Over a hundred years ago the hills and valleys of what is now Carbon County, organized May 7, 1895, were covered by large herds of cattle owned by cattle barons. The Dilworth Cattle Company, established earlier than 1884, was the largest cattle enterprise in the territory, located southeast of Red Lodge. Also in 1884 cattle barons were trying to gain control over the grazing, mining, and settlements that were on the Crow reservation lands, but they didn’t succeed at that time. By 1892, most of the Crow reservation land was thrown open to the homesteader with portions of the land withheld for Indian allotments. Eventually, however, these lands were bought up by enterprising settlers, and by the early 1890s small farms and ranches had replaced many of the large cattle operations. In 1895 the last of the big cattle operations pulled out of Carbon County. During those early years, cattlemen and sheepherders contested use of the land. The sheep grazed the grass down to its roots and left little for the cattle. The Red Lodge Picket in 1893 reported over 25,000 sheep ranging near Red Lodge Creek, and by 1899 over one million pounds of wool were shipped out of Carbon County as well as many shipments of cattle. (1)
The homesteaders found the territory to their liking. The natural resources were more fittingly adaptable to the needs of the agriculturist and stock-grower. Numerous steams flowed through valleys to furnish an abundant supply of water for irrigational purposes. The territory made possible for cultivation under irrigation by 1907 was greater than in any other county in the state. Availability of water made each 160 acres a self-sustaining unit with an average yield of three to six tons per acre. Creameries also flourished, and thousands of pounds of honey were sent out of the county yearly. There was also successful draft horse breeding in the area.
In spite of the demanding lifestyle, the early settlers often found joy and optimism in the working and owning of their own lands. In 1920 the high point of the agriculture’s popularity in Montana was over 225,000 people living on farms and ranches, but by 1960 the population had fallen to 105,598.
What you will see in the Homesteaders and Ranchers exhibit
- The Waples Gun and Projectile Points
- Items Relevant to Carbon County
(1) Montana: A History of Two Centuries by Michael P. Malone states that by 1886, at the peak of the open range boom, roughly 664,000 cattle and 986,000 grazed Montana rangeland.