Carbon County, located in south central Montana, was created on March 4, 1895 from portions of Park and Yellowstone counties and includes an area of 2,066 square miles. The county seat is located in Red Lodge; other towns located within Carbon County include Bearcreek, Belfry, Bridger, Fromberg, Edgar, Silesia, Joliet, Boyd, Roberts, Luther and Roscoe. To the south and west lie the picturesque Beartooth Mountains whose lofty peaks include Montana’s highest, Granite Peak with an elevation of 12,799 feet. Flowing from the mountains, the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River meanders through central portions of the county. On the eastern edge of the county are the Pryor Mountains and the Big Horn River.
When coal deposits were originally discovered in the Red Lodge area, those portions were ceded from the Crow Indian Reservation to allow for development. The Rocky Fork Railroad was constructed to access those coal deposits. As the Crow Indian Reservation diminished settlers moved in to acquire 160 acre homesteads. Settlers arrived from such diverse locations as England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia, Finland, Austria, Yugoslavia, Italy and, Russia. Many of those early residents worked in the coal mines in the area, the largest of which was located between Red Lodge and Bearcreek. Oil and gas were also discovered in Carbon County with two abundant fields, the Dry Creek Field and the Elk Basin Fields. As the demand for coal dwindled, agriculture became a mainstay in the region, with cattle and hay primarily in the mountain areas and foothills, while more cropland opportunities lay in the Clark’s Fork Valley.
Today with a population of just over 10,000 Carbon County has become a tourist destination. Strategically located at the base of the Beartooth Mountains, Carbon County visitors are treated to spectacular vistas visible from the Beartooth Highway located within the Custer National Forest, and extending south from Red Lodge to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone Park. The Beartooth Highway, on U.S. Highway 212, has the distinction of being recognized by the late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt, as being “the prettiest road in America.” Residents and tourists alike, take advantage of opportunities for hiking, camping, skiing, golfing, hunting, and wildlife viewing or maybe even a respite of quiet solitude. Through the years many have passed through Carbon County, perhaps for the first time on their way to another destination, only to return later, to spend a little more time.
CODE OF THE WEST
The famous western writer, Zane Grey, first chronicled the Code of the West. The men and women who came to this part of the country during the westward expansion of the United States were bound by an unwritten code of conduct. Old West values like integrity, self-reliance and accountability guided their decisions, actions and interactions. Their survival depended upon their ability to cooperate with their neighbors — attitude of collective responsibility to society and finding nonpartisan solutions to environmental problems and other important issues. In keeping with that spirit, we offer this information to help Carbon County citizens who wish to follow in the footsteps of those rugged individualists by living in the County’s rural areas.