Kremlin Montana's History Begins

Kremlin Montana's history had its earliest beginnings with James J. Hill's building of the Great Northern Railroad from Havre to Cut Bank across the northern part of what was then Choteau County during the winter of 1890-1891.

The Great Northern Railroad built a section house on the current site of Kremlin in 1901. That section house is said to have been Kremlin's first building.

The People Began to Arrive

A history of Kremlin written by Earl C. Winter names some of the earliest settlers. Charles Miller came first and built the first house north of the railroad where the trains used to stop before the depot was built.

K.C. Farley and E.C. Carruth were two of Kremlin's earliest arrivals in the spring of 1909, and Ted Oltesvig arrived in the spring of 1910.

In the spring of 1910 the first large group of homesteaders began to arrive. They came as many as fifty to a freight train unloading and stacking their belongings along the Great Northern Railroad right-of-way at Kremlin.

Kremlin Montana or Bust

In this part of Montana, 1911 saw the end of Ft. Assinniboine, thus opening an enormous acreage to homesteading. Another large group of homesteaders arrived in 1911.

Some of these first arrivals were named Baker, Banks, Barden, Benson, Berg, Bishop, Brumbaugh, Cady, Carruth, Casey, Clark, Dees, Dobie, Donoven, Erlandson, Farley, Fenton, Gilead, Haugen, Havskjold, Hill, Howser, Johnson, Kezar, Koutnik, Laughnan, Miller, Nelson, O'Connor, Oltesvig, Purdy, Reum, Reynolds, Schucha, Sjordal, Sohm, Swartout, Vogel, Vosen, Wall, Williams and Wright.

Most of those early comers have descendants in the area today. Some of the early settlers filed homestead claims on land, then moved off to settle on more desirable land vacated by someone else.

From Boom ...

Earl C. Winter interviewed Theodore Oltesvig, Chris Vosen, Mrs. Florence Hillmen, Emmett Purdy, Oden Sjordahl and other citizens of Kremlin to compile Kremlin Montana's History in 1941. According to the information gathered in those interviews, Kremlin in its heyday boasted:

  • two banks, two lumber yards, three implement houses, two hardware stores
  • four general stores, two restaurants, a boarding house, and two hotels
  • three elevators, a grist mill, a meat market and slaughter house
  • three saloons, a dance hall, a barber shop, a shoe shop, and a ball park
  • two blacksmith shops, two garages, two livery & feed barns, a harness shop
  • two churches, a school, and a post office with three rural routes
  • two bulk oil stations, a doctor, a veterinarian, and several area schools.

The book Grit, Guts and Gusto states that Kremlin had over 300 residents and 33 places of business at its peak.

The surrounding country had a family on almost every quarter section. The big wheat and oat crops of 1915 and 1916 climaxed the boom days.

To Bust ...

In 1916 a tornado struck the town and destroyed several buildings. In 1917 the dry years started and lasted for six or seven years. Hot winds, little rain, grasshoppers and cut-worms doomed farming for the time.

When the United States entered World War I and prices were good, with wheat going up to $3.00 a bushel or more, the crops failed.

They say ...

It has been said that those who couldn't afford to leave hung on and eventually prospered.
A common quote of the day was a homesteader's lament,
We do not live
We only stay
We are too poor to move away.

Both banks went broke, along with the lumberyards, the hardware stores and two of the general stores. The doctor, the veterinarian, and the barber left and a great many of the homesteaders followed.

One elevator burned and the feed barn also. Many other fires soon destroyed other buildings in town. Very few of the businessmen survived the financial crisis. Livestock had to be sold or they died from the drought and lack of feed. It was a low-point in Kremlin Montana's History.

In ten years' time the population decreased about 50%. The small farms were bought up by speculators and by the few farmers who had a little money. Many places were bought for taxes. Many local men left their families behind and went to other places during the winters to find work, returning when it was time to get ready for spring work.

And Back ...

In 1924 crops began to be better and in 1927 and 1928 crops were very good. Houses that had been moved from town to the country were moved back. New homes were constructed.

Gas was found June 4, 1927 four miles west of town. Pipes for gas to light and heat the farm homes were laid in the immediate area. In 1936 with the help of the Public Works Administration the town put in a water system.

In 1934-1935 efforts were made to secure a Public Works Administration grant for the construction of a new school. Construction began Sept. 1, 1937, and the building was completed in May 1938. In the school year of 1937-38 a three-year high school was maintained in the old building (fondly known as Alcatraz). At the end of that school term books and equipment were moved into the new building and the next fall a four-year education program was launched.

(Click to Enlarge)
Early Day Homesteaders of Hill County, Homesteaders Day 1966 at James Laughnan home in Havre
Early Day Homesteaders

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