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Deer Lodge, Montana
Deer Lodge MT - aerial.jpg
Location of Deer Lodge, Montana
Location of Deer Lodge, Montana
Country United States
State Montana
County Powell
 • Total 1.44 sq mi (3.73 km2)
 • Land 1.44 sq mi (3.73 km2)
 • Water 0 sq mi (0 km2)
4,567 ft (1,392 m)
 • Total 3,111
 • Estimate 
 • Density 2,160.4/sq mi (834.1/km2)
Time zone UTC-7 (Mountain (MST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-6 (MDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 406
FIPS code 30-19825
GNIS feature ID 0782261

Deer Lodge is a city in and the county seat of Powell County, Montana, United States. The population was 3,111 at the 2010 census. The city is perhaps best known as the home of the Montana State Prison, a major local employer. The Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs, and former state tuberculosis sanitarium is in nearby Galen are the result of the power the western part of the state held over Montana at statehood due to the copper and mineral wealth in that area. Deer Lodge was also once an important railroad town, serving as a division headquarters for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad ("the Milwaukee Road") before the railroad's local abandonment in 1980.

The current Montana State Prison occupies a campus 3.5 miles (5.6 km) west of town. The former prison site, at the south end of Deer Lodge's Main Street, is now the Old Prison Museum. In addition to a former cellblock building, the museum complex includes a theater, antique and automobile museums, and a former Milwaukee Road "Little Joe" electric locomotive.

Powell County Courthouse 04
Powell County Courthouse, Deer Lodge

Deer Lodge is also the location of Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, dedicated to the interpretation of the frontier cattle ranching era. This site was the home of Conrad Kohrs, one of the famous "Cattle Kings" of Montana whose land holdings once stretched over a million acres (4,000 km²) of Montana, Wyoming, and Alberta, Canada. The Grant-Kohrs ranch was built in 1862 by Johnny Grant, a Scottish/French/Metis fur-trader and trapper who encouraged his people to settle in Deer Lodge because of its pleasant climate and large areas of bunch grass prairie, ideal for raising cattle and horses. The city's name derives from a geological formation known as Warm Springs Mound which contained natural saline that made for a natural salt lick for the local deer population, the protected valley in which Deer Lodge is located was where most of the local wildlife would winter as the temperatures lowered in the high country.

Deer Lodge was the site of the College of Montana, the first institution of higher learning in the state.


Extant mentions of the Deer Lodge Valley prior to 1860 are found as occasional remarks in records written for other purposes. Consistent record-keeping begins with the writings of Granville Stuart and others in the early 1860s. 1860 marks the beginning of permanent occupation of both the valley and the future site of the city of Deer Lodge by European-Americans.

Fur Trade Era

Before 1860, the Deer Lodge Valley was not the territory of any American Indian group. Gatherings were held there, including horse races. American Indian groups from the west, Flatheads, Pend d'Oreilles et al. passed through the valley as an alternate route to and from the buffalo hunting grounds to the east.

The first documented visit to this area by European-American explorers occurred in 1805-1806, when Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery expedition passed by the Deer Lodge Valley without entering it. Evidence of earlier incursion, probably by Spaniards, was noted by miners during the 1880s, at Race Track Lake on the west side of the Deer Lodge Valley.

Early European trapper/traders passing through the valley referred to it as "the Deer House Plains". The Clark Fork river was called the Arrow Stone river in the 1830s. By the 1850s it was called the Deer Lodge Creek/Hellgate River. Catholic Father Pierre-Jean De Smet brought the first wagons known to have passed through the valley, in 1841.

In 1846, the Deer Lodge Valley became part of the United States and Oregon Territory with the signing of the Oregon Treaty by the U. S. and Great Britain. From 1853 to 1863 it was in Washington Territory, then briefly part of Idaho Territory until the creation of Montana Territory in 1864.

European-American settlement of the valley gained momentum during the 1850s and 60's, with the primary site being at present-day Deer Lodge. During the 1850s, trapper/traders from Fort Hall began wintering herds of horses and cattle in the valley. Also during that decade placer gold finds were made near present-day Gold Creek, first in 1852 by Francois (Bennetsee) Findley, followed in 1856 by Hereford, Saunders, Madison et al., and in 1858-61 by James and Granville Stuart, Reese Anderson et al. In 1860-62, Lt. John Mullan oversaw construction of the Mullan Road, which connected Walla Walla, Washington Territory with Fort Benton, then in Dakota Territory. The Mullan Road passed through the north end of the Deer Lodge Valley.

European-American Settlement, Montana Gold Rush

John Francis Grant circa 1860's - courtesy of Montana Historical Society - B and W photo , 942-461
Johnny Grant in his prime

John Francis (Johnny) Grant built the first permanent structures in the valley in 1859-60, at Grantsville near present-day Garrison. Grant had begun grazing cattle and horse herds in the north valley several years previously and "wintered over" there in 1857-58. In 1860, feeling as he said "lonely", he returned to Fort Hall for summer trading and induced several fellow trader/trappers and their families to return to the valley with him at the end of the season. Instead of locating at Grantsville, his friends chose to build at the site of present-day Deer Lodge, where several Mexican trapper/traders and their Metis families had already established the seasonal settlement of Spanish Fork. While Johnny Grant had been at Fort Hall, several people had come from Fort Union down the Mullan Road route and begun building homes at Grantsville.

In 1861, the Stuart brothers and Reese Anderson established American Fork near present-day Gold Creek. Also in that year Johnny Grant moved his large family to his newly-built house at Deer Lodge, at the present-day site of Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. During the next two years, placer gold discoveries at Grasshopper Creek, Alder Gulch and other locations to the south caused a population decline in the valley, including the abandoning of Grantsville and American Fork. Beginning in 1864 with gold strikes to the north, Deer Lodge City grew rapidly as a base for supplies to mines in the surrounding mountains.

Montana Territory

By 1861-2, Spanish Fork was more often referred to as Cottonwood. In 1862, a Deer Lodge Town Committee was established to lay out the town site, to be called LaBarge City, after Missouri River steamboat Captain Joseph LaBarge whose firm, LaBarge, Harkness & Company, had proposed to start a business in Cottonwood. Creation of Idaho Territory in 1863 induced a name change to Idaho City. And with the 1864 designation of Montana Territory, Deer Lodge City became the choice. Montana's first territorial legislature defined most of the boundaries of Deer Lodge County, establishing the county seat at the placer mining camp of Silver Bow City, near Butte. In September 1865, county voters transferred the seat to Deer Lodge City.

During the first half of the 1860s, Granville Stuart described valley social life as including many gay dances and parties, which was the way of the Metis. By 1866, Johnny Grant and many of his fellow Metis had become disenchanted with their increasingly numerous neighbors from "the States". In that year, Grant sold most of his Deer Lodge Valley holdings to Conrad Kohrs and in 1867 led a mass exodus of Metis families to the Red River country of Manitoba, Canada.

In 1869, the Territorial Prison was located at Deer Lodge. Also that year, the town site plat for Deer Lodge City was recorded. In 1878, Montana Collegiate Institute was established at Deer Lodge City. It opened for classes in 1883 and closed in 1914.

Attorney Horace Clagett, of the Deer Lodge firm Clagett and Dixon, was elected U.S. Representative from Montana Territory for the 1871-73 term. He was defeated for reelection by Martin Maginnis. Clagett was noted for introducing the legislation establishing Yellowstone National Park. Clagett's partner, William W. Dixon, later moved to Butte and upset Thomas H. Carter in 1891 to serve a single term as U.S. Representative from the State of Montana.

Clagett and Dixon platted the first addition to Deer Lodge City, in 1872. Perhaps its most prominent building was the former St. Joseph's Hospital.

The Heavenly City of Deer Lodge

In 1853, a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) named Joseph Morris arrived with his wife and children in Utah Territory from St. Louis, Missouri. Over the next couple of years, Morris tried to become a righteous Mormon patriarch, but failed. His wife left him and he was reduced to being a homeless wanderer, picking up odd jobs from farmers. In 1857, he declared himself to be the rightful 'prophet, seer and revelator' of the LDS Church. After some attempts to assert this calling were summarily rejected by the LDS leadership, Morris decided in 1860 that he was called to found a new church, which he named the Church of the Firstborn. Morris' new church was structured just like the LDS Church, himself as the president (prophet, seer and revelator), a first and a second councilor, a quorum of twelve Apostles and seventy 'Seventies'. In 1861, Morris called his rapidly growing flock together at the abandoned Kingston Fort on the Weber River, not far from Salt Lake City. There they lived communally, each family putting all they had into the commune. In this way Morris' new church passed the winter of 1861-62. In the spring of 1862, Morris' revelations became increasingly apocalyptic, prophesying the immanent return of Jesus Christ from which the Church of the Firstborn would emerge to rule over all the earth.

At Salt Lake City, Brigham Young and his councilors became increasingly impatient with the upstart Morrisites. A provocation by Morrisites became the pretext to deputize a posse to deal with them. This precipitated in June 1862 the three day 'Morrisite War', at the conclusion of which Morris and his First Councilor, John Banks, were slain, and 90 of his flock were taken for trial to Salt Lake City. A Mormon judge found the Morrisites guilty of various crimes, but their sentences were shortly overturned by a non-Mormon judge. As apostates to Mormonism, the Morrisites were not wanted in Utah and the U.S. military undertook to escort them out of the territory. Many had fled prior to this, as well.

The Montana gold rush attracted a number of fleeing Morrisites to Virginia City, Montana, Bannock, Montana and other placer mining camps in Montana Territory. A number of these later found their way to Deer Lodge City. The military escort brought a substantial number to the area of Soda Springs, Idaho, where they established the short-lived Morristown. A number of these also found their way to the Deer Lodge area.

In 1862-63, a candidate to succeed Joseph Morris arose in Utah, who styled himself 'The Prophet Cainan'. Cainan was the most successful of several pretenders to the leadership of the Church of the Firstborn, and the only one who had not been at Kingston Fort. As Cainan visited with Morrisites he became convinced that the lord was pointing out the Deer Lodge Valley to be the gathering place, and Deer Lodge City to be the new Zion for the Firstborn. So in 1866, Cainan proclaimed Deer Lodge City to be 'the heavenly city' and instructed his followers to gather in the Deer Lodge Valley.

As of 1991, it was estimated that about two thirds of the permanent population of the Deer Lodge Valley were Morrisite descendants.

The Walla Walla Jesus

An early Morrisite arrival at Deer Lodge City was Morrisite War survivor William W. Davies who came in 1865 with several others. After an initial period of depression, Davies began to receive what he regarded as revelations and instructions from Jesus. In the Deer Lodge City Morrisite community, Davies came to be highly esteemed, so that the Prophet Cainan attempted in 1866 to appoint Davies to be his (Cainan's) First Councilor. By this time however Davies had come to regard himself as the designated Morrisite prophet, seer and revelator and so rejected Cainan's overtures.

Davies' revelations had convinced him that the chosen place was to be at Walla Walla, in Washington Territory. In 1867 with about forty followers, Davies decamped from the valley and followed the Mullan Road to Walla Walla, where he established a new communal society, designating fellow Morrisite Sven Hagg as his First Councillor. Shortly thereafter a son was born, whom Davies declared to be the incarnation of Jesus Christ. His next-born son he designated as God the Father. For himself, Davies reserved the role of the Holy Ghost. His commune remained intact until February 1880, when 'Jesus Christ' and 'God the Father' died within a week of each other, of diphtheria.

Morrisite Pioneer Day

In early 1991, several members of a Baha'i splinter sect then living in Deer Lodge convinced Mayor Dick Labbe to proclaim August 9 to be a commemorative celebration day in memory of the August 9, 1879 dedication of The Lord's House, the Morrisite meeting house near Dempsey Creek, south of Deer Lodge. Planning included a community picnic for August 9, 1991. The leader of the sect was Neal Chase. Later, members of the sect presented their proposal to the Deer Lodge city council. After the meeting, several aldermen expressed alarm about the sect, including its understanding of the Morrisite movement, and Mayor Labbe rescinded his proclamation, saying "they snookered me".

State of Montana, Powell County

Deer Lodge City was incorporated in 1888, with a mayor and aldermen as officers. Montana achieved statehood in 1889 and a battle ensued between Helena and Anaconda over the location of the capitol in which Helena finally triumphed in 1894. In 1896, Anaconda took the Deer Lodge County seat away from Deer Lodge. This began a battle which culminated in the creation of Powell County in 1901, with its county seat at Deer Lodge.

Frank Conley

Frank Conley 3
Mayoral portrait of Frank Conley, mayor of Deer Lodge, Montana (with breaks) from 1892 until 1928

After statehood, the State of Montana let a contract to run Montana State Prison, which was awarded to Frank Conley and Thomas McTague. They held the contract until 1908. In that year, the State took over running Montana State Prison, appointing Frank Conley as warden. Conley remained in that capacity until 1921, when Governor Joseph M. Dixon replaced Conley with M. W. Potter. The Governor then commissioned an investigation of Conley's administration. This resulted in the MacDonald Report, which would be used as the basis for a civil lawsuit by the State of Montana against Conley. The year following, Montana Attorney General Wellington Rankin sued Conley for misuse of state funds and materials, in the case State of Montana vs Frank Conley The case took three months to try and resulted in the State of Montana being ordered to reimburse Conley. Deer Lodge City celebrated with a victory party.

Frank Conley was elected the fifth (1892–93), seventh (1895-1903) and tenth (1907-1928) mayor of Deer Lodge City. When he resigned for the last time, an article in the Billings Gazette called him 'the longest serving mayor in American history'. Mayor Conley was instrumental in bringing the division headquarters and shops of the Milwaukee Road to Deer Lodge City in 1910. Over the next decade, he presided over upbuilding the town's infrastructure to accommodate the rapidly expanding population. He was also responsible for the building of the City Hall.

Montana State Prison

In 1908, inmates W.A. Hayes and George Rock killed guard John Robinson and seriously wounded Warden Conley in an attempted prison breakout. In 1959, a prolonged riot occurred at the prison, led by Jerry Miles and Lee Smart, which resulted in the slaying of Deputy Warden Ted Rothe and the eventual suicides of Miles and Smart. All inmates were moved in 1977-79 to a new state prison to manage the old facility as a museum.

Superfund Site

In the 1870s, Butte developed into a rich silver mining camp. Marcus Daly's discovery of rich copper veins in his Anaconda mine launched the Copper Kings era at Butte. In 1883, Daly established his smelter facilities at newly platted Anaconda, Montana. Anaconda immediately became Deer Lodge County's major population center and employer. Smelting activities at Butte and Anaconda left behind enormous amounts of toxic wastes. Flooding on Silver Bow Creek and Warm Springs Creek, particularly in the great valley flood of 1908, spread toxic wastes from Butte through Deer Lodge City, to the Milltown Dam, just east of Missoula. As a result of legal actions begun in 1983 and culminating in 2008, the course of the Clark Fork River from Anaconda to the Milltown Dam was declared to be a Superfund cleanup site. Cleanup costs are financed from the settlement with ARCO (now BP-ARCO).

Economic Decline

Interstate 90 bypassed Deer Lodge in 1960. In 1961, the Milwaukee Road ended its Olympian Hiawatha passenger trains. Limited passenger service between Minneapolis and Deer Lodge continued until 1964, at which time all Milwaukee Road passenger service to Deer Lodge ended.

In the 1970s, the Anaconda Copper Company suffered financial setbacks which ultimately caused its 1977 merger with ARCO. By 1982, ARCO had closed down the smelter at Anaconda and stopped mining copper at Butte. In 1980, the Milwaukee Road shut down its western extension. All of its infrastructure from Seattle, Washington to Miles City, Montana was torn out, including the rails themselves.


Deer Lodge in 1869

Deer Lodge is located at 46°23′46″N 112°43′59″W / 46.39611°N 112.73306°W / 46.39611; -112.73306 (46.396183, -112.732922).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 1.44 square miles (3.73 km2), all of it land.


This climatic region is typified by large seasonal temperature differences, with warm to hot summers and cold—sometimes severely cold—winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Deer Lodge has a humid continental climate, abbreviated "Dfb" on climate maps.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1870 788
1880 941 19.4%
1890 1,463 55.5%
1900 1,324 −9.5%
1910 2,570 94.1%
1920 3,780 47.1%
1930 3,510 −7.1%
1940 3,278 −6.6%
1950 3,779 15.3%
1960 4,681 23.9%
1970 4,306 −8.0%
1980 4,023 −6.6%
1990 3,378 −16.0%
2000 3,421 1.3%
2010 3,111 −9.1%
Est. 2015 2,965 −4.7%
U.S. Decennial Census
2015 Estimate

As of the census of 2010, the city of Deer Lodge had lost about one third of its peak census population of 1960. Powell County continued its century-long trend of adding about 10 people per year to its population

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 3,111 people, 1,386 households, and 847 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,160.4 inhabitants per square mile (834.1/km2). There were 1,549 housing units at an average density of 1,075.7 per square mile (415.3/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 96.8% White, 0.6% African American, 0.8% Native American, 0.6% Asian, and 1.1% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.2% of the population.

There were 1,386 households of which 27.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.9% were married couples living together, 12.2% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.0% had a male householder with no wife present, and 38.9% were non-families. 35.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.19 and the average family size was 2.79.

The median age in the city was 45.7 years. 22.3% of residents were under the age of 18; 6.3% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 20.3% were from 25 to 44; 30.4% were from 45 to 64; and 20.8% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 49.7% male and 50.3% female.

2000 census

As of the census of 2000, there were 3,421 people, 1,442 households, and 911 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,369.3 people per square mile (917.3/km²). There were 1,593 housing units at an average density of 1,103.3 per square mile (427.1/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 95.67% White, 0.03% African American, 1.02% Native American, 0.61% Asian, 0.61% from other races, and 2.05% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.84% of the population.

There were 1,442 households out of which 29.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.7% were married couples living together, 9.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.8% were non-families. 32.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.32 and the average family size was 2.93.

In the city, the population was spread out with 25.3% under the age of 18, 6.7% from 18 to 24, 25.1% from 25 to 44, 23.6% from 45 to 64, and 19.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41 years. For every 100 females there were 93.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $29,859, and the median income for a family was $36,108. Males had a median income of $27,903 versus $20,227 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,883. About 8.7% of families and 10.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 13.3% of those under age 18 and 5.4% of those age 65 or over.

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