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Montana County Formation Time Line
1917 Article About County Formation

  Submitted by Kathie Marynik

County Date Created Parent County(s) From Which Organized
Beaverhead 2 Feb 1865  Original county
Big Horn 13 Jan 1913  Rosebud Yellowstone
Blaine  29 Feb 1912  Chouteau
Broadwater  9 Feb 1897 Jefferson Meagher
Carbon  4 Mar 1895 Park  Yellowstone  Custer
Carter  22 Feb 1917  Custer
Cascade  12 Sep 1887  Chouteau  Meagher Lewis & Clark
Chouteau  2 Feb 1865  Original county
Custer  2 Feb 1865  Original county
Daniels  30 Aug 1920  Valley  Sheridan
Dawson  15 Jan 1869  Original county
Deer Lodge 2 Feb 1865  Original county
Edgerton 2 Feb 1865  Original county
Fallon  9 Dec 1913   Custer
Fergus  12 Mar 1885  Meagher  Chouteau
Flathead  6 Feb 1893  Missoula
Gallatin  2 Feb 1865  Original county
Garfield  7 Feb 1919  Dawson
Glacier  17 Feb 1919  Teton
Golden Valley  4 Oct 1920  Musselshell Sweet Grass
Granite  2 Mar 1893  Deer Lodge
Hill  28 Feb 1912  Chouteau
Jefferson  2 Feb 1865  Original county
Judith Basin  10 Dec 1920  Fergus  Cascade
Lake  11 May 1923  Flathead  Missoula
Lewis & Clark   2 Feb 1865   Original county
Liberty  11 Feb 1920  Chouteau  Hill
Lincoln  9 Mar 1909  Flathead
Madison  2 Feb 1865  Original county
McCone  20 Feb 1919  Dawson  Richland
Meagher  16 Nov 1867  Original county
Mineral  7 Aug 1914  Missoula
Missoula  2 Feb 1865  Original county
Musselshell  11 Feb 1911  Fergus Yellowstone
Park 23 Feb 1887  Gallatin
Petroleum  24 Nov 1924  Fergus  Garfield
Phillips  5 Feb 1915  Valley
Pondera  17 Feb 1919  Chouteau Teton
Powder River  7 Mar 1919  Custer
Powell 31 Jan 1901 Missoula  Deer Lodge
Prairie  5 Feb 1915  Custer
Ravalli 16 Feb 1893  Missoula
Richland 27 May 1914  Dawson
Roosevelt  18 Feb 1919  Valley  Richland Sheridan
Rosebud  11 Feb 1901  Custer
Sanders  7 Feb 1905  Missoula
Sheridan  24 Mar 1913  Valley
Silver Bow 16 Feb 1881 Deer Lodge
Stillwater  24 Mar 1913  Sweet Grass Yellowstone Carbon
Sweet Grass   5 Mar 1895   Meagher Park  Yellowstone
Teton  7 Feb 1893  Chouteau
Toole  7 May 1914  Teton  Hill
Treasure  7 Feb 1919  Rosebud
Valley  6 Feb 1893  Dawson
Wheatland  22 Feb 1917   Meagher Sweet Grass
Wibaux  17 Aug 1914  Dawson
Yellowstone  26 Feb 1883   Gallatin  Meagher  Custer Carbon

The Counties of Montana As They Exist At Present


Unless the Supreme Court shall declare unconstitutional the acts passed by the last legislature, creating the Counties of Wheatland and Carter, Montana will this year consist of 43 counties.

When the territory of Montana was organized in 1864 the counties numbered eight.  Names and county seats were:

Beaverhead, Bannack City
Madison, Virginia City
Gallatin, East Gallatin
Chouteau, Fort Benton
Egerton, Silver City
Jefferson, Jefferson City
Deer Lodge, Silver Bow
Missoula, Hellgate
Big Horn


That embraced all the territory not included within the designated boundaries of other counties.


This last named county was never organized, and for legislative and judicial purposes was attached to Gallatin County.


 Virginia City and Fort Benton are the two that remain county seats. The territorial legislature created Meagher and Custer Counties in 1867, Dawson in 1869, Silver Bow in 1881, Fergus and Yellowstone in 1885, Cascade and Park in 1887; and in 1865 changed the name of Edgerton to Lewis and Clark and removed the county seat to Helena.


These, with the original counties of the territory, embraced the whole of Montana when the state was admitted into the Union in 1889.


About this period, when mining was flourishing, when the livestock industry was becoming important, when the building of railroads encouraged the development of the great farming resources, previously lying latent.  Montana received a number of new settlers.  Indian dangers were over and much land previously within Indian reservations was then or soon after opened to settlement.


New Counties were made necessary by the increasing population, and by acts of the legislature Ravalli, Flathead, Teton and Granite Counties were created in 1893.  Carbon, Sweetgrass and Valley in 1895, Broadwater in 1897, Powell and Rosebud in 1901, Sanders in 1905, Lincoln in 1909, and Musselshell in 1911.


The great influx of settlers on the agricultural land of eastern and Central Montana began about this time, and many schemes for county division came before the legislature.


The convenience of settlers called for more and smaller counties, but much rivalry was created among ambitious towns that aspired to be county seats.  Much log-rolling was indulged in to win, and it was decided that the better way would be to pass a general law, under which the people living within the territory which desired to be made into a new county, could vote upon the question and themselves locate the county seat.  Accordingly the Twelfth Assembly passed an act providing a means of creating new counties, which was taken advantage of by a number of communities.  The law was amended at the two succeeding sessions.  


As it now stands, no new county may be created if it does not contain an assessable valuation of $6,000,000, or if it reduces the area of the old county below 800 square miles and its assessable valuation below $8,000,000; nor can a new county be formed to take in land lying within 20 miles of the county seat of the old county.


Under this method the counties of Hill, Blaine and Stillwater were created in 1912; Sheridan, Big Horn and Fallon in 1913; Mineral, Toole, Richland and Wibaux in 1914, and Phillips an Prairie in 1915, the increase of population doubling of the number of people in Montana within a few years as the result of the success of dry farming on lands previously used only for grazing, making the creation of many new counties a necessary convenience to the inhabitants.


When the last legislature met it was not expected that its time would be taken up by the consideration of new county division bills.  The policy of the state was supposed to be settled in favor of adhering to the general law, but bills creating Wheatland County, with Harlowton as the county seat, from Meagher County, with a tier of townships from the northern boundary of Sweet Grass, and Carter County from Rosebud with a few sections from Big Horn County-the town of Rosebud to be the capital-passed.  Governor Steward doubted the constitutionality of these laws and directed the attorney general to b ring suit in the Supreme Court to determine their validity.  The case has been pending for some months, and the decision is awaited with much interest.  While the two bills got through plans for the formation of a new county out of Sheridan and another from parts of Missoula and Flathead did not succeed.

Many events and persons of note in local history, as well as men of national importance are perpetuated in names given to counties in various states.  The memories of many heroes are thus preserved for the edification of students of geography and history and many incidents of the struggle for the conquest of the continent   are brought to attention.  


For one instance the name Socorro in New Mexico recalls the distressing plight of early settlers who prayed for succor from their Indian foes and when it came gave the name to the place where their lives had been in peril.  


In other states are other suggestive names Defiance County, Ohio, brings to mind the hard fight waged in early days against fierce Indian Tribes.  The names of Montana's counties are generally appropriate.  Mineral, Prairie, Richland, Carbon and Wheatland are names descriptive of the products of country embraced in them, but are not distinctive.  


Granite rock gave the name to the mountain, the mountain to the mine, and the mine to the county.

Jefferson, Madison and Lincoln are named for three presidents of the United States who are directly connected with the history of Montana.  Jefferson sent out the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Madison at the time was secretary of state, and Lincoln signed the act crating Montana territory.  Gallatin was the secretary of the treasury in Jefferson's cabinet. 


 James G. Blaine, for who Blaine County was named, was identified with Montana in two ways.  As secretary of state he signed the proclamation announcing the admission of Montana as a state.  A brother of the great political leader lived in Montana fro many years and two nieces now reside in Helena.


Lewis and Clark County, the seat of the capital of Montana, appropriately bears the names of the great explorers who were the first white men to travel from east to west across the vast domain that is now Montana and were the first to bring its attractions and resources to the knowledge of the world. 

 Sheridan and Custer Counties bear the names of military heroes of national note.  General H. Sheridan was commandant of the military department which included Montana at the term of the fiercest Indian wars, and the massacre of General Custer and his command at the battle of the Little Big Horn, June 25, 1876, is the most tragic event in Montana's history. 


 Meagher also, perpetuates the name of a gallant officer of the Civil war and the acting governor of Montana territory at a critical period.  Local statesmen are kept in mind by the counties named after them. 


Toole County recalls Joseph K. Toole, delegate in Congress when the bill for the admission of Montana as a state was passed, the first governor of the state of Montana and subsequently twice again elected to the executive chair. A great lawyer, a fearless citizen, a pioneer who aided most effectively in establishing law and order in the early days of the territory, and one of the first two United States Senators from Montana, it is fitting that Wilbur F. Sanders should have a county named for him.   


Carter County is named for Thomas H. Carter, who as United States senator from Montana was a figure of national importance.


The county named for James J. Hill, the great railroad builder, will cause his memory to be kept green in the section of Montana; he did so much to develop.

Named for Stockman and political leader was Phillips County.  

Pierce Wibaux was a great stockman in the county named for him.

Prominent in the pioneer history of Montana to which he came in 1862 and a leader in the business and political life of the territory and state and possessed a host of friends was Charles A. Broadwater, for whom was named the county that adjoins Lewis and Clark on the south.

The imperial County of Fergus was named in honor of James of that ilk, a noted pioneer both of Minnesota and Montana.

Ravalli.  Surely no county in the state is more beautiful or has as melodious a name, and none commemorates a nobler character than Father Anthony Ravalli, the missionary priest, and physician whose long life was devoted to unselfish service to the poor and weak.  With hundreds of Indians-and white as well-in western Montana, his good influence abides and his memory is cherished as one who was a true shepherd of his flock.  


Some counties bear the names of rivers and valleys that extend beyond their boundaries.  Named for rivers are Yellowstone, Musselshell, Big Horn, Rosebud and Stillwater.  Sweet Grass may take its name from the large creek in it which was so named because of the excellence of the wild grass.


Park gets its name because it adjoins Yellowstone national park, the world's wonderland.  The great falls of the Missouri, a wonderful and valuable asset of Montana, are responsible for the name of Cascade County.  


The valley of Milk River suggested the name of the thriving county in which it is largely situated.

Towering over Deer Lodge Valley is Mount Powell, which was named for John H. Powell, who came to Gold Creek in 1857.  The mountain was named for the pioneer and the county from the mountain.  Deer Lodge Valley and Deer Lodge City are now in Powell County and Anaconda is the county seat of Deer Lodge County.  The historic name Deer Lodge is said to be the translation of an Indian word which described a butte near Warm Springs, which resembled an Indian lodge and where deer made their homes.


At the boundary of Madison and Beaverhead Counties, 18 miles north-east of Dillon, stands a limestone cliff that rises out of the plain to a height of 150 feet.  The Indians fancied it bore the likeness of a beaver's head and Lewis and Clark mention the cliff in their journal.  Beaverhead River and the pioneer county derive their names from this source.


The Marvelous County of Silver Bow derives its name from a small creek of the same name concerning which as historical essay by Professor Garver of the state Norman college says:

"Never was a prettier name coined and it came of this on the evening of a cloud day in January, 1864, when Bud Parker, P. Allison and Joe and Jim Ester on a prospecting trip reached the vicinity of a creek near Butte and a discussion arose as to the name.  As the argument went on the clouds rolled from the sun, its bright glance fell on the waters sweeping in a graceful curve around the base of the mountains, burnishing them to brilliance as they clasped the vale in a bow like silver.  And hence the name "Silver Bow."


Following the exploration of Lewis and Clark came the fur trading days.  Three counties commemorate Leaders in this industry-Chouteau, Dawson and Fallon.  Of a great fur trading family of St. Louis, Pierre Chouteau conceived the idea of steamboat navigation on the Missouri river and was aboard the first steamboat that came to Fort Union in 1832.  The O'Fallon's were relatives and associates of the Chouteau's, and after Major Benjamin O'Fallon, who was an early Indian agent and one of two leaders of a military expedition that came up the Missouri River in 1835.  O'Fallon or Fallon creek was named.  Hence the name of the county.


Dawson County gets its name from Andrew Dawson, the famous Scotch fur trader, who was in charge for many years at Fort Benton.


Of Indian names, common in the older states, Montanan has few.  Teton is the name of a river and of a tribe of Sioux Indians.  Missoula is another melodious Indian name.  Various spellings are given of the Shelish word which means "the place of ambush." One being n - m - i - s - u - l  with the initial letter nearly silent.  This easily modifies into Missoula.  The river, the large and beautiful lake, the fertile county that bears the name of Flathead may take comfort in the thought that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," but would derive an esthetic and pecuniary benefit were the name as melodious as Crie, Huron or Ontario.  The name of Flathead Indians was a misnomer; and surely their language can supply euphonious names for rivers and lakes and mountains.  Selish or Sullshan would be a much more fitting name for the new county which it is proposed to form from the country tributary to St. Ignatius, Renanan and Polson than the suggested commonplace and meaningless name of Reservation.


Anaconda Standard – May 6, 1917

Transcribed and Contributed by:  Frances Cooley


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