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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 the early morning hours of August 1, 1917, a black car pulled up in front of the Steele Block, a boarding house in Butte, Montana. Five men dragged a man, still in his underwear, from his room and stuffed him into the car.
  • In 1897, when tensions were still running high after the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the establishment of the reservation system in Montana, a sheepherder named John Hoover was murdered on the Tongue River Reservation, now known as the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. The murder became a nationwide story, involving a former Senator, who represented two of the defendants, and a donation from the Secretary of the Interior for one of the appeals, as it involved many of the issues that were causing friction between the Native and non-Native communities at the time. Once the crime was solved, the controversy led to some significant legislation to try and improve conditions on the Tongue River Reservation, and try and prevent similar incidents in the future.
  • When the Copper Kings lorded over Montana's business and political world, one of the main resources they used to maintain that control was the state media. Most people have no idea that The Anaconda Copper Company quietly maintained ownership over most of the major newspapers in Montana well into the 1950s.
  • In the early 20th century, in the northeast corner of Montana, newly arrived homesteaders were struggling to make a living in a land where the Homestead Act had attracted them to a place that wasn't delivering on the promise of an abundant lifestyle. As farmers looked for answers to how they were going to survive, a charismatic newspaperman named Charles E. Taylor appeared in Sheridan County, starting a paper called The Producer's News, and he gave people hope.
  • E.C. Waters was a businessman who moved to Montana in the late 19th Century and got into the hotel business, owning the first hotel in Billings. He eventually became enamored with Yellowstone Park and was hired to manage the five hotels that existed in the park around that time.
  • Two years after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the U.S. government decided to force 1,000 members of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, led by Chiefs Dull Knife and Little Wolf, to move to Oklahoma, even though they were not involved in the battle. After a year down south, they had lost nearly 100 members of their tribe to disease and starvation.
  • There were many significant decisions and agreements made between the US Government and various tribal nations that led to what became the most significant event in what became known as The Indian Wars. One of the most controversial agreements was the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, a treaty that was not only broken within two years of the signing, but which eventually led to the largest settlement between the government and a tribal nation in our history.This month's episode recounts many of the most important events that led to the Battle of the Little Bighorn. This month's episode features the beautiful music of Montana's own Vanessa Forero.
  • The Depression hit Montana harder than many of the other western states in large part because of a drought that hit the state more than ten years before the Stock Market Crash, just after thousands of people had moved here to establish homesteads. Half of the banks in Montana closed during the 1920s, and we were the only state in the union to lose population during that decade. But there were a couple of important figures, John Wesley Powell and Hardy Campbell, that had a significant impact on the way events played out in the West before the Depression hit.
  • During the mid-1800s, one of the fastest growing industries in Montana was cattle ranching. After the Civil War, Texas was overstocked with livestock, and prices had sunk to only about three or four dollars a head, so cattlemen decided to move their stock north, where there were stories about abundant grassland. The influx of cattle came fast, with not enough infrastructure to manage the business. It was a problem that Mother Nature eventually addressed with a massive blizzard during the winter of 1886-7, where cattlemen lost as much as 80 percent of their herd. The storm came to be known as The Big Die-Up. This month's episode features the music of Tom Catmull of Missoula.
  • 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.