Courtesy of the Montana Historical Society
With some trepidation, Henry L. Armstrong (age 44) and his son, Benjamin W. Armstrong (age 22), left their successful Hawarden, Iowa, farm in October 1909 and headed west to find homestead land in Montana. As they traveled on the Northern Pacific Railroad past lonely cabins and dry rocky country, they held on to hope for success in Montana. From the bustling town of Lewistown, a land locator helped the father and son find adjoining land on the former Bower Brothers ranch near Square Butte, seven miles east of present Geraldine.
Henry’s wife, Sarah, and Benjamin’s new wife, Irene, arrived soon after, and the couples began improving their land. The closest town was Fort Benton, so the Armstrongs had to haul food and supplies by horse and wagon, about 70 miles round trip. They built Henry and Sarah’s house first and later repeated the process to build Benjamin and Irene’s house. Decorative items were expensive and hard to find, like the stained-glass windows still in the farmhouse today—which Sarah insisted make the trip across the country from Iowa.
Unlike many new settlers, the Armstrongs were well prepared for homesteading in Montana. They had income saved from the Iowa farm and many years of experience at farming. Benjamin studied engineering for three years at Iowa State at Ames, and Irene was a teacher before marrying and moving to Montana. Though their farms were small in acreage, their experience, resourcefulness, and enthusiasm for agriculture and community-building brought strength and prosperity to the farm and helped to develop Chouteau County and the town of Geraldine.
Henry was a Chouteau County Commissioner and was instrumental in organizing Geraldine’s first co-op elevator and store. Benjamin’s aptitude for engineering, mechanics, and construction aided him in building, automating, and maintaining a host of farm buildings and machinery they couldn’t otherwise afford. Irene was influential in the community as well. In addition to raising four children, she was at various times substitute librarian, cook at the high school dormitory, typesetter at the Geraldine Review, Red Cross volunteer during World War I, charter member of the local American Legion post, active in church, and an election judge for most of her adult life.
Henry Armstrong died in 1936, and daughter Nina and son-in-law Henry Anderson joined Benjamin as operators. They left the farm in 1943 when Henry Anderson went to work in Fort Benton. In 1945, son Henry Lee “Hank” Armstrong returned from World War II to help run the farm. Hank and his wife, Norma, ran the farm after Benjamin’s death in 1965. Their son Stuart became a partner in 1975 and eventually took full ownership with his wife, Lila, in 2008.