Our small towns sometimes have big reputations. The one we feature today, Ekalaka, has called itself “the bucking horse capital of the world.”
Then there’s Eureka, located about nine miles south of the Canadian border in northwest Montana. Eureka once billed itself as “the Christmas tree capital of the world,” and since nobody else tried to claim the title, it was.
Others did want to be the home of America’s Best Burger, but that landed in Eureka, too. In 2009, a local chef’s creation – his “Bubba Burger” toppings included Cajun sausage and grilled shrimp – won a national contest on “Live With Regis and Kelly.”
Some Canadians no doubt tried the hamburger. More than 350,000 people enter the United States from Canada at the nearby Port of Roosville each year, and Eureka is the first American community they encounter.
In addition to Christmas trees and a hamburger, the town was also once noted for being the boyhood home of actor John McIntire.
Many of you of a certain (younger) age may never have heard of McIntire, but he was quite recognizable in his day, primarily as the star of the popular TV series “Wagon Train” in the early 1960s. McIntire also appeared in more than 50 films in a career that nearly spanned six decades, including “The Asphalt Jungle” and “Rooster Cogburn,” working alongside the likes of John Wayne, Henry Fonda, James Stewart and Elvis Presley.
He maintained ties with Eureka all his life, and he and his wife, actress Jeanette Nolan, are both buried in the Tobacco Valley Cemetery in Eureka.
And with that, we’re off to the races with Montana’s “E” towns.
Eagleton is, or more likely was, located southeast of Big Sandy in a remote area of north-central Montana. Our exhaustive Internet research (i.e., two takes of a Google search) turned up no evidence that anything is still standing there, aside from the highly questionable promise from one website that “there are thousands of senior care services and housing options for the elderly in Eagleton, Montana.”
The Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River separates East Bridger, once a stop on the Burlington Railroad, from Bridger itself.
The 101-year-old Glacier Park Lodge dominates East Glacier, a village just outside the national park and on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Stephen P. Nash of the New York Times otherwise described it as “a charming, tumbleweedy throwback with a string of weathered eateries and motor-court lodgings that are only slightly post-World War II.”
The construction of a smelter coincided with the name change that turned Prickly Pear Junction into East Helena in the late 1800s. For more than a century, the smelter processed 70,000 tons of lead bullion a year and supported generations of families. The smelter stacks were dynamited in 2009, “an emotional step in cleaning up the smelter site” according to the city’s website.
From 1965 to 1985, when it burned down, the Cabin – a bar with live music seven nights a week – drew a diverse crowd that ranged from truckers to college students to East Missoula. Go poking around some of East Missoula’s neighborhoods, and you’ll find a curious collection of unusual handmade mailboxes in various yards. Resident Bob Brunson crafts them, and puts them up when his neighbors aren’t looking.
East Portal was an electrical substation on the Milwaukee Line. Now, it's the location of a parking lot where bicyclists can park vehicles and ride the spectacular Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail, starting with the 8,771-foot Taft Tunnel.
Eddy was a station on the Northern Pacific Line located between Plains and Thompson Falls. Eden, southeast of Great Falls, got its name when locals tired of taking turns making the long trip to pick up their mail, chose the name and petitioned for a post office.
Legend has it that Edgar, south of Billings, was founded by a man who “wanted to have one town without a saloon in it.” Today it’s best known for the Edgar Bar, where the food is said to be dang good.
Edwards was located in the middle of eastern Montana, and once was a contender for county seat of Garfield County. Early settlers were said to have dug caves into banks to live in because lumber was scarce.
Elkhorn is a ghost town and state park near Boulder; check out Fraternity Hall and you can almost imagine the night two men argued over what music the band should play, and the one who wanted to square dance shot the one who wanted to waltz. It’s not to be confused with Elkhorn Hot Springs between Dillon and Wisdom, one of Montana’s many out-of-the-way hot springs resorts. This one’s been around almost 100 years.
Elliston, on the west side of MacDonald Pass and Helena, has a bar with a memorable name, Stoner’s Last Chance Saloon. Elmo sits on the westernmost stretch of Flathead Lake, near Chief Cliff and the Big Draw.
A river runs through Emigrant, located near Chico Hot Springs, and parts of “A River Runs Through It” were filmed near there on the Yellowstone River. Out in Richland County, tiny Enid is reportedly not completely empty, but most buildings have been abandoned.
Ennis bills itself as “an hour from everywhere” – so long as “everywhere” only includes Bozeman, Dillon, Butte and Yellowstone Park. But it’s great country – ranching country, fly-fishing country, and the town of about 900 is host to a giant Hunters Feed the night before big-game rifle season opens. All that’s left of Epsie, west of Broadus, is an abandoned school and post office.
The only place on Amtrak’s Empire Builder that still flags down trains when a passenger needs to board is Essex, home of the Izaak Walton Inn on the southern border of Glacier National Park. Farther down U.S. Highway 2 near Ethridge, west of Shelby, you may notice “farms” of a different sort – ones that “grow” wind turbines to harness wind power.
Evaro, of course, is familiar to all who drive U.S. Highway 93 north of Missoula – a 222-foot-high railroad trestle near the town is a well-known landmark. And folks in the Flathead Valley are familiar with Evergreen, which would be one of the top 12 cities in Montana by population – if it was a city. Instead, the census-designated place and outlying area of Kalispell has more than 7,600 residents.