Since 2010, the Montana Historical Society’s Centennial Farm and Ranch program has recognized our state’s agricultural traditions by celebrating the perseverance and stewardship of Montana families on their farms and ranches.
Armstrong Farm, 1909
Geraldine, Chouteau County
With some trepidation, Henry L. Armstrong, age forty-four, and his son Benjamin W. Armstrong, age twenty-two, left their successful Hawarden, Iowa, farm in October 1909 and headed west to find homestead land in Montana. As they traveled on the Northern Pacific Railroad past lonely cabins and dry, rocky country, they held on to hope for success in Montana. From the bustling town of Stanford, a land locator helped father and son find adjoining land near Square Butte, seven miles east of present-day Geraldine.
Henry’s wife Sarah and Benjamin’s new wife Irene arrived soon after, and the couples began improving their land. The closest town was Fort Benton, so the Armstrongs had to haul food, lumber, and supplies by horse and wagon, about seventy miles round-trip. They built Henry and Sarah’s house first and Benjamin and Irene’s house later. Decorative items were expensive and hard to find, like the stained-glass windows still in the farmhouse today, which Sarah insisted make the trip across the country from Iowa.
Unlike many new settlers, the Armstrongs were well prepared for homesteading. They had income saved from the Iowa farm and many years of experience at farming. Benjamin had studied engineering for three years at Iowa State in Ames, and Irene was a teacher before marrying and moving to Montana. They first lived in a community named Hawarden until the Milwaukee Railroad arrived in 1914 and platted Geraldine. Though their farms were small in acreage, their experience, resourcefulness, and enthusiasm for agriculture and community-building brought strength and prosperity to the farm and helped develop Chouteau County and the town of Geraldine.
Henry was a Chouteau County commissioner and was instrumental in organizing Geraldine’s first co-op elevator and grocery store. Benjamin’s aptitude for engineering, mechanics, and construction helped build, automate, and maintain a host of farm buildings and machinery they could not have otherwise afforded. Irene was influential in the community as well. In addition to raising four children, she was at times a cook at the high school dormitory, a typesetter at the Geraldine Review, a Red Cross volunteer during World War I, a charter member of the local American Legion, and an election judge for most of her adult life. She was an active church member and was instrumental in helping build Geraldine’s public library.
Henry Armstrong died in 1936, and his daughter Nina and son-in-law Henry Anderson joined Benjamin as operators. They left the farm in 1943 when Henry went to work in Fort Benton. In 1945, Benjamin and Irene’s son Henry Lee “Hank” returned after World War II to help run the farm. Hank and his wife Norma ran the farm after Benjamin’s death in 1965. Their son Stuart became a partner in 1975, and eventually took full ownership with his wife Lila in 2008. As of 2021, Hank still lived in the same home that Henry built in 1909.
Since 2010, the Montana Historical Society’s Centennial Farm and Ranch program has recognized our state’s agricultural traditions by celebrating the perseverance and stewardship of Montana families on their farms and ranches. The MHS accepts applications for the Centennial Farm and Ranch register all year. Requirements for induction include:
- Must be a working farm or ranch with a minimum of 160 acres or, if fewer than 160 acres, must have gross yearly income of at least $1,000.
- One current owner must be a Montana resident.
- Proof of founding date and continuous ownership by members of the same family beginning with the founder and concluding with the present owner, spanning minimally 100 years. Line of ownership may be through spouses, children, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, or adopted children. For homesteaded properties, ownership begins with claim filing date (not patent date).
- $100 fee
To download all requirements and the application, or for more information, visit https://bit.ly/mtcentennialfarms; email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a copy by mail; or call Christine Brown at 406-444-1687.