How it Started
The history of our bank traces back to the first financial institution in Big Timber. In 1890 William Shanks and Thomas Lee placed some private funds in an office safe and for a while did a loan business. The following year Shanks helped organize and became Vice President of Big Timber National Bank. In 1913 Big Timber National was reorganized as Commercial Bank and Trust Company. Early day Big Timber luminaries, C.T. Busha and Oscar Nepstad were bank directors. You will note Busha Street in Big Timber and Nepstad Ditch on area maps.
Citizens State Bank was incorporated in 1906. Its principal founder, an Irish immigrant named Charles McDonnell walked into Sweet Grass County behind a band of sheep in the 1870s and became a prosperous land owner, business man, and state Senator. His granddaughter, is one of our directors.
In 1927, Citizen State Bank and Commercial Bank & Trust Company merged into Citizens Bank & Trust Company. At that time, Anthony Arneson, who had been President and principal stockholder of the Commercial Bank became President of the new bank. Arneson, a second generation American of Norwegian descent, got off the train in Big Timber in 1889 or ’90. For a while, he worked as a hod carrier during the construction of the Grand Hotel. Then, using borrowed money he bought a half interest in a small ranch on Swamp Creek north of town. At the same time he took up a 320-acre homestead on nearby open range. Eventually, he became one of the largest landowners in the area.
Our Harlowton branch, formerly Continental National Bank traces its roots back to 1905 when Benjamin Urner started a private bank. This was three years before the Milwaukee Road arrived. In 1906 Urner’s bank was chartered as the State Bank of Harlowton and built a two story building. In 1917 the bank was purchased by Weyburn Security Banking Company and renamed Continental Bank and Trust Company. C. A. Johnson became manager. Norwest Bancorporation purchased the bank in 1930 and renamed it Continental National Bank. A month later, they absorbed Farmers National Bank of Harlowton. In 1947 a group of local investors bought the bank and operated it as an independent bank for over 60 years.
In the summer of 2008, the stockholders of Citizens Bank and Trust Company of Big Timber purchased Continental National Bank. Since then we have grown in Wheatland county continuing to provide banking services in Harlowton and the surrounding communities.
Lessons From Our Past
Looking back we are very proud of how we remained trustworthy partners to our customers during tough times. The recession of the mid-1980s was much deeper here in Montana than in much of the country. Everything seemed to go bad at the same time—especially for our agricultural customers. Livestock and grain prices crashed in a time of severe drought. Hay was scarce and expensive at a time when cattle prices plunged. Input costs of all kinds spiked. At the same time, it seemed like nobody wanted to own land in Montana and real estate prices dropped precipitously as well. During this period, while other institutions were shuttering, we continued to be steadfast in our commitment to our customers. Sometimes, we didn’t sleep too well but we stood by our customers as long as we possibly could. Not all of our customers survived financially. Ranches sold and businesses closed.
We believe that we played an instrumental role in helping many of our customers survive that incredibly difficult financial time and would like to think that whenever tough times arise we will fight just as strongly for our customers and communities. We are with you in the Valleys and on the Mountains!
Looking back to earlier days—the 1930s depression—local legend recalls the following story: Charlie McDonnell, one of the founder’s sons, was a loan officer and later president of the bank. In those days there were still many small ranches in the area where families got by raising a few head of sheep or cows. Whenever Charlie made a loan to one of these families, he required that they buy a milk cow if they did not have one, so that the kids would always have something to eat. Charlie was a life long bachelor and a very conservative banker, but he had compassion for other peoples children.
We provide high-quality financial services to make credit available to promote the growth and prosperity of our community.
- We have and demonstrate complete integrity in all that we do.
- We will support, sustain and improve the communities in which we reside and operate.
- We have and will show respect for all employees, customers, vendors and community members.
- We will operate our Bank in a safe, conservative, dependable and responsible way.
Big Timber and Sweet Grass County, Harlowton and Wheatland County are small communities and are great places to live. As bankers our jobs and our lives are intertwined with the lives of our customers. We might meet at the grocery store, at the gas station or in a restaurant. We often serve on boards together, go to church together, and cheer our home teams together.
Although we are pretty good people, as bankers go, we are still bankers. As part of a local, national and international financial system, we have to answer to both state and federal regulators. All the rules of banking apply. The difference between us and other bankers is how we use the discretion we have.
We are not bound by the cookie cutter mentality that is built into the computer programs that seem to be making the lending decisions elsewhere these days. Here, you will work with real people who can weigh unusual requests and situations without worrying about how it’s done by the big banks.
In some ways as lenders, we are quite conservative. Our credit standards don’t change much—whether the times are good or the times are bad.
Welcome to Citizens Bank and Trust Company. We are an old fashioned bank in the best sense. Although we offer nearly all of the modern services that people have come to expect, we are primarily about personal service. In fact it’s hard to think about our bank separately from the people who work here. In our communities, our customers soon become our friends.
Clint Rech, President