Choteau County, containing 27,380 square miles, the first inhabited on the east aide of the Rocky Mountains, having their summits for its boundary on the west, and the vast, unorganized area of Dawson county on the east, the British possessions on the north, and Lewis and Clarke and Meagher Counties on the south, was a grazing country, with a few agricultural valleys of considerable extent, the stock-raisers usually cultivating farms also. In 1884 its livestock was valued at $2,000,000, and 50,000 pounds of wool sent to market. The population of the county was 3,058.
Fort Benton, the county seat, was the head of navigation on the Missouri, and consequently a place of importance. To this point, for twenty years came freight worth millions of dollars annually, and from it departed the treasure of the mines. It was also the depot of the fur trade after the original fort or fortifications were abandoned. Before the opening of the Northern Pacific railroad fifteen steamboats, costing $400,000, were employed carrying freight to and from Benton. These boats were owned by several companies.
The Coulson line lost a fine steamer, the Montana, in a storm, July 2, 1879. The Dakota was also damaged. Helena Independent, July 10, 1879. I. B. Baker owned the Red Cloud and Colonel McLeod. St Louis Times Journal, March 11, 1879. The Power brothers owned the Helena, which was snagged. The Imperial was wrecked in 1867. The Peninah, also, was caught at this spot in 1879. John H. Charles was superintendent of the line to which the Helena belonged. Helena Herald, Oct. 10, 1879.
A company was formed in Jan. 1879, called the Missouri River Navigation Company, the object of which was to complete the navigation of the river to a point near Helena, by building boats to run above and below the falls, and a portage around this obstruction. The directors were A. Kleinschmidt, A. M. Helter, A. Sands, J. M. Ryan, Henry Klein, John T. Murphy, T. C. Power, C. Keuck, H. M. Parchen; J. F. Murphy, president, A. Kleinschmidt, vice-president, E. W. Knight, treasurer. The N. P. R. R., it was understood, would aid the enterprise. Congress was asked for appropriations, and did appropriate $25,000 for the improvement of the river below the falls, $20,000 to improve it above the falls, $15,000 to survey the Yellowstone, and $5,000 for its improvement. Helena Independent, March 13, 1879.
In 1878 they brought 9,500 tons of freight, and carried away, among other things, 60,000 buffalo robes and several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of furs. The fur export of Montana, in fifteen years ending in 1878, was valued at 6,000,000.
The population of Benton was 1,018 in 1880. The Benton Record was published at this place, having a continued and prosperous growth.
The settlements made in Choteau County were Arrow Creek, Belknap, Belt Creek, Birch Creek, Blackfoot Agency, Camp Cook, Carroll, Cow Island, Fort Assinaboine, Fort Belknap, Fort Browning, Fort Claggett, Fort Hawley, Fort La Barge, Fort Maginnis, Highwood, Judith, Judith Basin, New Agency, Old Agency, Piegan, Ruter, Sullivan, Twenty-eight Mile Spring.