They’re the first in any list, Montana communities that start with the letter A, and while our featured town, Anaconda, is the biggest and probably most recognizable of the bunch, there are plenty of interesting places out there.
That starts with Absarokee, a small town in a beautiful setting 14 miles off Interstate 90 in south-central Montana. Alphabetically, Absarokee starts every modern list of Montana towns and cities. Ever wonder what the difference is between Absarokee the town, and the nearby Absaroka Mountains?
Penmanship, it turns out.
Absarokee (and Absaroka) are anglicized versions of the name given by the Hidatsa people to people of the Crow Tribe; they literally mean “children of the large-beaked bird.” Town founder Sever T. Simonson (who thought the name meant “our people”) chose the name Absaroka; an early settler with bad handwriting scrawled out an “a” at the end of the town’s name that someone, somewhere, deciphered as “ee” and that’s how it wound up being spelled on maps.
If you like fast cars, you’ll like Acton, about 17 miles northwest of Billings. The tiny farming community is also home to the Yellowstone Drag Strip. If you like trains, you might have liked the even tinier Agawam, a town named after Agawam, Massachusetts, located a dozen miles north of Choteau. It was the terminus of a branch line of the Milwaukee Road; the branch line was abandoned in 1980. The post office only made it to 1956.
When the Indian agency for the Flathead Reservation was located near Dixon, Agency gained itself a separate spot on some state maps. Alberton, meantime, has a history heavily linked to the Milwaukee Railroad, which chose the spot 30 miles west of Missoula as a place to service the steam locomotives of the early 1900s. In Alberton, books outnumber humans by almost 400 to 1, thanks mostly to Keren Wales’ Montana Valley Bookstore, which has 150,000 used titles to pick from.
You know you’re isolated when the directions to your town are to drive clear to tiny Alzada in the extreme southeast corner of the state, take a left and go 15 more miles. That’s how you get to Albion, which is closer to the South Dakota border than it is to anything else.
Alder and its 100 or so residents reside in a historically rich area of Montana, just a few miles west of both Virginia City and Nevada City, and north of the Ruby River Reservoir. Alhambra, about a dozen miles south of Helena on Interstate 15, was once a resort whose two hotels featured the 138-degree water from Alhambra Hot Springs. A fire destroyed one hotel, the Sunnyside, in 1959 and the naturally hot water, it turned out, was also naturally radioactive. It’s now used to heat a retirement home.
If location matters, Allentown – between Ninepipes Reservoir and the Mission Mountains on U.S. Highway 93 – has it. Of course, the mailing address is Charlo, although the name Allentown still appears on many maps, and survives as the name of the restaurant and bar in the Ninepipes Lodge there. The Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana is right next door.
As near as we can tell, the one-time town of Almart, 11 miles south of Big Sky on the Gallatin River, is now the home of Cinnamon Lodge and its Mexican steakhouse. The lodge is next door to the Almart Bridge, anyway.
A family from Switzerland chose the name for Alpine, and it fits its Absaroka Mountains setting on East Rosebud Lake. Funny thing, though – Alpine is as much a homeowners’ association, for people who own private summer cabins there, as it is a town. The association was begun in 1911, and according to lostandfoundmontana.com, “The town might have disappeared from the map if it wasn’t for people like Karl Morledge and Laura Marie Anderson, who endured the long cold winters at 6,300 feet to care for the association’s cabins. They are among a long line of managers who were the only year-round residents.”
The last stop in extreme southeastern Montana, as we mentioned before, is Alzada, home of the Stoneville Saloon (Stoneville was the tiny town’s first name). It’s a popular stop for the bikers who visit nearby Sturgis, S.D., every summer. You’ll find Amherst, or at least what’s left of it, about 10 miles northwest of Lewistown; it was named after the city in Massachusetts.
There’s still a heavy Dutch influence in Amsterdam (as well as Churchill, right next door). Located a short distance from Bozeman and Belgrade, the name was changed (from Walrath) in 1911 by the Northern Pacific Railway, specifically because of the large number of Dutch settlers.
Andes was a Mormon community several miles south of Culbertson in eastern Montana. It was established by a lay minister with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who named the town after himself, but it failed to survive a devastating 1921 hailstorm and dust storms of the 1930s. About all there is to Angela, meantime, is a U.S. Post Office 25 miles northwest of Miles City that serves ranchers in the region.
Here’s a story vaguely relating to Antelope, a small town in the far reaches of northeastern Montana. While we can’t find anything saying the ship was named specifically for the town, before the U.S. Navy launched the USS Antelope, a 164-foot Ashville-class gunboat, in 1967, its crew members visited the small community a few miles southeast of Plentywood. Then, 28 Antelope residents traveled to Tacoma, Washington, to see the USS Antelope commissioned.
The ship saw service around the world, including Vietnam, but left the Navy after only 11 years and was turned over to the Environmental Protection Agency, which renamed her the OSV Peter W. Anderson and used the vessel to monitor waste disposal in the Great Lakes. It was sold for scrap, for about $90,000, in 2010.
One of the few “towns” located inside a national park is Apgar, sometimes called Apgar Village, in Glacier National Park. It was named for the town’s first postmistress, Jessie Apgar, whose family cut a road into Lake McDonald and homesteaded there before it was a national park.
All that remains of Archer, west of Plentywood, is a big rock in a farmer’s field with a plaque commemorating the town. One website, flickr.com, says it was a once-bustling community whose businesses included a manufacturer of circus wagons. Argenta, northwest of Dillon, was a company mining town.
North of Missoula, Arlee, on the Flathead Indian Reservation, is home to one of the region’s largest powwows, held for more than a century on and around the Fourth of July, as well as the unusual-for-Montana Ewam Garden of One Thousand Buddhas. South of Belt, Armington got its start as a mining town; if you’re in the area, it’s worth the trip to the nearby Sluice Boxes State Park.
Large petrified snails were once found when a railroad tunnel was being excavated near Arrow Creek, which was located between Great Falls and Lewistown. If there’s anything left of Ashfield, east of Malta, or Asheulot, west of Great Falls, you’ll have a hard time finding evidence of it on the Internet. Between the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation and Custer National Forest in southeast Montana, however, sits Ashland, home to the St. Labre Indian School.
Fifty miles west of Great Falls is Augusta. Like Absarokee, Augusta is a small town in a spectacular setting – this time, along the Eastern Front of the Rocky Mountains. Augusta is not only a gateway to the Bob Marshall Wilderness, it’s also home to the Augusta American Legion Rodeo, the “Wildest One-Day Show on Earth,” this year on June 29.
Google “Austin, Montana” and you’ll learn more things about Austin, Texas; Stephen F. Austin University; and Austin Peay University than you will about the one-time flag station for the Northern Pacific Railway northwest of Helena.
Austin’s actually not far from Avon, a small town in a pretty area many folks in this part of the state pass by on U.S. Highway 12 en route to and from Helena. The area around Avon is notable for the number of beaverslide hay-stackers in the fields, wooden contraptions that build old-fashioned (i.e., not baled) haystacks that work better in areas that get heavy snowfall.
• Information for this article came from many sources, including Roberta Carkeet Cheney’s “Names on the Face of Montana: The Story of Montana’s Place Names.”