The history of the Powell area begins before the arrival of the white man in a time when the area was home to the Crow, Blackfeet and Shoshone Indians, noted by the many Indian names of landmarks, rivers, streets, and towns. Frontiersman John Colter made the first recorded entry into the valley in the early 1800’s returning to a trading post on the Yellowstone from Indian winter camps. In the late 1870’s the first reported herd of cattle was moved into the Powell Valley from Oregon. In 1888, the U.S. Senate had the USGS study the feasibility of irrigating arid lands by using dams, canals, and hydraulic works. The area around Powell became part of this development with the authorization of the Shoshone Project and Buffalo Bill Dam on the Shoshone River in 1904 – one of the first three projects authorized in the U.S. by the Bureau of Reclamation. Work began on the dam and canal projects, with Camp Colter being set up near the present townsite to serve as headquarters and tent camp for the several hundred men working on the Shoshone and Garland Canal projects. Excavation work began on Buffalo Bill Dam in September of 1907, and water from the Garland Canal became available for settlers in June of 1908. With the coming of settlers, determination was a large part of the makeup of these homesteaders who settled the Powell Valley, homesteading began and agriculture became the driving economic force with the availability of water for the land. They transformed a portion of the valley that was mostly sagebrush flats into irrigated farm ground. With the completion of the project, the camp became the logical site for a town. However, because the name Colter had already been used for a railroad siding, a search began to name the new town. The name Powell came from Major John Wesley Powell, early day explorer, conservationist, and head of the Reclamation/Geodetic Service at the time of consideration of the Shoshone Project. Major Powell never explored the Powell flats given his name. The first town lots for Powell were put on the auction block in May of 1909 and the town grew. The first action to incorporate the town came in 1909 and it was incorporated into Big Horn County in 1910. In 1911, Powell became part of the newly organized Park County. Since that time, more land has been irrigated for farming, cattle ranching followed, and an oil industry boomed and declined in Elk Basin. Agricultural products from the Shoshone Irrigation Project are widely distributed, and include beans, barley, sugar beets, corn, alfalfa, and other forage and seed crops grown under irrigation in this originally dry area. Powell became a business community of approximately 6,000 serving a large agricultural area. From zero dollars valuation to millions of dollars, Powell has grown into a community of progress, with a future ahead of it, and a past rich in achievement.
The City of Powell is a community located in the northwest corner of Wyoming, 75 miles east of Yellowstone National Park and 98 miles south of Billings, Montana. Lying between the Big Horn Mountains on the east and the Absaroka Range on the west, clear blue skies, clean air, a temperate climate, and loads of sunshine make the Powell Valley a wonderfully refreshing place to live.
Powell is recognized as a progressive community and was designated an All America City in 1994. A small town atmosphere, quality of life, old-fashioned values, a can-do spirit, and friendly people are a way of life in the Powell community.
Powell has a diverse commercial, industrial, educational, historical museum and agricultural/ ranching based economy with dedicated, hard-working people with strong work ethics. Superior educational opportunities abound with excellent schools and an outstanding two-year college. Excellent health care facilities, recreational opportunities, retirement living, cultural events, shopping, fine dining, and modern community and public services all provide for a high quality of life for our residents.
Powell has a Mayor/Council – City Administrator form of government. The legislative body of Powell consists of a Mayor elected at large, with six council members, two elected from each of the three City wards. The Mayor appoints (with Council concurrence) the City Administrator, City Attorney, Municipal Judge, and members of boards and commissions.
The City consists of ten departments under the direction of the City Administrator – Police, Administration & City Clerk, Finance, Engineering/Building, Electrical, Information Technology, Water/Wastewater, Parks, Sanitation/Public Health, and Streets.