Sweet Grass County

The mountains meet the plains in Sweet Grass County. Bigger than the State of Rhode Island, the county is 1,846 square miles - 449 of which are public lands. The eastern and northern parts of the county are devoted to agriculture, mostly the raising of cattle and sheep. Some farming of crops that require little moisture is also done.
The county reaches into the Crazy Mountains on the north and west. There are several theories of how the mountains got their name. All date back to indian lore. Although in close proximity to the Rockies, the Crazies are not a part of that chain. To the south lies the Absaroka Range. The Gallatin National Forest and Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness act as a boundary between the county and Yellowstone National Park.
Two rivers trisect the county. The Yellowstone River runs east and west. The Boulder River flows from its source in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness and joins the Yellowstone just east of Big Timber.
Seven creeks lend their names to areas of Sweet Grass County. Big Timber Creek, Otter Creek and Sweet Grass Creek come out of the Crazies and flow into the Yellowstone from the north. Upper Deer Creek, Lower Deer Creek, Bridger Creek and Work Creek start in the Absarokas and flow into the Yellowstone from the south.
Sweet Grass County has a population of about 3,500. Sixteen hundred live in Big Timber.


Place Names
Big Timber. County seat of Sweet Grass County. The post office opened in the 1880's. It is located just west of the confluence of the Yellowstone and Boulder Rivers.

Boulder River Ranch. Located south of McLeod. It was 1917 when Mr. and Mrs. Walter G. Aller of Iowa first visited the Boulder Valley. They were guests of Aller's cousins, Mr. and Mrs. George Gallup (parents of George Gallup of Gallup Polls). Allers spent part of the summer at the Keeney's ranch and enjoyed fishing and the entire Boulder experience so much that they bought the ranch in 1918. With the ranch came guests who had had a free run of Keeney's lodge and fishing the Boulder. Thus, the birth of a guest ranch. Allers built more buildings and invited more guests until "Old Kaintuck" became a small dude ranch.

Walter's parents, Mr. and Mrs. J.C. Aller, soon joined their son and bought the ranch later known as Whispering Pines. During the summer, JC and Walter threshed grain with their steam driven threshing machine. One operated the steam engine, one ran the machine and Pat McComb served as water boy. Allers also set up one of the first rural electrical systems in the valley. They used water power from Corwin Springs setting up a water wheel made from parts from the old area mines. The generator was obtained from the city of Big Timber. This plant proved adequate until commercial electricity was available. It had a drawback. Without a governor, Aller had to regulate the plant by hand. He turned up the power in the evening, then reduced it as the guests retired and turned off the lights.

Walter's son, Gilman and his wife, Elinor, continued to operate the ranch as a guest ranch. The name was changed from Old Kaintuck to the Boulder River Ranch in 1947. They operated the ranch as a working dude ranch running Angus cattle, Appaloosa horses and cutting hay in the meadows. Gilman Aller served as principal of the Sweet Grass High School from 1948 through 1952 influencing may students who still remember him well and with fondness. Gil and Elinor are the parents of Anne Aller Overstreet and Steve Aller. Both are excellent horsement and fine artists.

Today the ranch continues to operate under the guidance of Steve and Jeane Aller. Now on the internet, they attract guests from all over America as well as foreign countries. The ranch can still boast of the "best two miles of trout fishing in the United States," and offers cabins, meals, fishing, riding, packtrips and warm western hospitality. Allers raise Quarter horses, train them and sell them as three year olds.

From the Spring 2001 Crazy Mountain Museum Society's New Breeze with information from the Big Timber Pioneer, Jerkline To Jeep, and an interview with Jeane Aller. More information is available at the Crazy Mountain Museum archives.

Big Timber Road House. A stage station on the north side of the Yellowstone River, just below the mouth of Big Timber Creek. The station remained in operation until the railroad was built in about 1882.

Briley. A post office from 1917-1937.


Carney. A populated place listed by the U.S. Geological Survey located a little more than 9 miles (16km) southwest of Big Timber on the railroad.

Contact. A post office from the mid-1890's to the early 1930's. It was located about 27 miles south of Big Timber. It was also a stopping place for travelers to mines on the Boulder.

DeHart. An area about seven miles west of Big Timber. The first interchange on I90 west of Big Timber is called DeHart.

Dornix. The forerunner of Big Timber. It was located on the Yellowstone River. It was moved and renamed when the railroad came through.

Duffey Trailer Court. A populated placed listed by the U.S. Geological Survey located just east of Grey Cliff.

Gibson. A small village with a post office during the first half of the 1900's. It was located in the very northeastern part of Sweet Grass County about 27 miles from Big Timber.

Glasston. A post office for several years around 1920. It was located about 12 miles north of Big Timber. Some lakes in the area are named Glasston Lakes.

The Glasston Lakes. In was during 1908 that the Glass Brothers, Alex, James, and William, and a Mr. Lindsay along with surveyors and engineers, turned two natural lakes, located in the central portion of Sweet Grass County, into two large reservoirs encompassing approximately two and a half sections of land. Earthen dikes were used. The water was diverted by means of an intake canal from Sweet Grass Creek using a flood water right for 20,000 inches that had been obtained on September 24, 1906. Two sets of irrigation canals extending more than 35 miles were also built. This system was expected to irrigate 17,000 acres of land. The upper lake was named Lake Adam for Ed and Emil Adams who sold their ranch to the Glass brothers. The lower lake was named Lake Walvoord in honor of D.J. Walvoord, the head surveyor. The work on the dams and the canal system was done with horses pulling scrapers, "fresnos," and ditchers. Many area ranchers were employed in the construction, including Bob Cosgriff, Ralph Cosgriff's father.

The Glass brothers set up a town they named Glasston. It was built on land purchased in 1909 from David Nevin. The brothers dreamed of a trade center, served by a railroad from Big Timber, through Glasston and Melville and on to Harlowton. A two and a half story, twenty room hotel was built. A commissary and blacksmith shop were added. A church was built on Wheeler Flat in an apple orchard about two miles west of Glasston. The children of the settlers went to school in a one room schoolhouse in Glasston, and when the population increased, a larger, two room schoolhouse, teacherage and horse barn were built. Two teachers were hired in 1915 for the 58 pupils. A post office was established in 1914 with Leon Shaw as postmaster.

Unfortunately, problems ensued. Settlers arrived attracted by a promise of wealth and a wonderful life, but lacked sufficient farming skills. Earthen dikes washed out. Wooden flumes were built only to rot and leak. Many propective Glasstonites arrived in Big Timber only to be dissuaded by the "Poison Ivy Club", a group of retired ranchers who frequented the Grand Hotel, and who were more than willing to offer "advice" to the newcomers. Neighboring farmers also told of the disadvantages of the project land.

In response, the Glass Brothers sent company men to meet the trains and bring out the landseekers, allowing them to see only the best of the project. However, a drought struck in 1918-1919 and a flu epidemic hit the settlers. Eventually, James Glass and Mr. Lindsay withdrew from the partnership. Alex Glass died in 1938 and William took over only to face near bankruptcy. He sold out in 1948, unloading the land he valued at $60 per acre for a mere $10 an acre.

Today, the Glasston Lakes area is best known as a recreational site. The Big Timber Rod and Gun Club secured a right of way for a road, planted and irrigated trees, dug a well and installed a pump, and built shades and restrooms. The club put in piers and ramps. Summer weekends are now filled with the sounds of boats and the swish of water skiers. Barbeque smoke fills the air as young families enjoy the efforts of those early pioneers.

- From the Fall 1999 issue of the New Breeze, published by the Sweet Grass Museum Society. Additional information can be found in the Crazy Mountain Museum archives. This article was gleaned from Pioneer Memories by Margaret Drivdahl and a term paper by El Vera Cosgriff.

Grey Cliff. A small villageabout seven miles east of Big Timber. The post office opened about 1890. It also has a country school, waterslide, campground and cafe.

Hailstone. A proposed post office in 1917. Proposal not accepted.

Harrison. A place between Big Timber and Grey Cliff on the railroad found on an 1890 map. It apparently never had a post office.

Howie. A post office in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The area is several miles northeast of Big Timber.

Hubble. A post office from 1914-1933.

Hunter's Hot Springs. Located just west of the Sweet Grass - Park county line about two miles north of the Yellowstone River. Development of the springs began in the 1860's with a post office established in the late 1870's. The post office was discontinued in the early 1930's.

The magnificent lodge burned in 1932. It was the end of an era. Nothing was recovered and the site was abandoned. Burning debris from the hotel filled the plunge. The area was deserted until 1948 when Charles and Anna Johnson acquired the property. The Johnsons began clearing the area. A quonset was built over the plunge with a lunchroom at one end. The Hot Springs Resort was a popular spot, especially for young people who loved to swim in the warm waters. When Charles died, Anna operated it until her death in 1959. Her son, Harold bought the property from the estate.

Harold and Mavis Johnson ran the Hot Springs until 1974. At that time, the plunge was drained as high winds had torn the roof from the quonset. Harold had spent 45 years of his life at Hunters Hot Springs and now he and Mavis have volumes of information about it. The Johnsons retired south of Livingston.

The hot springs caught the attention of a Japanese partnership, Naturally Yours Co. Ltd. Corp. of Japan, the largest produced of natural foods and vitamins in that country. A subsidiary, Natural Foods USA of California, purchased the property. They planned to build 14,000 square feet of greenhouses, heated by the spring, which produced 1,500 gallons of water a minute with temperatures between 145 and 148 degrees Fahrenheit. Two greenhouses were built but wind and frost ended that enterprise.

The property sold again, this time to Jay Call. Mr. Call cleaned up the area, burning and buring the remains of old buildings. The only trace left of the huge resort is a rock fence. The ranch includes about 5000 acres and Jay Call ran it as a cattle operation. He leased the greenhouses to Bruce and Catherine Catlin. The Catlins sell produce to both wholesale and retail customers, selling to restaurants and warehouses in Montana and out of state.

The property is now owned by Jonathan Foote and his partner, Steve Claiborne, and is operated as a cattle ranch.

From the Summer 2000 issue of the Sweet Grass Museum Society New Breeze with information from the Archives at the Crazy Mountain Museum. Additional information on Hunter's Hot Springs is available there.

Independence. A mining town about 60 miles south of Big Timber. The town had a post office for a couple of years in the late 1890's. It is now considered a ghost town with access by horse or four wheel drive vehicle during the summer and snowmobile during the winter.

McLeod. It is located about 16 miles south of Big Timber and has had a post office since the 1880's. In addition, it has a school, rental cabins for fishermen and a bar-cafe. For a time, it also had a hot springs swimming pool.

Melville. A small town located 19 miles north of Big Timber. Its post office was established in the 1880's. Currently it has a small post office - store - cafe and country school. Melville Lutheran Church and its cemetery are located a couple of miles west of the town.

Merrill. A post office from 1890-1910. The area where it was located is now in Stillwater County.

Pactum. A station on the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Progress. A post office for several years between 1910 and 1920. It was located in the northern part of the county near Shawmut.

Quebec. A place where Work Creek and the railroad cross in eastern Sweet Grass County. It is also known as Manila.

Reed Point. A town about 23 miles east of Big Timber. It has had a post office since the early 1900's. Although the town itself is located in Stillwater County, its cemetery is in Sweet Grass County.

Reynolds. A railroad station two miles west of Grey Cliff.

Sioux Crossing. A populated place listed by the U.S. Geological Survey located about 16 miles (33km) northeast of Livingston in Kelly Hills in western Sweet Grass County.

Sourdough. A populated place listed by the U.S. Geological Survey located about 5 miles (12km) northeast of Big Timber on Ryan Creek. At one time it had a school.

Springdale. Although located in Park County about 15 miles west of Big Timber on the Yellowstone River, it is very close to the Sweet Grass County - Park County line. It has had a post office since the 1880's and was the railroad station for people on their way to Hunter's Hot Springs.

Stockade. A remote area on the southern Sweet Grass - Stillwater county line. It had a post office for several years between 1915 and 1925 and also had a rural school for a number of years.

Sweet Grass. An early community located on Sweet Grass Creek 12 miles northeast of what is now Big Timber. In 1892, the name was changed to Howie.

Wormser. Located on Big Timber Creek, 12 miles north of Big Timber, it had a post office for several years around 1900.

It was one man's dream. A city, located about 10 miles north of Big Timber, with a church, school, businesses, orchards and surrounded by many farms owned by Holland immigrants. Andrew Wormser envisioned a canal to provide irrigation for this settlement with water sufficient to irrigate 100,000 acres of land. The company acquired the right to 125,000 inches of water, taken out of the North Fork of Big Timber Creek some 18 miles north of Big Timber. The canal was begun in 1895. It was 24 miles in length with an average width of 16 feet at the top, nine feet at the bottom and five feet deep. About 54 workers received $1.50 per day or $3.50 for a man and team.

Andrew Wormser was born in Holland in 1846 to a wealthy family. He received his education there and in Michigan where he earned a Master of Arts degree. Wormser was intelligent, persuasive and ambitious with many abilities. He began his career as a preacher doing missionary work throughout the Midwest. He married Anna Holdermaker of Kalamazoo, Michigan. She gave her time to the care and education of orphaned and neglected children.

Wormser served as a pastor in the Bozeman area. While there, he persuaded about thirty Holland families to relocate to the Belgrade area and create a farming settlement. This venture proved so successful that many descendents are still there. And so he came to Big Timber. Rev. Wormser bought two ranches from J.I. Rapstad and began persuading his associates in Holland to join him here. Half of the land under the canal was owned by the Northern Pacific Railroad and was sold to purchasers at moderate prices, the other half was either subject to free homestead entry or purchased under the desert land act at $1.25 per acre, payable in five years. The homesteaders could secure a perpetual water right for $5 per acre or an annual supply by renting at $2 per miner's inch.

When they first arrived, the 13 families all lived in a large, one-room house with cheesecloth partitions. It was called Castle Garden. The Wormser's built a beautiful house, the finest in Sweet Grass County, with hardwood floors and stained glass windows imported from the east. There was a chicken coop, divided for the various breeds of chickens raised by the Wormsers. There was a carriage house behind the home with drive-through doors and living accommodations upstairs for the servants. Wormser owned a fine coach and matched black horses. The harness bore the coat of arms of his family in Holland. And his driver, Peter Bergman, handled the team. It is rumored that Wormser considered his wife's request that he "move Wormser Butte" so that she could see the sun rise.

By then, many Hollanders had acquired property and began farming. This settlement was not as successful as the one near Belgrade. The soil conditions were not suitable for the type of farming attempted by the settlers. Many sold out and left, one so bitter he attempted to stone the Reverend as he stood in his carriage delivering his sermon. Today, the canal is still functioning as the Big Timber Canal, still called the Wormsers or Holland Canal by many "old timers". The carriage house was preserved and has served as a home to several families. It is now a bed and breakfast.

Del Whitney, Henry Witten and Lew Webb bought the ranch and the magnificent home was sold to Chas. McAllister who operated the O.B. Nevin ranch, later known as the Charles Crum ranch. The house was dismantled and moved to this location. However, a flood destroyed the dismantled home. One door was saved and is now the downstairs door at the American Legion Hall and several stained glass windows are in Big Timber homes.

Families involved with this development included Plaggemeyers, Scholtens, Mos, deFries, Gruys, DeKonings, Van Driests, Van Voorsts, Abrahamsons, Moens, Felhoebers, Walvoords, Mertmans, Sikmas, Borgmans and Wormsers.

The Wormser property is now parts of four places, the Carriage House Ranch owned by John Haller and Sally DeStefano, Dave and Emily Larsons, Jeff Harpers and Roger Schlickherizens. Rev. Andrew Wormser died a pauper and Wormser City is just a memory.

By Katie Fraser in the Fall 2001 Sweet Grass Museum Society New Breeze with information from The Big Timber Pioneer, Don Tetlie, Tri County Atlas; and Pioneer Memories.

Other sources of historical and geographical information are: Montana Pay Dirt, A Guide to the Mining Camps of the Treasure State, Murial Sibell Wolle, Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 1963; History of the Yellowstone Valley Western Historical Publishing Company, Spokane, WA, 1907; Names of the Face of Montana, Robert Carkeek Cheney, Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula, MT, 1983.

Return to the top of the page.
Return to Sweet Grass County main page.
Return to Montana GenWeb home page.
This page is maintained by Joan Shurtliff, Sweet Grass County GenWeb volunteer. Additional information provided by Mike Hoines.

Copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009. Last updated May 19, 2009.