While the western part of the state of Montana was driven by the development of mining, which produced a lot of quick riches when discovered, the eastern part of the state has traditionally had an economy based on agriculture. Beef cattle were the main crop. Sheep and wheat being second and third... and not necessarily well received by the cattlemen. Miles City is a town in the south-eastern part of Montana. Except at the very founding, and in the present, agriculture was the main industry of the area.
The antecedent to the town was Fort Keogh on the west side of the mouth of the Tongue River, named after Captain Myles Keogh, an Irish immigrant who had been a mercenary serving originally in the Papal army and then the Union Army during the Civil War. He was killed with Colonel George Custer at the Little Big Horn. The fort was established on 22 July, 1876, by Colonel Nelson Miles after Custer's defeat on 6 June, and was used by Miles a base to pacify the plains - it was from here that he lead a detachment that defeated the Nez Perces in northern Montana near the Bear Paw Mountains on 27 October, 1877.
As with most military installations, there was a rapid establishment of businesses for the entertainment of the soldiers. Colonel Miles was somewhat puritanical on these matters, and did not want them anywhere near the fort. He was able to force them to stay ten miles from the east side of the Tongue River. Their response to this attitude was to name the town that developed after him: Milestown. Only later, when he reduced the size of the military reservation, did a town establish itself on the east bank of the Tongue. For a while there were two Milestowns.
As the Native Americans were forced onto the reservations, the fort slowly became less important. In World War I it was a remount station supplying horses for the war effort. After that it was slowly turned into an agricultural experiment station, where they try to improve livestock production through breeding and feeding methods.
As the Native Americans were being removed from the plains they were replaced by big cattle ranches. This was the age of the open range, where big cattle outfits ran their cattle on large tracts of unfenced land. These outfits needed two things from a town. First, as with the military fort, their men need a place to have a good time. Second, a way to get their cattle to market, and soon there were two railroads passing through town. The Northern Pacific was complete in 1883. It was joined by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul and Pacific in 1906, and a division headquarters was established in the town. It added a round-house in town later.
Since the high point of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s the town has been in a slow decline. With the coming of the corporate farm, many of the farms and ranches in the area have been combined into large businesses, which do not need the employees they used to, and the population has been in decline.
The only recent addition to the economy has been mining. While it had been gasping its final breaths in the western part of the state, coal mining has become a major part of the economy in the east. Although it is not going to produce a lot of money, it has been a stabilising force.
Miles City has seen little growth in the past 40 years. In the 1980s and the 1990s there were a series of arson fires that destroyed several of the historic buildings on Main Street.
Places of Interest
The Range Riders Museum
The museum is on the west end of Main Street, on the west side of the Tongue River. It contains a lot of items that are of local interest, but little else.
The City Park is on the west end of Main Street, just before it crosses the Tongue River. It has some nice old cottonwood trees that make it very inviting in the summer time. There is also the city swimming pool, which is little more than a reservoir filled with water taken from the river. While the lake helps the park stay cool, it might not be the best place to swim as there is little treatment to the water.
Spotted Eagle Recreation Area
Things to Do
There really are very few other organised things to do in the city, although there is fairly nice golf course in the southwest part of town.
The Airport Inn on the Jordan Road (north on Seventh Street) has a nice view of the town. While the food is not that unique, it is better than the fast food offered elsewhere around town.