Saturday, October 30, 2010

8. Fergus County

Located at the geographical center of the state of Montana, Fergus County was formed on March 12, 1885, when territory was taken from Meagher (47) and Chouteau (19) Counties to form the new district. James Fergus, a territorial delegate from Meagher County proposed the new county, and it was named for him. The Lewistown News Argus had a wonderful history of James Fergus in their Christmas 1994 edition. You can read it here. Lewistown, named for nearby Fort Lewis, was named County Seat. As county formation continued, parts of Fergus County were taken for Judith Basin (35), Wheatland (44), Golden Valley (53) and Petroleum (55) Counties. The separation of the eastern part of Fergus to form Petroleum County in 1925 was the last time that Montana formed a new county.

The Fergus County Courthouse, built 1907

The Fergus County Seat, Lewistown, has a number of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. The Court House, built in 1907, is arguably one of the most beautiful, and certainly one of the most distinctive, in the state.

Like the rest of Montana, Fergus County is largely rural and agricultural in nature. The 2000 Census showed 11,893 county residents, a number which declined 5.8% to the 2009 estimate of 11,208. With a land area of 4,339 square miles, Fergus County in 2000 had a population density of 2.7 people per square mile. 5,813, or roughly half the county's population lived within the limits of Lewistown. In 1920, before the creation of Judith Basin (#36), Golden Valley (#53) and Petroleum (#55) counties, all of which were formed, at least in part from Fergus County, the county population was 28,344. In 1930, after the completion of Montana county formation, the Fergus County population was 16,531. The population has decreased with every successive census, with the exception of 1980.

Fergus County Ranchland

Southwest of Lewistown, in the Yogo Gulch, a 19th century gold miner found some pretty blue pebbles. He shipped a box of these pebbles off to Tiffany's who replied that the "pebbles" were actually a pure form of sapphire. Today, Yogo Sapphires, rarer than diamonds, and certainly more valuable than the gold Jake Hoover was seeking, are the Montana State Gemstone, and are found only in Montana. You can read about them and their history here.

Fergus County Ranchland

Among the earliest settlers in the Lewistown area were Métis, a people of mixed Native American and European ancestry, often French Canadian in origin. Many streets in Lewistown reflect the political and historic importance of these people. The Lewistown News Argus wrote up a history of some of the early Métis settlers in their Christmas 1999 edition.

Fergus County, like much of Montana, has plenty of mountains. The Big Snowy Mountains separate the Lewistown area from the Musselshell River Valley to the south. The Judith Mountains cross the northern portion of the county, stretching between the Lewistown Valley and the Missouri River Valley to the north. US Highway 87 crosses the county, as does Montana Highway 200. US Highway 191 crosses the Missouri River from Fergus to Philips County (#11), north of Lewistown over the Fred Robinson Bridge. The James Kipp Recreation Area is on the Fergus County side of the bridge, and is a great spot to camp and access the Upper Missouri Wild and Scenic River, an area little changed since the days when the Corps of Discovery (Lewis and Clark) first traveled the area in 1805.

The Judith Mountains

No comments:

Post a Comment