Courtesy of the Central Montana Museum
As the stockades and trading posts along with the hunters, trappers, and Indian traders began to fade away, herds of stock were driven onto the open range to take advantage of the abundant native grasses. In 1877, Severance and Company established a sheep ranch in the Judith Gap. Other sheepmen arrived in the Judith Basin with their large flocks between 1880 and 1882.
The first cattle brought into the Judith Basin were driven in by Henry Brooks for T. C. Power and Company in 1878-79. The cattle were mostly longhorns which had been trailed up from the Texas Panhandle. Local roundups were handled by four large cattle associations: Flatwillow, Judith, Maginnis, and Moccasin. The Judith Association was reputed to be the best managed because it tried to improve the quality of its herds. It operated west of town and had as one of its nighthawks and night herders the famous artist, Charlie Russell. In the fall, the cattle were rounded up and trailed to Custer or Fallon, or to some point on the Northern Pacific Railroad, and shipped to eastern markets. By 1885, there were about 100,000 head of cattle and the same amount of sheep within a 60-mile radius of Maiden.
During the 1890s, Mr. William I. Hughes of Stanford was hauling wool to Great Falls and encountered a thunderstorm moving across the Judith Basin. Lightning struck the horses and wool wagons, killing the eight-horse team and a saddle horse tied behind the last wagon.
Homesteading had the most significant impact on the growth and character of central Montana, and agriculture continues to be the driving force of the area’s economy today. More information, photos, and artifacts are available for viewing at the Central Montana Museum.
The Central Montana Museum is located at 408 Northeast Main in Lewistown. It is open daily, 10am-4pm, May 27- September 9. Special tours may be arranged during the off season by calling (406) 535-9289.