Chouteau County, Montana 1921

One of the oldest counties in Montana is that which bears the name of the Chouteau brothers, Auguste and Pierre, American pioneers, fur traders and founders of the city of St. Louis. As the head of navigation on the Missouri River, its associations of former years make it an exceedingly interesting subject of study to the student of history, and from the time of its creation, February 21, 1865, until something like a decade ago it remained as an important stock raising center, in its evolution passing through all the stages that have marked the gradual development of this section from a range country into an agricultural domain. In its early days Chouteau County experienced much Indian fighting, and during the period in which river navigation was almost entirely depended upon, this locality held a prominent place in the fur trade, Fort Benton, one of the oldest towns in Montana, having been the chief fur trading point in the American northwest. This community is still one of great interest, a part of the old fort still remaining to mark what was at one time the frontier of paleface settlement, and is rich in its Indian lore and pioneer traditions.

Physical Features of Chouteau County

Chouteau County is situated in the north central part of Montana, and is bounded on the north by Hill and Toole counties, on the west by Teton County, on the south by Cascade and Fergus counties and on the east by Blaine County. Along the southern boundary are the Highwood Mountains, while in the northeastern corner are the Bear Paws, and right at the western border is the eastern end of the Teton Ridge. For the most part, the county consists of broad, rolling prairies, although along the streams the country presents a broken surface. The Missouri River enters Chouteau County from the south, Maria's from the north and the Teton from the west, and the confluence of these waterways is at Loma, near the center of the county, where they join the Missouri. The southeastern boundary of the county is formed by the Arrow River, and there are a number of other streams of lesser importance, such as Shonkin, Birch and Eagle creeks.

Rural Industries For many years Chouteau county's 4,432 square miles of land area was devoted almost entirely to stock raising, and it is still one of the important industries, there being numerous large sheep and cattle ranches still in flourishing operation. However, during recent years, agriculture has been coming more and more into favor, and gradually the farmer is displacing the cattleman, finding the chocolate loam soil excellent for the raising of wheat, rye, oats, barley and flax. Corn has also been raised with success, as well as sunflowers for silage. The prairies have produced good crops without irrigation, and it has been only in recent years that this has been engaged in. Private pumping plants, electrically driven, now irrigate about 5,000 acres, and a large part of this territory is being devoted to alfalfa. Land values have advanced in this county during recent years, and irrigated land is now held at from $75 to $125 per acre and non-irrigated land from $15 to $50 an acre, depending upon the location and the improvements which have been made thereon. As to its other resources, they are of a secondary character, although good lignite coal has been found in appreciable quantities, and prospecting for gas and oil has gotten under way. Cottonwood timber abounds along the streams, and there are 32,602 acres of the Jefferson National forest in the county.

Transportation Facilities

For its transportation facilities Chouteau County has the Havre-Butte branch of the Great Northern Railroad, which supplies the area from the northeast to the southwest; and the Lewistown-Great Falls branch of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, which makes a loop through the southern part. The highway, which connects Great Falls with Havre, runs parallel to the Great Northern Railroad, and there are also good secondary roads. The matter of education has not been neglected by the people of this county, there being, in addition to a good rural school system and common schools in all the community centers, a county high school at Fort Benton and another high school at Big Sandy, both accredited for four-year terms. This county also has the distinction of being the first in the state to establish a county library, which is located at Fort Benton, and has upwards of 12,000 volumes, maintaining branches in a number of the leading towns.

Fort Benton

During the earlier history of the county, Fort Benton, the county seat, was considered a community of much importance. Situated as it is on the Missouri River, and being the head of navigation thereof, it was a trading point for all the surrounding country. When river navigation passed it lost much of its prestige, but this it is regaining today with the continued growth and development of agriculture, it being in the center of a large and prosperous farming, livestock and wool growing country. Incorporated in 1884, the city secured special delivery service two years later, and in its government, business and general improvements is now rated as a modern community in every respect. It has a live Commercial Club, of which James Murtry is secretary, and maintains two newspapers, four hotels, two banks, three churches, two hospitals, a graded and high school and a flour mill, in addition to other modern industries and mercantile establishments. Located on the Great Northern Railroad, forty-four miles northeast of Great Falls, it is in close touch with the outside world, and being conveniently reached, attracts numerous tourists every year who come to view the historic old fort, located in the heart of the city. Another city which has enjoyed a steady and rapid growth is Big Sandy, midway between Fort Benton and Havre, which is the trading center for a wide and growing agricultural district. The trading center for the southern part of the county is Geraldine, and other worth-while communities are Loma, Carter, Highwood, Floweree, Montague and Square Butte.  Visit Citizens of Fort Benton, 1862-3

Montana Counties 1921

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Source: Montana its Story and Biography, by Tom Strout, Volume 1, The American Historical Society, 1921

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