Sweet Grass County, Montana 1921

The County of Sweet Grass came into existence as a political division of Montana early in the year 1895, having been organized from Meagher, Park and Yellowstone counties. It was reduced to its present area and boundaries by yielding portions of its original territory to Stillwater, in 1913, and to Wheatland County, in 1917.

The county derives its name from Sweet Grass Creek, which flows from the eastern slope of the Crazy Mountains to the Yellowstone River, and to the late Judge William G. Strong belongs the honor of naming the county. The creek received its name from the abundant and fragrant grass which grows in its valley and which gives forth a peculiar odor like vanilla. Once enjoyed, the fragrance is never forgotten and brings a full appreciation of the significance of the name.

The County Develops

As the Yellowstone Valley divides Sweet Grass County into two nearly equal portions, that portion of the state is identified with many of its great historic events, such as the Verendrye and Lewis and Clark expeditions, the Crow Indian treaties and agencies, and the trailing's of the emigrants under such leaders as John Bozeman and James Bridger toward Utah, Oregon and the California coast. The first settlements were made along Sweet Grass Creek in the late '70s, the chief sources of supplies being then Bozeman and Miles City. With the completion of the Northern Pacific late in 1882 came a new order of things, the modern order. The old stage stations that had done duty so long along the route from Bozeman to Miles City were replaced by railroad towns. Dornix, later replaced by Big Timber, became a center of population and, when Sweet Grass County was created, in 1895, the seat of its government and courts.

The legislative act which created it provided that Big Timber should be the county seat until after the general election of November, 1896, when the matter of its location should be decided by the voters. In the meantime Sweet Grass County was to form a part of the Sixth Judicial District. The act also provided for the distribution of the indebtedness of Park, Yellowstone and Meagher counties, from which Sweet Grass was formed, the amounts of which were to be determined on certain fixed dates in the succeeding March and June. Such indebtedness was to be reckoned at the close of business March I, 1895. These matters were accordingly adjusted; Sweet Grass County commenced to function on the 9th of March, 1895, and at the fall election of 1896 Big Timber was voted the permanent seat of justice and government.

Sweet Grass County of Today

Sweet Grass County, lies in the south central part of Montana. It has the shape of an inverted right angle, the apex pointing south. The county is divided naturally into two portions, a northern and a southern, by the valley of the Yellowstone River, having a length through the county of fifty-five miles and a width of from two to five miles. South of the east-flowing river the land rises gradually to a high range of mountains, in which the Boulder and Stillwater rivers have their source. The rise north of the Yellowstone culminates in the Crazy Mountains, where are found the head waters of Big Timber, Sweet Grass and Otter creeks.

Some timber is found in this region, in the northwestern part of the county, but the chief timbered area is in the southern end, where 200,273 acres of the county are included in the Beartooth National Forest. Minerals of various kinds, including coal, have been found in the southern portion, but have not yet been commercially developed to a sufficient extent to determine their value.

At present the most important industries are cattle and sheep raising, but dairying, swine raising and bee keeping have been started and are making satisfactory progress. General farming is also followed to some extent, the principal crops raised being wild hay and alfalfa, all kinds of small grain, and garden produce, together with some fruit. The chief agricultural districts lie in the valleys of the Yellowstone River and Boulder, Big Timber, Sweet Grass, American Fork and Otter creeks.

There is a large Carey irrigation project in the county and much additional land in the valleys is irrigated from private ditches. The soil varies from a deep black loam to a light soil with a gravel subsoil. There are considerable areas of good grazing land in the county. The price of irrigated lands varies from $60 to $150 an acre, depending upon location and degree of improvement; non-irrigated farming lands cost from $15 to $30, and grazing land from $7 to $12 an acre. Tourists seeking rest and diversion amid the beauties of nature may find magnificent scenery and fine hunting and fishing in the southern part of the county.

Along the course of the Yellowstone River the county is traversed by the main line of the Northern Pacific Railway, and also by all the main transcontinental highways. Surveys have been made for branch railroad lines through the northern part of the county, though construction work has not yet been started. The county presents wide opportunities for the further development of irrigated land, the water for which is now available.

In 1920 Sweet Grass County had a population of 4,926. More than one-quarter of the inhabitants, or a total of 1,282, were residing in the county seat, Big Timber, an attractive place with fine business establishments and residences. It is situated at an altitude of 4,072 feet above sea level and is the center of a rich region. It is supplied with adequate water works and an efficient electric system and its business interests include hotels, elevators, a creamery and a newspaper. There is estimated to be about 20,000 horse-power available from the Yellowstone River at this place. Besides the graded schools, the Sweet Grass County High School, accredited for a four-year course, is located at Big Timber. Other towns of importance in the county are Melville in the northern, and McLeod in the southern part. The rural and other schools are in a state of satisfactory efficiency.

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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