Laurel History

 From Indian wars to WWII prison camps, Laurel history is colorful and lively

There is a rich history that lends itself to Laurel. 

Our own Chamber log cabin, located in Firemen’s Park, is the only one of its kind left in existence. It was built in 1938 from plans provided by the Montana State Transportation Department. The Transportation Dept. intended to have log cabin tourist centers built all along the interstate highways in Montana. This cabin is the only known one left, and houses not only the Chamber office, but also the Visitor Information Center and Laurel Museum, Inc.

Laurel’s wild west history: In 1806, Captain William Clark camped at the mouth of the Clark’s Fork River where it joins the Yellowstone River. This site eventually became known as Laurel. Dug-out canoes were made for their trip on the Yellowstone River at a site near Park City ( 7 miles west of Laurel).  You can retrace the route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition through Montana — the state with more distance than any other state that was traveled through during the expedition. On their return trip, Lewis and Clark split and took separate routes while in Montana.

Canyon Creek Battlefield

Canyon Creek Battlefield

Calamity Jane settled in an area around Canyon Creek (7 miles north of Laurel), where bandits brought their stolen horses for a lay over before taking them on to auction. Calamity always claimed innocence in any knowledge of the “goings on.” But then, she wasn’t called Calamity Jane because she was pure as the driven snow on a Montana prairie! 

Also at Canyon Creek is the display that tells of the battle fought between the Nez Perce and U.S. Cavalry on September 13, 1877. In the summber of 1877, five bands of Nez Perce Indians fled their homeland in Oregon and Idaho to escape war. For six months and 1,170 miles, 800 Nez Perce were able to outrun the U.S. Cavalry. Today, you can follow the Nez Perce trail through Montana with a significant stop at the Canyon Creek Battlefield. There is also a statue located in Firemen’s Park, downtown, commemorating the great Nez Perce leader, Chief Joseph.

WWII history: Riverside Park, located south of the Yellowstone River bridge, was the site of the German Prisoner of War Camp during World War II. The city of Laurel owns Riverside Park.

The northside of Laurel developed with many businesses and homes while the southside of Laurel was once called “German Town” because this area was settled by Volga River Germans who immigrated here. These people built their homes to resemble their homes in Russia. These homes are still standing and many have been restored. 

City history: One source of the city’s name was attributed to a railroad official from North Carolina who was working here at the time. He named it for the Laurel shrub native to his state. Laurel was originally named Carlton, but was changed in 1882. As time went on, Laurel’s location also changed; it was moved west a little. The history of Laurel, as a city, dates from approximately 1888; however, settlers actually began making their homes in the Laurel area as early as 1879. Laurel became incorporated in 1908 and on October 10, 1908 a city council and mayor were elected.

Laurel is home to the largest railroad roundhouse between St. Paul, Minnesota and Seattle, Washington. The Northern Pacific was the first railroad through Laurel in 1885. By 1890 three railroads were using the Laurel yards. The roundhouse was completed in 1909.

Laurel’s festive heritage: Laurel is a town of festivities. People of German heritage, who brought with them a tradition of celebration and hard work, originally founded the community and continue to celebrate their heritage today. Whether it’s Independence Day, Christmas, New Years, or celebrations in between, few communities in Montana go to such efforts to put on great events.