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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.

  • In August of 1910, a wildfire swept through Western Montana and Northern Idaho that ended up becoming the largest wildfire in American history, covering 3.2 million acres. What became known as The Big Burn only killed 87 people, thanks in large part to the heroic efforts of forest service rangers, as well as a troop of Buffalo Soldiers that were sent to the region to help. Perhaps the most interesting part of the story was the political intrigue leading up to the fire, and the way this tragedy impacted the way the forest service was viewed from that day forward. This month's episode features music by two Livingston musicians, John Lowell and the late Ben Bullington.
  • On a frigid January morning in 1870, Colonel Eugene Baker led a raid on what he thought was the camp of a band of Piegan Indians led by Mountain Chief, who had been accused of killing a rancher near Helena. Unfortunately, Baker chose to ignore one of his scouts, who informed him they had the wrong encampment, and he ordered 380 soldiers to attack the camp of Chief Heavy Runner, who was known to be friendly to the settlers and even had a document to prove it. But when Heavy Runner tried to show Baker this document, another scout, Joseph Cobell, who happened to be married to Mountain Chief's sister, shot Heavy Runner, and the slaughter was on.
  • The race to complete a transcontinental railway in the late 19th century had a huge impact on early Montana, as it coincided with many other major developments in the region, such as the Homestead Act, the slaughter of the buffalo, and the influx of cattle into our state. It was also another example of how a few ambitious men benefited from our resources while those who were meant to benefit paid the price.
  • Jeannette Rankin is mostly known for two things: being the first woman to ever be elected to Congress, and voting against both world wars. But perhaps the most significant part of Jeannette Rankin’s life might be what happened after that vote against entering World War I, which was the first vote she ever cast in Congress. This episode explores how she managed to rebound from the intense criticism she received for that vote to become one of the most significant figures in the world of women’s rights.
  • On a cold winter day in February of 1911, an unknown former social worker took the podium in the Montana capital to address the legislature about Women’s Suffrage. It was the first time a woman had ever been invited to speak at the Montana legislature, and Jeannette Rankin made such a huge impression that day that it launched her into a career even she herself could not have anticipated.
  • From the time The Virginian was published in 1902, there has been a pattern of outsiders telling the story of the West, and often about Montana, and getting it horribly wrong.
  • The Speculator Mine Disaster, which took place in 1917 in Butte, is still the deadliest underground mine accident in American history. One hundred and sixty-eight men lost their lives when an oil-soaked cable was accidentally set on fire with a carbine lantern.
  • The Dawes Act, passed in 1887, was one of the most significant actions by the U.S. government in terms of removing almost any hope of Native Americans to create a strong infrastructure for their tribes.
  • 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.