Fergus County, Montana 1921

Fergus, the largest county in the state of Montana, is situated geographically and agriculturally in the very heart of the commonwealth, and more counties border on Fergus than on any other in the state. Its eastern boundary is the Musselshell River, its northern boundary is formed by Crooked Creek and the Arrow River, on the west it reaches nearly to Baldy Ridge and on the south are found the Big Snowy Mountains and Flatwillow Creek. Judith Basin, so attractive for its varied scenery and noted for productiveness as a wheat country, lies in the center of Fergus County, extending sixty miles north and south and over eighty miles east and west, and having 2,000,000 acres of fertile land. The Basin is surrounded by mountain ranges which protect it from severe winter conditions, to the north being the Little Rockies, to the west the Highwood and Belts, to the east the Big Snowies and to the south the Great Belt range of mountains. The eastern portion of the county is more broken and rolling, this section being the western border of the Great Western Plains area. The watershed and drainage system of Western Fergus is carried by the Judith River and branch streams. In the eastern part the Musselshell River and Flatwillow Creek with their tributaries carry the drainage waters into the Missouri.

Judith Basin

Judith Basin is not the only attractive section of the county for tourists. Fergus County's varied scenery makes it a picturesque visiting place for discriminating travelers, and the different mountain groups, with their excellent visibility throughout the country, are very impressive. Caves, sinks, arches and natural bridges abound to delight the seeker of sights. There are ice caves in the Snowies west of Half Moon Pass where ice is formed throughout the summer. Crystal Lake, a beautiful tourist camping ground, lies in the Snowies, in the west fork of Rock Creek Canyon.

The County in General

Fergus County has a length of 122 miles at its longest point and a maximum width of seventy miles, its land area being 7,146 square miles. It was named after James Fergus, the widely known pioneer, late of Meagher County and first president of the Montana Society of Pioneers. The county was created December 1, 1886.

Fergus has always been known as a good agricultural country, the soil being a dark brown loam underlaid with clay formation, mixed with lime gravel subsoil. Six hundred thousand acres are under cultivation, while 1,755,750 acres are potential farm land. One hundred thousand acres are now or will be under irrigation, mostly for hay crops. Projects on Judith River, and Flatwillow and Box Elder creeks in Eastern Fergus, are now under way, and a large project is in course of construction on Warm Springs. The Flatwillow project will eventually irrigate 25,000 acres. These matters are more fully described in the chapter devoted to the irrigation enterprises of the state. In addition to agriculture, the main industries of the county are stock raising, manufacturing and mining. Good grade coal is mined in Central Fergus; gold mining is carried on at Kendall, and silver and gold are found in the Judith Mountains.

The large sapphire mines in the Little Belts of Western Fergus supply a large portion of the world markets. There are eighty-seven elevators in the county, which in number and business compare favorably with any other part of the country of similar size.

Development of Oil Fields

The latest industry is oil, which promises to exceed the total of all others in the magnitude of its potential production. It is being developed on a great scale in all directions from Lewistown, particularly in the Eastern part of the county. Large tracts in the Snowies and. on the slopes of the Judith Mountains are covered with suitable lumber timber. The Cat Creek oil field, east of Lewistown, had, in April, 192 1, thirty producing wells, of the highest grade of oil known to any oil fields. Its extraordinarily high gasoline content, in the opinion of some geologists, indicates that the oil is migrant from a mother pool, which when found will beyond peradventure establish the Lewistown fields among the important oil fields of the country. The Cat Creek structure is but one of many, there being, among others, the Dog Creek, Arrow Creek, Sager Canyon, Garneill, Gilt Edge, Box Elder, Brush Creek, Button Butte, Devil's Basin, Howard Coulee, Big Wall, Willow Creek, Square Butte, Blood Coulee, Bauley, Woodhawk, Valentine, Piper, Black Butte and Flatwillow, as being considered prospecting ground by competent geologists.

The oil industry of Fergus County has brought into prominence the little town of Winnett and other towns have shown marked growth and development in recent years. Moore, Garneill and Straw on the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, south of Lewistown, are in the center of a rich farming section. Denton, the largest town in Northwestern Fergus, has a flour mill, elevator and up to date stores and hotels. Buffalo, on the Great Northern Railroad, is surrounded by splendid farms and ranches. Hanover has a large cement factory, and north of Lewistown lie Roy and Winifred, adjacent to which are immense grain growing and stock raising sections. Kendall, a gold mining camp five miles from Hilger, has produced over $5,000,000 in gold. Grass Range and Teigen lie in Eastern Fergus and are surrounded by agricultural and stock raising country.

Government Experiment Station

A point of great interest to visiting tourists to the county, and particularly those who are interested in agricultural matters, is the United States Government experimental station, a tract of 640 acres in the Judith Basin, which was established in 1908. This is located two miles west of the town of Moccasin in the Western part of the county, and the work is under the supervision of agricultural experts who are employed by the Government. Experiments are carried on in the different methods of tilling the soil and in growing the different kinds of hay and grain crops. The records thus far show that the average yield of Turkey Red winter wheat grown at the station for a period of seven consecutive years is 34.1 bushels per acre; they also show that the average rainfall for a period of eight years was 18.53 inches, and more than fifty per cent of each year's precipitation was received in the growing season from April 1st to July 31st. Each summer a farmer's picnic is held at the station and farmers gather from all parts of the Basin to inspect the farming methods as conducted at the station, and to listen to instructive talks by the Government experts in charge and other agricultural experts from different parts of the country.

Fergus County has become a point of great attraction to hunters and fishermen, being amply supplied with game, both large and small. Prairie chickens, pheasants, sage hens, blue grouse, jackrabbits and other small game abound in the foothills in countless numbers, while in the mountains are found the larger species of game, principally deer and bear. In 1914, Fergus County shipped two carloads of elk from the Yellowstone National Park and put them in the Belt Mountains, where they have been and will be protected until the time when they are more numerous. The many mountain streams furnish excellent sport for the fisherman, as they are well stocked with trout and whitefish, and it is not an uncommon occurrence to catch speckled trout in Big Spring Creek that weigh from ten to twelve pounds.

Education and Population

Indicative of the intelligence, good judgment and public spirit of its people, who have accomplished so much in the comparatively short time that Fergus County has been in being, are its excellent schools. In addition to good graded and high schools at Lewistown, there are graded schools in the towns and rural districts, in which the best standards are required and maintained and only competent teachers are employed. The 187 school districts of the county have a total of over 280 school buildings, in which over 400 teachers are employed. Church privileges are general in the towns and in many parts of the rural districts high moral standards prevail generally.

The population figures given in the United States census for 1920 show 28,344 souls living within its borders; 17,385 for 1910. It is believed that the newly-developed oil industry will contribute greatly to the population of the county and that other industries which will naturally follow will also add thereto. Land values in Fergus County are difficult of standardization. They run, however, from $20 to $80 per acre for un-irrigated and up to $100 for irrigated bottom lands, while grazing lands bring from $10 to $20 per acre. The percentage of grain and hay land largely accounts for the variation in price.

The census also furnishes some interesting figures as to the comparative urban and rural population since and including 1910. In the latter year the rural population amounted to 14,393 and the urban to 2,992; or 17.2 per cent of urban in the total population. In 1920, the percentage had increased to 21.6, that is, 22,224 rural population as compared with 6,120 urban, which goes to show that notwithstanding the business and industrial opportunities afforded by Lewistown and other urban centers, the call to the farms and rural occupations was gathering strength. As noted, the development of the oil industries is bringing a noteworthy increase of population to the county, and as the promising fields are in the rural districts, this transfer of the population of the county from the larger centers to the country districts will probably be more pronounced in 1921-22 than it was in 1920.

In the 1920 census the population of Lewistown City is given as 6,120, divided by wards as follows: Ward I, 2,402; Ward II, 1,717; Ward III, 2,001. With the improvement of both the urban and rural schools, the educational advantages enjoyed by town and country pupils are being constantly equalized; which fact may also account for the good showing in population increase made by the out-of-town districts.

In the matter of water powers and public ways, Fergus County is well supplied. Among the largest of the hydro-electric plants are the two belonging to the Montana Power Company, one within the city limits of Lewistown and the other six miles east of Lewistown on Pig Spring Creek, which runs through Lewistown and is one of the finest and largest mountain streams in Montana. This company, incidentally, furnishes the electric power for the new plant of the Three Forks Portland Cement Company, at Hanover, this plant, together with the town, having been erected at a cost of approximately $1,000,000. Hanover has its own water system, the water being piped to all parts of the plant and city. From a transportation standpoint, Fergus County is well located strategically, six railroad lines traversing the Basin in all directions, these including the Great Northern and the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul.

Fergus has an aggregate of 6,500 miles of highway bringing the various communities into perfect touch with one another. Lewistown is on the Red Trail from Chicago and Minneapolis, and on the Custer Battlefield Highway from Omaha to Glacier Park. Of the 6,500 miles of open highways, more than possessed by any other Montana County; 920 miles consist of crowned roads. The Central Montana Highway, the Park-to-Park Highway and the Wheat Line Highway are more or less local thoroughfares, but the Custer Battlefield Highway, which was recently brought through Lewistown through the untiring efforts of the president of the Chamber of Commerce of that city and his fellow-members, is becoming one of the most traveled highways in the state and is bringing tourists from all over the world. This trail starts at Omaha and ends at Glacier Central Park. Another great thoroughfare is the National Parks Highway from Chicago to Seattle. This crosses the Yellowstone at Glendive and goes through Central Montana via Lewistown to Helena and all the parks, and, in time, is expected to be Montana's gateway to the Pacific Coast.

The City of Lewistown

Lewistown, the county seat of Fergus County, located in the heart of the famous Judith Basin, is situated in practically the geographical center of the state of Montana, admirably located on two transcontinental lines of railway, with several branch lines leading in and out to all parts of the county. The city's substantial growth within recent years has been largely due to the development of the natural resources of the tributary country, but a great share of the credit for the growth lies with the people, whose enterprise and public spirit have been commendable and unfailing. Incorporated August, 1899, although it had secured special delivery service to all parts of the Union in October 1886, it has grown from a small and struggling village into a city of importance and beauty, with over seven and one-half miles of boulevard, twenty-five miles of cement sidewalk, large schools and other buildings, including a library, and consisting of three wards and thirteen additions.

While situated in the heart of a rich farming country, Lewistown may be said to be a business city. It has four prosperous banking institutions, the First National Bank, the Empire Bank and Trust Company, the Bank of Fergus County and the Lewistown State Bank. These banking concerns represent combined deposits of $6,000,000 and enjoy an excellent reputation in the county and in banking circles generally throughout the state. One of the leading industries of more recent date, as before noted, is the Three Forks Portland Cement Company, which is employing about 300 men, with a large pay-roll and a modern plant in the outlying districts of Lewistown. The United States Gypsum Company is another concern which is well represented, and others which are in a flourishing condition are a flour mill, brick and tile works, bottling works and two creameries, in addition to which there is conducted a wool market and sugar beet raising has been found profitable.

The city is continuing to grow apace, and its citizens, strongly backed by the Chamber of Commerce, have worked effectively with the city officials in securing numerous public improvements. Several which are now in prospect are a water service extension to cost $65,000; two bridges in the city, one to cost $24,000 and the other $15,000; and a new school building to be erected, which will contain an auditorium seating 1,200 persons. The city water is to be secured from a large spring in a concreted cave, which will be operated upon the gravity system, with 100 pounds pressure, the water never seeing the daylight and thus being free from polluting influences.

Like other enlightened communities whose citizens are possessed of modern tendencies, Lewistown has given much attention to the matter of education. At the present time the school enrollment is 1,375 pupils. Six rural schools are located in the remote parts of the Lewistown District, and these schools are visited by the superintendent, the school nurse and the special supervisors in music, etc. Four transportation wagons bring the rural children from the nearby farms to the city schools. In the city there are five buildings including the South Lewistown School. The Hawthorne School, one of the first constructed, recently has been wrecked to make way for a first-class modern one-story grade and kindergarten building, and this leaves the Garfield as the oldest building in use. This building, while presenting an excellent exterior appearance, is not a modern fire-proof building. The Highland Park building is the latest and most modern school, a one-story building, modern in heating, ventilating, arrangements, location and construction.

For administrative and instructional purposes, the Lewistown School system has three departments, the primary, intermediate and junior high. Aside from the regular curriculum having to do with the usual subjects, special supervisors in music, art, domestic art, industrial arts, health and physical education are employed. Increasing emphasis will be placed in the future upon the health and physical education.

The new building program, for which an appropriation has been voted, calls for the construction of two new buildings. The new grade building for the Hawthorne site will be modern in every respect. The new junior high school structure will also represent the latest in that type. It will be a two-story fire-proof building, and the class rooms will be grouped around the auditorium and gymnasium, the latter being so arranged that it can be made a part of the stage. For a mass meeting or other public gathering, the gymnasium and auditorium will seat 1,200 people.

Directly in line with the fine work being accomplished by the schools is what is being done by the Public Library. The first step toward securing free reading matter for the citizens of Lewistown was taken by the Sunset Club, an organization formed in the winter of 1893-94, for the purpose of social enjoyment and intellectual advancement. In January, 1897, F. E. Smith was elected chairman and J. M. Parrent secretary of a committee to commence the work of organizing a Public Library. They started modestly with 329 books and a cash capital of $126.50, and at the start the trustees were : F. E. Smith, chairman ; E. K. Cheadle, secretary; Halsey Watson, treasurer; Rev. Albert Pfaus, Rev. Vigus, Mrs. E. E. Wright, Mrs. G. J. Wiedeman and Mrs. F. C. Stiles. On April 24, 1901, the city council passed an ordinance to establish and maintain a Free Public Library, and in the following September Mrs. M. A. Sloan was elected librarian. In the same year she was succeeded by Mrs. A. Pfaus, who served until October, 1906, when Archie Farnum was elected librarian. In 1908, Mr. Farnum resigned and was succeeded by Mrs. A. Pfaus, who acted in that capacity until 1913, when she resigned and Mrs. Guy Wait was elected in her place. The latter resigned in 1913, at which time the present librarian, Miss Clara Main, was elected. She has served ably and acceptably. At the present time the Lewistown Like other enlightened communities whose citizens are possessed of modern tendencies, Lewistown has given much attention to the matter of Public Library has over 8,000 books, and on its lists of subscribers are 1,600 adults and 1,000 children. The present Board of Trustees consists of the following: Grant Robinson, chairman; Mrs. Helen L. Warr, secretary; Mrs. C. R. McLave, Mrs. Bert d'Autremont, Mrs. Anna Crowley, Judge Von Tobel and E. O. Kindschy.

That Lewistown is a moral city may be seen in the fact that its citizens support no less than eight churches, all of which are engaged in movements making for still higher standards and better citizenship. The city has two up-to-date newspapers, the Fergus County Argus, established in 1883, and the Fergus County Democrat. Since April, 1905, the Judith Club has been a factor in the up-building and development not alone of the city of Lewistown, but also of Fergus County and its industries and institutions, and another factor is the Lewistown Woman's Club. There are also twenty-nine secret and benevolent lodges in the city, all of which are in a prosperous condition. In fact, Lewistown is a thoroughly modern city.1

1. Since the above was written, Judith Basin County has been created from the western part of Fergus and the southeastern part of Cascade counties. The new county comprises more than one-half of the Judith Basin and is probably the most highly developed agricultural county in Montana. Stanford is the county seat.

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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