Our Story …
Wheatland County is located in the most fortunate of places: at the end of the sweep of the Great Plains to where the Little Rockies begin their climb. Flatlands, meadows, a river and several “cricks,” swelling up to four mountain ranges (the Little Belts, the Big Snowies, the Crazies, and the Castles), and, over it all, the massive Big Sky make this place one of the last best places in Montana.
Wheatland County has a history … a long one, filled with stories of dinosaurs, Indian tribes, archaeological digs, wild game, cattle and sheep ranches, railroaders, settlers, and entrepreneurs, who saw the richness of the Upper Musselshell Valley and found a means to harvest its potential.
In the beginning … the Upper Musselshell Valley teemed with life during the Cretaceous Period (about 65 million years ago). Paleontologists, both amateur and professional, have found exciting and well preserved specimens from the period. Geologically, the land mass of the area was formed during the Pleistocene Epoch, or the Great Ice Age (ending about 10,000 years ago), making the Valley part of the Great Plains land mass. The first human inhabitants of this area were numerous groups of the Plains Indians: nameless tribes which existed up to 10,000 years ago and in more contemporary times (hundreds of years) the Shoshone, Gros Ventre, Assiniboine, Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Blackfeet, Nez Perce and Metis’ tribes. Numerous archaeological sites exist in the Valley and many are reachable today.
The grasslands and watersheds of the Upper Musselshell Valley provided for massive herds of bison, elk, antelope, deer, bear, other mammals in the early 1800s when the Lewis and Clark Expedition made its way through the area. When word of the seemingly limitless availability of land and the richness of game and furs reached people hungry for adventure and a new life, the Great Plains changed forever. Frontiersmen, trappers, and then miners, merchants, cattle and sheep ranchers made their way into the Valley, including Civil War veterans and those fleeing the after effects of a decimated South during the 1860s and '70s. In 1899 the Montana Railroad (later bought and expanded by the Chicago, Milwaukee and Santa Fe Railroad), built tracks and increased the posterity of the Valley. Next arrived the dry land farmers enticed by the Homestead Act and unlimited growing power. During the early 1900s, several small towns grew up and flourished, including Martinsdale, Two Dot, Judith Gap, Shawmut, and Harlowton, all of which remain today.
Wheatland County came into being in 1917, as numerous small counties were formed from larger ones in the State. “Wheatland,” so named for the plentiful harvests of the small dry-land farmers who poured into the area during the early 1910s, is located on the western edge of the Musselshell Valley, which follows the course of the small but life-giving Musselshell River.
Harlowton, the county seat, is the largest town in the county and is centrally located at the intersection of Highway #12 and #191, providing easy access to the big cities in the state (Billings, Great Falls, Helena, and Bozeman), but still providing that special small town feeling so important to the hearts of Montanans. Harlowton carries on the business of the town and the surrounding area, with an eye for the future and a desire to be the hub of constant and positive growth.
Museums of the area tell the story Harlowton and Wheatland County in depth. Four buildings relate the history of the Native Americans, the miners, the cattle and sheep ranchers, the early day settlers and farmers, the townspeople, and the railroad.
The Milwaukee Depot and grounds in Harlowton.
The Times Building and the Marshall Building operated by the Upper Musselshell Historical Society, located in downtown Harlowton.
The Winnecook Building which served as a stage stop, a railroad stop, a post office located on the Winnecook Ranch seven miles east of Harlowton.
The Bair Family Museum located just outside Wheatland County near Martinsdale