In the heart of the state known as "The Last Best Place," Judith Basin County epitomizes the classic Montana description of "high, wide, and handsome." Judith Basin County includes 295,000 acres of the Lewis and Clark National Forest; surrounded by four mountain ranges - the beautiful Little Belt Mountains, Snowy's, Highwoods, and the Judith's - covered in a sea of grass and wheat, the farmer, the recreationalist, the rancher, and the sportsman are able to reap and enjoy the rich bounties of this intriguing Basin.
The legendary western artist Charlie Russell learned the ways of the cowboy and mountain man in this basin, and many of his famous paintings were inspired by the landscape, the people, the drama, and the history that unfolded here at the turn of the century. The artist lends his name to the stretch of Hwy 87 between Great Falls and Lewistown known as the Charlie Russell Trail. Square Butte, Utica, Stanford, and the Judith Basin country are scene's captured in Russell's art, and traveling through the basin, much of the country remains unscathed from those early renditions of the area.
Agriculture is still the primary economic source for the Judith Basin, and its soil allows for quality wheat and grain crops, and a grain that sustains some of the finest cattle in North America. Yogo Dike, home of the world famous Yogo Sapphires, are the only naturally blue sapphires in the world. These renowned and treasured gems are still mined today on private property.
The hardy souls that homesteaded in the Judith Basin have learned that the bounty of this land can only be won through hard work and determination. Today, those that have chosen to call Judith Basin County home continue to inspire the next generation with life's learned lessons
Business and employment opportunities in our wide but small county abound, and affordable housing is readily available. We invite you to experience the many wonders of our area described by Charlie Russell as being"...shut off from the outside world...a beautiful and bountiful domain," and ask that you respect the memory of those who lived here and the rights of those who still do.
Brief History of Judith Basin County
Judith Basin is a high basin in the plains of central Montana nestled between the Little Belt and Snowy Mountains generally to the south, the Highwood Mountains to the west, and the Judith Mountains to the east. The Missouri River and historic Fort Benton mark the northern boundary of the basin. The Judith River draining north to the Missouri River was named by Captain William Clark to honor his fiancée “Julia” during the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1805-1806.
What is so special about the Judith Basin area? First, expansive vistas of mountains, plains, and buttes, remain as they were when painted by celebrated western artist Charlie Russell.
“Buffalo hunts, deer and antelope sunning themselves on cool summer mornings, stage coaches passing by, sheepherders watching their bands, cattle drives, spring blizzards, prospectors panning for gold”…these are some of the scenes that greeted “kid” Russell when he arrived in Judith Basin in central Montana in 1880.
Charlie Russell captured scenes of cattle round-ups and cowboys as he was a night herdsman, and thus recorded the last days of open range in this region. Square Butte seen from everywhere in the basin appears in several Russell paintings. It was climbed by Indian hunting scouts to view roaming buffalo herds and for spiritual “vision quests.” The painted scenes of Indians, buffalo hunts, tent encampments and Indian encounters with white settlers record both the beauty and history f the era. Charlie Russell painted an era on the brink of change and this place was his inspiration.
Visitors can see Jake Hoover’s cabin (reconstructed) where Charlie Russell lived in his early years. Jake, a trapper and gold seeker, who befriended Charlie, was the first owner of the Yogo Sapphire claim in the Little Belt Mountains. The history of the Yogo Sapphire mines is fascinating because it is the only sapphire deposit of its kind in the world. The blue sapphire is not heat treated like other sapphires, but rather is as blue as a cornflower right from the ground.
The Packard Homestead often identified as the earliest house in “Old Town Stanford” is now the only house in the vicinity still standing. It is made of fir logs from the nearby Little Belt Mountains. The homestead probably predates the subdivision of the area as a townsite, platted in 1898. A gavel used in the county courthouse since 1932 was fashioned from one of the logs from the Packard Homestead and is still used today. The homestead has been donated to the Judith Basin Historical Society.
After the arrival of the Great Northern Railroad to the Judith Basin in 1908, site along the rails determined a communities success. Stanford moved itself two miles to its present site to locate next to the Great Northern tracks and station. The railroad provided long hauls for grain and stock, and short hauls. “A small passenger train that ran between Great Falls and Lewistown in later years was called the Galloping Goose. It stopped at every small town and picked up cream, other farm products and mail.”
Mining of iron ore and coal contributed generously to county tax receipts, giving Judith Basin County distinction of being the only County that did not have to float a bond in order to build their courthouse. Coal processing equipment still marks the location of the coal town of Lehigh, located southwest of Windham. Many of its buildings were moved to Stanford.
The Judith River Big Game Winter Range Area and the Judith Guard Station represent the earliest forest and wildlife management efforts. In 1908, Forest Ranger T.G. Myers built one of the first guard stations on the astern flanks of the Little Belt Mountains in central Montana. The two story log office and residence located on the Middle Fork of the Judith River has been a popular site for picnics and camping since 1925.
These visitor sites, museums in Stanford and Utica, and many sites associated with historical events and people are hidden from regional residents and the traveler because information about them is not readily available. Many members of the Judith Basin Historical Society are grandchildren of early settlers and have family stories that are treasured bits of the past. This brief survey of historical features demonstrates that the colorful history of the Judith Basin is worthy of interpretation and preservation.
Literature Cited: “Recalls Stanford People and Places,” Judith Basin Press, June 2, 1963 and “Past Use and Future Direction of the Judith Station,” 1992, U.S. Forest Service documentation.
Judith Basin Historical Society
The Judith Basin Historical Society involves individuals from the county who have taken and interest in preserving the past to provide for a better future in our area. The Prairie Past Museum and the development of the “Russell Trail” are projects that have been supported by the historical society. Meetings are held year round.
For more information or if you are interested in donating to or joining the Judith Basin Historical Society, please feel free to contact Tess Brady c/o JB Historical Society Stanford, MT 59479
Judith Basin County has a beautiful expanse of island mountain ranges with a sea of grass and wheat in between. The farmer, recreationalist and sportsman all are at home here.
The county seat is Stanford located on Highway 87 between Lewistown and Great Falls. The county population is 2,329, according to the 2000 Census, in an area covering 1,869,886 acres.
The per capita income according to 1999 estimates was $18,428 with a median household income of $26,198 in 1997. The largest industry is agriculture and retail trade followed by services, construction, tourism wholesale trade and manufacturing.
Major employers in Judith Basin County include Bos Terra, Hobson Insurance, Stevenson Angus, Hobson School, Geyser School, Stanford School, Stockman Bank, and D's Supermarket in Stanford.
Stanford has a small airport and there is a private air strip in Hobson. There is no commercial air service in the county, but it is available in Lewistown (45 miles to the southeast or Great Falls, 60 miles to the northwest). BNSF provides rail service.
The Judith Basin County Sheriff's Department has a staff of five, located in Stanford. Montana Highway Patrol also has a patrolman stationed there. Rural fire departments and ambulance services provide emergency services within the county.
Stanford, Hobson and Denton have public swimming pools, as well as libraries. Along with outdoor recreation year round, popular events include performances by the Judith Arts Society throughout the area, the CMR Stampede Rodeo, the Judith Basin County Fair and Scarecrows in the Garden held in Stanford; and the Montana Bale Trail ("What the Hay Contest") between Hobson, Utica and Windham.
The MSU Experimental Ag Station is located near Moccasin and provides crop research for Montana farmers. The average rainfall in Judith Basin County is 24.58 inches and the average snowfall is 15.21 inches. The length of the average growing season is 115 days and the annual average temperature is 44.8 degrees Fahrenheit.
Stanford Recycling is a collaborative effort by the local USDA Forest Service and Horizons Community created in 2010. This program was established for the betterment of our area.
The Stanford Beautification Street Committee is working hard to spread the word throughout the community to raise funding for the purpose of ensuring that permanent street repair becomes a reality.
Judith Basin County Courthouse 91 3rd Street North Stanford, Montana 59479 406-566-2277