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.
Bangs Farm, 1910
Inverness, Hill County
Single women couldn’t legally claim homestead land in Canada, prompting many to stake claims in the United States. In March 1910, Ohio-born schoolteacher Laura “Etta” Smalley claimed land north of Inverness in Hill County. She was teaching in Alberta, Canada, at the time and joined Canadian friends also seeking homestead land. A land locator helped her find well-watered land along Big Sage Creek. Excited for her future, Etta took the night train to Havre the same day. Arriving at midnight, she filed her claim in the land commissioner’s office.
In August 1910, she bought a fourteen-by-twenty-foot house in Joplin and outfitted it with basic furniture, a wood stove, muslin, groceries, and coal. A mover hoisted the house and its contents onto two flatbed wagons pulled by six draft horses. He hauled it across the plains with Etta and a new neighbor-friend chatting and picnicking inside. Alone on her homestead, Etta spent August making new curtains, building a cupboard, picking rock from her yard, digging part of her cellar, and meeting most of her neighbors.
She visited her homestead periodically in 1911 but worked most of the year teaching in Canada. With her income, she hired a man to remove the rock from forty acres and plant flax, which yielded eleven bushels per acre. The next year she leased the land to a wheat farmer whose harvest yielded seventeen bushels per acre. Etta settled permanently in Montana in September 1912 and began teaching school at Inverness and then much closer to her claim at Oreana, a rural one-room school. In 1914, she received title to her land and married fellow homesteader Will Bangs. She kept her homestead, and the newlyweds settled on Will’s nearby homestead where they raised cattle, wheat, barley, flax, and oats.
Their son Kenneth was born in 1915 and three more children arrived by 1924. The years 1915 and 1916 were good years, and the Bangs borrowed money to expand and plant more wheat in 1917. Devastating drought that year and the next brought no yields and no farm income, so Etta returned to teaching. Conditions worsened and many families left. Etta had fifteen students in fall 1919, but by spring only four remained. Encumbered by debts, they lost Will’s homestead claim in 1926. Luckily, they were able to move south to Etta’s homestead, where they continued farming through World War II. Though Will often thought of leaving, Etta always said, “There’s always another year.”
Will and Etta’s oldest son Kenneth and his wife Norma returned to take over the homestead in the mid-1940s, and they expanded the farm. Their son Tom and his wife Carol joined the operation in 1980 and continued in the same tradition, raising cattle and growing grains. Tom and Carol’s son Jeff and his wife Katie joined the operation in the early 2000s, representing the fourth generation of the Bangs family to work and live on the same 320 acres claimed by Etta Smalley in 1910.
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 email@example.com to request a copy by mail; or call Christine Brown at 406-444-1687.