A Brief History of Westby, Montana

Photos WESTBYWestby Montana

Over a hundred years ago, prospective homesteaders were heading for the northwestern corner of North Dakota and the northeastern corner of Montana. The first of these courageous souls came to the area between 1903 and 1908. Homesteaders picked out 320 acres and built a shack on the land, then began plowing the land with 14 inch plows pulled by either oxen or horses in order to “prove up” their homestead claim. Some pioneers stayed through the winter and braved blizzards and brutal cold heating their shacks with coal stoves and using kerosene lamps and lanterns for light.  Westby survived WWI and the flu epidemic, and the first few years of the “roaring twenties” were good. The school added an Assembly Hall in 1924. Other additions were made in 1936, 1958, 1968, 1983, and 1985. Westby School became a three-year high school in 1923-24, and a four year high school in 1924-25. The Class of 1925 was the first graduating class of Westby High School.A major boom came when an oil well was drilled on the Carl Petersen land. Peak years for drilling were 1964 and 1965. “The Flat Lake field produced 871,111 barrels of oil in 1965… The Goose Lake area had 33 wells…” (rootsweb.ancestry.com). Intermittent production lasted until the late 1970s. By the mid-1980s, oil activity had declined. Economic exploration marked the beginning of the 1990s. Wild baby’s breath flowers were harvested, new crops such as kabocha squash were tried, and a variety of exotic animals such as pot-bellied pigs and fainting goats were raised.  The turn of the century brought all kinds of excitement, and Westby persisted in its determination to thrive. On April 1, 1990, Westby and Fortuna elevators merged. Six storage bins were added to Westby’s elevator (the last two in 2003) bringing bin storage capacity from 85,000 bushels to 485,000 bushels.  A development that impacted everyone was the Bakken Oil Boom. The Bakken field straddles the Montana-North Dakota border and extends into Canada.  Drilling increased in 2009 with the development of horizontal drilling and fracking. Pioneers braved all kinds of obstacles over 100 years ago and formed a town known as Westby. That little town has survived being moved across state lines, fires, WWI and WWII, as well as many other military conflicts, the Great Depression, oil booms, advancements in travel and in agriculture, and everything else that has been thrown at it. The grain elevator has become a major economic center after the cooperative reorganized and expanded. The Coop now handles more grain than any other such facility in the region.  Come over for a tour. Westby is over 100 years old. Keeping true to the pioneer spirit, our little town looks forward to the next 100 years.  For more information and a complete history of Westby, please contact James Weiler or Lyndon Lagerquist-City Clerk 406-385-2445.