Jefferson County, Montana 1921

Jefferson County, having a population, according to the last census, of 5,203, has enjoyed a political existence of fifty-six years, having been created February 2, 1865, just as the Civil war was approaching its termination and about nine months after Montana had been separated from Idaho and made a separate territory. At that time it was to the dwellers in the eastern, southern and middle states a practically unknown region, occupied by Indian tribes generally hostile, and full of danger for the solitary explorer or adventurous pioneer. But the discovery of gold at Alder Gulch, in what is now Madison County, worked a transformation, and the greed for wealth, or what would now be called the "get-rich-quick" craze, became an agency for good in the settlement and final civilization of a vast territory which, thirty-four years later, was admitted into the sisterhood of states comprising the American Union.

In this new territory, now a state, Jefferson County occupies geographically a west central position. Sixty miles long north and south by forty wide, it has an area of 1,642 square miles. For the most part the surface is rugged and mountainous, the elevation above sea level ranging from 4,100 feet in the Jefferson Valley at the southern end, to 7,000 feet or more in the mountain ranges. The climate, though sometimes severe in winter, is sufficiently warm and mild in summer to permit of a growing season of 82 to 121 flays, and agriculture, stock raising and dairying are followed successfully with due regard to local conditions of soil, surface and water facilities.

The Continental divide forms the western boundary, several of its small spurs jutting into the county. The Jefferson River, flowing along the southeastern boundary, is the largest stream. The second in importance is Boulder River, which has its source in the northern part and flows south, emptying into the Jefferson at Cardwell. These rivers, together with Prickly Pear Creek and a number of smaller streams, furnish good drainage and water supply, and their valleys, having for the most part a rich alluvial soil, yield satisfactory returns to the enterprising farmer. The southern part of the county is more adapted to agriculture than the northern. Wheat, oats, rye and potatoes are the chief crops, and Butte and Helena the principal markets. Irrigation is practiced where needed, the price of irrigated lands ranging from $50 to $150 an acre. Non-irrigated lands bring from $10 to $35 an acre and grazing lands $7 to $12 an acre. Of commercial timber the county contains more than 500,000 acres, of which 354,720 are contained in the Deer Lodge National Forest, and 147,835 acres in the Helena National Forest.

Mining was the first industry in Jefferson County and for many years continued to be the most important. Silver, lead and gold have been the chief mineral products, and the output of the silver mines at Corbin, Wickes, Elkhorn and other camps has amounted to millions of dollars. Some zinc has also been mined and granite used in the state capitol at Helena was obtained in Jefferson County. In course of time, after the shallower or more easily worked deposits had been exploited, mining activities waned and there was a period of depression, but more recently interest has revived, new prospects have been discovered and are now in course of development, with favorable opportunities for the further production of metals and an extension of the building stone industry.

The southern end of Jefferson County is traversed by the main line of the Northern Pacific and the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railways. The former is paralleled by the Yellowstone Trail, while the Banff-Grand Canyon road parallels the Great Northern. Branches of the Northern Pacific leave the main line at Sappington and Whitehall and run south into Madison County. The Havre-Bunte branch of the Great Northern runs north and south through the county.

The peculiar geological formation of this region finds expression here and there in thermal springs, of therapeutic value, which have led to the establishment of three well-patronized health and pleasure resorts, the Boulder Hot Springs at Boulder, the Pipestone Hot Springs near Whitehall, and the Alhambra Hot Springs at Alhambra.

Boulder and Whitehall

The chief towns in Jefferson County are Boulder and Whitehall. Boulder, located near the center of the county, is the county seat, and, though small as to population, is a good market town with important livestock and mining interests. Here is located the State School for the Deaf and Blind, and the county high school accredited for the four years course, which also provides a course in agriculture under the provisions of the Smith-Hughes Act. Whitehall is the center of the irrigated agricultural district and draws considerable trade from Madison County. Like Boulder it has a high school accredited for the four year term. Good rural schools have been established throughout the country districts, the pupils in which are showing satisfactory progress.

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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