Wheatland County, population 2,259, sits at the southern boundary of Central Montana and is reached via US Hwys 12 and 191 and MT Hwy 3. Harlowton is the county seat. Wheatland County is sparsely populated with two people per square mile. Incorporated towns in the county include Harlowton and Judith Gap and unincorporated communities are Shawmut and Two Dot.
Economy of Wheatland County has been primarily agriculture with cattle and sheep ranches, and farms producing wheat, oats, barley and hay. Wind energy has become another economic engine in the county with construction of a 90 tower wind farm located between Harlowton and Judith Gap on US Hwy 191. Several other small wind farms can be seen throughout the county.
Harlowton was the eastern terminus of electric rail operations for the Milwaukee Road from 1914 to 1974. The town was founded in 1900 as a station stop on the Montana Railroad, a predecessor of the Milwaukee. Harlowton was named for Richard Harlow, president of the Montana Railroad. In a park at the center of town sits the E57B electric locomotive, a tribute to the area’s electric rail history. Harlowton is located near the foothills of the Crazy Mountains with the Little Belt Mountains, Castle Mountains and Bull Mountains within easy reach.
Judith Gap was named for the geographic “gap” between the Big Snowy and Little Belt Mountains. The gap was a pathway used many years ago by settlers and Native Americans. Chief Joseph led the Nez Perce through here during their 1877 flight towards Canada.
Shawmut, situated near the Musselshell River, was a water point for steam engines on the Milwaukee Road. Two buildings still stand that were used to house section crews on the railroad.
Two Dot garnered its name from George “Two Dot” Wilson, a local rancher whose cattle brand was simply two dots. Wilson donated land for the town.
Recreation throughout the county is varied. From fishing, hiking and camping to hunting and birdwatching, there are options in every direction. Deadman’s Basin east of Shawmut is known for tiger muskie, mountain stream fed Martinsdale Reservoir west of Two Dot has trout and the Musselshell River bisecting the county from east to west is one of the locals’ favorites. Forest service land has primitive campgrounds and plenty of opportunities for wildlife. For those who don’t want to venture far from Harlowton for camping, Chief Joseph Park is located right in town. An arena, picnic gazebos, and a frisbee golf course are all located within walking distance of campsites.
On the edge of Harlowton golfers can hone their skills at the Jawbone Creek Golf Course, a 9 hole course with the distinction of surrounding a cemetery. Spectacular views of the Castle Mountains can be seen from every hole on the course.
The Upper Musselshell Museum in Harlowton has area homesteading history and a dinosaur display of “Ava”, an avaceratops dinosaur found nearby. Just down the hill from the two buildings that comprise the Upper Musselshell Museum is the restored Milwaukee Depot. Rail fans will enjoy the memorabilia displayed inside and out. The Smoking Boomer Rail Trail runs near the Depot, a reclaimed walking trail with a tribute to Boomer, the local pipe smoking dog.