Filed Under Square Butte

Square Butte Jail

The Milwaukee Land Company laid out the neat, tree-lined streets of Square Butte in 1913. Strategically located along the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific’s route between Lewistown and Great Falls, Square Butte was for a time an important stop because it offered an abundant supply of mineral-free water and coal for the locomotives. In 1915, residents concerned about an “over supply of tramps, beggars and vagabonds” petitioned Chouteau County Commissioners to appoint a justice of the peace. The commissioners complied, and the following year hired the Harrington Granite Works to build a county jail at Square Butte. Intended as an interim holding facility, the jail was constructed on the property of rancher/businessman William P. Sullivan. Sullivan may have meant it to deter his 15 to 20 cowhands from Saturday night mischief. Perhaps his ploy was effective; there is no evidence that the jail was actually used for prisoners although legend has it that an inmate froze to death in his unheated cell. The jail did, however, later serve as road crew housing, as a bachelor’s residence, and as a granary. It also provided local children a unique clubhouse. The unusual construction of ashlar granite blocks quarried nearby illustrates the local importance of this stone, which was shipped to distant cities between 1914 and 1922. Ownership of the Sullivan Ranch passed to Dean and Donna Strand who donated the jail to the Geraldine Historical Committee in 1997.


Square Butte Jail
Square Butte Jail Square Butte Jail, front/side view. Source: Creator: Date: Apr. 2011


Main Street, Square Butte, Montana | Private


The Montana National Register Sign Program, “Square Butte Jail,” Historic Montana, accessed July 13, 2024,