In doing these sidebars to our featured towns, where we recognize anywhere from some to all of the other communities in Montana that start with the same letter of the alphabet, be assured there are times it’s difficult to come up with even one sentence for some of the smaller or more obscure ones.
Other times, there are places like Dagmar.
If you’ve never heard of Dagmar, Montana, you’re probably not alone, and probably not from, or familiar with, the extreme northeastern corner of our state. Dagmar is about 25 miles from Saskatchewan, and 7 from North Dakota, up in the corner where Plentywood is probably the most recognizable name.
Dagmar was settled by Danish immigrants, who named the town for a Queen of Denmark.
Chief among its pioneers was E.F. Madsen, who in the fall of 1906, in a Danish-American newspaper, invited other Danes to join him in Williston, North Dakota, on a specific October day, in the hopes of finding land to establish a Danish Evangelical Lutheran settlement.
“We learned there was no place left in Williams County large enough for a colony, so we took the next train to Culbertson,” Madsen wrote.
And Dagmar was pretty much born then and there. Like, before the Danes even got to the place the town would spring up.
No one, after all, was going to waste $50 worth of lumber.
A total of six other men either traveled with Madsen from St. Paul, Minnesota, or met him in Williston. They were told, Madsen said, that they were “the most daring squatters” to arrive in Culbertson, because they bought lumber to build their shacks before ever laying eyes on the land they intended to claim.
It was an overnight trip – “40 miles north on the naked prairie,” Madsen wrote – to what would become Dagmar.
The night was spent near Medicine Lake. “Then we drove again – out, far out, on the open plain that lay in its virgin loveliness just as it had been created by the Lord,” Madsen wrote. The soil, he added, “is good as the Lord can make it. If he were to do it over, he would be likely to spoil it.”
Once the seven had staked their claims, Madsen begged other Danish immigrants to follow them.
“If you are Danes who are poor but with the Danish longing for land, if you want to own 160 acres of good soil, and if you want to live near other Danes at the place we have started … then don’t hesitate. There is not time.”
Madsen encouraged them to put $60 to $70 in their pockets and “hurry out” to the northeast corner of Montana.
We know all this because Madsen’s writings are contained in “Sheridan’s Daybreak,” a history of Sheridan County by Magnus Aasheim.
Less than 50 miles northwest of Dagmar in the same county is where Daleview once sat; abandoned grain elevators are apparently all that’s left of the town, and its story, unlike Dagmar’s, is apparently gone.
And so we’re back to single sentences. At least we can tell you that Danvers, located northwest of Lewistown on a gravel road, has its own Facebook page, including a 36-second video that appears to show you every single building in town, but only after the first half of the 360-degree sweep will leave you believing there’s nothing left of it.
The sailing center for the south end of Flathead Lake is definitely Dayton, but one of the coolest things about the little west shore town – in addition to its annual Dayton Daze celebration – is its elementary school. Down to six students and destined for closure a decade ago, the west shore rallied around the school so successfully that they had to add on what amounted to a brand new school to deal with a 500 percent increase in enrollment.
Many Interstate 90 travelers make Haugan (and its 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar) a regular stop when they’re nearing, or just past, the Idaho border, but online comments suggest the food at O-Aces in nearby DeBorgia might be worth a try.
Speaking of food, tiny Dean – a suburb of Nye, or maybe of Fishtail, down near the Absaroka Mountains – has a restaurant with an English chef whose menu belies its small-town locale. Montana Jack’s serves dishes such as beet-cured salmon and liver mousse while promising items for the gluten-free or vegetarian crowd and still remaining “carnivore friendly.”
Coal mining is the big industry in Decker, a stone’s throw from the Wyoming border in eastern Montana. It apparently got its name by accident from the U.S. Postal Service. When the townspeople sent in their request for a post office in 1893, they asked for the name Badger. When the paperwork was returned, it was made out to Decker.
We all know Deer Lodge is home to the Montana State Prison, and many also know it as home to the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. How many of you knew the seat of Powell County was also home to the first institution of higher learning in Montana?
The Montana Collegiate Institute, a private college, was founded in Deer Lodge in 1878 with two teachers, one for music and one for chemistry. It became the College of Montana in 1883, and while the Deer Lodge campus didn’t operate beyond 1916, it’s an ancestor to Rocky Mountain College in Billings. See, the Deer Lodge college’s assets were merged into Intermountain Union College in Helena in 1923. In 1935, Intermountain’s campus was destroyed by earthquakes and it relocated to the Billings Polytechnic campus. In 1947, the two merged to form Rocky.
Do you ever go screaming past Dell on Interstate 15 en route to Salt Lake City and spots beyond? Don’t. Dell is home to Yesterday’s Calf-A, a restaurant in a one-time school where the specials are written on the blackboard. You can also eat at the supper club at the Stockyard Inn, as long as you give them 12 hours warning you’re coming and where “the menu is unique, because there isn’t one.”
The one-time tallest man in the world was born in Denton, northwest of Lewistown, in 1925. Don Koehler started shooting up at the age of 10 because of a condition called acromegalic gigantism, and eventually became one of 13 people in medical history to surpass 8 feet. He reached 8-2, making him the tallest man in the world from 1969 to his death, at age 55, in 1981.
His twin sister was 5-9, which garnered another spot in Guinness records – the 29-inch difference in the twins’ heights were said to be the most ever.
Go searching the Internet for information on Devon, a Hi-Line town east of Shelby, and you’ll discover it either has or had – depending on what site you’re looking at – an impressive skyline (of grain elevators). Your search may also lead you to discover there are several people in America named “Devon Montana” with Facebook accounts.
Dewey, between Dillon and Butte, isn’t heard from much unless someone starts shooting a firearm inside its bar. It’s not a regular occurrence, but it’s happened before, including in 2004, when a fellow named Gregory Michael Pepin shot anything that made noise – first his dog, then the jukebox, then the phone – and got his name plastered across the country when the Washington Post highlighted the incident in a story about Montana’s bar culture.
Down in the same neck of the woods as Dewey are Dillon, home to the University of Montana Western, and Divide, named for the nearby Continental Divide. Divide is the setting for the unusual 2009 novel “The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet” by Reif Larsen.
Once called Jocko City, Dixon was re-named to honor Montana U.S. senator, and later governor, Joseph M. Dixon (Worden, in eastern Montana, was named for Dixon’s wife, who came from the well-known Missoula family).
The longest continually running fair in Montana can be found in Dodson, 9 miles west of Malta on the Montana Hi-Line and home to the Phillips County Fair. This summer’s was the 99th fair.
For a ghost town, Dooley – up in the same corner of the state with Dagmar and Daleview – has an awfully long entry in Wikipedia. Read far enough, and you’ll figure out why it didn’t last – a fire destroyed the east side of Main Street in 1916 and another fire destroyed the west side in 1920; a tornado touched down in 1934; and “the town also suffered infestations of armyworms, grasshoppers and Mormon crickets.”
Drummond is cattle country, as evidenced by its “World Famous Bullshippers” motto, and made another name for itself on the football field, where its Class C 8-man teams won state championships in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009.
The Frontier Bar and Supper Club is about all that’s left of Dunkirk, east of Shelby. Like many Hi-Line towns, it was born with the coming of the railroad and got its name when somebody wearing a blindfold brought a spinning globe to a halt with a finger – in this case, the finger landed on Dunkirk, France.
It was French trappers who provided the name for tiny Dupuyer, located midway between Browning and Choteau. It comes from depouilles, and may be the only town around named for the word they used to describe the back fat of buffalo.
Dutton, northwest of Great Falls, is in Montana’s wheat country. George Sollid helped homesteaders stake out claims. The newcomers were told: “Just go down to the depot and sit around looking like a sucker. It won’t be long before George will show up.”
• Information for this article came from many sources, including Roberta Carkeet Cheney’s “Names on the Faces of Montana: The Story of Montana’s Place Names.”