Ashland, Montana is located along U.S. Highway 212—the shortest route between the Black Hills and Yellowstone National Park. Nestled between the Cheyenne Indian Reservation to the west and the Custer National Forest to the east, it is located along the Tongue River and is an ideal spot to take a break if you’re driving along 212.
The Ashland post office was established in 1886 and the town may have been named for the abundance of ash trees in the area. Ashland is a cattle country and is also the headquarters for one ranger district of the Custer National Forest.
The Cheyenne Indian Reservation was created in 1884 and encompassed Ashland.
The St. Labre Mission is in Ashland. In 1883, Private George Yoakam, who was stationed at Fort Keogh in Miles City, convinced a Catholic bishop to intervene and help the Cheyenne people. The bishop purchased some land and on March 24, 1884, set up the St. Labre Indian school. Four Ursuline Sisters responded to the bishop’s request for nuns and priests and began teaching in a log cabin. Today, St. Labre provides accredited education to over 700 children at three locations on the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Indian reservations. Native American Day is celebrated on the fourth Friday in September. Visitors should stop and see the unique teepee-style church and the Cheyenne Indian Museum. The Ashland Ranger District was originally known as the Otter Forest Reserve, and later became the original site of the Custer National Forest Supervisor’s Office.
The Supervisor’s Office was later moved to Miles City, and then to Billings, where it is currently located. The Ashland Ranger District has the largest contiguous block of Federal ownership in eastern Montana. The district has the largest grazing program of any national forest ranger district in the nation. The district is popular with trophy deer hunters and turkey hunters. The land on the district offers everything from rolling grasslands to steep rock outcrops. The vegetation varies from prairie to dense stands of ponderosa pine. Picnic and camping facilities are available at Red Shale, Holiday Springs, Cow Creek, and Poker Jim Picnic Area.
In addition, the Forest Service offers the Whitetail Cabin and Diamond Butte Lookout for rent throughout the year. The cost is $25 per night with a maximum limit of four nights. These can be rented by calling 1-877-444-6777 or visiting www.recreation.gov.
Diamond Butte Lookout is perched atop a 30-foot masonry tower to take in the view of the surrounding countryside. There is NO Electricity and NO WATER. There is a propane refrigerator, lights, heater, and cookstove with an oven. You will not be able to park directly next to the lookout. You will need to hike two hundred feet up a steep hill to reach the lookout. Parking and a vault toilet are located at the gate two hundred feet below the lookout.
The Whitetail Cabin is a registered historic site and once was used as a ranger station for the Whitetail Reserve in the early 1900s. It was approved as an administrative site in 1909. The cabin was built in the 1930s by the Civil Conservation Corps. Whitetail cabin is totally accessible by vehicle except in the winter months you may need to hike approximately 100 yards to reach the cabin from the road. There is electricity but NO WATER. There is a round pen corral facility, two hitching rails, and approximately 5 acres of fenced area to contain packing and riding livestock. Supplemental packing and riding livestock feed must be certified weed-free. There is seasonal spring water available for livestock consumption only.
There are three riding and hiking areas on the Ashland Ranger District totaling about 40,000 acres: Cook Mountain, King Mountain, and Tongue River Breaks. Motorized travel is not permitted and there are no developed trails within the areas.
As you can see, you can stop in Ashland for a quick break or for an extended stay. The town has all the creature comforts—a motel, cafe, groceries, and shops—and the surrounding area offers a variety of terrain for hikers and hunters.
While in Ashland visit the St. Labre Mission and the Cheyenne Indian Museum with its large collection of artifacts and art that help illustrate the rich Northern Cheyenne, Crow, Sioux, and other tribal histories from this part of the state. Tours are available by calling 406-784-4511.