Ranching in Deer Lodge

Grant-Kohrs Ranch in Deer Lodge


Deer Lodge is the second oldest town in Montana. It has had several names over the years, such as: LaBarge City, Spanish Fork, Cottonwood, Deer Lodge City and now Deer Lodge. Float gold was discovered in 1852 on what is now Gold Creek. The location of this first discovery of gold, in Montana, is about twenty miles north of the city. Pan and sluice mining of gold by James and Granville Stuart, in 1860, attracted other prospectors and the district was established. Today beautiful homes and tree-shaded lawns reflect a home life enviable in this day of big city stress and strife. Many churches, excellent elementary and high school systems, a progressive business community and with the downtown beautification project finished it enhances the balanced and healthy lifestyle, enjoyed by our citizens. The pure enjoyment you can have in Deer Lodge and Powell County is limitless: Hiking, horseback riding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, fishing, hunting, mountain hiking, back packing and photography at their very best. Ours is a magical land. A part of the “BIG SKY COUNTRY” otherwise known as the “THE LAST BEST PLACE!” with primeval forest, gleaming mountaintops with an abundant wildlife.

Powell County has diverse industries, farming, ranching, mining, timber harvest, lumber and other wood product production and tourism. The tourism industry has been carefully developed so as not to cause an atmosphere of being a tourist trap. We welcome our visitors and want you to enjoy the historic attractions that are presented. We want your stay in our community to be an educational, entertaining and pleasant experience. Please exit 1-90 and stop to rest for a while. Our motels are clean and comfortable, our restaurants serve good food and our other businesses invite you to come in and browse around. We thank you for considering a visit or relocation to our friendly and proud community.

Mount Powell is seen in the background over Deer Lodge Montana

Mount Powell and the city of Deer Lodge


The Deer Lodge Valley spreads out from five to ten miles wide, between the Rocky and Deer Lodge ranges for a distance of sixty miles. Besides these a number of lateral valleys open into it, bordering the numerous and beautiful streams which enter the main river from each side. Many fine farms are located in these valleys, while the foot hills and mountain sides are grazing lands. The mountains within the County boundaries possess all that gigantic beauty to be found on the Pacific slope, while natural eccentricities, such as hot springs, make up a scene unexcelled in the entire West.

The origin of the name is credited to the poetic imagery of the Indians. Captain Mills, himself an old settler, calls it an “old appellation” and states that it is derived from a large, sugarloaf mound, with a thermal spring on its summit. Situated near the center of the broad upper half of this valley, it is one of the most beautiful and interesting formations in the northwest, growing with the centuries, the waters building their throne slowly, imperceptibly, but steadily as the coral builds the ocean reefs, and in the coming years will attract many thousands to drink of its medicinal waters and find health and pleasure in the picturesque valley, mountain circled and coursed by crystal streams. The mound is over forty feet high. It stands in the midst of a perfectly level valley; and the hot springs on its summit, during the greater portion of the year, send up a heavy volume of vapor, rendering it a conspicuous object for from twenty to twenty-five miles in every direction. It bears, in the distance, a striking resemblance to an Indian lodge with the smoke ascending from it.

Through all the traditions of the Indians the valley has been famous for the plenitude and fatness of the white-tailed deer that graze upon its ever-nutritious and almost ever-green grasses. And so the Indians, true to these facts, and weaving with them a happy fancy, named it after that which it most resembled; and we have it that the Snake hunting parties, approaching the crests of the surrounding mountains, before the pale-face came to the land, would try the fleetness of their steeds to see who would first catch sight of and hail the point of rendezvous— IT SOO-KE EN CAR-NE—”The lodge of the White-tailed deer”. The early coming French, appreciating the poetry of the designation, adopted it literally, and among them it was known as La LOGE DU CHEV-REUIL. But the laconic, matter-of-fact Yankee pioneer came this way, and without remorse boiled down all its traditions and beauty and poesy into the practical appellation “DEER LODGE,” by which name is now known the valley, the river, the county and town.

Mount Powell from Arrowstone Park in Deer Lodge

Mount Powell from Arrowstone Park in Deer Lodge

POWELL COUNTY: The Beginnings

(Printed in the Silver State Post, November 10, 1988)
The area included within the boundaries of Powell County, Montana, was from 1803-1848 located in what was loosely identified as the Oregon Country. After the creation of the Oregon Territory in 1848 it was part of that territory until 1853 when it was included in the new territory of Washington. It became a part of Idaho Territory in 1863 and on January 16, 1864 the County of Deer Lodge was established by the legislature of Idaho with the county seat located at Idaho City (near the Cottonwood Fork of the Deer Lodge River). The county was never organized and it was not until Montana became a territory that Deer Lodge County really existed. On February 2, 1865 the first legislature of Montana Territory created nine counties of which Deer Lodge was one. The county seat was established at Silver Bow and changed to Deer Lodge City December 10, 1867.

Various changes have been made in the boundaries of the original Deer Lodge county at different times. The original county has been divided several times. Silver Bow, Granite and Powell counties were taken from the original county of Deer Lodge. Within the present confines of Powell County many important events in Montana history have occurred. The proposed making of the Lewis and Clark Trail has aroused the interest of every community along the trail in the story of this famous expedition. A study is being made of the proximity of various localities to the route of the explorers. While the expedition did not pass through Powell County on the journey westward, in 1805, Lewis on his return trip crossed the northern part of Powell County in July, 1806. The explorers separated at Lolo. Clark and his party followed up the Bitterroot River over the Big Hole Pass and down the tributaries of the Jefferson to the Yellowstone while Lewis with nine men traveled the Hellgate (Missoula) River to the Big Blackfoot and up that river to Lander’s Fork and on July 7, 1806 crossed the Rocky Mountains by way of the pass known today as the Lewis and Clark Pass. Lewis and his men entered Powell County on July 5, 1806. These were the first white men on record to enter the area included in Powell County: Meriwether Lewis, Patrick Gass, George Drouillard, Joseph and Reuben Fields, Robert Frazier, Silas Goodrich, Hugh McNeal, John Thompson, and William Werner.

After Lewis and Clark came the fur hunters, trappers and traders of both American and Canadian companies. Warren Angus Ferris of the American Fur Company visited the valley of the “Deer House Plains” with a party of trappers, September 11, 1831. He wrote a vivid account of the mound at Warm Springs which was called the Lodge of the White Tail Deer, because of the number of deer that came to the mound to lick the salty deposits. At this time, 1831, and later John Work of the Hudson’s Bay Company with a company of trappers traveled through the Valley of the Deer Lodge and commented on the scarcity of beaver in the river due to the extensive trapping and hunting of the Americans and Indians.

The Deer Lodge Valley was in the path of all travel through the northwest from the beginning. It was used by the Indians on their hunting journeys and the white men followed the road of the Indian. The Blackfoot River was known as the Cokallanishkit or “the river of the road to the buffalo.” The engineers of the Stevens survey of 1853-1855 crossed by way of the Cadotte Pass, Lewis and Clark Pass and Mullan Pass. The Mullan Military Road built in 1858-1862 from Walla Walla, Washington to Fort Benton, went through Powell County up the Deer Lodge River to the Little Blackfoot. In the spring of 1858, the Stuart brothers, James and Granville, Rezin Anderson and others came into the valley to hunt and prospect, and on May 2, 1853 made a discovery of gold on Gold Creek. The Stuarts had heard the story of Benetsee Finley finding gold there in 1852. Their party had no tools for prospecting and mining or no provisions except the game that they killed. I remember Granville Stuart said they used ashes from their fires to season the meat as they had no salt. Plans were made to kill and dry enough meat to last them to Fort Bridger on the Overland Trail where they could buy the necessary supplies for a longer stay in the valley. On June 16, 1858, the party left for Fort Bridger and the Stuarts did not return until late in 1860.

John Francis Grant better known as “Johnny” Grant, a son of Captain Richard Grant of the Hudson’s Bay Company, was probably the first permanent settler in Powell County. He built two log cabins and corrals at the mouth of the Little Blackfoot River in November, 1859. The location was on a road traveled by several Indian tribes on their way to and from the buffalo country. Grant had a supply of merchandise for sale and traded with the Indians and did a thriving business. The valley made an excellent pasture for the worn out cattle bought from the emigrants on the Overland Trail. When the stock grew fat, herders drove the herds down the trail for resale and the profits were large. Several other men built cabins close by and the settlement was known as Grantsville.

The winter of 1860 saw several other settlements in the valley, on Cottonwood Creek about a mile above Deer Lodge was Tom Lavatta’s home. Joe Hill had a cabin near by as well as several other Mexicans which gave the name of Spanish Fork to the community. The Stuarts and others were at Gold Creek which was known as American Fork. Bob Dempsey’s home six miles below Gold Creek was known as Dublin. In the summer of 1863 Grant moved from the Little Blackfoot to what is now Kohr’s Ranch north of Deer Lodge and there built the first pretentious house in Montana which is still part of the Kohr’s home. It was two stories in height and had 24 glass windows and green shutters. Johnny was one of the wealthiest citizens of the territory. He sold his cattle to Conrad Kohrs in 1868 and moved his family to a location near Winnipeg, Canada. This herd of cattle was the beginning of one of the best known and largest stock outfits of Montana, the Kohrs Cattle Company.

The wheat and oats planted by the Stuarts in 1861 was probably the first farming done in the county. In 1862 Captain LaBarge of St. Louis with his partner James Harkness, Nick Wall and others decided to build a trading establishment at Cottonwood. The town of LaBarge City was laid out on Cottonwood Creek. There were four blocks defined in the survey which is in the records of our Society. From this beginning the settlement grew in a haphazard manner until 1864. In that year James Stewart hired Colonel Delacy to survey a townsite one mile square which was incorporated October 20, 1864 into Deer Lodge City.

The discovery of gold at various points in the western part of the county, Ophir, Blackfoot City, Pioneer, Bear and Elk Gulches resulted in the moving of the county seat from Silver Bow to Deer Lodge which was sometimes mentioned as the “little town on the way to Bear”, a roaring mining camp in Bear Gulch. Any of these camps was more populous in those years than Deer Lodge where the county seat was located in December, 1867, but it was older and more accessible.

The first post office in the county was at Blackfoot City, September 9, 1866. The first school was taught by D. Newcomer in a log cabin on Race Track Creek, from December 1, 1865 to April 1, 1866, with 12 pupils. The first school census of 1867 listed 80 children of school age, 46 males and 34 females. The first schoolhouse in the district and county was built of logs originally cut and hewed for a jail at Silver Bow. It was 20 by 24 feet in size, with a nine foot ceiling. Judge Irvine hauled it from its first location and donated it to the district for a schoolhouse. This was replaced in January, 1873 by a new building of which the district was justly proud. It cost altogether, building, bell, seats etc., almost $3,500.00 and was a credit to the town.

The first newspaper in Deer Lodge, the Weekly Independent was first published October 12, 1867 and still exists as the Independent Record of Helena. The Independent moved to Helena in 1874 when the Rocky Mountain Gazette plant was destroyed by fire. The second newspaper was first issued July 9, 1869, with James H. Mills as owner and editor. Father DeRyckere probably held the first church services in Powell County when he said mass in Johnny Grant’s home on Cottonwood in July 1866. That fall construction of a log church was commenced and completed in December of 1866. This was replaced by a stone building in 1874. First services of the Protestant Episcopal church were held by Bishop Tuttle July 19, 1868, the church was organized in 1871. A Presbyterian church was commenced in 1872 by Sheldon Jackson with Rev J.R. Russel in charge. The first bank was that of Donell, Clark and Larabie in 1870. Early hotels were the McBurney and the Scott House. Flint Creek No. 11 established in 1867 was the first Masonic Lodge. Dr. Mitchel1 is given credit for the first hospital in Deer Lodge but the dates are not consistent, though he undoubtedly had some arrangements in the ’60’ s for the care of patients. St. Joseph’s Hospital was opened in October 1873 by the Sisters of Charity of Levenworth who also built St. Mary’s Academy which was begun in 1879 and completed in 1882.

Steam Engine 4449 at Garison in Powell County Montana

Steaming through Garrison

The earliest railroad in Powell County was a branch of the Utah Northern, built from Butte to the mouth of the Little Blackfoot in 1882. It reached Deer Lodge in November of that year. The last or “golden spike” of the Northern Pacific Railroad, which marked the completion of the first transcontinental railroad through Montana, was driven September 8, 1883 at Gold Creek.

Deer Lodge was one of several Montana cities in the contest for the location of a permanent capital for the state in 1892. Anaconda and Helena received the two highest votes in that election and in 1894 Anaconda was defeated by Helena for the capital site. Since it could not have the capital, Anaconda decided the county seat should be changed to that city and in 1896 Anaconda took the county seat from Deer Lodge by a vote of 3,232 to 1,403. The offices were moved January 25, 1837. As an excuse for Anaconda’s action in taking the county seat, the charge was made that Deer Lodge had supported Helena for the capital in the election of 1834, but the Deer Lodge paper stated that at least 70% of the vote had gone to Anaconda.

The change of location of the county seat was probably responsible for the creation of Powell County, which occured January 31, 1901, with Deer Lodge designated as the county seat. The first officers of the new county were: Commissioners: H.B. Davis, T.B. Mannix, W.T. Kuehn; Sheriff: John McMahon; County Attorney: J.M. Simpson; Clerk of the Court: R. Lee Kelley; County Clerk and Recorder: J.H. Mills; Assessor: A.D. Goodfellow; Treasurer: R.G. Humber; Coroner: Nathan Smith; Superintendent of Schools: Inez Elliot; Administrator: M.D. Planner. Representatives to the legislature were elected in 1902. Conrad Kohrs was chosen state senator from Powell County. In 1904 one faction held that Mr. Kohrs was entitled to another two years as a holdover and others believed that he was just elected for the two year term. John Bielenberg was elected state senator that year, 1904. When the legislature opened in January, 1905, Powell County had two senators, both Republicans and also related. It was decided by the members of the senate not to decide the question until late in the session, thus giving Mr. Kohrs a chance to serve most of the term. About February 20, 1905, a vote was taken which decided Mr. Bielenberg was the lawful candidate. The whole matter was kept on a friendly basis and the decision tactfully made. When Powell County was created in 1901 it had a valuation of $2,496,000.00 and a debt of $62,663.93. Figures of the Montana Taxpayers Association, June 30, 1944 give the county a tax valuation of $5,361,899.00 and a net total indebtedness of $59,962.00. It has an area of 2,340 square miles and a population of 6,900.

The county takes its name from Mount Powell which was named for one of the first settlers in the county, John W. Powell. Granville Stuart said Powell was in this region as early as 1856 and located a ranch at the foot of the mountain in 1864. He was the first white man to climb the mountain which was afterwards known by his name. Powell died near Glendale, Montana in May of 1879.

The old mining camp of Pioneer on Gold Creek is said to have yielded over $20,000,000.00 in gold during the 60’s. After the white men abandoned the camp the Chinese moved in and worked the ground. At one time there were over a hundred Chinese in Pioneer. In 1880 Pioneer had a population of 230 while Missoula had 441. Now there is little left to show there had been enough people to justify a bank, a post office, Masonic Lodge etc.

Ovando and Helmville are the centers of prosperous ranching communities today. The first settlers in the Big Blackfoot country were miners from nearby camps who took up land when the gold was gone. Ovando was named for Ovando Hoyt, first postmaster of the town who was settled there in 1882. Helmville takes its name from Henry Helm who was supposed to have located there in the 60’s.

Garrison was named for William Lloyd Garrison whose son-in-law, Henry Villard, was the president of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883 when Garrison was established. Dempsey was named for the famous old-timer, Bob Dempsey, who lived in the locality. Racetrack takes its name from a racetrack built there in the early days. Charles Larabie had thoroughbred horses in the late 70,s and his stable was famous through-out the territory.

William A. Clark probably made the beginnings of his immense fortune in his Deer Lodge bank where he bought gold dust from surrounding mining camps. He was said to have been one of the best judges of gold dust in the Territory. Several of his Children were born in Deer Lodge.

It would seem that the history of Powell County is mostly the history of Deer Lodge City, which is true, for Deer Lodge was an important town in territorial days and is today. The influence of its citizens has been felt at all times in the economic, educational and political fields of the state. Many of the pioneers of Deer Lodge were among the most prominent people of the state. James H. Mills, John Morony, the Larabies, the Bielenbergs, the Kohrs family, the Stuarts, the Kelleys, the Valitons, the Trasks the Colemans and many others have their place not only in the history of Powell County but in the history of Montana.

Some important events in Montana history occurred within Powell County, such as:

* First discovery of gold at Gold Creek in 1852.
* Second election, July 14, 1862 (first at Hellgate, July 9, 1855).
* First hanging, August 26, 1862, C.S. Spillman.
* Driving of the Golden Spike, September 8, 1883.
* First institution of higher learning, Montana Collegiate Institute which opened September, 1881.
* Federal Penitentiary, building commenced in 1869 and opened July 2, 1871 for the first prisoners.

EDITORS NOTE: (This historical article of Powell County was found by Dick Bauman, postmaster, when searching through old records of the Deer Lodge Rotary Club minutes. The author is unknown and when it was written is also unknown. However, this article was probably written in the 1940’s since a dated reference is made to that time.)

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