Havre got its start in 1879 when Fort Assiniboine, the largest military fort west of the Mississippi, was constructed. As the first trains forged across the Great Plains, Havre quickly became the transportation hub of the area.
Havre was vital to trappers, miners, and military stationed at Fort Assiniboine. The town was originally known as Bull Hook Bottoms, later changed to Bull Hook Siding when the rail station at Assiniboine was abandoned. James Hill, president of the Great Northern Railroad and the founder of Havre thought the name too undignified to attract business and settlers to the area. Several of the first settler in the town were Frenchmen. After much debate, they chose the name LeHavre after a French seaport of the same name and telegraphed Hill. He wasn’t too fond of the suggestion but agreed to accept the French spelling if it was pronounced Have-Er.
Havre was a true Old West “cow town.” Cowboys from the surrounding cattle ranches used it as a trading center and a place to “hole up” in the winter. The town gained national notoriety when a dispute arose as to the legality of tying horses up to the parking meters. The cowboys maintained that as long as they paid the meters, that the horses had as much right to park there as the automobiles.
Prior to 1901, the area was primarily devoted to raising sheep, cattle, and horses, but ranches soon became lesser in number as farms began to produce some of the world’s greatest spring and winter wheat. Agriculture and ranching are still the undisputed mainstays of Havre with 100 miles of grain field to its west and 300 miles of ranches to the east. However, the area’s economy is also diversified with health services, education, professional and retail businesses; manufacturing and railroad industries also thrive in Havre—the largest town on the Hi-Line.
Havre is a focal point of commercial activity, while wide open spaces envelop the area offering many recreational opportunities. Beaver Creek Park, a 10,000-acre strip within the Bear Paw Mountains, is one of the largest county parks in the nation. Rolling grasslands, pine woods, aspen and cottonwood groves, rocky cliffs and chilly, rushing streams provide nature’s most beautiful patchwork. Beaver Creek, Bear Paw Lake, and the Lower Beaver Creek Lake are full of rainbow and brook trout.
The badlands exposed along the Milk River just north of Havre combine geology, paleontology and scenery all in just a 5-mile drive. Fossils found in these badlands have proven the existence of marine animals, dinosaurs and even tropical plants that lived in the area millions of years ago.
Caption: The only life-size statue of James T. hill stands in front of the train station in Havre.