The Treasure State

Montana! Unrivaled splendor and awesome beauty! Over 147,000 square miles of mountains, prairies, farms, forests, rivers, and streams await the traveler ready for spectacular scenery and adventure. Montana is a cornucopia of elaborate terrain; every geologic formation known on the planet can be found in Montana. Extraordinary? Yes, and so is Montana.

Although the name of Montana is derived from the Spanish word for mountain, only one-third of the state is mountainous. Often described as if it were two states an eastern prairie and a western mountain rangeMontana provides a diverse range of scenery for the traveler. The northern part of Montana borders Canada, Wyoming and much of the south, the east borders North and South Dakota, and Idaho lines the west side with the Bitterroot Mountains. Montana's share of the Rocky Mountains comprises two dozen distinct ranges. The elevations swing from 3,500 feet on valley floors to the peaks of the Beartooth Plateau near Yellowstone National Park that rise above 12,000 feet. The ranges that exist at higher elevations often create their own weather systems, inducing precipitation that supports dense coniferous forests of r, pine, cedar, spruce, and larch. While snow can pile up hundreds of inches, measurable precipitation only ranges from 14 to 23 inches annually. Powder white peaks are often still visible on the hottest days of summer.

The valleys that divide Montanas mountain ranges vary from narrow slots to broad floors up to 50 miles wide. The most unforgettable valleys the Big Hole, Gallatin, Yellowstone, and MaMadison are named after the rivers that drain them. Nearly one-fourth of Montana, 22.5 million acres, is forested. Most of the forests occur west of the Continental Divide, where moist Pacific Coast air and mountainous areas provide favorable conditions for the growth of approximately twenty-seven types of trees.

Eastern Montana, often deemed as monotonous, has a character of its own and is full of its own topographical surprises such as badlands, sandstone outcroppings, glacial lakes, ice caves and even an occasional pine forest or cluster of low mountains. The short grasses that grow in this region support a thriving livestock industry. Out of the wide, endless ranges of grass, a legacy grew from the great trail drives that moved cattle and cowboys from Texas to Montana as early as the 1860s. While the prairie is not known for its trees, the savannahs of eastern Montana grow more than sagebrush. Willows take root in the river valleys while pine and cedars spot the hills. Cottonwoods, once prized for firewood and dugout canoes by many Native American tribes and early settlers, grow near river bottoms, while chokecherries and currants grow on the lower ground.

Nowhere is the contrast between mountains and plains more striking than along the Rocky Mountain Front which some distinguish as the division of eastern and western Montana. The stretch of highway between Augusta and Browning is remarkable. To the west is a solid wall of peaks; to the east lie the unrelenting expanses of plains. Moods and colors are abundant in the tapestry of the wide open Montana sky as it changes daily, even hourly.

Two of the United States most extraordinary national parks frame Montana. On the state's northern edge are the chiseled peaks of Glacier National Park, while along the southern Montana-Wyoming border lies the thermal wonder-world of Yellowstone National Park the oldest national park in the world and largest in the United States. Fire and ice were the artists within Yellowstone, as it was created by a series of volcanic eruptions. These intense geothermalforces are still at work beneath the Earth's shallow crust making Yellowstone Park the largest hotspot on the globe.

Montana Quick Facts

Here are a few quick facts about the Treasure State.

Population: (Estimated 2018): 1,062,330

Entered union: November 8, 1889

Capital: Helena

Nickname: Treasure State

Motto: “Oro y Plata”(Gold and Silver)

Bird: Western Meadowlark

Flower: Bitterroot

Song: “Montana”

Stones: Sapphire and Agate

Tree: Ponderosa Pine

Animal: Grizzly Bear

Fish: Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout

Fossil: Maiasaura (Duck-billed Dinosaur)

Land area: 147,046 square miles

Size ranking: 4th

Geographic center: Fergus, 26 miles northeast of Lewistown

Length: 630 miles

Width: 280 miles

Highest point: 12,799 feet (Granite Peak)

Lowest point: 1,820 feet (Kootenai River)

Highest temperature: 117 deg. on July 5, 1937, at Medicine Lake

Lowest temperature: -70 deg. on January 20, 1954, at Rogers Pass

Montana's Economy

Montana, a rural state, claims agriculture, mining, and the timber industry to be its founding trades and are still among its most vital. Tourism continues to increase, drawing revenue to one of the nations most beautiful states. Agriculture is strictly divided by Montanans between farms, which raise grain, and ranches, which raise livestock. Although many think of Montana as being comprised of huge ranches and roaming cattle, less than 10 percent of the population make their living from farming and ranching. Beef cattle production is the most common in Montana, with sheep providing a steady alternative. Spring and winter wheat are undoubtedly the most commonly harvested crops, with barley in close contention. Other popular crops, grown predominately in irrigation fields along the Yellowstone River, are corn, soybeans and sugar beets.

Though Montana was born of mining and prospecting camps, most of the gold, silver, and copper have been depleted. However, the state remains rich in other mineral wealth such as sapphire, coal, and oil. Although the timber industry is a lifestyle for some, early clear-cutting of forests and slow regrowth have limited the state's ability for competition in the world market. Christmas tree farms spot the northwestern part of the state and log-home manufacturers have moved Montana into the forefront of home-kit producers in the world. More log homes are shipped to Japan than remain in Montana.

History of Montana

The history of Montana is as remarkable and vast as are its open plains. Ghost towns stand as a reminder of towns once vibrant with life during the mining booms. Stand where General Custer stood; The Little Bighorn Battlefield Monument commemorates the battle of the same name and Custer's Last Stand against the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. Native American culture is still thriving in Montana with seven different Indian reservations, as well as numerous commemorative state parks and historic sites. Two great rivers, the Missouri and the Yellowstone drain the eastern prairies where dinosaurs once roamed and where Crow, Cheyenne and Blackfeet tribes pursued the worlds largest herd of American bison across the plains.

Tribes of early people first arrived in Montana from Asia about 10,000-15,000 years ago. Around 5,000 B.C., a desert climate in Asia caused game animals and the peoples who relied on them to migrate in search of more habitable conditions. The Shoshone entered Montana in about 1600, shortly after the Crow Indians settled along tributaries of the Yellowstone River. Over a century later, the Blackfeet came to Montana from the north and east in about 1730. Other tribes later found their way to Montana: Sioux, Cheyenne, Salish, and the Kootenai. Cree and Chippewa tribes entered Montana in the 1870s from Canada.

In the early 1800s, rivers provided the pathway into Montana for the first white explorers. Rivers and riverboats remained the only form of transportation linking Montana and the rest of the nation until the 1880s. Trappers and traders also used the rivers as thoroughfares, and forts were erected to support the lavish trapping and trading of beavers pelts. By 1840, prior to the cessation of this beaver trapping era due to the animals near extinction, almost three dozen trading forts had been built. As the population of beavers drastically declined, trade continued in buffalo hides.

Mineral wealth, as well as the development of the railroad, fueled Montana's development in the late 1800s. People flocked to Montana searching for gold, creating instant towns in southwestern Montana. Bannack, Virginia City, and Nevada City all began as gold-rush towns. Other gold strikes and later discoveries of silver sparked similar rushes in Last Chance Gulch (now Helena), Confederate Gulch (Diamond City) and many other boom towns. The railroad arrived serendipitously to haul the mineral riches. The Union Pacific built a spur line north from Utah to Butte in 1881. The Northern Pacific spanned the length of Montana linking Portland and Chicago in 1883 and extending its rails across approximately 17 million acres. The Great Northern stretched its service along the Montana-Canada border, joining Minneapolis and Seattle in 1893. With access to the coastal markets, Montana opened wide its doors for development and immigration.

Towns emerged in river valleys and highways were built on their banks. Dams were built to harness water power and reservoirs soon spanned the state altering Montana's geography. Millions of gallons of water are dammed at Fort Peck Reservoir on the Missouri and in Lake Koocanusa on the Kootenai River. The Great Falls of the Missouri, which required Lewis and Clark twenty-two days to painstakingly portage in 1805, are now a series of hydroelectric dams. Further exploits of the Lewis and Clark expedition in Montana are thoroughly chronicled in actual journals they kept.

Montana became a territory in 1864 and gained its statehood in 1889. Although Montana was, in many ways, detached from the rest of the country in its early years of statehood, the state was able to sustain itself by the diverse and rich resources within its borders. Today those same resources travel the world: cattle grown on Montana ranches may end up on the table of a Japanese restaurant, its coal fuels the cities of the Pacific Coast, its timber is used to erect homes across the country, and Montanas gold becomes circuitry in mainframe computers and spacecraft.

Throughout this site, we have provided you enough history of the area to understand its origins. Much of this is provided through the text of historical markers throughout the state. They tell the story of Montana in a colorful way and do an excellent job of spotlighting the important milestones in Montana history. We have provided some background history on over 300 towns and cities in the state, if nothing more than the origin of the towns name. Quite often, the story of the towns name provides insight into its past.