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On April 24, 1902, Frank S. Reed, an experienced editor from Lisbon, North Dakota, published the first issue of the Republican newspaper, the Culbertson Searchlight. Editor and publisher Reed immediately called for volunteer correspondents to report on events around Valley County, since the paper had only a skeletal staff. From the beginning, Reed used syndicated national and international stories to fill the eight pages of the five-column weekly, but the Searchlight quickly became one of the town’s most vocal boosters.
The birth of Culbertson had coincided with the arrival of the Great Northern Railway and the beginning of the last major homestead boom in the nation. The population of northeastern Montana exploded with the extension of the railroad from St. Paul, Minnesota, signaling the end of “open range” and the beginning of agriculture in the region. Early issues of the Searchlight highlighted the tension between ranchers, running their cattle and sheep on federal and railroad lands, and the homesteaders.
The promise of “free” homestead land lured a large contingent of Scandinavian farmers from Minnesota and Wisconsin, which resulted in a weekly column in the Searchlight entitled, “In the Scandinavian North,” bringing news of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark to the high plains of Montana. Reed and his supporters began talking about breaking away from Valley County to form a new county in 1909; however, it was not until 1919 that the Montana Legislature created Roosevelt County. The Searchlight also documented the origins of the oil and gas industry in the Culbertson area in 1909. The influence of the nearby Fort Peck Indian Reservation, located at nearby Poplar and Wolf Point, can be found in a newspaper ad for the “Grand Pow-wow,” a dance sponsored by the Ladies Episcopal Guild in 1909. John Lomax, the famous folklorist from College Station, Texas, ran regular announcements in the Culbertson newspaper soliciting cowboy ballads from residents of Valley County. Finally, the Searchlight applauded efforts by the Theodore Roosevelt administration to “bust the trusts.”
Reed ran the Searchlight until 1920. The newspaper remains today one of the longest running weeklies in eastern Montana.
Provided by: Montana Historical Society; Helena, MT