Buttons, Salt Shakers and Freemen

Traveling from Great Falls to Fort Peck

Monday, August 9 through Wednesday, August 11, 2021.

A little rain keeps the dust down at the KOA

Fortunately a Walmart is right next door to the KOA in Great Falls. Shopping is a snap as not many folks are in the store. On the way out of town we take on 51 gallons of diesel at their lightly used fueling station and head east on US 87 which takes us through rolling grasslands, occasionally climbing over some pine covered knolls. Eventually the hills turn into vast stretches of flat rangeland.

We read that the town of Stanford (408 souls) and seat of Russell County, had a neat little museum. In it are displays of over 2000 salt and pepper shakers and 50,000 buttons. How can we pass that up?  So here we are in the heart of the Judith Basin with rain threatening. We locate the museum next to the county building and find it- closed on Mondays. So we take a walking tour of downtown, a whole 15 minutes and head to the RV and out of town. 

Russell County Administration Building, Stanford MT

At the fork in the road we head towards tonight’s stop in Lewistown, MT on MT200. The road narrows with no shoulder and no places to pull over off of the road. After what seems an eternity a nice rest stop comes into view so we pull in and stretch for a while. 

Downtown Stanford, MT

Artwork in Stanford

Not to date ourselves- We played on playground equipment like this when we were kids…….

Near Lewistown a Montana road construction crew has the road all torn up for several miles. We had to wait as that stretch of highway is one way only, traffic lead by a pilot car through the maze of heavy machinery.

St. Leo’s Catholic Church, Lewiston, MT

Lewistown MT is the seat of Fergus County. The population of this city is fairly large for this part of Montana at 6000 souls. It was the site of an 1880’s gold rush and an important railway destination supplying bricks via rail. During WWII the US Army Air Corps established a Boing B-17 Flying Fortress training base just outside of town. We stayed at Mountain View RV Park located at the edge of town, the view being of Acre Mountain.

The next day, August 11, finds us traveling US 191 eastbound. The road is also very narrow with no shoulder and no pull outs but it does have a long stretch of road construction. Again we are enveloped by dust as we follow the pace car through miles of what used to be asphalt roadway.

Downtown Jordan
Garfield Hotel, Jordan MT

We stop in Jordan, seat of Garfield County. The town has 340 souls living in and around the area but darned if we could find them. The place was established by homesteaders The place has seen better days and by 1918 a town and county was established. A railroad was supposed to link the town with others but it never materialized.

Jordan has an ominous history, the most recent event occurred in March of 1996 when an 81-day-long standoff between an anti-government gang known as the Montana Freemen and federal officers began near here. The locals are still fuming over the federal government taking over the whole town. Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer was convicted of conspiracy, bank fraud, mail fraud amongst other crimes, was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison. While serving time in South Carolina a couple of his pals, identifying themselves as Montana Marshals, attempted to free him. The ploy didn’t work- but heck, what are friends for?

Pushing on we find the last rest stop available an hour down the road. Only 34 miles but miles of roadwork- again. This time the road is really torn up with the road bed taken down to dirt. Dust is flying as we negotiate the heavy machinery and the ruts they’ve created. The heavy equipment operators are very aware of our caravan and are careful not to cause problems.

We turn north on Montana Highway 24 which offers no improvement to road conditions. It’s bumpy, narrow, the wind is trying to push us into the drainage ditch but I won’t let it win. Fifty miles later we reach Fort Peck Lake and motor into the Downstream Campground for a couple of nights.

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