Montana History Timeline

By | May 12, 2022

Long before European explorers crossed the plains and mountains of Montana, more than a dozen Native American tribes flourished in the region, including the Arapaho, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Nez Persa, Shoshone, and Sioux.

French explorers ventured into the area from Canada in the mid-1700s, but for the next half century, this vast land was entirely controlled by the Native Americans and claimed – albeit loosely – by England, France and Spain. In 1800, when the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte were moving across Europe, pushing Spain towards the corner, Louisiana Territory (New Orleans)

and a vast amount of land in the now central United States (including much of Montana) was ceded to France by Spain through the treaty.

In 1803, with military pressures mounting, Napoleon approved the sale of the entire area to the United States in a deal called the Louisiana Purchase and the United States doubled in size almost overnight.

After the Lewis and Clark expedition was wounded her way up the Missouri River on her epic journey to the Pacific, the beauty and richness of this border wilderness spread throughout. In rapid succession, fur trappers and settlers arrived in Montana, open trading posts and missionaries began to convert the Indians to Christianity.

Livestock operations began to take shape, and when gold was discovered in 1862, the flood gates opened as thousands got rich quick prospectors built mining camps across Montana; it was a lawless place and gold dust was the currency of the day.

Then part of the Idaho Territory, it officially became the Montana Territory in 1864; in 1883 the railroad arrived and the cattle and agricultural industries quickly flourished as routes to the eastern open markets.

Custer’s “Last Stand” of the 1876 hellish fight that killed Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer and all 197 of his men at the Little Bighorn Battlefield was the result of the US Army trying to move all of the Plains Indians to the reservation. Head Joseph and Brave (yet, by hand-picked) Nez Perce Indians and US Army troops would continue to fight through Idaho and Montana until most of the Indians were finally captured in late 1877.

Near the end of the 19th century (due to its successful mining industries) nearly tripled Montana’s population, and the approximately 150,000 residents petitioned the US Congress for statehood. In 1889 it became the 41st US state.

Profitable mines in Montana produced copious quantities of gold, silver, and copper, and attracted miners and speculators from all over the world. The Anaconda Company, a mining consortium of smaller operations, has become the most powerful corporation in Montana and a major catalyst for the expansion of electric power and railroads across the state.

To stimulate additional growth, the US Congress created Glacier National Park in 1910. During America’s Great Depression (1929-1939), the federal government hired (and paid) thousands of workers to build the Fort Peck Dam, as well as providing funds for irrigation projects. and construction of highways and roads.

Montana’s economy was at its peak during World War II (1941-1945)as the demand for his products (especially metals) was at an all time high. That high demand eventually dropped, but the state’s gas, oil and coal industries expanded rapidly during the energy shortage in the United States in the 1970s.

In the 1980s, Montana’s economy suffered as thousands of jobs were lost by a massive drop in farm and lumber incomes due to government restrictions and shrinking markets, and the complete closure of the Anaconda Company’s copper mining operations.

Today in this land of rich natural resources and stunning natural wonders, there remains a healthy respect for the past and a strong commitment to the future and all in the knowledge that there is plenty of room in Montana to make anyone’s dream come true.

Timeline of Montana

Photo ; wildfires swept through Yellowstone National Park

  • (1994) 4,500 fires burned 286,000 acres
  • (2000) 1,000,000 acres and 320 homes destroyed by fires in Bitterroot Valley; 19,600,000-acre state and federal land closed due to fire risk
  • (2001) Electricity industry deregulated; fires burned throughout Montana
  • (2007) July is the hottest month ever recorded in the state, many cities have set heat records; Montana first states to enact legislation against federal government’s Real ID Act
  • (2011) ExxonMobil pipeline running under Yellowstone River under ruptured Billings dumped 1,000 barrels of oil
  • (2011) Officials set fire to an oil-tainted congestion along the Yellowstone River from an ExxonMobil pipeline spill

Montana History