Visit Harlowton - Best of Harlowton

Harlowton is a city and is the county seat of Wheatland County, Montana, United States. The population was 997 at the 2010 census. The city was once the eastern terminus of electric operations (1914–74) of the Milwaukee Road railroad's "Pacific Extension" route, which went all the way to Avery, Idaho. Here, steam or diesel locomotives were changed or hooked up to electric locomotives. Harlowton was founded in 1900 as a station stop on the Montana Railroad, a predecessor to the Milwaukee, and was named for Richard A. Harlow, the Montana Railroad's president. The area around Harlowton is rich in agriculture, the leading products being wheat, barley, cattle, sheep and honey bees. Major employers are Wheatland Memorial Healthcare, Harlowton High School, Hillcrest Elementary School, Musselshell Ranger District, Midtown Market 2 Grocery Store, Rays Sport and Western Wear, Cream of the West, Rocky Mountain Cookware,, and the Judith Gap Wind Farm. The local newspaper is the Times Clarion. Harlowton is surrounded by the Crazy, Little Belt and Big Snowy Mountains, which are a part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest. The National Forest offers plenty of acreage for recreational activities; camping, sight-seeing, hunting, OHV riding, snowmobiling, etc. Fishing access sites are located along the Musselshell River or at nearby Deadman’s Basin or Martinsdale Reservoir. There are three parks located within Harlowton: Chief Joseph Park, Deer Park, and Fischer Park. The old Milwaukee Railroad track bed has been converted into the “Smoking Boomer” trail. Of special interest are the pioneer bronze sculpture, entitled 'And They Called the Land Montana' and the Veteran’s Honor Wall located in front of the Wheatland County Court House. The Rodeo, Wheatland County Youth Fair, and Harlowton Kiwanis Show are annual events that take place in Harlowton. Area attractions include the Upper Musselshell Museum, Milwaukee Depot Museum, and Jawbone Creek Country Club. There is a public library, pool, theater, airport, and rifle range. Within 100 miles are the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, Charles M. Bair Museum, and Showdown Ski Area. Prehistory The Upper Musselshell River Valley is named for the Musselshell River which got its name from the large number of fresh water mussels found in its river bed. In the fall and winter weather, the bison would migrate to the lower altitudes along the Musselshell River. Early plains hunters, taking advantage of the large bison population, frequented this area. Some of the tribes that traveled through the area were the Crow, Blackfeet, Flathead, Gros Ventre, Northern Cheyenne, Nez Perce, Shoshones, Sioux, and Assiniboine. Harlowton lies within the Montana High Plains that form a part of the Northwestern Plains. The area is most known archeologically for the line of demarcation which was mutually established between the Crow and Blackfeet tribes that passed through the area. This fifty mile rock line fence crossed east to west from the Big Snowy Mountains to the Crazy Mountains. The rock line hunting boundary was the cause of several battles in the area. Within Wheatland County, site surveys have recorded and assigned Archaeological site numbers to Sentinel Rock, the Fish Creek Pictograph, Owl Canyon Pictograph, Winnecook Petroglyph, Fortification site, and to several buffalo jumps in the area. The Big Snowy, Little Belt, Castle and Crazy Mountains have produced five Wickiup Sites (conical shaped timbered lodges) and several Pictograph sites. On May 7, 1868, a treaty with the Crow Nation and the United States Government opened the Musselshell River Valley to settlement. The first sheep operation on the Upper Musselshell was started by P.J. Moore in 1878. The first large cattle operation in the area was the Chicago Montana Livestock Company in 1882 with S.S. Hobson as part owner and manager. Big Nose George Robbery In 1878, JV Salazar (Mexican John) was robbed of his horses, grub, and guns near the present site of Harlowton by the noted horse thief George Parrott (Big Nose George). At the time of the Salazar robbery, George Parrott was known to be camping on the Musselshell River with Andrew Garcia where he was holding a bunch of stolen horses on his way to Canada. Big Nose George was later hung at Rawlins, Wyoming. Merino/Harlowton The town of Merino was officially established in 1881. The name Merino came from the breed of sheep (Merino) that were run in the area by Charles Severence at the time. The trading post owned by John and Archie McEachnie housed the post office, store and saloon. The first railroad into the area was the Montana Railroad (nicknamed the “Jawbone Railroad”) in 1899. The Montana Railroad terminal was located one mile northwest of Merino, so it was decided to relocate the town site. On June 10, 1900 Richard Harlow, father of the Montana Railroad, and Arthur Lombard, surveyor and promoter of the Montana Railroad, auctioned off lots of the new town site. The name Merino was changed to Harlowton on November 9, 1900. The first building to be erected in the new town site was a barber shop, owned by Thomas Hanzlik. On June 17, 1907 a fire destroyed 24 buildings on the north side of Harlowton’s Main Street. The town was re-built, though most of the construction took place on Central Avenue to correspond with the Milwaukee Railroad plot. The first town election was held on June 6, 1908. Mr. A. T. Anderson was elected mayor. The grand opening of the Graves Hotel was on June 19, 1909, with a banquet and dance. Andrew Chris Graves was the principal owner. The Graves Hotel was added to the National register of historic places on August 6, 1980. Wheatland County was created by act of legislature on April 1, 1917, to become the 41st county in Montana. Harlowton became the county seat. Wheatland County was the first county in the US to go over its’ goal in the WWI Liberty Bond drive of 1918. For this effort, a ship, the USS Wheatland (AKA-85), was named after the county. The 163rd Infantry Regiment is a regiment of the Montana National Guard based in Harlowton. It went overseas with the 41st Infantry Division in World War II. Milwaukee Railroad In 1906 the Milwaukee Railroad started building west with its route coming though Harlowton. On December 5, 1907 work was started on the Milwaukee Railroad Roundhouse in Harlowton. The first passenger train from the east rolled into Harlowton on March 9, 1908, with freight trains to follow. In 1915 the Milwaukee Railroad was electrified from Harlowton to Avery, Idaho; over 450 mountainous miles. Harlowton became the eastern terminus of electric operations and was known as the “the place where electricity replaces steam.” The Milwaukee Railroad dropped its electrified system in 1974, just months before the OPEC oil embargo of the United States. The Milwaukee Railroad was abandoned following a bankruptcy settlement and the last train that went through Harlowton was in March 1979. Milwaukee Road Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in July 8, 1988. The Depot has been converted into the Harlowton Milwaukee Depot Museum.


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