Located in south‐central Montana, Stillwater County is the state’s twenty‐fifth most populous county, with an estimated 8,646 residents as of 2006 and consists of 1,793 square miles with geographic features that range from the Beartooth Mountains at the southern end of the county, to the Stillwater and Yellowstone River Valleys in the central section, to the lake basins and coulees at the northern end.
Elevation ranges from 3,400 feet above sea level near Park City, in the east‐central part of the county, to over 12,000 feet above sea level near Granite Peak, on the southern boundary of Stillwater County. Columbus is the county seat and is a shipping center for surrounding farm and ranch lands. Columbus is the state’s thirty‐sixth largest city.
Columbus is located 40 miles west of Billings and 100 miles east of Bozeman and 145 miles north of Yellowstone National Park. The population of Stillwater County in 2006 was 8,646, including Columbus with a population of 1,931. There are medical clinics, dentists, optometrists, chiropractors, a convalescent center, mental health centers and ambulance services located throughout the county, with the Stillwater Billings Clinic located in Columbus.
Montana Silversmiths, founded in 1973 in Columbus, makes custom belt buckles for all the major western events and World Championships. Timberweld, also located in Columbus, is one of the few laminated beam companies in the U.S. that is completely integrated from the timber to the structure. The Stillwater Mining Company is one of the world’s leading producers of platinum group metals and the only significant primary producer of palladium in the western hemisphere. The Company conducts mining operations at the Stillwater Mine near Nye, Montana and the East Boulder Mine South of McLeod, Montana. They also operate a smelter and refinery in Columbus, Montana.
Tourism also plays an important role in Stillwater County’s economy. From the Beartooth Absaroka Wilderness Area to the Stillwater and Yellowstone River Valleys, Stillwater County has no shortage of outdoor recreation opportunities. The Hailstone and Halfbreed National Wildlife Refuges are part of Stillwater County’s Big Lake Complex, which is known for its abundance of waterfowl and migratory birds. Today Stillwater County is home to a silversmith, a laminated beam company and major mining industry.
Schools in Stillwater County
- Absarokee: K‐6 & 7‐12
- Columbus: K‐6 & 7‐12
- Fishtail: K‐8
- Molt: K‐8
- Nye: K‐6
- Park City: K‐12
- Rapelje: K‐12
- Reedpoint: K‐12
The History of Stillwater County
On May 26, 1864, the Territory of Montana was created. Although decades away, the official entity we know as Stillwater County, was a seed when the first territorial legislation in 1865 defined nine counties: naming this region part of Gallatin County. Land boundaries continued to change, when Gallatin County carved off Yellowstone County in 1883 and Park County in 1887 encompassing the boundaries of the Stillwater area. By 1895, Sweet Grass County and Carbon County were formed. Along with Yellowstone County, these three counties then formed the area that makes up Stillwater County.
The voting date for county creation was set for March 15, 1913. A few days prior, one local paper the Absarokee Enterprise asserted “Stillwater County is a Necessity” and pointed out the indebtedness of Carbon County was $290,575, Yellowstone $201,090, and Sweet Grass $133,087. It continued the proposed debt of the new county after the adjustments would amount to approximately $13,249 thus imparting for a smaller tax levy. It was also their view a smaller county could run more efficiently, with less waste and better representation. The question submitted to voters of Yellowstone, Sweet Grass and Carbon showed 832 in favor and 146 opposed thus creating Montana’s 34th county, Stillwater County.
Poor road conditions did not dampen a gala celebration March 31, 1913, in Columbus to honor the new county. The halls of Columbus State Bank swelled with 400 citizens who listened to speakers, including Senator Patrick Patten and Representative John Corwin. A dance followed in the Columbus Opera house with music by the Park City band, Columbus Ideal orchestra and Absarokee orchestra who entertained over 800 people until 3 a.m.
Stillwater County Jubilee
One of the first celebrations the new county marked was the three-day Stillwater County Jubilee, held June 5-6, 1919, honoring county soldiers for their two years of efforts in WW1. A dance held on the 5th was in commemoration of registration day when over 1000 men lined up to enlist. Over 3000 people came to view the parade, partake in ballgames, races, memorial services, fireworks, and a free barbecue lunch.
25th Anniversary (1938)
The 25th anniversary of Stillwater County was ushered in by five consecutive week-end events beginning in September 1938 through the first week of October. One event, Pioneer Day, honored those who helped shape the county. Awards were given to the oldest attending and opportunity given to each pioneer to tell a yarn or two. The final day was filled with a parade, ballgames, relay races and bike relays followed by Senator Burton K. Wheeler who spoke for an hour discussing government issues. The evening was rounded out with prize drawings, musical numbers, and a style show of 1938 fashions.
50th Anniversary (1963)
Approximately 150 people attended the commemoration of Stillwater County’s 50th year as a county on July 8, 1963, in the Columbus Civic Center. The center then became home for the Stillwater Historical Gallery, 900 photos collected by Jim Annin of pioneers and families. The gallery was created by the Annin brothers’ Jim, Burt, and Doug in honor of their parents, Senator, and Mrs. J.B. Annin as tribune to pioneers who settled the country. The photos were part of the collection Jim Annin assembled for his three-volume set, They Gazed Upon the Beartooths which was printed the following year. (Annin’s entire collection is housed in the Museum archives)
75th Anniversary (1988)
Nearly a 100 people showed up to celebrate Stillwater County’s 75th anniversary, March 15, 1988, when county commissioners hosted an open house in the lobby of the courthouse where honored guest, John Leuthold gave a historical presentation outlining the county’s creation. Documents dating back to the period were also on display. This was followed in July by the Diamond Jubilee parade which filed along on Pike Avenue bringing to life the once familiar thread of horse hoofs, wagons and vintage tractors. The crowd then located at the Stillwater Pavilion for a slide show and potluck, followed by viewing the new displays at the Museum of the Beartooths.
Platinum Jubilee (2013)
Events planned for Stillwater County’s 100th anniversary, the “Platinum Jubilee” in 2013 were planned and hosted by individual communities. Activities in Columbus were spearheaded by the Stillwater Historical Society.