentioned that he was buried in a hand-dug pauper’s grave. A few years ago, Zortman residents decided to honor their namesake. It was no small task to discover Zortman’s unmarked resting place. A long search led to Zortman’s membership in the Masons. The leatherbound records of the Big Timber Masonic Lodge offered details of Zortman’s funeral. With permission from Zortman’s relatives, several veterinarians, a Chinook undertaker, cemetery workers, and assorted Zortman residents oversaw the exhumation. The remains of Pete Zortman surfaced from the chocolate soil in Big Timber’s Mountain View Cemetery with some difficulty. Water from an irrigation ditch immediately flooded the hole as the backhoe dug. Three feet of muck was removed, and pieces of the coffin and Zortman began to surface. The yellowed bones were placed in a newly made pine coffin and loaded onto a truck. On August 27, 2005, a vintage hearse carried the pine box to the Zortman Cemetery. A smattering of relatives and most of the town of Zortman attended the graveside services. Pete Zortman was home.


  1. I was one of the Masons who returned Pete from Big Timber to Zortman, Our crew spent the night at a Big Timber Motel and took his coffin into the laundry room from the back of a pickup for fear of being stolen until we could exhume Pete the next day. I drove Pete and his new coffin to Zortman while our dig crew slept from a long and hard day of digging and recovery. Our crew was John Kalal and daughter Hanah, Dr. Jim Curtis, D.V.M., Michael Wlodkowski and me, Dennis Broadbrooks. Still sorry to the cemetery workers for leaving them with their stuck tractor in the Big timber Cemetery, tractor almost sunk out of sight. What an adventure for all.

  2. Pete would have been a distant relative (my mother's maiden name was Zartman). The family came from Germany in about 1728. There were two sons in the family; my mother's line came from one, Pete's from the other. After he and Rose married,they lived in Zortman for while, then they moved to
    Bellevue, Idaho, (another mining town) where they had two daughters, Lucille and Helen. At some point, Rose left by herself and moved to Seattle,with her daughters, and then to California, where a sister lived. She briefly returned to Montana in the 1930's, and she and Pete "renewed their marriage vows". Apparently, that situation was short lived and she again returned to the Los Angeles area. Somewhere along the way, she assumed the name of Arlington, because she was dissatisfied with her life as a Zortman She and her daughters and grandson (Helen's son) all shared a household together, but it was not always a happy situation, according to grandson, Richard Fugette. Rose and a daughter are buried in the cemetery in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Richard is survived by a daughter. We attended the reburial of Pete in 2005 in Zortman, along with other relatives; his great granddaughter

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