Yellowstone County, Montana 1921

Lying in the southeastern part of Montana, and bordered by the counties of Musselshell, Stillwater, Carbon, Bighorn and Rosebud, is Yellowstone County, which was created February 26, 1883 and which is one of the best developed sections, agriculturally, in the state. The county was named after the Yellowstone River, which enters the county in its southwestern corner and traverses its entire width in a northeasterly direction, forming the principal source of supply for the irrigation ditches which contribute materially to the development that has brought about the agricultural prestige of the county. The Yellowstone valley, in which much stock is fed each year during the winter period; is broad and level, while sandstone bluffs are a characteristic of its boundaries and above them begin rolling bench lands that extend for miles. In the southeastern part of the county rise the Pryor Mountains. Although Yellowstone is primarily an agricultural and stock-growing county, within its boundaries are to be found industries of a varied character which establish its title as an important business center of the great Midland Empire, these for the most part located at the county seat of Billings.

Population, Transportation and Farming

While Yellowstone County is not one of the larger counties as to area, containing only 2,708 square miles, in point of population it ranks fourth, according to the figures given by the 1920 United States census, which placed the total at 29,600. For the most part this population is Native American, many being direct descendants of the sturdy pioneers from the East who listed to the call of the West during the days of early settlement and began ranching operations in a country which repaid them well for their labors. The early settlers found the grazing lands of the Yellowstone valley well adapted for the feeding of livestock and this formed the principal industry for some years, the settlers who subsequently came leaning more and more toward agriculture as they realized the fertility of the chocolate colored loam soil. With the settlement of the county came the necessity of a central point of transportation, and this brought into being the little community of Billings which has grown to important proportions as the natural trade center of a wide territory in Montana and Northern Wyoming. An important factor in the development of the county is the intersection of the Great Northern, Northern Pacific and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroads. As to the highways, the Yellowstone Trail, the Custer Battlefield Highway and the Billings-Cody Way are among the important automobile roads in the county, and considerable hard surfaced highway has been built.

Both irrigated and non-irrigated farming is followed, alfalfa, sugar beets, beans, potatoes and grains being the chief crops on the irrigated lands, and grains, flax, beans and alfalfa seed on the non-irrigated. The county has no developed mineral resources; some drilling for oil has been done in the county, but thus far this is largely a matter of speculation, although oil fields have been developed within 100 miles of Billings. Yellowstone County does not abound in timber either, although cottonwood is found along the streams and there is some pine in the Pryor Mountains. There are upwards of 100,000 acres of irrigated land in the county which sells at from $50 to $250 an acre, while unimproved and non-irrigated lands adapted to grazing and general farming range in price from $15 to $50 an acre.

Progress and Present Status of Billings

The gently sloping plain, on the north side of the Yellowstone known as Clark's fork bottom, was the site of Billings. The origin of the place dates from the winter of 1876-77. At that time P. W. McAdow, J. J. Alderson, Joseph Cochran, Henry Colwell, Clinton Dills, Milton Summer and others settled at a locality two miles down the Yellowstone, about where the Northern Pacific Bridge spans the river, and founded the little village of Coulson around Mr. McAdow's store. A saw mill was built in 1878 and the town enterprise looked so encouraging that the Minnesota & Montana Improvement Company attempted to purchase the site for a more ambitious project. As no satisfactory arrangement could be made with the Coulson people, Billings was laid out a short distance up the river. It soon outdistanced Coulson, although the older town was not wiped out, but continued to somewhat more than exist for several years. Billings was named after Frederick Billings, president of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, in 1879-81. The original townsite was platted in March, 1882. On May 1st, its first building was completed, a structure to accommodate the locating engineers, and a few days afterward a store for the townsite company; and other business houses and a number of residences appeared. By June, Billings contained 500 people and was enthusiastically called the Magic City. In 1882, was organized the Billings Street Railway Company, and the horse line was completed in the summer of the following year-the first street railway in the territory. The Improvement Company erected a depot for the Northern Pacific in 1883, which the railroad refused to accept. In the fall, the voters defeated the proposed incorporation of Billings, but did have the satisfaction of seeing the completion of its first public school. The population of the place was then 1,500, and it had reached the position of the primary shipping point for livestock in Montana. In 1884, Billings had a large fire entailing a loss of $50,000, and in the following year a more destructive conflagration. In 1885 it was incorporated and John Tully was elected its first mayor. Other events of prime importance: Establishment of a system of water works, in 1886; introduction of electric lights in 1887 and the organization of the first effective fire department; reincorporation as a city of the second class, in 1893, and the construction of the Parmly Billings Memorial Library, in 1900.

Billings Twenty-five Years Ago (now 94 years)

The location of the City of Billings in the center of the so-called Midland Empire, makes it the logical distributing point for practically 150 smaller communities. ' During the '80s, Billings was a trading post; the latest United States Census figures, 1920, credit the city with a population of 15,000. Its growth has been the outcome of the needs of agriculture and commerce in a district as large as three-fourths of New England, and it forms the chief financial, commercial and manufacturing center for a radius of more than 200 miles. Its strategic location as a railroad center may be deduced when it is considered that the city is situated midway between the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Spokane, Washington, at the intersection of the Great Northern, Northern Pacific and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy lines, with railroads in seven different directions. It is difficult for the visitor from the far east or from other communities to realize that this is the same Billings which was the scene of so much Indian fighting during the early days of its career and the exploits of whose citizens during frontier times are still within the memory of the oldest inhabitants.

While the war-whoop of the savage and the crack of the frontiersman's rifle are to be heard no more, there are many things still to be seen by the tourist to visualize for him what conditions may have been in the early days. The city is located less than a day's automobile ride, 150 miles, from Yellowstone National Park, where are to be found elk, deer and grizzly bears in their natural surroundings. Much of the country is still in its original condition. It is a land of green valleys, each with a ribbon of shining river winding through it. Rolling prairies and green, pine-clad hills greet the tourist, and in the distance the blue mountains with their snowy peaks lend a certain and definite charm. The mountain streams of the locality abound in trout and the fisherman is always sure of a good day's catch.

The city is famed for its climate. Situated on the Yellowstone River, at an altitude of 3,117 feet, the mean annual temperature is 47.2 degrees, the average summer temperature being 69 degrees and the average winter temperature 29.2 degrees. The mountain ranges to the north, west and south protect the city and country surrounding from severe winds and moderate the temperature both in the summer and winter. These climatic conditions make the locality a particularly attractive one to tourists, and for their convenience the City of Billings maintains a park for the accommodation of the travelers, and during the season of 1920 15,000 tourists were entertained. The Billings plan of conducting this park has been commended by the management of leading trans-continental automobile trails and cited as an example for other cities to emulate. The city is the gateway to the Beartooth Mountains in Carbon County, east of the Yellowstone Park, where besides unusually good hunting and fishing the scenery is unrivaled.

Modern Institutions of the City

In striking contrast to the natural beauties and primitive surroundings of the city are the modern structures and institutions of the twentieth century, the creations of a progressive people always restless to reach the pinnacle of achievement. Where, in the early days of the city's history, the eagle was king of the air, the areophane now wings its way, and progressive Billings has installed on the outskirts of the city an aerial landing field, marked and laid off according to government regulations and affording flying pilots a safe landing and "jump-off" place. The Billings airport is being favorably considered by the United States Government as one of the federal landing fields of the Forestry service. The honk-a-tonk and dance hall of the early days have given way to one of the largest auditoriums in the Northwest, with a seating capacity of 10,000 people; the Billings Coliseum, second in seating capacity to that of the Midland Empire Fair Auditorium, seating 2,500 people, having a perfect dance floor and being equipped for large conventions and gatherings; and six modern theaters which present the best of entertainment furnished by high-class road shows and traveling companies from the large eastern cities. In the way of entertainment also, the city owns and maintains a public swimming pool, tennis courts, shady parks and skating rinks. The grounds and buildings of the Midland Empire Fair Association are recognized as being second to none in the Northwest, and this exposition caters to the education and entertainment of a population of 125,000 within the Midland Empire territory. Where at one time the denizens of lake and stream were allowed to follow their own ways of life undisturbed, a Government fish hatchery is now in course of construction. Nature also, as it pertains to growing things, is being assisted in its course by the Government irrigation projects, where, and on the irrigated lands near Billings, truck gardening is growing to be quite an industry. Celery is proving to be one of the best money crops and is being shipped to many parts of the United States, and asparagus, tomatoes, cabbage, sweet corn, cantaloupes, potatoes, squash, pumpkins, egg plant, onions and all garden produce grow luxuriantly.

Business Houses and Industries

It is a far cry from the little frontier hamlet and trading post, with its few ambitious but ramshackle stores, to the beautiful and prosperous city of today with its sixty-eight manufacturing, wholesale and jobbing houses. Four hundred retail stores in the city enjoy a substantial, steady patronage and are recognized as on a sound financial basis. The Billings market is credited with buying over $6,000,000 monthly. Among its big industries is a $2,000,000 sugar factory, the plant of the Great Western Sugar Company being the second largest in the world. The city has an independent packing company, handling a large number of cattle, hogs and sheep and turning out a product of high standard, the Billings Stock Yards Company having in the past handled more livestock than any similar organization in the Midland Empire. Another large industry is the Midland Iron Works, a thoroughly equipped establishment, capable of handling every kind of manufacturing and repair work. In addition, the plants at Billings manufacture flour, cereals, pickles, alcohol, many forms of galvanized iron products, sash and doors, gas, brick, mattresses, foundry products, bakery and packing-house products, dairy products, optical goods, candies, etc.

The city has four national banks, one state bank and one private banking institution, and bank clearings have increased over 500 per cent in the last ten years. The city supports, through its people as subscribers and its merchants and professional men as advertisers, a large newspaper, the Billings Gazette, which issues five editions daily and carries the full Associated Press reports and special telegraphic news service. In the Western Newspaper Union, the city has the only house north of Denver, between the Twin Cities and Spokane, supplying paper, type, presses, printed and plate newspaper service, dealing exclusively with printers. The city affords excellent hotel accommodations. Two first class hotels are equipped to accommodate 500 guests and the daily average of transients visiting the city is placed at 1,000 persons. There are sixty-five hotels and rooming-houses in the city.

Like all well governed communities, Billings has given much attention to its appearance, its municipal conditions, its civic accommodations and its public service. As to its streets, they are well-kept and several miles are paved, and the thoroughfares are wide and straight and lined with long rows of ornamental light posts, the street lighting service being of municipal ownership and the system being second to none of a city of this size in the Northwest. Cement walks have been installed throughout the city, and Billings has the second piece of concrete highway outside a city limits in the state, known as the Polytechnic road, extending two miles in a northwesterly direction from the city and completed at a cost of $86,899.42. The city has a municipal baud, several orchestras, high school musical organizations and Polytechnic Glee Club. Its educational facilities are of a high order, there being eleven school buildings, a high school and a parochial school, as well as a manual-training school, all equipped with every modern appliance for instruction of the most up-to date sort. Schoolhouses throughout this part of the country have been given first consideration with the development of the section, and there is no child either at Billings or in the Midland Empire who is not conveniently situated near a schoolhouse. In the Polytechnic Institute, the city has a college catering to young men and women desirous of fitting themselves for advanced college work. This institute occupies commodious grounds, with modern and well-equipped buildings and a faculty made up of well-qualified and earnest educators. Among other buildings, the city boasts of two modern hospitals, one under the direction of the Sisters of Charity and the other under the direction of the Deaconess Association, and there is another in the course of construction at this time, in addition to which there are several institutions of a private character.

As a municipality, Billings is decidedly moral in tone. Perhaps some of the stories that come down from the old days as to the lawlessness of the little trading post have been embellished by the glamour which time is apt to bring; but it can be said beyond peradventure that conditions have changed since the '80s, due to the excellent work of the forces which have labored for higher standards of education, morality and good citizenship. The city now supports churches of every denomination and the houses of worship in the city are of modern architecture and construction, tastefully and reverently decorated and pointed to with pride by the people of the community. A modern Young Men's Christian Association building testifies to the standing of that organization in the city, and the community likewise has a well-conducted Young Women's Christian Association, the interests of the young women being given careful attention by well-trained women in this line of community endeavor. Billings is the headquarters of the state secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association. For the younger lads of the city, there is a thrifty and ably conducted Boy Scout Patrol, which made plans to entertain in 1921 large delegations of Boy Scouts from several large cities of the South. The Billings Public Library contains over 25,000 volumes and is conducted under the supervision of a paid librarian and staff.

One of the principal contributing factors to the prosperity and welfare of Billings has been the Billings Commercial Club. This body, organized some fifteen or sixteen years ago, has now a membership of approximately 400, including the leading merchants, bankers and business and professional men of the city. In January, 1919, it purchased the fine property known as the Elks' Club House, and is comfortably, even luxuriously, installed for its work. The officers are as follows: W. E. Dowlin, president; W. P. Hogarty, vice president; Fred T. Lincoln, secretary-manager; H. W. Rowley, Roy J. Covert and Charles Spear, honorary vice presidents; E. L. Coleman, traffic director, and O. G. Brown, financial secretary. The building and equipment of this strong commercial organization represents an investment of $100,000, forming one of the finest community centers in the Northwest. The organization was successively known as the Billings Chamber of Commerce, and the Midland Club, before adopting its present name. Through this body, Billings cooperates with the farming interests of Yellowstone County and the Midland Empire, and the club has successfully fathered practical activities in the interest of the citizens of Billings and the farmers of the section.

Billings is a city of substantial and attractive buildings. The Masonic Temple, as well as the home of the Commercial Club, is a handsome structure. In the residential sections, there are numerous beautiful homes, where reside the progressive citizens who have found the opportunity to gain independence, and who have assisted the community to reach a position upon which it bases its claim of being the "next great city of the Northwest."

Broadview School, Terry District

Towns Outside of Billings

Aside from Billings, the county seat, which is the most important town in the county, as well as in Eastern Montana, the principal town in Yellowstone County is Laurel, in the extreme southwestern corner, an important railroad town because of the junction there of the Great Northern and Northern Pacific, as well as a good agricultural market for the surrounding territory. Other good smaller towns are Huntley, Worden, Ballantine, Comanche, Pompey's Pillar, Broadview, Custer and Shepherd. All of these communities have good educational facilities, for Yellowstone County has a modern public school system, with an accredited high school at Billings and the Billings Polytechnic Institute, an institution of higher learning which also offers inducements to pupils wishing a business college course.

Irrigated and Non-Irrigated Lands

In 1917 the Billings Chamber of Commerce issued an interesting booklet, containing much information regarding Billings and the surrounding territory in Yellowstone County, and much of the data contained has been used in the statements already made and form the basis for others which follow. Two types of farming are carried on in the Billings country, these being the irrigated and non-irrigated methods. On the highlands there are approximately 5,000,000 acres of productive lands suitable for farming without irrigation, while along the streams, the various creeks which form the tributaries of the Yellowstone, such as Buffalo, Pompey's Pillar, Razor, Crooked, Butter, Canyon and Pryor, there lie about 1,000,000 acres of fertile lands which are irrigated. On the latter, farming is of an intensive nature, and all sorts of crops which require large amounts of moisture are grown thereon. More than 250,-000 tons of sugar beets are produced each year for the factory at Billings, and the growing of seed beans and peas for eastern markets has become an important industry. In the older parts of the Yellowstone Valley the farms are of considerable size and the beet growers are proportionately prosperous. While large amounts of labor are necessary the crops pay commensurately.

Above the ditches, methods are entirely different, fields of many acres being the ordinary custom and huge tractors and heavy farming machinery being used on the rolling prairies to prepare the land for wheat or oats or similar crops. Some thirteen years ago the Billings Chamber of Commerce brought the Dry Farming Congress to Billings, and after this body had inculcated the idea that successful dry land farming could be conducted in the Billings country, the movement gained headway, experiments were made and the results were decidedly gratifying. When the homesteaders began their influx into the county, the railroads began disposing of their lands, and in every direction from Billings, the pivotal point, the uplands are now being cultivated and are producing large returns. Wheat yields from fifteen to fifty bushels per acre, oats under favorable conditions sometimes as high as 100 bushels, corn from fifteen to sixty bushels, and flax as a sod crop from eight to twenty-five bushels. For some years past the people of the Yellowstone Valley have profited by the experience of older communities in the preservation of the soil, which is a natural alfalfa producer. No inoculation or soil treatment is necessary for the production of this crop, for the raw lands, plowed up and planted to alfalfa, produce abundantly. This gives opportunity for crop rotation, grain crops being first grown, followed by alfalfa, which enriches the land with its deposits of nitrogen. After a period of two or more years the alfalfa is turned under and the grain yields are increased.

Live Stock of the Region

At one time in its history, Billings was the largest inland wool market in the world and was the metropolis of Montana's stock-raising country. Sheep and cattle by the thousands were produced on the wide ranges and shipped east to be marketed, but of recent years stock raising, in a large measure, has gone hand in hand with farming, either on the bench or irrigated lands, and this has tended to make Billings a stock-feeding center. The cattle and sheep of the sugar-beet raisers are fattened on beet tops, alfalfa and grains, and many of these growers finish their product on a combination of beet pulp from the big sugar factory at Billings. As rapidly as possible, the agriculturists on the uplands have acquired herds of livestock, and have combined grain farming with stock raising. Alfalfa, Soudan grass, millets, and sweet clover, and like forage, furnishes winter provender, and the farmers utilize the rougher sections of their properties for summer pasture.

In the foothills and near the mountains, there are still to be found many old-time ranches, many of these running large bunches of cattle and sheep, and a goodly majority pasturing their livestock on the forest reserves in the summer time and bringing them down out of the mountains for feed in the winter. Of more recent years, however, the encroachment of smaller stock growers, who have increased greatly since the passage of the "640 acre homestead act," has had a tendency to do away with the great ranches of the past and the stock industry has come more and more into the hands of the smaller growers. The cattle and sheep "barons" of the olden days are a thing of the past in this county.

Far from injuring the industry, it has been found that the net returns to the county have greatly increased with the change, for the lands under the new system are producing a total of many more cattle and sheep than formerly, and the combination of farming, stock growing and home finishing is sending them to market in a much more valuable condition.

Dairy Farming

Another industry that in recent years has been one of growing importance is that of dairy farming. It was some years before the old-time ranchman, who raised his animals only for the beef, could be brought to realize the profit to be derived from this department of farming, but the newer arrivals, with modernized views, readily discerned the possibilities and there are numerous farmers in the Yellowstone Valley who devote at least a part of their efforts to this branch. There is no branch of farming for which this section is better adapted, taking into consideration its cool summers, excellent quality of alfalfa and a ready market at all times for creamery products. Much importing of pure-bred milk cows from the East has been done by the more progressive farmers, and the industry has secured a firm and lasting hold.

General Evidences of City's Prosperity

Necessarily, the city which forms the distributing point for this large territory and these varied and important industries, must be equipped not only with capable men and organizations, but with large financial resources, and public utilities of the most modern character. The individuals and commercial and trade organizations of Billings are products of the community's needs. They have realized the necessity of business-like action and have grown into their opportunities. As to financial resources, Billings is accounted a wealthy city, its property valuation, exclusive of moneys and credits, being estimated at $11,000,000. As to its public utilities, aside from its comprehensive railroad system, the Western Union Telegraph Company has sixteen trunk lines, capable of handling 16,000 messages daily if extended to the limit, and these have been known to handle as many as 10,000 messages within twenty-four hours. Billings is the district headquarters of the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company, and has direct connections with every large center in the state, smaller cities and rural districts. The receipts at the Billings Post Office (which is graded with cities ranging from 30,000 to 35,000 population) for the year 1920 were $176,807.85, an increase of 243 per cent for a ten-year period. The receipts of the post office exceed those of many cities twice the' size of Billings. At the Union depot during the first nine months of 1920 there were 184,725 passenger tickets sold, representing a cash expenditure of $1,049,871.43. The total freight and passenger business during the same period amounted to $3,522,832.54. Taking everything into consideration, one may appreciate the attitude of the Billings writer who stated: "Many have been the prophets who have said that someday Billings would be a city of 50,000 or 100,000 people. With this goal not so far in the distance, those who have had the city's welfare at heart are bending every effort to see that Billings becomes, not only a big city, but a good city as well."

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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