Judith Basin was the location where Charles Russell first experienced Montana. Many of his early works are based on Judith Basin locations. Russell briefly worked on a sheep ranch but quickly moved on to being a cowboy.
"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 Stanfordand 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
DSC0416rMontanaJudith BasinCharles Russell