Saturday, October 30, 2010

9. Powder River County

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Powder River County takes its name from the Powder River which flows northeast out of Wyoming toward its confluence with the Yellowstone just west of Terry in Prairie County (45). The locals say that the Powder River is "a mile wide and an inch deep; too thin to plow and too thick to drink." Near the southeastern corner of Montana (only Carter County (42) lies to the east), Powder River County is the Old West. There is a Montana Historical Marker alongside U.S. Highway 212 west of Broadus that reads:

Southeastern Montana

The first white man to enter southeastern Montana was Pierre de la Verendrye, a French explorer who arrived in this corner of the state on New Year's Day, 1743. His party had traveled southwest from a Canadian fur trading post to investigate Indian tales of the Land of the Shining Mountains.
Next came the trappers following the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-06. Like the rest of Montana east of the mountains, this portion remained unsettled Indian and buffalo country until the Texas trail herds overran the range in the 1880s. Up to that time it was a favorite hunting ground for roving bands of Cheyenne Indians and the various Sioux tribes.
With the coming of the cow-man the buffalo gave way to the beef critter and high-heeled boots replaced buckskin moccasins.
Today, the Northern Cheyenne live on a reservation in neighboring Rosebud County (29) and the Sioux are far to the north in Roosevelt County (17) and east in the Dakotas.

The Powder River County Courthouse

The county seat, Broadus, lies a little north and east of the center of this almost square county, on the western bank of the Powder River. It was named for an early settler family who spelled their name with two "d"s. It is the only incorporated town in the county. The county covers 3,298 square miles, and in the 2000 U.S. Census, there were 1858 residents in the county, of whom 451 lived in Broadus. One third of the county residents were of German heritage, according to Census figures. By 2009, the population had declined 10.4% to an estimated 1,664. The population density is approximately half a person per square mile.

Windmill on the corner of the Courthouse lawn

The Broadus post office was established in 1900, and the town itself claims 1910 as its birthday. Broadus held a centennial celebration July 1-4, 2010. Powder River County was separated from Custer County (14) on March 17, 1919. This was the last of seven Montana counties formed during the winter of 1919. Range land makes up most of the county, with 16% of the land area included in the Custer National Forest and another 12% in Bureau of Land Management holdings.

Range and Forest Land in western Powder River County

Those with a hankering to experience the Old West can join the Powder River Cattle Drive, a six day event for 40-50 guests. Hunting is a way of life in Montana, and Powder River County is no exception. Various outfitters, including Gardner Ranch Outfitters, Mitchell Outfitting, and the Powder River Outfitters offer guide services and Paul Klar's Cat Tracks Wildlife Design provides world class taxidermy for hunters wishing to showcase their trophies. The Powder River Taxidermy and Tannery also has a made-in-Montana gift shop and a free museum, as well as a shop able to supply all your sporting good needs.

U.S. Highway 212 crosses the county on an east-west route, and connects Powder River County to the Little Big Horn Battlefield (Custer's Last Stand) and Yellowstone Park to the west, and Sturgis, Rapid City and Mount Rushmore to the east. Broadus welcomes the Sturgis riders each year, and accommodations of various types are available at the Broadus Motels. Whether you're hankering to stay at a historic western hotel, a cowboy cabin, or even a tipi, you'll find it in Broadus, along with a place to park your RV. Located in the historic home of Judge Ashton Jones, the Judge's Chamber Restaurant serves "Prairie Faire" which has been called "the best food in America." I'm not kidding! Just reading their menu makes me want to rush back to Broadus.

I've now driven through Powder River County three times, once in high summer, once in a November blizzard, and most recently in the spring of 2010. All of the photographs on this page were taken on March 25, 2010. I was most impressed with the colorful countryside and now, having done more research on all the things I've missed while driving U.S. 212 and Montana 59 which connects Broadus with Miles City to the north and Gillette, Wyoming to the south, I want to go back. I want to spend some real quality time in Powder River County and get to know some of the good people who call this area home.

Frog Pond off U.S. Highway 212

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