Plentywood, the seat of northeastern Montana's Sheridan County, is a busy, prosperous, sturdily growing, politically conventional town now approaching a population of 3,000. To a visitor in the 1960s, unaware of its history, it looks and sounds like any other vital American village. Yet in the 1920s when Plentywood had a thousand people or less, the town and country became widely known as the only American community actually governed by practicing “reds” who, far from concealing their radicalism, proclaimed it through the columns of a uniquely militant newspaper, the Producers News.
The reasons why this happened, and happened precisely where it did, can be stated only hypothetically. Geography entered into it, and local economic realities. Climate certainly played a part. But other western communities shared the climate and geography and endured the economic seesaw without going to ideological extremes. In Sheridan County special external influences coincided with special internal stresses at a difficult time. Perhaps there were also predisposing traits in the character of the populace. There were extensive settlements of people of the Scandinavian stocks, who already had a tradition of social experimentation together with fine organizing talent. Danish cooperatives at Dagmar, in the southeastern part of the county, had accumulated several years of successful operation before the radical period began. 1
The word “red, ” as used by the participants themselves, meant anyone who subscribed to radical principles in politics or economics— specifically the principles enunciated by the local leadership in the