Montana Becomes 41st State

U.S. #2401 features a painting by famed cowboy artist C.M. Russell.
U.S. #2401 features a painting by famed cowboy artist C.M. Russell.

On November 8, 1889, Montana was admitted to the Union.

The many Indian tribes living in Montana before the arrival of Europeans could be separated into two groups, those who lived on the Plains and those who lived in the mountains. Plains Indian tribes included the Arapaho, Assiniboine, Atsina, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, and Crow. Mountain-dwelling tribes included the Bannock, Flathead, Kalispel, Kutenai, and Shoshone tribes. The Sioux, Mandan, and Nez Perce hunted in the Montana region, but usually lived elsewhere.

French trappers were probably the first whites to reach Montana, perhaps as early as the 1740s. The Lewis and Clark Expedition explored Montana on their way to the Pacific Coast in 1805 and when returning in 1806. By 1807, fur traders had come to the Montana area. Jesuit missionaries established St. Mary’s Mission in 1841. Located near today’s Stevensville, it was the first attempt to create a permanent settlement in the region. The American Fur Company built Fort Benton on the Missouri River in 1847. This is Montana’s oldest continuously populated town.

U.S. #1673 – The Montana flag pays tribute to the state’s mineral and agricultural wealth.
U.S. #1673 – The Montana flag pays tribute to the state’s mineral and agricultural wealth.

The U.S. acquired most of Montana with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. A treaty gained the northwestern portion of the state with Great Britain in 1846. Montana was administered as part of the territories of Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Dakota, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

Gold was discovered in Grasshopper Creek in southwestern Montana in 1862. Further discoveries led to a gold rush. Wild, often lawless, mining towns grew rapidly. To protect their towns, some citizens formed vigilante groups. These problems made people realize Montana needed its own effective government. On May 26, 1864, Montana became a territory.

Richard Grant brought the first cattle herd to Montana from Idaho in the mid-1850s. In 1866, Nelson Story drove a thousand longhorn cattle from Texas to Montana. With the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883, the eastern markets were opened to cattle ranchers. The industry grew quickly. Unfortunately, fierce weather destroyed thousands of Montana cattle during the winter of 1866 and ’67. Ranchers continued after this setback, but on a smaller scale.

U.S. #3586 pictures a rodeo cowboy and the Rocky Mountains in Glacier National Park.
U.S. #3586 pictures a rodeo cowboy and the Rocky Mountains in Glacier National Park.

Two of the most famous Indian battles in the west took place in Montana. Perhaps the most legendary was “Custer’s Last Stand.” On June 25, 1876, a combined force of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians killed many members of the 7th Cavalry Regiment under Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer. This battle took place near the Little Big Horn River.

“Big Hole” was the last major Indian battle in Montana. This conflict started when U.S. troops attempted to force Nez Percé Indians onto a reservation in Oregon. The tribe’s leader, Chief Joseph, led his people on a daring escape toward Canada. After a series of minor battles, U.S. troops fought the Indians for two days at Big Hole in southwestern Montana. Chief Joseph managed to get his people to within 40 miles of the Canadian border before they were captured.

Montana was very attractive to settlers. Between 1880 and 1890, the population grew from about 39,000 to nearly 143,000. The territory’s citizenry asked for statehood in 1884. Five years later, on November 8, 1889, Montana achieved statehood.

U.S. #4304 pictures the state flag and a mountain lion in the snow.
U.S. #4304 pictures the state flag and a mountain lion in the snow.

The population explosion of the 1880s and ’90s was fueled by the discovery of Montana’s rich mineral resources. Gold, then silver, and copper attracted miners from other parts of the U.S. and Europe. Butte Hill was so laden with deposits of silver and copper that it became known as the Richest Hill on Earth.

As the state entered the 1900s, new efforts were made to harness its vast natural resources. Rivers were dammed, which provided irrigation for farm crops and hydroelectric power for industry. Railroads were expanded. Processing plants for sugar, flour, and meat were built. In 1910, Congress created Glacier National Park. This park soon began generating income for the state through tourism.

Montana elected the first woman to serve in the United States Congress. Jeannette Rankin was elected in 1916. Rankin later became famous as the only member of Congress to vote against entering World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

U.S. #1978 pictures the state bird and flower – the Western Meadowlark and Bitterroot.
U.S. #1978 pictures the state bird and flower – the Western Meadowlark and Bitterroot.

Although the state’s economy suffered during the Great Depression, state and federal programs continued to improve its infrastructure. One of the major projects started at this time was the huge Fort Peck Dam. The dam was completed in 1940. Other projects included insect control, irrigation, rural electrification, and soil conservation.

During World War II, the demand for Montana’s metals and farm products created an economic boom. When the war ended, low farm prices created a migration to the cities as people searched for new work. In some cases, entire farm towns were abandoned.

During the 1950s, Montana’s oil industry expanded rapidly. Many productive wells were drilled in previously untapped areas. The Anaconda Aluminum Company built a $65 million plant in northwestern Montana in 1955. During the 1960s, this company spent another $50 million on improvements to its mining operations.

By the mid-1900s, tourism had become an important source of state income. Parks and historic sites were developed by the state. Private entrepreneurs created dude ranches, resorts, and skiing centers.

U.S. #748 pictures Mount Rockwell and Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park.
U.S. #748 pictures Mount Rockwell and Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park.

Many new irrigation and water projects were initiated in recent years. The Yellowtail Dam on the Bighorn River was completed in 1966. The Libby Dam hydroelectric project on Kootenai River began operating in 1975, and was completed in 1984. In 1972, the state’s voters approved a new constitution that went into effect in 1973. The energy shortages of the 1970s provided a boost to Montana’s gas, oil, and coal industries. In the 1980s, fuel prices fell, and production was reduced. Farm prices fell during the 1980s as well.

Today, Montana remains rich in natural resources. However, the state government has sought to broaden the base of its economy. Small businesses and electronics manufacturers have helped achieve this goal. In 1985, the state formed the Science and Technology Alliance to look for new ways to use its raw materials.

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  1. This will be a perfect article to listen to William Graff complain about how the “white Man” exploited the Native American and took their land. I think everyone knows this and most people are not proud of our history…but that’s what it is; history. My question to William would be how long do we have to pay and feel ashamed for what our great great great grandparents did? This is all part of life and we are supposed to learn from our mistakes. Actually, I’m pretty proud of our country, no nation on earth has ever accomplished more for the good of mankind. I’m sure William will disagree, but I am proud to be an American…even though I do have some dirt in my history that I am not proud of.

    1. The History of Man is the history of one peoples encroaching and taking others land.
      The Mongols under the Ghengis Kahn and his decedents overran much of Western Asia.
      The Huns came from the Russian Steppes and settled in Hungary and vicinity. The Goths,
      Visigoths and Franks moved from Middle Europe to France and the low countries pushing
      the Celts into England and Scotland. The the Anglo-Saxons, displaced by the Franks moved
      into England and pushed the Celts into Ireland. The Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula
      overran Northern Africa and into the Iberian Peninsula and nearly into France. They also
      invaded through Turkey into the Balkans the are just north of Greece (the former Yugoslavia)
      and tried to invade Hungary but were repelled by Vlad Dracul (to be the model for Dracula).
      Man has always invaded and conquered others lands. The Native Americans were no different.

  2. Great memories of “Big Sky Country”. So glad my folks took our family on a summer vacation from Denver & that took us to Yellowstone Park, north through Montana, up to Calgary and west to Vancouver & Victoria and down the pacific coast to San Francisco and then east back to “Colorful Colorado”.

  3. All I have to say is that the rest of the world was unfair to indigenous peoples and that it happened long ago doesn’t mean we should forget it or pretend it didn’t happen. And don’t forget Native People are still being treated badly today. If your being proud of being an American makes that Ok then I am missing something in your comments because I don’t hear you are proud of the US government being unfair to indigenous peoples in there. Everything isn’t ok just because the people making the rules are white or European descent. So ignore the past but be careful it can become current again and if YOU are on the wrong side you will be the one who loses. Imperialism is still evil even when OUR ancestors did it.

    1. William – you are clearly a thoughtful person. And I respect your point of view. But, it does sometimes “feel” like only white people bear the burden for the crimes of humanity. I think that’s the point Kenneth was making in his comment.

    2. No one ever said we should forget about our past unfair practices to indigenous peoples, but I’ll be damned if I spend the rest of my life apologizing for it. I am indeed proud of the U.S. government, as I’m sure you know, the U.S government is a lot bigger than a few pinheads that sit in the Oval Office, the Congress, or the Senate…sure there are some bad apples, but there are bad apples everywhere. I am a government employee and proud of it. I put in a good ten hours a day (yes, I said ten hours) at my job and like to think I make a difference in a small way. No, I’m through thinking about how bad my ancestors were; I will let you take a tour of the U.S. and stop at all the Indian Reservations and apologize for what your ancestors did. I’m going to continue what I’m doing in trying to make the United States even better than it is today. No Nation has EVER done as much good in the world as the United States; period. If you don’t like it here…I’ll pay to get you a Passport so you can see if there is something better.

  4. I believe that Dennis Hilliard has probably exposed, who I’m sure most of us have suspected, is our perennial 1Star rater. There was a conservative rhetoric, bumper sticker, expression during the Viet Nam era that amounted to “America, love it or leave it”. Ironically, those of us who were labeled counterculture (Hippies, Freaks ie.) amended that to “America, Change it or lose it.” I am currently watching those results happen. Regardless of the outcome, a huge volume of Americans have voted that change is imminent. Those who adhere to the apologetic aspect as to who we are and how we got there are destined to suffer the same fate as those who lost the battles that were in the forefront of times that existed. I love this country, I love this website and I love the arguments I have had with people that I have come to respect here. If I ever vote a 1 on one of these articles I would invoke the 3 strike rule. This story was a 5 and I have voted accordingly.

  5. Too true Mr Saramak, and possibly there should be a discretional ‘six-star’ rating available to those who can see the ‘wood for the trees’ past immediate gains. Perhaps we will now turn our attention to people living day-in-day-out in middle America, not on yaughts, private Lear jets, Manhattan high rises, and off-shore banking along the coastal States featured in our National press ad nauseum, looking after ‘me’ first, sod the pain in the other 38 States in between. Nothing wrong with this of course on a personal level in the climate of healthy capitalism; but when greed takes over to the point when our govt is rendered (bought off) powerless to protect ordinary folks, then it’s time to look gain at what we want our children’s children’s children’s (as once Moody Blues sang for the hippies) to inherit in this Country.

    To reprise a comment I made earlier on (01.09.16), it’s time to stop feeling paranoid about the rest of the world, and perhaps seek/propose cooperation — not with those blatantly manoeuvring the overthrow of legitimate govts in the middle east by funding foreign jihadist mercenary terrorists, the very ones involved in 9/11, now killing our own military in the field of combat (imagine Canada surreptitiously funding the .00001% of people in the Nevada Bundy revolt about grazing rights, in order to topple the elected US govt with ManPads, Tow systems, etc) — but those who also have long-term vision not based on military might, but on universal principles guiding our evolution as a people. The true measure of a giant is not in the number of other nations vanquished to achieve that status, as Hitler found out, but in the solidarity generated in all of us through it’s good will, not atomic bombs, suspicious Foundations, or duplicitous trading deals.

    I hope in the next four years, our new President whoever s(he) might be, will be able to reverse the process of wealth stripping from ordinary American folks we’ve seen throughout the ‘naive’ world, and of their basic rights we still see today in the Dakotas (Missouri water). I’m not confident there will be tangible changes, but it’s time to start that ball rolling right now. GdR

  6. Mr Hilliard and others may say that we shouldn’t still feel guilty for what happened concerned, but it is hard for me as part Native to accept apologies by those who have the built in advantages of being and appearing white commenting on who is to blame for how Natives are now. Of course Hilliard is entitled to his opinion. That is one of the big pluses of living in this country. But after visiting a few reservations I still view those places as merely warehousing of people. They are very unsafe, unsanitary places for anyone –especially children–to live. The US government viewed them as alternatives to further extermination of Native Americans and that is why they exist. In light of that I send assistance to a few schools that are near reservations that offer some measure of safety to Native kids and even have Natives working there as teachers to help the young people have a choice to break out of the reservations and live mainstreamed lives as other Americans. They learn of their tribe’s culture and also how to survive in the mainstream American world too. So it isn’t just me sounding off about past abuses. I want to see some government responsibility toward Native Americans to have decent lives now–to free themselves from leaning on the government and find their places in this society. And like Mr. Hilliard I am a proud American too. I am a Vietnam era veteran and taught inner city kids here in California. I could “pass” for white but I know I am owing my privileges to live in this country to ALL those who lived before me including the Native Americans who suffered loss of almost all their land and struggled to live on and retain their heritage in a country hell bent on taking away all their rights. We must all pull with each other to make the best society for all citizens–and that includes remembering things were not always fair so we don’t create a society where some built in privileges benefit only some of our citizens.

  7. It is amazing to me how all the bleeding hearts want to condemn our European ancestors that came to this land but want to ignore the actions of the “native americans”. Many of the tribes were conquerors of their neighboring tribes and they didn’t let them live tax free and by their own rules on conquered land, they enslaved or murdered the defeated tribes.And how many of these critics would go to other countries and publicly condemn for their past atrocities. Instead of belittling the U.S. they should be on their knees thanking God our ancestors created this nation where they have the freedom to complain without the fear of imprisonment or execution.
    Also, people who seem to condemn strength and military preparedness, including nuclear, do not have a grasp on reality. Evil is very real and exists in this world and sometimes our great Armed Forces are what it takes to defeat that evil. My dad witnessed some of the atrocities committed by the Japanese in World War 2 and for anyone to think we can all just get along when that kind of evil exists is naive at best and fatal at worst.
    On a lighter note, I would like to thank Mystic for these daily history lessons. I have always loved history and having collected stamps for 40 plus years these daily emails and the stories about stamps in my Mystic Heritage albums makes collecting even more enjoyable.

  8. It is truly amazing to me that a simple statehood article of a -“not so well known state” Montana would generate the dirth of back and forth comments from your loyal readers. But isn.t that what America is all about ? sensible dialogue without the fear of being locked up for speaking your mind.
    Keep them coming Mystic. I enjoy the responses as much as the articles themselves.

  9. obviously I am hitting against the conservative base who see our country as always OK, so why waste my time reminding them of anything the white settlers and white government may have done breaking treaties and also committing atrocities. So I will withdraw from responding to this group who only see the good coming from our military might and government who mostly backed the needs and wants of white people. Yes, Mr Bruce, someone has to bleed a bit for those who suffered the most from some of the acts of violence against those who originally inhabited America. I will not comment further on these matters. If people have no sympathy for those other innocent victims that may have suffered from extermination or neglect I am not qualified to say more than I have.

    1. @William….I disagree with you but hope to continue to see your posts. I love history and know that the Native Americans were given the short end of the stick in more ways than one. But we have to move forward or we will wallow in quicksand. We petition D.C. to improve the quality of life on the reservations. I am a proud American of Armenian heritage. A genocide occurred in the beginning of the 20th century that the perpetrators do not acknowledge and probably never will but Turkey is supposed to be an ally (snicker). I cant change the past but as an American, I can and do let Washington know how I feel about calling what happened a genocide which this country has refused to do. Unfortunately, politics rule over morality. But move forward we must. And a shout out to my fellow vets.

    2. Mr. William Graff, you are not alone. I have read your comments for a long time, and they are thoughtful and a nice counter point to the “America, love it or leave it,” crowd. I remember in the 60s during the Vietnam War, my car had peace symbol and American flag stickers next to each other, because that’s how I felt. Being open and honest with our history isn’t being unpatriotic, it is actually a higher level of patriotism. You don’t have to be a “bleeding heart” (as one of the writers suggests) to say: yes, the Native Americans were treated badly, yes, we had slavery, yes, powerful interests smashed labor unions for a long time, and yes, we were not always on the side of the angels in foreign affairs. To be honest with that history is not to deny that Americans have done many brilliant and noble things. So don’t give up and give in…Keep writing.

  10. Let’s not forget that Indians waged war just like the rest of the world long before any outsiders showed up and they were extremely brutal about the way they waged it. There’s always a winner or a loser. They lost. To try to fix the blame on any one side is narrow minded and ignorant. It’s this wrong headedness that perpetuates the mistakes made throughout history because you don’t care about the truth and on!y care about your agenda and never really learn anything. Besides, this is the history of a stamp and not a political action forum. Keep to the subject and take your stupidity elsewhere. Let the rest of us enjoy the page.

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