Eureka

In recent years the term, "Last Best Place" has been used to describe the State of Montana. Few who live in this vast and varied state would argue the point and what’s more, those who live in the Tobacco Plains country consider it to be the "Last of the Last."

It was not until the late 1880s that a handful of cattlemen found their way to this remote valley. Until then, it was strictly the domain of the Kootenai Indians who moved freely back and forth across the border with Canada, not knowing or caring about the imaginary line.

Not until 1904, when the Great Northern Railroad rerouted its tracks through here, was there any significant movement of settlers into the valley. Before that, the only commercial hubs in the area were the small settlements of Tobacco and Mills Spring. Oddly enough, they were about one-half mile apart and considered themselves to be rivals. Their rivalry was ended, however, when the railroad missed both towns by less than two miles. The center of commerce was moved south to what was to become Eureka.

There was no shortage of entrepreneurs and homesteaders who came here looking for opportunity. Those people faced the future with unbridled optimism. Eureka began as a "flag station," but within two or three years, every passenger train stopped here. The editor of the Tobacco Plains Journal was one of the area’s greatest promoters with weekly exhortations meant to draw more settlers this way. G. E. Shawler could not say enough about the potential riches that this country had to offer. Number one, of course, was the seemingly unlimited timber resources. Once the trains came through, the loggers and sawmills followed. But beyond that, Shawler foresaw the Tobacco Valley as an ideal place for families to come and grow fruits, grains, and vegetables as well as livestock and poultry. The talk started almost immediately about the prospects of building a "big ditch" from the water-rich mountains to provide irrigation for the semi-desert plains country to the north of Eureka. That project, begun in 1910, continues to improve even to this day, providing water to many small farmers and ranchers and gardeners all around Eureka.

Many thought that the surrounding mountains were rich with mineral resources. Prospectors poked and prodded every rock outcropping they could find, and while there were eventually some copper mines in the mountains to the east, gold and silver were never found in any worthwhile amounts.

By 1908, the town claimed over 60 businesses, including two each of banks, drug stores, meat markets, confectioners, barbers, doctors, and lawyers. There was a school, a library, a newspaper, four churches and plenty of saloons. By 1910, a handful of people had driven automobiles into the valley over the wagon road that ran up from Kalispell.

Eureka boomed throughout the teens and into the roaring twenties. With its close proximity to Canada, the Prohibition era saw many dramas, great and small, played out between bootleggers and the "dry squad."

By the mid-twenties, the writing was on the wall as the area began to suffer some setbacks. Mainly, the Eureka Lumber Company planer burned and was not rebuilt. As for the farmers, the “Big Ditch,” did not provide many of them with enough water and the Farmers and Merchants Bank foreclosed on them and then the bank failed. Eureka and the Tobacco Valley lay virtually dormant then for the next four decades. But since the early seventies, the trend has been reversed as more and more people come here seeking a less harried existence.

Source: U.S. Forest Service pamphlet researched and written by Lost Trail Publishing.

 

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