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Montana State History

History | Symbols | Interesting Facts | Famous People


1803—United States acquires most of Montana in the Louisiana Purchase

1805—Lewis and Clark explore Montana

1807—Manuel Lisa builds Montana’s first fur-trading post’

1846—The Oregon Treaty gives the rest of Montana to the U.S.

1862—Gold is discovered at Grasshopper Creek

1864—The Montana Territory is established

1876—The Battle of Little Bighorn

1877—Nez Percé Indians surrender to the U.S. Army

1883—The Northern Pacific Railroad came to Montana

1889—Montana becomes the 41st state

1910—Glacier National Park was established

1914—Women win the right to vote in Montana

1940—Fort Peck Dam is completed

1983—The Anaconda Company closes mining in Butte

Many Native American Indians lived in Montana when French trappers first arrived around 1740.

In 1803, the United States acquired most of Montana in the Louisiana Purchase.  Soon afterward, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived to explore the area.  By 1807, Manuel Lisa set up Montana’s first fur-trading post.

In 1841 missionaries built St. Mary’s Mission, the first attempt at a permanent settlement.  In 1847, the American Fur Company built Fort Benton on the Missouri River.  This town is now Montana’s oldest continuously populated town.

Gold was discovered in Grasshopper Creek in 1862.  Thousands of prospectors built mining camps throughout Montana as gold strikes were discovered.  Some of these include Bannock, Diamond City, and Virginia City. 

During these same years, the cattle industry came to Montana.  Nelson Story drove a thousand longhorn cattle from Texas to Montana in 1866.  With the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883, the industry grew rapidly as meat shipped to eastern markets.

In 1876, the U.S. Army arrived at the Little Bighorn River to place all Native Americans on reservations.  In the famous battle known as “Custer’s Last Stand,” Sioux and Cheyenne Indians killed brevetted Major General George A. Custer and a large part of his men.  Serious fighting also occurred in 1877, when Nez Percé Indians were forced from their lands in Oregon.  Chief Joseph led his tribe toward Canada through Montana.  Several battles occurred in Idaho and a two-day battle at Big Hole in southwestern Montana.  The Nez Percé were soon captured and forced back onto reservations.

Butte Hill was called the Richest Hill on Earth during the 1880s.  Gold, silver, and eventually copper have been mined there.  Marcus Daly and William Clark controlled the largest mines and competed both in business and politics.  Eventually, both sold their properties to the Anaconda Company.  This company had great control of forests, banks, and newspapers and became very important to life in Montana.

Montana became the 41st state on Nov. 8, 1889.  In the years that followed, dams were built that provided water for irrigation and electricity for industrial use.  Food processing plants opened and railroads were extended.

During World War I, drought hit Montana.  The Great Depression (1929-1939) also hit the nation.  Many lost their farms and their jobs.  The U.S. government continued to develop natural resources in Montana.  More than 10,000 workers were paid to build the Fort Peck Dam.  Others helped with irrigation, soil conservation, and construction of parks and public roads.  This program was called The New Deal.

Montana’s economy flourished during World War II (1941-1945).  Flour, meat and metals were all in demand.  After the war, prices for grain dropped and many farms were abandoned in search for work in the cities.  Oil was discovered in Williston Basin and the Anaconda Aluminum Company opened a large plant in northwestern Montana.

In the mid-1900s, tourism grew to be an important source of income for Montana.  Parks, historic sites, summer and ski resorts were developed.  Irrigation and water conservation were also expanded during this time.  Gas, oil and coal production increased due to an energy shortage during the 1970s.  Because of the harsh effect on the environment, new laws were passed to protect Montana’s land and water.

Drought and slowing farm economy again hurt Montana during the 1980s.  The lumber industry slowed and the Anaconda Company closed all of its copper mines.

Today, Montana continues to look for ways to expand its natural resources.  State leaders are trying to attract new businesses and advanced electronic technology into the state.  Tourism continues to expand across the state.