Toole County, Montana
Genealogy and History

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The Sweet Grass Hills
by Auverne Demarest
as published in
"Toole County Backgrounds", 1958

publisher: Shelby History Group of the Montana Institute of the Arts

This book provides county history, in the form of poetry or stories, as remembered by local residents.

The Sweet Grass Hills

An essay written for Miss Dunster’s Social Studies Class, page 31
Transcribed by Jana Richardson

The Sweet Grass Hills consist of three main buttes about 130 miles east of the Rocky Mountains in northern Montana. They are West Butte, Middle Butte, and East Butte. They are the only formations of their kind in Montana as they are made up of a lava material. Their elevation is six thousand to seven thousand feet. They are heavily wooded with timber, fir, spruce and several kinds of pine. Also there are broad leaf trees as cottonwood, quaking aspen, many kinds of willows, dogwood, Balm of Gilead, and others.

Wildlife is plentiful. There are white-tailed and mule deer, antelope, elk, lynx, bob-cats, and coyotes. Besides there are many smaller animals. There used to be many wolves, but they have all been trapped out. The buffalo and kit-foxes are now extinct in the “Hills.”

Gold was first discovered in Gold Butte by a Blackfoot Indian in 1884. After that white people started coming in. Gold Butte, a little mining town, was founded. It had quite a few buildings in it. Some people say at one time there were a thousand people there. Now most of the buildings have been moved, and it is a ghost town.

In the late 1800’s it was illegal for white people to mine for gold there but they did it anyway. They had a station on a high hill called “look-out station” where one man would keep watch for the soldiers from their post on East Butte (Fort Benton). When he saw them coming, he would go and warn the miners. By the time the soldiers would get there, no one would be in the mines. The soldiers would stay there quite a while, but on one would come back to the mines, so they would leave. As soon as they had gone, the miners would come back to their work.

The gold in the Hills has been exhausted, but there are still other minerals. In East Butte there is some real good quality marble. None of this has ever been taken out, because of the difficulty in getting to it. The oil industry is getting bigger every year. Every day several truckloads of oil are taken to Kevin. There also was a small deposit of copper and quite a large amount of coal. Fossils with small shells in them can be picked up in many places. Natural gas goes to Great Falls every day through pipe lines.

The first school in the Hills was opened in the fall of 1895 in Gold Butte. A Miss Everetts was the teacher, and there were about four pupils in school. The school house was a one room log cabin. All of the furniture was homemade. As the school district had just been created, it was only open for a three month term the first year.

Whitlash, near East Butte, once had a post office and general store, hotel, several saloons, a creamery, and a livery stable. Now there are only a post office, a grocery store, a school house, the U.S. customs, the community hall, the Presbyterian Church, and some homes.

The first sheep were brought into the Hills by T.P. Strode in the early days. They were driven from the Marias River. Later cattle were brought in. Today the Sweet Grass Hills region is mainly a ranching area, though there is a little farming. Instead of mining for gold, people are drilling for oil, and in the place of the buffalo that that once roamed the hills are cattle and sheep. But everything is not changed. The trees still cover the steep slopes of the buttes and from a distance, the “Hills” can still be seen rising up against the skyline as silhouettes in the beautiful red and orange Montana sunsets, even as the early settlers first saw them.

Auverne Demarest was graduated from the Shelby High School in 1955. She was awarded a Clack Scholarship to Northern Montana College and entered college in September 1955; was graduated from the two medical secretary course in 1957; and began work at the University Health Center in Seattle on July 1, 1957.
Auverne and Timothey Diefenback were united in marriage on June 10, 1958. Since her marriage, Mrs. Diefenback has continued with her work at the University Health Center.
Corlie F. Dunster.

County Pictures

Source: "Toole County Backgrounds", 1958
publisher: Shelby History Group of the Montana Institute of the Arts

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