MILES CITY, MONTANA
The Yellowstone Highway |
The Bucking Horse Sale |
Cowtown Beef Breeders Show |
Range Riders Museum | Art Center
| Hunting |
Miles City, Montana,
got its start when Colonel (later General) Nelson A Miles was
ordered to build a cantonment where the Tongue River flowed into the
Yellowstone. The colonel and his men were sent in response to the
Battle of the Little Big Horn, to protect settlers and freight
wagons as they passed through the fertile Yellowstone valley. The
cantonment was constructed in the fall of 1876 and by spring, a town
had sprung up two miles away to provide rest and recreation for the
The founding father of Miles City was a "suttler", a storekeeper
who specialized in doing business with the soldiers. According to
the diaries kept by George Miles, a nephew of the colonel, who
traveled with his uncle, a man named Mat Carrol set up some barrels
under a tarp and started selling whiskey. When Colonel Miles got
tired of having his guardhouse filled to overflowing, he ordered
Carrol and the other purveyors of liquor to leave the military
An employee of Carrol's, John Carter, rode east on his big bay
horse until he was the required two miles away, beyond the edge of
the reservation. He found a flat spot along the Yellowstone built a
crude log hut out of driftwood and started selling whiskey. The
soldiers soon found the place, other merchants followed, and Miles
City was born.
Within the year, the cantonment moved to higher ground, becoming
Fort Keogh and the town followed, picking up lock, stock and whiskey
barrel and moving to the present location. Less than a year after
its founding, there were more than two hundred citizens and a post
office was established officially naming the town after Colonel
Miles City's name sake General Nelson A Miles has been called the
most consistently successful frontier commander and had a military
career filled with distinction.
The Yellowstone Highway
Before the railroad came to Miles City, steamboats ran up the
Missouri River and the Yellowstone River, bringing supplies and
frontier settlers. During the June rise, several steamboats made
multiple trips up the Yellowstone, bringing freight and passengers
in, taking buffalo robes and wolf hides back. The first boats of
spring were welcome sights. If a store ran out of an item in
December, there was no getting another until the spring, when the
river was high enough to carry traffic. In 1881, there was a famous
potato shortage and in another year, the town even ran out of beer.
Looking like smaller versions of the great steamers of the
Mississippi River, the steamers of the Yellowstone were elegant
little ships, complete with fancy dining rooms and velvet-curtained
Although they were tough ships, they were not indestructible.
Buffalo Rapids, named by Captain William Clark of the Lewis and
Clark expedition, and the Wolf Rapids claimed several vessels before
the U S government used dynamite to smooth things out. When the
steamer Yellowstone ran aground at Buffalo Rapids, her passengers
and some of her cargo were shifted to another steamship, the
Western, and an attempt was made to float the Yellowstone. The
efforts were not successful and the Yellowstone was no more.
The bell and anchor from the ship, however, are on display at the
Range Riders Museum. The building on Main Street where Shore's is
currently located was known for several years as the "Steamboat
Building" because it was build with timbers from the Yellowstone.
In 1879, there were fifty-four steamboat arrivals during the spring
high water. The last steamboats made their trips in 1882. The
railroad had arrived and no one had to wait for the June rise again.
Miles City, the county seat of Custer County, is one of the last
genuine cowboy towns on the western frontier. Continuing a
tradition of rodeos that stretch back into the 19th century, the
Bucking Horse Sale is Miles City's biggest event. For more than 50
years, horses have been "bucked out" at the fairgrounds as part of a
citywide celebration of the cowboy.
While Miles City is still proud of its colorful Old West history,
the community is a thriving, modern town, complete with high-tech
trimmings. Contemporary Miles City has not been swept up by the
winds of change that have threatened to shape look-alike communities
across the nation. Miles City still has a traditional Main Street,
complete with numerous buildings from the late 19th century and
early 20th century, many of which are listed on the National
Historic Register. These classic buildings include a saloon
painstakingly restored to its original, century-old splendor. Plus,
there are no parking meters!
The nearly 9,000 area residents are good hosts who enjoy talking
about the many historic photographs proudly displayed, about the
hunting and fishing in the area, and about colorful "characters" who
fashioned the town's personality. The Miles City Chamber of
Commerce's motto, "Proud Past: Progressive Future" also describes
the community. Its many services have made it the hub of
southeastern Montana, both economically and as the center of
Railroad brought changes to Miles City
The railroad has always been a part of Miles City, from the
early Northern Pacific to the Milwaukee Railroad, which brought more
change and growth in 1907 when it was built in The city's northern
section. At one time, an elaborate roundhouse and dozens of other
buildings served the railroads. A miniature display at the museum
depicts the thriving local industry. Today, the depots and shops
are either gone or out of service, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe
is the sole freight line through town. Stop in at the Wool House
Gallery for memorabilia and history of the Milwaukee Railroad
Bucking Horse Sale a tradition for over 50
The World Famous Miles City Bucking Horse Sale is synonymous with
this town and the celebration of the horse a and the celebration of
the horse, the cowboy and Western hospitality. Horses have been
especially important to Miles City, even from its birth as a
military post. Many of the first soldiers at Fort Keogh were mounted
– even some of the infantry. After the Frontier Wars, the fort
became a remount station, widely known during World War I, when it
set records for the number of horses shipped from here.
The Miles City Bucking Horse Sale is always the third full week end
in May. The BHS celebrated its 52nd year anniversary in 2002. The
sale is an outgrowth of an informal gathering of stock contractors
who began meeting in Miles City each spring starting in 1914. The
Bucking Horse Sale is sponsored by a volunteer board of directors.
Through the efforts of many people over the years, Miles City has
gained a national reputation as host for this three day Cowboy Mardi
Gras. It is often a reunion and rendezvous point for former Miles
Citians and all Montanans. The socializing can be easy or strenuous
– cowboy hat a plus, but not required.
The BHS is a convention of rodeo stock contractors from all over
North America. The horses, from untried stock to some with a couples
of trips out the gate to spoiled saddle horses to tried bucking
stock, are sold at auction immediately following their rides. The
feistiest command high prices and appear in rodeos all over the
The week end is jam packed with activities including a parade, trade
show, horse racing, bull riding, art shows, barbecues, religious
gathering and street dances. Saturday's parade usually begins at
9:30 AM, it is not unusual to have over 100 entries sponsored by the
Optimists Club. The sale begins at 5:30 at the Eastern Montana
fairgrounds on Friday evening. On Saturday and Sunday action begins
at 12:30 PM.
Cowtown Beef Breeders Show the first Friday in
At no time are Miles City's ties with the ranching industry more
visible than when it donates Main Street for a day in early February
to the display of some of the best yearling bulls in our region.
The 10th Annual Cowtown Beef Breeders Show, Craft Expo and Ag Trade
Show were held on Feb. 1, 2002. There is a practical reason for the
date is to accommodate the ranchers: before calving gets into full
swing, so they have a little more time.
Lewis and Clark Bicentennial plans
Famed explorer William Clark traveled down the Yellowstone River
with half of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery crew on the
return trip to St. Louis, MO in the early 1800's. During his voyage,
Clark camped in several sites in this area, including Pirogue
Island. It is not known exactly where Clark camped on the island,
only that he camped there July 29, 1806.
The Miles City merchants are having a heritage day or week end the
last week end of July to coincide with Clark's travels down the
Yellowstone. This year Pioneer Days and Clark on the Yellowstone
will be the same weekend. Possible attractions will be wagon rides,
historic tours, a ghost tour, old West photos, and stores dressing
for the occasion.
The Lower Yellowstone Bicentennial Commission is a regional
commission planning for the centennial in 2006. Miles City is one of
the communities working to have Corps of Discovery stop for 2 or 3
days between signature events like Pompey's Pillar and New Town, ND.
The National Park Service is sponsoring Corp II which will feature
murals on the semi's, a 50 seat auditorium, and a display area with
voyage artifacts. Corp II is an educational exhibit with presenters
to tell the stories of Lewis and Clark, their travels through
Range Riders Museum
The Range Riders Museum is one of the finest as well as the largest
museums in Eastern Montana. It's rich history began in 1942 with a
single log building after a group of old-time cowboys got together
in 1938 and began talking about forming an organization that would
preserve the past.
The museum complex has grown enormously since its inception, and
this year a steeple from the former First Presbyterian Church
building, built in the 1800's is an new memorial to Miles City's
spiritual history. Enlarged pictures of the 24 Miles City churches
will be featured inside the steeple along with six bibles and
hymnals used in early day Miles City.
The Range Riders Museum captures the essence of area ranches,
railroads, Indian villages, Fort Keogh and all the things that make
southeastern Montana special and historical. The museum captures
early times with miniature replicas of the Milwaukee Railroad
roundhouse and rail yards, Fort Keogh, a ranch headquarters and an
Indian village of Chief Lame Deer. The Milwaukee Railroad: railroad
shops, roundhouse and other building (50 in all) that were build to
service the steam and later diesel locomotives were recreated in
miniature by the Barthelmesses and other local helpers. Indian
village: a duplicate of the 51 lodge village of Chief Lame Deer
before it was destroyed in May of 1877. Ranching: a duplicate of the
old L O Ranch a spread early in this century was the largest
operating ranch in this area. Fort Keogh: complete with two-story
barracks for the enlisted men, duplexes for officers and their
families and many other buildings.
Some of the things you will see are: C M Russell Gallery, three
shops for women, an extensive family gun collection, a restored Fort
Keogh officers' quarters duplex, a pioneer log house, a rural
school, a building housing the wagons and cars, saddles and boots
from Miles City's historic Miles City Saddlery and Furstnow Saddlery.
There are many more historic things to see when you stop and visit,
but be sure to have the time to check it over good or you will short
Custer County Art Center
The Custer County Art Center is nestled in a park setting
overlooking the Yellowstone River. The Art Center galleries are open
year round, with many changing exhibits representing a variety of
mediums-painting, prints, sculptures, textiles, woodcarvings and
photography. In 1979, the Art Center earned the Governor's Award for
best adaptation of a historic structure for its renovated facilities
in the water holding tan holding tanks of the Miles City Water
Works. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic
Places. The Western Art Roundup, annually one of the center's most
popular shows, captures the spirit and feeling of the old and new
West through a variety of traditional and contemporary art.
A wide variety of game exists in south-eastern Montana, capable of
fulfilling a broad range of tasks.
The major four-legged species in eastern Montana are: mule deer,
whitetail deer and prong-horn antelope.
Southeastern Montana hosts an impressive number of upland game
birds. Natives include sharp-tailed grouse, sage grouse and
migratory mourning doves. Introduced species include ring–neck
pheasants, Hungarian (gray) partridge and Merriam's turkey.
Southeastern Montana lies in the Central Flyway and plays host to
thousands of migrating geese and ducks every fall.