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Custer County occupied in 1884 an area of 25,500 square miles, divided by the Yellowstone River, which is navigable, and watered by numerous large and small tributaries. It formerly included the Crow reservation, a 5,000,000 acre tract, which was surrendered to the government in 1882, and thrown open to settlement in 1883. Several mountain ranges separated the principal valleys and gave diversity to the scenery.
It was possessed of a superior soil, and the bench lands furnish every variety of nutritious native grasses, including Bluegrass, wild rye, and wild oats. The lower portion of the Yellowstone Valley was favored by a climate where corn, grapes, hops, melons, and fruits of various kinds flourish. Although later settled, it soon ranked as the second agricultural county of Montana.
Its taxable property in 1878 was valued at $329,231, with a population of 2,510 in 1880. In 1884 its livestock alone was assessed at $7,150,000. Miles City, the county seat, situated near the mouth of Tongue River, contained in 1880 a population of 2,500, and was a thriving town. In 1878 there were thirty-five arrivals of steamers with freight for the citizens and Fort Keogh, two miles distant.
Public schools, two daily and weekly newspapers, a church, theatre, banks, and large business houses were a proof of its prosperity.
The incipient towns of Custer county were Ada, Ainshe, Beeman, Beach, Big Horn, Birney, Brandenburg, Bull, Bull Creek, Canyon, Coal Bank, Coulson, Crow Agency, Custer, Cutler, Danton, Dickson, Etchetah, Etna, Fallon, Faurie Point, Foley, Forsyth, Fort C. F. Smith, Fort Custer, Fort Keogh, Fort Sarpy. Fort Tullock, Graycliffe, Guyville, Greycliffe, Hathaway, Horton, Huntley, Howard, Hyde, Iron Bluff, Kirbyville, Keith, Kendrick, Lignite, Little Missouri, Little Porcupine, Milton, Morgan, Myres, Nolton, Old Fort Alexander, Palisades, Peasefort, Pompey’s Pillar, Porcupine, Powder River, Rimrock, Riverside, Rosebud, Rouse’s Point, Sadie, Sand Creek, Sanders, Savage, Spring Creek, Stoneville, Straders, Sherman, Terry, Lilly, and Young’s Point.
The Yellowstone Valley was late in being settled, on account of Indian hostilities. In 1873 Nelson Gage made himself a home below the Old Crow agency, and quite away from any settlements. He erected substantial buildings, surrounding them with palisades, having 2 underground forts flanking his dwelling, and connecting with it by tunnels. He was the pioneer fanner and stockman of the Yellowstone Valley, according; to the Bozeman Courier and Deer Lodge New Northwest, Oct. 22, 1875. The Montana Pioneer Association was not formally organized until 1884, when only 300 pioneers were in attendance.