This land remained largely unexplored by outsiders until Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, accompanied by Native American guide Sacagawea, passed through the region in 1805 on their famous expedition through the American West. More than 50 years later, settlers found gold, and people quickly came to Montana in search of their own fortune. With its newly expanding population and mining value, the land was made a U.S. territory in 1864. In 1889 it became a state.
But the Native American tribes living on the land felt that the settlers were encroaching on their way of life. In 1876 the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes banded together to take back their land, defeating the U.S. Army at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. Despite this victory, the Native Americans were ultimately defeated, and settlers continued to build on the land.
However many Native American tribes still live in Montana, including the Blackfeet, Crow, and Cheyenne.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
Montana’s name comes from the Spanish word montaña, roughly meaning “mountainous.” That’s because the state has so many mountains—at least 300 peaks over 9,600 feet tall!
Gold and silver deposits were mined from the Montana mountains as early as the 1800s, earning the state its nickname, the Treasure State.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
The state is known for having two very different geographic regions. The Rocky Mountain region covers the western two-fifths of the state. It’s home to Glacier National Park, which contains 7,000-year-old glaciers. The region is also where you’ll find Granite Peak, the state’s highest point.
The Great Plains region spreads across the eastern three-fifths of Montana. This grassy terrain is dotted with hills, river valleys, and grain fields. Here, you can see the Great Plains Badlands, a mostly barren area that has colorful and oddly shaped rock formations.
Montana’s wildlife is very diverse. Its mountains are home to grizzly and black bears, bighorn sheep, gray wolves, and bison. Animals that live on the plains include pronghorn, coyotes, and badgers. Bald eagles, golden eagles, red-winged blackbirds, and mountain bluebirds soar throughout Montana’s skies. Check the ground for reptiles such as alligator lizards, skinks, and venomous vipers. Amphibians like chorus frogs, giant salamanders, and newts also call Montana home.
Plant life changes dramatically as you cross from the mountains to the plains. The Rockies have forests of spruce, firs, and pines. The state’s flowers include Woods’ rose, twin flower, and a yellow daisy-like bloom called arnica. In the plains the majority of plants are grasses and shrubs such as plains pricklypear and rubber rabbitbrush.
Montana’s top natural resources were once copper, gold, silver, and sapphires. People still mine for precious rocks and metals here—but now, the one of the state’s most valuable resources is petroleum. The state is also the world’s leading producer of talc, a mineral used in cosmetics.
—Montana has its own version of oatmeal: Cream of the West, a roasted wheat cereal that local families have been eating since 1914.
—Famous Montanans include actor Gary Cooper, motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel, and Jeannette Rankin, the first woman ever elected to U.S. Congress.
—Step into the past in Virginia City, a gold mining town that still looks like it did in the 1800s. You can see 19th-century plays, take a stagecoach tour, and even check out stores with one-hundred-year-old items on display!
—The original entrance to Yellowstone National Park—the world’s first national park—is in Gardiner, Montana, and was erected in 1903.
—Montana is the only state with river systems that empty into the Hudson Bay, Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico.