Laurel’s History

The City of Laurel began in 1806 when Captain William Clark of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition camped at the mouth of the Clarks Fork River where it meets the Yellowstone River. This site eventually became the town of Carlton, and later changed to the name Laurel because of an abundant local shrub found in the hometown of a railroad official from North Carolina. As time went on, the location of Laurel moved north and west, away from the Yellowstone River to its present location.

Laurel has approximately 6,300 people living within the City, with another 5,000 in the surrounding area. It is truly the small town atmosphere that keeps people living and working here.

We have three grade schools, a middle school, high school and several private pre-schools. Our public high school graduates an average of 140 students each spring and is the home of the Laurel Locomotives.

Our residents enjoy a modern bowling alley, skating rink, and a Fitness Center complete with a swimming pool, weight room, hot tub, exercise equipment and aerobic classes. The Laurel Public Library is located at 720 West 3rd Street and offers free internet/wi-fi access to visitors.

Outdoor recreation includes Riverside Park, Buffalo Mirage Fishing Access, Laurel Golf Club, and Cooney Dam.

The local Rod and Gun Club has a trap range at Riverside Park which is open to public participation during weekly shoots. A small bore rifle range is also located at Riverside and is available for scheduled tournaments.

Laurel is the site of the District 6-C boys and girls basketball tournament and the Fourth of July American Legion International Baseball Tournament.

Major employers in Laurel include Montana Rail Link and the Cenex Harvest States Refinery. Laurel straddles both sides of an intricate pattern of railroad tracks. The largest and busiest rail yard in Montana, it extends for 2 1/2 miles on a wedge-shaped piece of land between East Main Street and Shannon Road. Montana Rail Link has owned the yard since 1987. Burlington Northern Railroad operated it from 1970-1987, and Northern Pacific ran it prior to that, with the first recorded train stopping in Laurel in 1882. The “Laurel Leaf” refinery began operating in 1930. In 1943, the refinery was purchased by Farmers Union Central Exchange. In 1972, the company adopted the new name of Cenex Harvest States Refinery.

Laurel hosts the largest free fireworks display in Montana, which is put on by our Volunteer Fire Department. Each year the event attracts approximately 5-10,000 people from all over the state and Wyoming.

Laurel has five motels and one Bed and Breakfast. There are ten restaurants, with four of them open to full banquet facilities. Riverside Park, to the south of Laurel, has twelve camping spots available during the summer months.

Laurel truly is the “Hub of Montana.” From here, all roads lead to the exciting historical and recreational attractions of Montana and Wyoming. From Laurel, you can select one of four outstanding entrances into Yellowstone Park (Cody, Red Lodge/Beartooth Highway, Gardiner, or West Yellowstone). Two major highways south will take you to Wyoming.

Head east 13 miles to Montana’s largest city, Billings, and 40 miles east to the most prominent Lewis and Clark landmark, Pompeys Pillar. Custer Battlefield, site of the most famous Indian battle, is 77 miles east of Laurel.

A little to the south, you’ll find the majestic Big Horn Canyon which holds Yellowtail Reservoir, unique for its sheer beauty and an adventure for boaters. Below that is the river some call the finest trout stream in the world – the Bighorn!

Approximately 295 miles northeast of Laurel you will find the nation’s largest earth filled dam at Fort Peck, backing up an enormous reservoir on the Missouri River with some of the best warm water fishing in the west.

West of Laurel, the renowned Yellowstone River offers some of the finest trout fishing in the world. Drive north to the fabulous beauty of Glacier Park near the Canadian border.

Our Chamber of Commerce Log Cabin Visitor Center is located in Firemen’s Park on East Main Street. You will find brochures, maps, and information pieces available about Yellowstone Park, Montana and Wyoming tourist attractions, Custer Country Tourism Region and other Montana tourism regions.

There is so much to see and do in this great state of ours and Laurel is right in the middle of it. So, let us invite you to stay awhile. Enjoy our friendly western hospitality while you make your travel plans. You’ll be glad you did.

Laurel Area Historical Events

The Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806)

On the return trip from the West Coast, Meriwether Lewis and Captain William Clark divided the expedition party into two groups in order to explore the various rivers and passes. Clark followed the Yellowstone River to meet Lewis at the junction of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers. Clark’s party camped near the junction of the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone and the Yellowstone River, near present day Laurel.

Chief Joseph, Canyon Creek Battlefield

In the mid-1800’s, the Nez Percé agreed to a treaty that confined them to a spacious reservation that included much of their ancestral land. After gold was discovered on the reservation in 1860, a new treaty reduced the reservation to one tenth of its original size. Those chiefs whose lands lay within the reduced reservation boundaries signed the treaty; those whose lands fell outside the boundaries refused, becoming known as the “non-treaty” Nez Percé.

“Non-treaty” Nez Percé wished only to find a place where the army would leave them alone and where they would be far enough from settlements to avoid further clashes. In August 1877, they fought with Colonel Gibbon at the Battle of the Big Hole (in Western Montana). On September 13, 1877, the U.S. Army, under the leadership of Colonel Samuel Sturgis, tried unsuccessfully to block their path at Canyon Creek (approximately 6 miles north of Laurel).Finally, on September 30, Chief Joseph surrendered to Colonel Nelson Miles near the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana, just 40 miles south of the Canadian border, where the Nez Percé were surprised by army troops.

A statue in Firemen’s Park in downtown Laurel commemorates the great Indian leader, Chief Joseph (in-mut-too-yah-lat-lat, Chief of the Wal-lam-wat-kin band of Chute-pa-lu, or Nez Percé).

The Friends of Canyon Creek Battlefield, Inc. of Laurel worked to preserve and interpret the site. Fundraisers helped establish a visitor’s exhibit at the site. The battlefield is in the National Park Trails System.

Please make plans to come visit Laurel and explore the many interesting sights and sounds it has to offer.

The Laurel Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center is located at 108 E. Main Street in Firemens Park. They have maps, brochures and information available on Yellowstone Park, Montana and Wyoming, tourist attractions, Custer Country Tourism Region and other Montana tourism regions. The Chamber can be reached at 406-628-8105 or by fax at 406-628-2045.