Eagle Butte School

Fort Benton’s first school opened in 1868, over twenty years before statehood. As Montana’s population grew, so did its commitment to education, fueled by the belief that a successful democracy demands an educated populace. Upon statehood (1889), the Enabling Act attempted to set aside sections 16 and 36 in each township to financially support education. Because some of these sections (or portions thereof) were already claimed, “in lieu” selections were offered, including the tract on which the Eagle Butte School is located. Chouteau County established the Eagle Butte School District in 1912. That year, approximately twenty-seven children attended school for one to two months in abandoned homestead shacks. School construction began in 1914. A storm demolished the partially completed building, but this clapboard-sided school with attached teacherage (living quarters for the teacher) was ready for students in August 1915. The schoolhouse followed best practices for small school design. Near the entry were two cloakrooms (one for boys and one for girls). A single band of windows left two large unbroken walls for blackboards while avoiding “cross lighting,” which experts believed harmed pupils’ eyes. Craftsman style detailing added a touch of sophistication and expressed the district’s ambitions. Nevertheless, in its early years, the school suffered high teacher turnover as isolation and low pay took their toll. After 1918, drought and agricultural depression led to declining enrollments. The school remained open by merging with South Eagle Butte School in 1924. Prosperity returned after World War II, and the school operated until 1964, when Geraldine Elementary annexed the Eagle Butte district.



4500 Eagle Butte School Road, Fort Benton/Geraldine, Montana ~ Public