Custer County, Montana 1921

Created February 2, 1865, as one of the original counties of Montana, Custer County was for many years known as the center of the stock growing industry in the Northwest. As has been the case in almost all the other counties of the state, much of the prestige which it possessed because of its cattle and sheep has passed away, but in the case of Custer what it has lost in one direction it has gained in another, for of recent years agriculture has developed and is becoming more and more important yearly, and, with numerous favorable conditions, including the longest growing season of any county in the state (from 126 to 148 days), it will in all probability continue its advancement in this direction.

While old-time western cattle ranges are still operating in the county, in the southern end, and while the largest remount station operated by the federal government is situated at Fort Keogh, prominent in the early history of Montana, the resistless drive of the agriculturist is gradually sweeping away other industries, and the deep loam soil, with a clay subsoil that produces abundant crops, is causing the rolling, broken country, with its pronounced brakes along the Tongue and Yellowstone rivers, to blossom like the proverbial rose. In the 3,930 square miles included in the county, there are 25,000 acres under irrigation and plans at present are being made to utilize the waters of the rivers to a much greater extent. The county is a well-watered one, as the Yellowstone River flows northeasterly through the county and the Tongue and Powder rivers northerly into the Yellowstone, in addition to which there are numerous tributaries. A considerable portion of the land is tillable, and corn has proven an especially good crop, with more acres being devoted thereto, primarily to make silage for stock. Also, wheat, oats, alfalfa, millet and all kinds of root crops and vegetables grow well.

Aside from agriculture and stock raising, the industries are few, although some manufacturing is done at Miles City and large railroad shops are located there. Custer County possesses no commercial timber, although cottonwood is found along the streams, while about all the mineral resources which the county boasts are confined to lignite coal lying under many districts, furnishing an economical and easily accessible fuel. Irrigated land is held at $100 an acre up; improved non-irrigated land from $40 to $60 an acre; non-improved, non-irrigated land from $15 to $35, and grazing land from $5 to $12 an acre.

Custer County, which is named in honor of Gen. George Armstrong Custer, the famous Indian fighter and hero of the Little Big Horn, lies in the southeastern part of the state, and has excellent railroad facilities, as the Northern Pacific and Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railways parallel the Yellowstone River through the county, and the Yellowstone Trail, from Plymouth Rock to the Puget Sound, also crosses the county. In all communities, good rural schools are found, while Miles City has a good graded school and the Custer County High School, accredited for a four-year term, which in addition to the regular courses gives commercial, home economics and manual training work. The State Industrial School for Boys is also located at Miles City, and what may be regarded also as an educational institution is the Snow Creek Game Preserve, which was created through the efforts of W. T. Hornaday of the New York Zoological Society, and which, although lying in Garfield County, is best reached from Miles City. Among the live and growing communities in Custer County may be mentioned Ulmer, Calabar, Beebe. Shirley, Kinsey and Miles City, the last named being the county seat and the principal town in either Custer County or Southeastern Montana.

Sketch of Miles City

Miles City is situated at the junction of the Tongue and Yellowstone rivers, and is a division point for the Northern Pacific and Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroads, the latter maintaining large shops at this place. One of the old cow towns of the state, many wealthy ranchmen make it their home, and it is a range center for the horse, cattle and sheep country of the heart of the Yellowstone Valley, and maintains an important wool market. Situated 2,370 feet above the sea level, it possesses a fine climate, and its citizens have added to this attractive feature that of providing numerous parks and public playgrounds. Riverside Park, located at the foot of Main Street, is one of the finest public parks in Montana, combining natural beauty of ancient cottonwoods and artificial embellishment of winding walks and floral beds. Wibaux Park, the bequest to the city of the late Pierre Wibaux, is located in an attractive residence neighborhood. A small playground known as Triangle Park occupies a fractional block on Montana Avenue, and another natural grove of forty acres, bordering the Yellowstone, is being preserved for future development as a public park.

Municipal Light and Water Systems

The light and water systems of Miles City are municipal institutions and are profitable features of its civic affairs. The city is famous for its artesian wells There are two strata under the city, one at a depth of 100 feet, from which the water rises to within eight feet of the surface, whence it is pumped by city water service; while the other is at a depth of 400 feet, from which come flowing wells. The water is impregnated with soda, is known as fine boiler water, and requires hardly any cleaning. Miles City maintains five newspapers, of which two are dailies.

The Public Library

The Carnegie Library is a public institution which is supported by the city, the building occupying a central location on Main Street. The City Hall, a modest but attractive building of brick and stone, occupies a corner at Bridge and Eighth streets, and in addition to housing the city offices and council rooms, furnishes accommodations for the modern fire department and the city jail. Other public buildings include the United States Land Office and the United States Observatory.

The Miles City Hospital was established and built by Custer County, but after about a year of operation it was leased to the Sisters of Charity, who have since been its sponsors. The original building cost $35,000, but the increase of its patronage has made it necessary that it be enlarged.

Other Public Buildings and Institutions

Miles City contains some most attractive buildings. The new county high school is a credit to the community, and the Washington and Garfield public schools are likewise handsome and commodious structures, while the gymnasium and manual training building was erected at a cost of $13,000, and is a yellow brick and concrete building which houses the latest gymnasium apparatus and equipment for manual training. The Ursuline Sisters Convent was founded in 1884 by Mother Mary Amadeus of the Sacred Heart and occupies a handsome brick structure just west of the county high school.

The State Industrial School, formerly known as the Reform School, is one mile east of Miles City, and has eight large buildings. The wards of this institution are all given schooling, the 100-acre farm supplies the table, and the older pupils are given half of each day to learn whatever trade they are interested in; the manual training department teaching carpentry, blacksmithing, painting, tailoring, printing, shoemaking, laundering, etc., while the girls are taught cooking, housework, sewing and music. The boys have their own band, baseball and football teams, and their own newspaper, The Boy's Messenger, and the school is run on the merit system, whereby the pupils, by good behavior and reasonable diligence in school work, are eligible for parole within a year.

The Y. M. C. A. of Miles City

The Young Men's Christian Association at Miles City was organized in 1909, some of the principal factors in its founding being G. M. Miles, S. Fred Cale, H. B. Wiley, C. W. Butler, J. B. Collins, J. E. Farnum and Jack Evans. The two-story-and-basement brick building was erected in 1910 at a cost of approximately $35,000, and there are twenty-nine dormitory rooms, a good-sized lobby, a gymnasium, a swimming pool and locker and banquet rooms. The successive secretaries of the association have been Messrs. Fox, Percy, Rouse, S. L. Hedrick and H. L. Ankeny, the last-named being the present incumbent of the office. At the present time there are approximately 450 senior and sustaining memberships and about 250 junior memberships, the leader membership being on the service basis. At the present time the association is entirely free from debt, is paying its responsibilities promptly and is growing every day. An interesting feature of the association is the Boys' Camp, which is one of the best in the Northwest. It is located on a 360-acre island in the Yellowstone River, owned by the Government, and the Young Men's Christian Association has exclusive use of it through the courtesy of the military authorities. The need for a large public meeting and recreation hall was met by the erection of the Auditorium, which adjoins the Young Men's Christian Association building and is a substantial and dignified structure.

Churches and Fraternities

There are seven churches at Miles City, including those of the Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations. Thirteen fraternal organizations are represented at Miles City, and several of these have their own homes. The Elks Club building, erected in 1914, is one of the handsomest in the city, costing $68,000 and is located opposite the Federal building one block from Main Street. It is used exclusively for lodge and club purposes, and, as there are numerous members of this fraternity at Miles City, is the scene of many social gatherings. The Masonic order occupies an imposing building on Main Street, a structure of buff sandstone and reinforced concrete. The lower floors are utilized for business purposes, and the upper for the lodge rooms and hall. The Knights of Columbus council occupies comfortable clubrooms in the basement of the post office building, and the Fraternal Order of Eagles also has its own home. The Miles City Club, organized in the early '80s, the oldest club in Montana, occupies the second floor of the Wibaux Block. Once a year the club holds open house in honor of the visiting stockmen who attend the annual conventions of the Montana Stock Growers' Association. This body has entertained many distinguished visitors during its many years of existence and has a well-merited reputation for open-handed hospitality. The various industries carried on in the limits of the municipality may be estimated when it is known that twenty-eight unions have members employed in various trades.

Center of Horse Trade

Tourists from the East who are seeking the real western atmosphere will find it at Miles City in the Remount Depot, situated at Fort Keogh. Conducted by the War Department, the Military Reservation, which is now used as a range for the horses, is ten miles square, being the largest depot, or concentration horse camp, in the United States. There are only two other depots of the kind in the country, neither of which approach the size of the Fort Keogh station. Here western horses are brought direct from the range and broken and trained according to the United States Army regulations, although the only soldiers are the commanding officer and several orderlies, the employees being civilians and the wranglers all cowboys and expert riders. Many visitors will also find much of interest in the annual Miles City Round Up, a frontier exhibition held each year as a great outdoor pageant, in which contestants from all over the state compete in feats of skill and daring. Miles City maintains a large and well-patronized horse market. The original sales yards were erected by the late A. B. Clark, just south of the Northern Pacific Railway tracks and occupied some eighteen acres of land. The business eventually passed into other hands and the size of the yards was doubled by the construction of new and more substantial yards and buildings north of the tracks. During the World's war Miles City furnished thousands of mounts to the French, Italian and English governments, as well as to the United States, and the animals from the Miles City Horse Market proved their worth in the severe test of war.

Horse Market at Miles City

Stage Lines and Highways Three stage lines operate out of Miles City. The Jordan line, ninety-nine miles in length, leaves Miles City every Monday morning and arrives at Jordan Tuesday, at 8 P. M. The Brandenberg line is eighty-eight miles in length, and the Mizpah line eighty-two miles long.

The horse, in many ways, has been succeeded by the automobile, and in this connection the matter of the automobile highway comes to attention. This was projected as an association at Miles City in 1912, the idea being originally conceived by Judge J. E. Prindle, of Ismay. It started at the Twin Cities and the original project took it to Yellowstone National Park, but the men behind the movement took up as their slogan: "A-Good Road from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound," and this has since been realized. The road was originally called the Twin City-Aberdeen-Yellowstone Park Highway, but Miles City's suggestion that it be called the Yellowstone Trail, while originally rejected, was finally adopted, although it is also known as the Electric Highway. Thousands of touring parties pass annually over this highway and appreciate the huge sums of money that Custer County has spent in developing and improving it.


As a wealthy city, this community has three banks, the oldest of which is the First National Bank, which was organized in 1882, and of which G. M. Miles is president. The present cashier, H. B. Wiley, has occupied this post for many years. The State National and Commercial National Banks were consolidated January 21, 1921, and form a strong institution operating under the latter name.

Annual County Fair

Custer County holds its annual County Fair at Miles City, and this is becoming an increasingly popular annual event. It is thought that Custer County was the first, and perhaps the only, county in the state to have full control of its own fair. The fair is conducted and managed by a boardMiles of county fair commissioners who are appointed each year, and the annual appropriation and gate receipts afford a good margin for prizes, purses and special events. Miles City likewise holds an annual corn show, now known as the Montana State Corn Show. This was inaugurated in 1914 by M. L. Wilson, identified with the United States Experiment Station at Bozeman, whose hobby had always been corn and whose belief it was that this crop could be successfully grown in Montana. He was given his choice of locations, and selected Miles City, partly because he felt that this city was in the center of his theoretical corn belt and partly because there were many skeptics in this city whom he wished to bring about to his way of thinking. Through his labors this event became a decided success and did much to promote the growing of a crop that is proving annually of more and more value to the county and its agriculturists. Another result of his work at Miles City was the establishment of the office known as the County Agricultural Agent, with headquarters in the courthouse. This department is maintained jointly by the county, state and federal governments and is playing an important part in the prosperity of the county.

Montana Counties 1921

Return to Montana AHGP

Source: Montana its Story and Biography, by Tom Strout, Volume 1, The American Historical Society, 1921

Please come back Soon!


Back to AHGP

This page was last updated Thursday, 11-Jun-2015 21:54:02 EDT

Copyright August @2011 - 2024 AHGP - Judy White
For the exclusive use and benefit of The American History and Genealogy Project. All rights reserved.