Carbon County, Montana 1921

Towering mountain ranges and broad, fertile valleys serve to make Carbon one of the scenic counties of Montana. One of the best watered counties, likewise, with 150,000 to 200,000 acres under irrigation, it is naturally largely devoted to agriculture and stock raising, but that coal mining is likewise a leading industry will be suggested at once by the county's appellation. It lies in Southern Montana, being bounded on the south by Wyoming, and is about midway between the eastern and western borders of Montana, with Park and Stillwater counties to its west, Stillwater and Yellowstone to its north, and Yellowstone and Big Horn to its east.

In the southern part of the county, which is chiefly of a mountainous character, the principal industry is stock raising, and this has been developed into an important enterprise. In the northern part of the county, however, the valleys, running north and south, widen out, and the mountains are succeeded by rolling bench lands, where there is a soil of chocolate colored loam, the valley soil being chiefly a deep alluvial loam. In the northeastern part of the county, and chiefly along the Clark's Fork, some of the finest sugar beet farms in the state are found. Carbon County agriculturists, however, do not find it necessary to confine their activities to any one special line of product, for wheat, oats and barley, among the grains, grow equally well, and potatoes and other vegetables are raised in large quantities, while considerable fruit, chiefly apples and berries, find their way to the market. Much hay is also raised, and in the northern and eastern portions of the county conditions are favorable for the growing of good corn.

Large Coal Mines and First Oil Well

What are reputed to be the largest bituminous coal mines in the Northwest are found at Red Lodge, Washoe and Bear Creek, and in addition to the large enterprises already developed, promising deposits await further unfolding and promotion. In the southern part of the county minerals of various kinds have been found, but lack of transportation facilities thus far has acted detrimentally to their development, which has not been brought to a commercial scale of activity. Carbon County has the distinction of having been the site of the first producing oil well in Montana, this having been brought into action in the Elk Basin field, November n, 191 5. Several other producing wells were brought in later. A great deal of commercial timber has been found in the Beartooth National Forest, of which 315,056 acres lie in Carbon County, but logging operations have been carried on only in a small way and will continue to be so, in all likelihood, until better transportation facilities are forthcoming.

Carbon County need have no fears as to its continued water supply. Numerous streams arising from the glaciers and snow packed drifts in the Bear Tooth Mountains furnish clear, pure water, the principal streams being the Clark's Ford, Rock Creek, Willow Creek and Red Lodge Creek. Water is found in depths ranging from ten to thirty feet when wells are sunk. The county is not as well supplied with railways as some of its more progressive citizens could hope for. A branch line of the Northern Pacific runs from Laurel, on the main line, to Red Lodge, and another to Bridger. The latter branch, at Bridger, connects with a local railroad that serves the Bear Creek field, and the Burlington, Cody-Denver line runs through the county and from Fromberg north uses the Northern Pacific tracks. A main north and south highway runs through the county, one branch going to Cody, Wyoming, and another to Denver, Colorado, and there are also a number of good local roads.

Created March 4, 1895, Carbon County has a land area of 2,060 square miles, and possesses a somewhat high altitude, that at Red Lodge being 5,537 feet. It has a growing season of from 84 to 123 days, and its mean temperature is about 40.4, while its precipitation is 19.51. Well improved irrigated farms sell for from $125 up to $250 per acre, while non-irrigated lands secure from $10 to $50 an acre.

There are good graded schools in the county, a county high school at Red Lodge and other high schools at Bridger, Joliet and Bear Creek. The Bear Creek School is accredited for the three-year term and the other three for four years. Bear Creek is a coal mining town, as is Washoe, while Fromberg is in the heart of the agricultural region and other good towns are Edgar, Bridger, Boyd, Silesia. Luther, Roberts, Roscoe and Belfry.

Carbon County stands fourth among the counties of Montana as to density of population per square mile-7.4-being exceeded only by Deer Lodge, Cascade and Missoula. Its advance in population, by decades, is thus noted in the 1920 census: 1900, 7,533; 1910, 13,962; 1920, 15,279.

Town of Red Lodge

Red Lodge, the county seat of Carbon County, and the largest town therein, is headquarters for the coal mining industry, and was founded as a post office in 1886, although the town did not really begin to attract attention until the following year when coal was discovered by a local character known as ''Yankee Jim," whose real name has been forgotten during the years of development. The discovery of coal was sufficient to warrant the railroad building its line to the camp which was completed in June, 1889, and the mining of coal has been the industry which has caused the growth and advancement of this community. At the present time, the Northwest Improvement Company operates the two largest mines, and in the Bear Creek workings of the same field there are several companies in operation, including the Smokeless and Sootless Coal Company of Red Lodge ; the Fulton Coal Company, Red Lodge, which is just preparing to open mines on a 1,300 acre tract; the Montana Coal and Iron Company, Washoe; the Anaconda Copper Mining Company's coal department, Washoe; the Anaconda Creek Coal Company, Bear Creek; the International Coal Company, Bear Creek; and the Eagle Coal Company, Red Lodge. In 1915 a new industry was opened up, when the first well was brought in in the Elk Basin oil field, and this has been a steady producer. Drilling is in progress in a number of other supposed oil structures in the vicinity of the county seat and is contemplated in several others, the Hoosier Company, just below Joliet, being the most advanced aside from the Elk Basin.

Among the old buildings still standing at Red Lodge, the Pollard Hotel is the one which has precedence in the present location of the town, the depot being another. Store buildings which are now in the "old town," far outside of the present business district, were occupied during the late '80s by O. E. Millis and Babcock & Miles, while the Weaver & Bell livery barn is another landmark. Early residents, who are still living, include P. C. Hicox, A. A. Ellis, Louis Gruel, Maurice Powers, Thomas Hogan, C. C. Bowlen, Charles Wilson, John Weaver, W. B. Nutting, John. W. Chapman, Dan Southerland and Thomas Early; and Mrs. F. W. Draper, who has grown sons, one of whom is Charles H. Draper, editor and publisher of the Picket-Journal, the official newspaper of Carbon County and of the City of Red Lodge. This paper was established as the Red Lodge Picket, in 1888, and consolidated with the Carbon County Journal, which was established in 1909. Today Red Lodge boasts of three banks, eight grocery stores, five men's furnishing stores, four ladies' furnishing stores, one exclusive shoe store, two general stores and a large number of smaller miscellaneous establishments. In addition to the county high school, the city has six schools, including the one erected in 1921, and churches of the Congregational, Catholic, Methodist, Episcopal and Finnish Lutheran denominations. Two hospitals are located at Red Lodge, a Masonic Temple, a Labor Temple, an Odd Fellows' Home, an Elks' Club House and a Carnegie Library, as well as a new modern theater.

Red Lodge is the gateway of Beartooth National Forest, a wonderful natural playground, with scenic splendors and vast natural resources. This national forest adjoins the Yellowstone National Park on the northeast corner, and from Red Lodge good roads lead many miles up the principal streams, the county seat maintaining a camp for the tourists. Camp Senia and Richel Lodge, the former fifteen miles and the latter twelve miles from Red Lodge, are favorite spots with the tourists, particularly those in search of hunting and fishing. In its Chamber of Commerce Red Lodge has an organization which has done much to encourage visitors as well as permanent residents. Its present officers are: G. A. Jeffrey, president; Elbert Hymer, vice president; R. J. Fleming, treasurer; and L. E. Hathaway, general secretary.

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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