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Glacier County History

Thanks to former CC Patricia Melia for this history article

Glacier County was formed in 1919 from Teton County. The county seat is Cut Bank. Glacier was among seven counties created in 1919, and only 6 more would follow later. There are 56 counties in the state of Montana. From 1893 -1919 you will find the area that became Glacier County located in Teton County, with the town of Choteau as the county seat. Prior to 1893, the area was part of Chouteau County, with Fort Benton as the County seat. Chouteau County was one of Montana’s original counties formed in 1865.
(note: Chouteau County and the town of Choteau have different spellings)

Glacier County is a diverse land area containing many mountains, including Mount Cleveland at 10,438 ft, as well as the plains to the east. The county holds a rugged portion of Glacier National Park, with many mountains in the 9000+ ft elevation level, some dropping drastically in elevation at their base. On the west side of the county near the Flathead County line lies the Rocky Mountains and Glacier National Park. Throughout the central and eastern portion of the County are rolling and flat plains, and scattered buttes. The plains are often windy, and trees in this area are scarce. There are small lakes and rivers throughout Glacier County. The northern border to the county meets Alberta, Canada. To the east borders Toole county, and on the southern end lies Pondera county.

The weather in Glacier County can be extreme. Temperatures during winter can drop as low as -40 degrees. Temperatures and snow can vary according to the area, whether mountains or plains, but the weather here can easily change in a matter of hours, dropping as much as 40 to 50 degrees. Glacier County, and especially Browning, are known for it’s wind. The 80’s are normal for its warmest summer months.

The Blackfeet Indian Reservation makes up approximately 80 percent of the land that is Glacier County. Glacier County is Blackfeet Country. This land is the land of the grizzly, buffalo, beaver, elk, and antelope. The Blackfeet settled this area long before the first white explorers headed into the area. The Blackfeet arrived in the area from Saskatchewan sometime after 1730. The Blackfeet hunted the buffalo that were plentiful on the plains, and were well aware of the good, clear water available. The size of the territory and reservation has varied over the years, but the Blackfeet remain a huge part of Glacier County, and it’s heritage. The tribal government is centered in Browning. The Blackfoot Confederacy has three tribes: the Blackfeet proper, the Piegan of Pikuni (or Piegan’s as they are usually referred to), and the Blood’s. The native name for the Blackfeet is Siksika, and Kainah/Kainai for the Blood's. The Blackfeet wore blackened moccasins, which lead to the name.  ( For much more history on the Blackfeet, visit the history page at the Official Blackfeet Nation Website.  You will need to google for it as it has been moved again-KDJ)

With the arrival of Lewis and Clark in Montana in 1805, and shortly after Francios Antoine Larocque, the territory was open to mountain men and fur traders, and the eastern settlers who began heading west. In the early days of the area, few ventured into Blackfeet territory. Even though the mountains of western Glacier county held beavers and other furbearers, most of the mountain men and fur trappers avoided the area due to raids and conflicts with the Blackfeet tribe. It was not until after the turn of the century that fur trapping had a role in Glacier County. By the 1880’s copper mining was in full swing farther south in the Rocky Mountains, and a few miners dwindled north. Copper mining in the Glacier area brought mostly surface deposits, and was short lived. The vast rangeland across Montana brought cattle ranchers and sheepherders to graze Glacier County. With the steady decline and disappearance of the buffalo, the Blackfeet also became cattlemen, playing a large part in cattle ranching. In 1889, the Great Northern Railroad reached Cut Bank. Shortly after it reached Browning, and East Glacier, before heading further west. As word filtered east that reservation land might be opened to settlement, homesteaders headed west. The Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 brought many to the plains of Glacier. Many of the new settlers began to cover the plains in wheat, grain, and barley fields that still consume a large portion of the county. The farmers life was hard on the wind swept plains, and the early 1920’s saw the departure of many farm families following a five year drought that started in 1917. The same drought, and the severe winter of 1919-1920 also consumed many of the stockmen of Glacier County.

Glacier County also experienced an oil boom. While the first oil was discovered in Montana in 1864, the first drilling in the county was believed to be in 1902 following the discovery of oil at Swift Current Creek. Oil was accidentally discovered by copper miner Sam Somes, who abandoned mining for oil. While a few other wells were drilled, Swift Current’s strike faded, and oil was overlooked in the area for sometime. It was during the 1920’s that interest in oil in Glacier County errupted again. A massive strike in nearby Shelby brought oil prospectors farther west into Glacier County. In 1931 a well in Cut Bank began producing, and it’s oil production fueled the oil boom that Glacier County saw during the ‘30’s. By 1933 the Cut Bank field was producing extremely well, and it went on to become Montana’s top ranking oil field in 1936. While most of the oil industry in Montana suffered during the depression, Cut Bank not only held on, but it managed to continually increase it’s oil production. Oil wells still stand throughout Glacier County.


The following books are available through inter library loan from the Flathead County Library:

  1. History of Glacier County, Montana 1988, Glacier County Historial Society, J. MacCarter, Editor 978.6 MacCarter

  2. Frontier Editor (Reminisces of the Editor/Publisher of the Cut Bank Pioneer Press), 1956 Daniel W. Whetstone, 921.Whetstone

  3. A History of Montana Vols. I, II, & III, 1957 M. Burlingame Ph.D, and K.R. Toole, PhD.978.6 Burlingame

  4. History of Montana Vols. I, II & III, 1930, R. G. Raymer, M.A. 978.6 Raymer

  5. History of Montana 1739-1885 Vols. I & II, 1885, Leeson 978.6 Leeson

All of the books above are excellent sources, most containing personal reminisces, biographies, sketches, photographs and a wealth of information. The Flathead County Library houses a special Montana collection with numerous other books. The Flathead County Library is located at 247 1st Avenue East, Kalispell, MT 59901. The reference desk can be reached at (406) 758-5815.