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56 Counties
First Monday of the Month at 6:30pm

Fifty-Six Counties is a radio program hosted by Russell Rowland, author of the book Fifty-Six Counties: A Montana Journey. For the book, Rowland traveled to every county in Montana and interviewed the people there about what’s going on around the state, while also researching the history to find the parallels and patterns.

The radio program is an extension of this conversation, with Rowland interviewing people from all over Montana to find out how Montana has shaped them, and what they’re doing to shape Montana.

Latest Episodes
  • 2 January 2023
  • The Homestead Act was passed in 1862, but there were several other pieces of legislation that had as much or more impact on the settlers who decided to pack everything they owned and make their way West in the late 19th and early 20th Century. The impact of this huge influx of new farmers and ranchers on our region is still resonating today as farmers and ranchers try to keep their operations alive in current-day Montana.
  • In 1864, when Idaho was declared a territory, Congress adjourned before allotting any funds or assigning any authorities to oversee the territory. Soon after that, a gold rush on Alder Creek near Dillon brought a huge rush of people into the region, many with questionable backgrounds.
  • Golden Valley County is one of the smallest counties in Montana, with less than 1000 people. Ryegate and Lavina, the two towns that populate this county, both boast around 200 people, and were hit hard when the local railroad closed. So, they rely almost exclusively on agriculture for survival.
  • Dan Tronrud is a lifetime resident of Sweet Grass County. He and his wife reside on the family ranch that his great grandfather homesteaded over a hundred years ago. Amber Martinsen-Blake has her Masters in Social Work and is the Executive Director of Catalyst for Change.
  • Liberty County is one of a string of counties along that Hi-Line that has always relied heavily on wheat farming as their main source of income. They still have two grain elevators operating in Chester, but they have also produced some of the most influential creative minds in Montana, including painter Clyde Aspevig, former poet laureate Tami Haaland, and composer/musician Phil Aaberg. But none of these artists still live in Liberty County. So, my guests for this month are two long-time Liberty County residents.
  • Hill County sits right in the middle of what we call the Hi-Line, the long stretch of small towns that are sprinkled along Highway 2 from Glacier Park to North Dakota. Like most of the towns along the Hi-Line, Havre came to be because of the railroad, and because the only passenger line in Montana still runs along the Hi-Line, the railroad remains a viable source of jobs in Hill County. But my guests this month, both of whom left Havre for a time before returning, also give us a glimpse of some of the more surprising activities Havre has to offer.
  • Richland County has gotten more attention in the past ten years than perhaps any other county in Montana due to the Bakken Oil Boom, which brought thousands of people into our state looking for jobs or other opportunities to capitalize on a sudden surge in production in Western North Dakota and Northeastern Montana. The influx of new Montanans brought with it the usual challenges of a boom-and-bust economy as Richland County had to find ways to bolster its infrastructure and give long-time residents a reason to stay as prices and crime rates escalated in the county.
  • Broadwater County is one of many counties in Montana that came into being because of the railroad. And in fact, the county seat, Townsend, is named after Alma Townsend, the wife of the president of the Northern Pacific at the time it came through Montana. But the railroad is long gone from Townsend, so it relies heavily on agriculture to stay relevant.
  • Meagher County is named for the first territorial governor of Montana, Thomas Meagher, who suffered a tragic end when he drowned in the Missouri River near Fort Benton. Meagher’s body was never found, and it remains a mystery whether he was murdered or simply fell from the deck of the steamboat, which added to the legend of a man whose life was already pretty adventurous. White Sulphur Springs was a thriving community until the early 80s, when the railroad left and a sawmill that employed several hundred people shut down. The county still has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the state, but thanks to one enterprising woman, it has also become a popular tourist destination, as well as the site for one of Montana’s most popular annual events, The Red Ants Pants music festival. My guests this month are the founder of Red Ants Pants, Sarah Calhoun, and Barry and Chris Hedrich, the owners of 2 Bassett Brewery, which opened right on Main Street in White Sulphur five years ago.