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Livingston, Montana and Park County

Livingston Art Walk is a great place to sip free wine and munch hors d’ oeuvres

Livingston was established in 1882 as a railroad town, a Northern Pacific Railway stop for steam engines before making the journey over the Bozeman Pass, to the west. Shops and restaurants were established, characters and entrepreneurs moved to town, and the still-popular Livingston Depot was constructed.

The Depot served as the railroad station at the time; it is now a museum and venue for concerts and community events. A locals’ favorite for wines and cheese, The Gourmet Cellar, adjoins.

Prior to its township, the area of Livingston and surrounds (now Park County) had seen much other adventure. Lewis and Clark, along with Sacajawea and the Expedition arrived in 1804. They spent more time and covered more miles in what is now Montana than in any other state, and visitors will find constant reminders and historical recordings of the Expedition.

Trappers made their way after Lewis & Clark and remained until the 1840s and 50s, when beaver fell out of fashion.

Not much later, in 1863, gold was discovered in Emigrant Gulch, and the adventurers and rugged made their way once again. Timber and coal became other stronghold resources for the area, and Livingston and Park County reaped the benefits of the early, extraction-based days.

Accordingly, by the time the railroad laid track through town, 30 of the 44 local businesses were saloons. The site of what is now the Sweetwater Guest House was one of the other businesses that soon came to town, as the Livingston Lumber Company, founded in the 1890s.

Perhaps better than gold and furs and certainly better than coal, Hunter’s Hot Springs was discovered in 1864. Now known as Chico Hot Springs, it’s still in fine and classic form, and a quick 22 miles from Livingston. Go there to soak, to eat locally grown food fixed to gourmet perfection, soak again.

Eight years later and far surpassing the hot springs, Congress created Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the country. Livingston was its gateway.

1866, Park County saw the tail end of a longhorn cattle drive, straight from Texas and 600 head shy of its 1200 head start (Sioux managed to reduce the herd by half). This was just the beginning — cows now outnumber Montana residents two and a half to one. Bison are gradually making a comeback, even beyond Yellowstone, and local buffalo burgers are highly recommended.

The land of Park County was of course originally inhabited by Native Americans.The Crow Indians roamed the Yellowstone River Basin, and the Blackfeet, Bannock, Flathead and Shoshone also considered the area a sacred place, known as “The Valley of Flowers“, and important for hunting. The Crows were later forced onto a Reservation two hours east of Livingston; the Blackfeet and Flathead Tribes both now reside in northwestern Montana, and the Shoshone- Bannock in Idaho. Their histories and their people remain a rich and relevant part of the Montana story.

While past characters included the likes of Calamity Jane, the current lineup is hardly lacking. Writers, artists, big cities refugees, fly-fishing and recreation die-hards, cowboys and cowgirls, actors and actresses, multi-generational ranchers and farmers are all known to call the area home.

The past is still very much the present in Livingston, though the ebb and flow of migration to the area has altered somewhat the fabric over the years. Visitors and residents are as likely to take an art gallery stroll as they are to be lively spectators (or contestants) at the rodeo; to enjoy fine dining as they are to hike, hunt and fish; to ski the neighboring slopes as they are to snowshoe in nearby forests.

Livingston is described as everything from a small art haven to a throwback to the Old West.

To get a further taste of the melding of past and present, visitors can take walking history tours through Livingston, one of the sites being Goughnour Properties, where Absaroka Guest House now resides.

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