A native of Platt County, Missouri, Vardaman Allen Cockrill journeyed to the Montana Territory at a young age and here found success as a farmer and territorial legislator. Cockrell is only the second Montanan to be profiled here on the site (the first being Commodore Perry Bruce) but he certainly won't be the last! Before getting to the main biography I'd like to note that Vardaman Cockrell's last name is recorded as being spelled in a variety of ways, including "Cockerill", "Cockerell" and "Cockrell", and with these many spelling variations, its made finding information on Vardaman rather difficult! Cockrell's gravestone in Bozeman, Montana spells his last name as "Cockrell" and it is that spelling that I've gone with here.
Vardaman A. Cockrell was born on September 11, 1843 (date also given as 1844) in Platt City, Missouri, the son of Jeremiah Vardaman (died 1859) and Louisa Mayo Cockrell. Jeremiah V. Cockrell is not to be confused with another Jeremiah Vardaman Cockrell (1832-1915) who served as a U.S. Representative from Texas from 1893-1897. Our subject is recorded as receiving his primary education in the schools of Platt City and later attended the Plattsburg College in Clinton County, Missouri.
Cockrell left his home in Missouri in 1863 and journeyed north to the Montana Territory, eventually settling in an area referred to as Alder Gulch. He engaged in mining here for a short while and later traveled by ox-train to Utah. The Progressive Men of the State of Montana notes that Cockrill and a number of other settlers began a trek back to Montana that fall but were hampered by a blizzard that forced them to camp in Beaver Canyon for the winter.
Cockrell and his fellow travelers returned to Montana in the spring of 1864 and in that same year, he found work as a cow herder in the Blacktail Deer Creek area. In December 1864 he removed to the Gallatin Valley area and here established a homestead that he continued to improve upon over the succeeding years. Cockrill added horses, cattle and mares to his farm in the early 1870s and as a farmer was described by the Progressive Men of the State of Montana as being "of eminently scientific turn" and was also Stock Commissioner of Gallatin County for several years and "gave the people of the county excellent service."
In 1868 Cockrell was elected as Gallatin County's representative in the Montana Territorial House of Representatives, serving in the legislative term of 1869-1870. Due to the lack of information on Cockrell, it is unknown whether or not he took part in any important legislation during his term of service. A notice mentioning his term appeared in the register of the Society of Montana Pioneers and has been posted below.
After his brief service in the legislature, Cockrell continued to improve on the state of his farm, named the "Superior Stock Farm", which is listed as being over 1600 acres and having "250 head of horses and 350 head of cattle." In 1876 Cockrill married Marthena "Thena" Winifred Smith (1853-1926), the daughter of a prominent Kirksville, Missouri banker. Vardaman and Thena eventually became the parents of four children, who are listed as follows: Irvin Mackerness (1878-1951), John T. (born 1884), Vardaman Allen (born 1888) and Rolph Goode (1890-1919).
In addition to farming, Cockrell is also noted as being heavily involved in mining interests "in different parts of the state", and was remarked as being "at the front line in every business he engaged, being broad-minded, spirited and progressive." Cockrell was also a member of the Society of Montana Pioneers, serving the organization as a vice president in 1885 and 1888. In 1897 he was named to the Montana State Board of Stock Commissioners (representing Gallatin County) and served a two-year term.
Vardaman A. Cockrell died in Bozeman, Montana sometime in 1901, when he would have been around 58 years of age. He was interred at the Sunset Hills Cemetery in Bozeman and was survived by his wife Thena, who died in 1926 at age 73. She and her eldest child Irvin M. Cockrell are also interred at Sunset Hills. The portrait of Cockrell featured above was located in the History of Montana: 1739-1885, published by the Warner, Beers, and Co. in 1885.