Powell County, Montana 1921

Powell County lies on the western slope of the main range of the Rocky Mountains in Western Montana, about midway between the northern and southern boundaries of the state. It was created January 31, 1901, and has an area of 2,329 square miles. Most of the surface is mountainous, but there is quite an amount of good farming land in the Deer Lodge Valley around Deer Lodge, and also in the Big Blackfoot Valley around Ovando. Lesser agricultural areas are found all along the streams. The soil in the Deer Lodge Valley varies from a rich black loam to a light chocolate, and is underlaid by a gravelly sub-soil which in places appears on the surface.

Powell County in General

The county is well watered by several important streams, which are fed by numerous mountain tributaries. The Deer Lodge River flows northerly and then westerly through the southern half, the Big Blackfoot River westerly, and the Little Blackfoot River and Nevada Creek in a southerly direction through the northern half of the county. The south fork of the Flathead River has its source among the high mountains in the remote northern end of the county and flows northerly.

Of the 1,621,360 acres contained within the area of Powell County, 626,209 are included within national forests, divided as follows: 169,765 acres in the Missoula Forest, 70,930 acres in the Deer Lodge Forest, 271,000 in the Flathead Forest and 114,514 in the Helena Forest. Agricultural land values are determined by the location, altitude, markets and crop adaptability, and vary from $20 to $150 an acre. Alfalfa and wild hay are the principal crops, but wheat, oats, barley and flax are also raised, as well as dairy products, poultry, swine and vegetables, the last four named products finding a ready market at Butte and Anaconda. The valleys in the northern half of the county are chiefly devoted to hay to furnish winter forage for the livestock.

Mining has been developed in the southern half of the county, the principal mining districts lying near Elliston on the Little Blackfoot and on Nevada Creek near Ophir. There has also been some mining near Deer Lodge. Silver, lead and gold are the chief minerals developed. The mineral possibilities of the northern half of the county have not yet been ascertained, as little prospecting has been done there. That mountainous region, with its good hunting and fishing, has strong attractions for tourists, especially those of sporting proclivities, and at Ovando may be found experienced guides ready to take parties into the primitive.

A Little History

Deer Lodge Valley, along the river by that name, Deer Lodge, the county seat, and other names and features of the region, are forcible reminders of the days of Indian occupancy and lore. It is said by Granville Stuart that the name Deer Lodge is derived from the Hot Spring mound in the northern part of what is now Deer Lodge County - the mother of Powell, Silver Bow and Granite counties. The Butte mentioned, in the upper part of the valley, was called by the Snake Indians the Whitetail Deer Lodge, from the fact that the variety of deer mentioned were very abundant in that region, and that the steam arising from the mound resembled smoke issuing from a native lodge.

The settlement of what is now Powell County was an outcome of the discovery of gold at Gold Creek by a party led by the Stuarts, in 1858. Though unable at the time to develop the placer, they returned and began work in 1862. The news of their discovery led to the founding of Bannack and Virginia City, and the eventual settlement of Western Montana.

City of Deer Lodge

Deer Lodge, the county seat, is in the center of the valley, and contains about one-half of the total population of the county, which amounts to 6,909 according to the 1920 census. It is a little city of beautiful homes, substantial business houses and such modern municipal utilities as a gravity water system, the source of which is in the mountains to the east, electric lights and park improvements. In several sections of the city, the "lodge" idea has been brought out in a way which is most artistic and sylvan. In that respect, Deer Lodge town is among the unique communities of Montana, if not of the states. Its setting is majestic and charming, situated, as it is, between the main range of the Rocky Mountains in the east and a spur of the main range on the west, at the foot of Mount Powell, one of the loftiest of Montana's peaks.

Deer Lodge in 1860

The altitude of the city is about 4,500 feet above sea level, and is surrounded by mountains, with gentle valleys and broad benches rising from the Deer Lodge River to the adjacent heights. When the town was originally platted by the pioneers from the East, it was designed that Deer Lodge should become a city of homes, and at an early day trees were planted along the streets and in the surrounding districts. That policy was also in line with the prevailing ambition of the earlier days to bring the territorial capital to Deer Lodge. Albeit that ambition was not realized, the result has been to make Deer Lodge one of the most delightful shaded cities in Montana.

Surrounding Deer Lodge are some of the largest ranches in Montana, as well as numerous farms productive of wheat, oats, barley and flax.

It is within an hour's ride of Butte and Anaconda, and the great mining district of the state, and, as its transportation facilities are good, is one of the large shipping points of the state. The southern part of Powell County is traversed by the main lines of the Northern Pacific and the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroads, and the Milwaukee road has made surveys for another line through the northern part, between Great Falls and Missoula. The principal automobile highways running east and west also pass through the county and are kept in unusually good condition. The main roads fork at Garrison, one branch going to Butte and the other to Helena.

A few years ago Deer Lodge was made a division point on the Milwaukee road, since which time it has developed considerably. It has become a railroad town of some importance, the company's shops furnishing employment to a considerable number of men.

Montana State Prison

The Montana State Prison was located at Deer Lodge twenty-four years ago, and is an imposing pile of buildings. The records show that there are about 600 prisoners, but as the system of parole and employment on state buildings and public highways is in force, at times more than a half have spent various periods in valuable labor outside the prison walls. Among the buildings thus erected by prison labor have been the office of the prison; men's and women's dormitories at the State Hospital for the Insane at Warm Springs, Deer Lodge County, and the dairy barn and power house, the State Tuberculosis Sanitarium at Galen, same county. As a very small percentage of those paroled is reported as having violated their privileges, the system (in view of its financial returns) appears to have been a success.

Deer Lodge furnishes good educational facilities in thoroughly organized graded schools and the county high school which, in addition to the regular curriculum, provides a course in agriculture under the provisions of the Smith-Hughes act; also, the St. Mary's (Catholic) Academy is well conducted.

Other towns, besides those mentioned, are Elliston, on the Little Blackfoot, a mining center, Ovando and Helmville. The last named is the principal town in the northern part of the county.

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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