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Montana (mŏntănˈə), Rocky Mt. state in the NW United States. It is bounded by North Dakota and South Dakota (E), Wyoming (S), Idaho (W), and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan (N).

Facts and Figures

Area, 147,138 sq mi (381,087 sq km). Pop. (2020) 1,068,778, a 8% increase since the 2010 census. As of the 2020 census, the state's population was: White alone, 88.9%; Black alone, 0.6%; Hispanic or Latino, 4.1%; American Indian and Alaska native alone, 6.7%; Asian alone, 0.9%; Two or More Races, 2.8%. Capital, Helena. Largest city, Billings. Statehood, Nov. 8, 1889 (41st state). Highest pt., Granite Peak, 12,799 ft (3,904 m); lowest pt., Kootenai River, 1,800 ft (549 m). Nickname, Treasure State. Motto, Oro y Plata [Gold and Silver]. State bird, Western meadowlark. State flower, bitterroot. State tree, Ponderosa pine. Abbr., Mont.; MT


Life in Montana's mountainous western area differs greatly from that on its eastern plains. Across the eastern half of the state stretch broad sections of the Great Plains, drained by the Missouri River, which originates in SW Montana, and by its tributaries, the Milk, the Marias, the Sun, and especially the Yellowstone. Much of Montana's western boundary is marked by the crest of the lofty Bitterroot Range, part of the Rocky Mts., which dominate the western section of the state and along which runs the Continental Divide. Montana's very name is derived from the Spanish word montaña, meaning mountain country.

Much of the fourth largest U.S. state is still sparsely populated country dominated by spectacular nature. High granite peaks, forests, lakes, and such wonders as those of Glacier National Park attract many visitors to Montana. Other places of interest include Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Big Hole National Battlefield, and Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site (see National Parks and Monuments, table) and the National Bison Range, near Ravalli, where herds of buffalo may be seen. Strips of Yellowstone National Park, including the north and west entrances, are also in Montana, as are such Native American reservations as the Blackfoot, the Fort Belknap, the Fort Peck, and the Crow. Rushing mountain streams and numerous lakes bring fishing enthusiasts to the state, and the abundant wildlife—elk, deer, bear, moose, and waterfowl—attracts hunters. Mountain and ski resorts draw other vacationers. Helena is the capital, Billings and Great Falls the largest cities; other important cities include Missoula and Butte.


In and around Montana's mountainous western region are the large mineral deposits for which the state is famous—copper, silver, gold, platinum, zinc, lead, and manganese. The eastern part of the state is noted for its petroleum and natural gas, and there are also vast subbituminous coal deposits, worked largely at the most extensive U.S. open-pit mines. Montana also mines vermiculite, chromite, tungsten, molybdenum, and palladium. Leading industries manufacture forest products, processed foods, and refined petroleum.

In E Montana the high grass of the Great Plains once nourished herds of buffalo and later sustained the cattle and sheep of huge ranches; much of the high grass is now gone, but the cattle and sheep remain. Periodic drought and severe weather have turned some farming communities into ghost towns, but agriculture, with the aid of irrigation, still provides the largest share of Montana's income. Wheat is the most valuable farm item, with cattle also of primary importance. Other principal crops include barley, sugar beets, and hay.

Government and Higher Education

In 1973 a new constitution took effect, replacing the one adopted in 1889. The governor is elected for a term of four years and may be reelected. The legislative assembly is made up of a senate with 50 members and a house of representatives with 100 members. Montana is represented in the U.S. Congress by one representative and two senators, and the state has three electoral votes in presidential elections. Montana's voters have traditionally voted for both Democrats and Republicans, often splitting the ticket, but of late its politics have become more polarized.

The Univ. of Montana, at Missoula, and Montana State Univ., at Bozeman, are the state's major institutions of higher learning. Both these systems also have other campuses.


Early Inhabitants, Fur Trading, and Gold

Native Americans known to have inhabited Montana at the time Europeans first explored it included the Blackfoot, the Sioux, the Shoshone, the Arapaho, the Kootenai, the Cheyenne, the Salish, and others. Exploration of the region began in earnest after most of Montana had passed to the United States under the Louisiana Purchase (1803). The Lewis and Clark expedition traveled westward across Montana in 1805, and François Antoine Laroque, along with his North West Company of Canada, explored the Yellowstone River after 1805.

The area's rivers were important avenues of travel for the native inhabitants as well as the early explorers of the country; the first trading post in Montana was established at the mouth of the Bighorn in 1807 by a trading expedition that Manuel Lisa led up the Missouri from St. Louis. For some years thereafter both Canadian and American fur traders continued to open up the territory. David Thompson of the North West Company built several trading posts in NW Montana between 1807 and 1812, and beaver in the mountain streams and lakes attracted adventurous trappers, the so-called mountain men. The American Fur Company, with its posts on the Missouri and the Yellowstone, dominated the later years of the region's fur trade, which diminished in the 1840s.

The U.S. claim to NW Montana, the area between the Rockies and the N Idaho border, was validated in the Oregon Treaty of 1846 with the British. Montana was then still a wilderness of forest and grass, with a few trading posts and some missions. Montana's first period of growth was the rapid, boisterous, and unstable expansion brought on by a gold rush. The discovery of gold, made initially in 1852, brought many people to mushrooming mining camps such as those at Bannack (1862) and Virginia City (1864). Crude shantytowns were built, complete with saloons and dance halls—ephemeral settlements as colorful as the earlier gold-rush camps in California and perhaps even more lawless.

Territorial Status, Sioux Resistance, and Statehood

Previously part of, successively, the territories of Oregon, Washington, Nebraska, Dakota, and Idaho, Montana itself became a territory in 1864. It was still a rough frontier, however, and the first governor, Sidney Edgerton, was driven out of the region; later Thomas Francis Meagher, appointed temporary governor, died mysteriously. After the Civil War the grasslands attracted ranchers, and in 1866 the first cattle were brought in from Texas over the Bozeman Trail, to the area east of the Bighorn Mts.

Yet it was not until after wars with the Sioux that ranching was safe. The Sioux did not tamely submit to having their lands taken from them; in 1876 at the battle of the Little Bighorn, they defeated Col. George A. Custer and his force in one of the greatest of Native American victories. The Sioux were eventually subdued, and the gallant attempt of Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé to lead his people into Canada to escape pursuing U.S. troops had its pitiful end in Montana.

Great ranches spread out across the plains, and cow towns that were to grow into cities such as Billings and Missoula sprang up as the railroads were built in the West (c.1880–c.1910). Statehood was achieved in 1889, and the building of the railroads put an end to the era of the open range.

The Importance of Mining

Mining continued to dominate Montana's economy into the 20th cent. The discovery of silver at Butte (1875) was followed (c.1880) by discovery of copper at that same “richest hill on earth.” The Amalgamated Copper Company (later renamed Anaconda Copper Mining Company) came to play a major role in Montana life. The titans of the mines, Marcus Daly and William A. Clark, contended bitterly for ownership of the mineral deposits and for political control, and their rivalry was fought out physically by the miners. F. Augustus Heinze also entered the scramble for copper riches, challenging the claims of Amalgamated Copper. Amalgamated prevailed and exercised enormous control over state affairs.

Struggles between the company and the workers led to strikes, disorder, and bloodshed, but also to the enactment of some early measures for social security, important because over the years the livelihood of mining town residents has depended on the fluctuating market price of copper. By the 1990s, however, mining was producing less than 10% of Montana's revenues, and such centers as Butte and Anaconda, where operations had shut down, had become shells of their former selves.

The Expansion of Agriculture

After the coming of the railroads, farmers arrived by the trainload to develop the lands of E Montana. They planted their fields in the second decade of the 20th cent. The initial bounteous wheat yield did not last long; the calamitous drought of 1919 and the consequent dust storms seared the fields, and in the 1920s the farms began to disappear as rapidly as they had been established.

When the Great Depression began in 1929, Montana was already accustomed to depression. In subsequent years vigorous measures were taken to aid agriculture in the state, and by the late 1940s federal dam and irrigation projects—on the Missouri, the Yellowstone, the Marias, the Sun, and elsewhere—opened many acres to cultivation. Some of the vast grazing lands were brought under planned use, and the development of hydroelectric power continued. Major multipurpose dams in Montana producing power include Fort Peck, Hungry Horse, and Canyon Ferry.

Economic Diversification

The demand for copper in World War II and the E Montana oil boom of the early 1950s stimulated the economy, but the state still faces high transportation costs, a worker shortage, and slowness in regulating resources. A gradual trend toward a more diversified economy has seen manufacturing grow in importance; tourism is also on the rise. Coal exploitation increased dramatically in the 1970s, somewhat offsetting the decline of metals mining. In 1997 legislation was passed that aimed to attract foreign money by making the state an offshore banking haven.

Republicans held the governor's chair from 1993-2005, including Judy Martz, the first woman to be elected to the post; she served one term (2001-05). Democrats then took control from 2005-21, with Steve Bullock serving two terms (2013-21) before being named Secretary of the Interior in Joe Biden's administration. Republican Greg Gianforte was elected governor in 2020. He previously served from 2017-21 as the state's at-large congressional delegate, replacing Rep. Ryan Zinke, and made headlines in 2017 when he assaulted a journalist who was interviewing him.


See M. P. Malone, The Montana Past (1969); K. R. Toole, Twentieth-Century Montana (1972); M. P. Malone and R. B. Roeder, Montana, a History of Two Centuries (1976); C. C. Spence, Montana: A History (1978); W. L. Lang and R. C. Myers, Montana, Our Land and People (1979); J. A. Alwin, Eastern Montana (1982).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

Montana State Information

Phone: (406) 444-2511

Area (sq mi):: 147042.40 (land 145552.43; water 1489.96) Population per square mile: 6.40
Population 2005: 935,670 State rank: 0 Population change: 2000-20005 3.70%; 1990-2000 12.90% Population 2000: 902,195 (White 89.50%; Black or African American 0.30%; Hispanic or Latino 2.00%; Asian 0.50%; Other 8.60%). Foreign born: 1.80%. Median age: 37.50
Income 2000: per capita $17,151; median household $33,024; Population below poverty level: 14.60% Personal per capita income (2000-2003): $22,929-$25,406
Unemployment (2004): 4.30% Unemployment change (from 2000): -0.50% Median travel time to work: 17.70 minutes Working outside county of residence: 8.30%

List of Montana counties:

  • Anaconda-Deer Lodge County
  • Beaverhead County
  • Big Horn County
  • Blaine County
  • Broadwater County
  • Butte-Silver Bow County
  • Carbon County
  • Carter County
  • Cascade County
  • Chouteau County
  • Custer County
  • Daniels County
  • Dawson County
  • Fallon County
  • Fergus County
  • Flathead County
  • Gallatin County
  • Garfield County
  • Glacier County
  • Golden Valley County
  • Granite County
  • Hill County
  • Jefferson County
  • Judith Basin County
  • Lake County
  • Lewis & Clark County
  • Liberty County
  • Lincoln County
  • Madison County
  • McCone County
  • Meagher County
  • Mineral County
  • Missoula County
  • Musselshell County
  • Park County
  • Petroleum County
  • Phillips County
  • Pondera County
  • Powder River County
  • Powell County
  • Prairie County
  • Ravalli County
  • Richland County
  • Roosevelt County
  • Rosebud County
  • Sanders County
  • Sheridan County
  • Stillwater County
  • Sweet Grass County
  • Teton County
  • Toole County
  • Treasure County
  • Valley County
  • Wheatland County
  • Wibaux County
  • Yellowstone County
  • Counties USA: A Directory of United States Counties, 3rd Edition. © 2006 by Omnigraphics, Inc.

    Montana Parks

    Parks Directory of the United States, 5th Edition. © 2007 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
    The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



    a region of Andean foothills in eastern Peru, east of the Ucayali River and bordering on the Amazon plains. The low (1,000–1,500 m), gently sloping, anticlinal ranges, with cores of Cretaceous rocks and walls of Paleocene rocks, are separated by broad, flat depressions (the Cordillera Occidental is related to them structurally). The Montana, which has an annual precipitation of more than 3,000 mm, is covered with dense equatorial rain forests. There are oil deposits.



    a state in the northwestern USA, one of the Mountain States that borders Canada. Area, 381,100 sq km. Population, 694,000 (1970), of which 53.4 percent live in urban areas. The capital of Montana is Helena; other major cities include Billings and Great Falls.

    In the western part of the state are ranges of the Rocky Mountains including Granite Peak, with an elevation of 3,901 m; the eastern portion of Montana constitutes part of the Prairie Plateau. The climate is temperate continental. The average January temperature is −6° to −10°C; that of July, 17° to 21°C. Annual precipitation is 350–400 mm. Montana’s principal rivers are the Missouri and its tributary, the Yellowstone. Among the state’s major resources are nonferrous and precious metals, coal, petroleum, natural gas, hydroelectric power, and coniferous forests. Glacier National Park and a small section of Yellowstone National Park lie within Montana’s borders.

    Mining and extensive agriculture form the basis of Montana’s economy. In copper mining the state ranks fourth in the country, with annual production reaching 90,000–100,000 tons, measured by metal content. Gold and silver are also mined, natural gas is extracted, and some 5 million tons of petroleum are produced annually. The processing industry is poorly developed, with 24,000 employees in 1971. In 1970 the rated capacity of Montana’s electric power plants was 1.8 gigawatts. Copper, lead, and zinc are smelted in the cities of Anaconda and Great Falls. Among the state’s other products are lumber, sugar, and flour. The dominant position in the mining industry is occupied by the Anaconda Corporation.

    The principal crops grown in Montana are wheat and sugar beets; the state’s wheat harvest typically ranks fourth or fifth in the country. In early 1972 there were 3,165,000 head of cattle in the state, including 39,000 milk cows, and 1,050,000 head of sheep. Montana’s picturesque mountains and national parks attract large numbers of tourists.


    The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


    Forty-first state; admitted on November 8, 1889

    State capital: Helena Nicknames: Treasure State; Big Sky Country; Bonanza

    State; Land of Shining Mountains; Mountain State State motto: Oro y Plata (Spanish “Gold and Silver”) State animal: Grizzly bear (Ursus (arctos) horribilis) State ballad: “Montana Melody” State bird: Western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) State butterfly: Mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) State fish: Black-spotted cutthroat trout (Salmo clarki) State flower: Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) State fossil: Duck-billed dinosaur (Maiasaura peeblesorum) State gems: Yogo sapphire; Montana agate State grass: Bluebunch wheatgrass (Agropyron spicatum) State song: “Montana” State tree: Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)

    More about state symbols at:


    AmerBkDays-2000, p. 762
    AnnivHol-2000, p. 187


    State web site:

    Office of the Governor
    PO Box 200801
    Helena, MT 59620
    fax: 406-444-4151

    Secretary of State
    PO Box 202801
    Helena, MT 59620
    fax: 406-444-3976

    Montana State Library
    1515 E 6th Ave
    PO Box 201800
    Helena, MT 59620
    fax: 406-444-0266

    Legal Holidays:

    General Election DayNov 1, 2011; Nov 6, 2012; Nov 5, 2013; Nov 4, 2014; Nov 3, 2015; Nov 1, 2016; Nov 7, 2017; Nov 6, 2018; Nov 5, 2019; Nov 3, 2020; Nov 2, 2021; Nov 1, 2022; Nov 7, 2023
    Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


    Joe. born 1958, American football quarterback


    a state of the western US: consists of the Great Plains in the east and the Rocky Mountains in the west. Capital: Helena. Pop.: 917 621 (2003 est.). Area: 377 070 sq. km (145 587 sq. miles)
    Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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