by Bennett Owen
Five thousand people, one for every foot above sea level.
Welcome to Dillon. Photo by Raymond Hitchcock.
Longhorn Saloon. Photo by Raymond Hitchcock.
Seat of a county larger than three US states. Home to an all-round champion rodeo rider and endless supplies of talc. Home also to a cold blooded killer who used a pack of camel cigarettes as a blueprint to build a magnificent stone gate as a gift to his gal, Gracie.
Gracie's New and Used Store. Photo by J. Stephen Conn.
The hub of Montana’s livestock industry and a showcase of late 19th century western architecture that fits so well with the landscape and makes me homesick every time I see a picture of…the courthouse…
Looking Up Bannack Street to the Courthouse. Photo by J. Stephen Conn.
University of Montana-Western Administration Building. Photo by Jimmy Emerson.
the train depot…
Old Depot Museum and Theatre. Photo by J. Stephen Conn.
and the Carnegie Library, a precious architectural gem that has anchored downtown Dillon, Montana since 1902.
Public Library. Photo by J. Stephen Conn.
It’s a town where you take the snow tires off in May…and regret it in June. It’s a town with a lover’s leap that no one ever leapt from and a dead man’s curve with ne’er a casualty. The landmark Metlen hotel
Historic Hotel Metlen. Photo by J. Stephen Conn.
where Gary Cooper once spent the night...
it’s shuttered and decrepit now but somehow still stately. The fancy spots when I was young are faded memories… Skeets Café, The State Bar and Dining Room, Sage’s Barbershop, Eliel’s Department Store. The buildings they once inhabited still stand, inhabited by trendy establishments like the Blacktail Station and the Sweetwater Café.
Sweetwater Cafe. Photo by Jack Crossen.
As a kid I thought the Wheeler Inn was a play on words, an invitation for truckers to “wheel their rig in.” Dad eventually shattered that illusion…it seems the owner’s name was Wheeler. No matter, it’s now a KFC. But on the outskirts of town the Lion’s Den stands the test of time, surviving and prospering thanks surely to slabs of prime rib so generous they droop down off the edge of the plate.
Dillon is surrounded on three sides by the continental divide, a town where locals will point you north or south rather than left or right. Long before the interstate came through, Dillon had its own four lane highway…two lanes and the borrow pits on both sides that saw plenty of alcohol-induced traffic. Lewis and Clark passed through long before there was a Dillon. The Nez Perce led by the great Chief Joseph trailed through shortly after there was. It was Sacajawea who pointed out an outcropping that looked like a “beaver’s head,” hence Beaverhead County and the Beaverhead River and Beaverhead just about everything else…and to this day local historians argue about which cliff Sacajawea was talking about. And in case anyone forgets where they’re at, the locals have whitewashed a gigantic “M” (for Montana) and a “B” (for Beaverhead) on the hill outside town. Most every county in the west most likely has a Rattlesnake Creek and many also have a Bald Mountain. But a drive out of Dillon might take you up the Blacktail towards the Centennial, or out past ten-mile to Horse Prairie or west over Badger Pass to the Grasshopper, the Pioneer Mountains, the Big Hole and beyond, to the very headwaters of the mighty Missouri.
My hometown, Dillon, Montana. Not much. But then again, oh so much.