Thomas I. Bolton

Marshal Bolton’s badge

Thomas I. Bolton, 18th U.S. Marshal, District of Montana
Photograph courtesy of Mrs. Jerry Holmgren, Billings, Montana

Photograph courtesy of Special Agent Thomas J. Blankenship, Billings, Montana



Thomas Bolton, 18th United States Marshal for the District of Montana

Thomas Isaac Bolton was born at the family farm between Northwood and Fertile, Iowa on January 8th, 1888 to Thomas Edmund and Mittie Smith Bolton. He attended primary school, completing the eighth grade. In 1906, at the age of 18; Bolton moved to Albert Lea, Minnesota, where he studied at the Albert Lea Telegraphy School. Bolton then secured employment with the Northern Pacific Railroad as a telegrapher in Minnesota, subsequently transferring west to Terry, Montana. Later he moved to the Lockwood, Montana where he homesteaded and proved up a dry land ranch. In 1910, Bolton met and then married the former Miss Esta Pearl Pearsall of Billings. The Northern Pacific transferred Bolton to the Custer, Montana station and he work there for four years until 1915, when accepted a position with a grocery store in Absarokee, Montana.

In 1917, Bolton accepted a job as a deputy sheriff at the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office at Columbus, Montana and moved his family there. He worked two years as deputy and was then promoted by Sheriff Ed Fellows to undersheriff; serving two years in that capacity. Bolton ran for and was elected the Republican candidate as Sheriff in 1922 and was re-elected, serving until 1928. During Bolton’s time as Sheriff; Esta served as the county’s jail cook and she raised their children while they lived above the jail. Bolton was known for his kindness and gentle sense of humor; taking in down-on-their -luck travelers and sending out original Christmas cards to all his friends and neighbors. Bolton took great pride in his efficiency in managing the public monies and the capture of criminals while in office. He was know to his friends as “Long Dog”, due to his six foot, two inch frame, but was lauded by Montana Attorney General Wellington Rankin as, “One of the best sheriffs in Montana and the entire Northwest”. During Bolton’s sheriff’s office service, crime in Stillwater County consisted mostly of car thieves, burglars and moon shiners – as this was the time of prohibition. Sheriff Bolton also volunteered his time for seven years as the secretary-treasurer of the Columbus Fire Department.

On May 2nd, 1928 Bolton was confirmed as United States Marshal for the District of Montana, and moved his family to Billings; succeeding Marshal Lieberg, the court appointed marshal, following the untimely death of Marshal Orrick.

Marshal Bolton prohibition duties continued; raiding moonshine stills, gin mills and gambling halls around the state. Due to the workload, Marshal Bolton stored slot machines and illicit whiskey as evidence in the basement at the family home in Billings. Esta tired of the smell and asking her husband to clean the basement; one day she and the children poured all the liquid evidence and the criminal cases down the drain. Marshal Bolton was succeeded in office in April 28, 1932, following the election of President Franklin Roosevelt by Marshal Rolla Duncan.

After his public service, Marshal Bolton developed several real estate properties in the Billings area and operated the Monte Carlo beer parlor at 17 North Twenty-ninth Street and lived at 715 Grand Avenue. At the age of 49, Marshal Bolton died following an operation for a ruptured stomach ulcer on December 12th, 1937. He was interned at the Mountainview Cemetery under the direction of Settergen’s funeral home on December 16th, 1937.

1) Mrs. Jerry Bolton Holmgren (Daughter), Billings, Montana
2) Special Agent Tom Blankenship (Grandson), Billings, Montana
3) Biography of Thomas Isaac Bolton, Dorothy Bolton Brown (Daughter)
4) The Columbus (Stillwater) News: 02/22/1922, 06/29/1922, 10/12/1922, 10/26/1922, 11/09/1922, 10/30/1924, 04/15/1926, 04/22/1926, 04/26/1926, 05//00/1926, 10/14/1926, 04/19/1928, 12/16/1937
5) Billings Gazette: 04/26/1928, 12/14/1937