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Revised 27 December 2010


One cannot think of Montana without thinking Cowboys and Indians and tales of the old west.  Montana is and always was Indian country.  It houses many of the biggest reservations still in existence today.  Before Lewis and Clark explored these lands between 1804 and 1806, Native American bands freely roamed throughout this area and hunted and fished and lived their lives in peace.  You would find such well-known tribes as the Crow, who lived in the south central region, the Cheyenne, proud warriors of the southeastern portion, the Blackfeet, Assiniboine and Gros Ventre of the Central and North Central areas and the Keetenai and Salish of the Western section.  The Pend d'Oreille were located in the area of Flathead Lake and the Kalispel lived in the western mountains.  They lived a life we can little imagine, in a land of rich and abundant natural resources.

The Lewis and Clark expedition was the first group of white explorers known to have crossed Montana.  They were sent by President Jefferson to discover the waterway to the North.  With the help of the Shoshone tribe, they traveled throughout the area, mapping and recording all they saw.  The government received all this and decided it was good.  Fur trappers and traders began arriving into the area and brought with them the bane to the Native American tribes, for they brought alcohol, disease and an economic system that changed the lives of these people forever.  By 1840, the fur trappers had all but destroyed the beaver population.  It was time to move on.

Roman Catholic missionaries were the next wave of settlement to cross the area.  They established Saint Mary's Mission in the Bitterroot Valley, thought o be the first permanent settlement in this area and worked to promote agriculture.  They also built a sawmill.  In 1846, the western part of Montana became part of the United States possessions through the Oregon Treaty.  The discovery of gold in 1862 triggered the next wave of settlers as prospectors in search of riches created boomtowns and ghost towns in quick succession.  As the gold ran out, so did the miners.  The gold region was in what is now Madison County, southeast of Butte.  Later mining interests included Copper and silver.  It brought in workers for the mines from Ireland, Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia.

In 1864, Montana became an official organized Territory.  Before its organization, various parts of the area belonged to surrounding Territories including those of Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.  Anyone researching Montana history will find it useful to check the records of those states prior to 1864 as your records may be housed there instead of in Montana.

As more and more white settlers poured into the area, the Indians lost access to their traditional hunting grounds and began fighting back to protect their rights.  From this came some of the greatest Indian Battles in our history.  The Sioux and Cheyenne won victories in 1876 at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, in which General George Armstrong Custer was finally defeated.  Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce won a major battle in the Big Hole Basin in 1877.  However, they were simply outnumbered and in the end, they could not hold out against the strength of the United States army and suffered great defeat and depravation for their efforts.  

By the late 1860s and into the 1870s cattlemen began moving into the ranges and establishing huge cattle ranches.  The governmental policy of free public-domain land allowed the cattle ranches to graze huge herds on the open grasslands.  To ship these cattle to the eastern coasts, the railroads entered the area in the 1880s.  Mining continued to be a major source of income as well.  The Anaconda Copper Company, owned by Marcus Daly, became the worlds largest copper mining company and as wealth yields power, Mr. Daly became one of the movers and shakers in the local government.  

On 8 November 1889, Montana became our 41st state in the Union.  With the passage of the Homestead Act of 1909, thousands of farmers moved into the state and farming became a major resource for the area. One will find interesting also to read up on the range wars that occurred between the cattlemen and the sheep farmers as depicted in the Zane Grey novels so popular with Western readers.  Many will be surprised to learn that much of what he wrote was based on fact.  

Montana has been a land of wealth, a land of history, a land of hardship and plenty and a land beyond time. 

Name Date formed Parent County County Seat
Beaverhead 1853 Original County Dillon
Big Horn 1913 Rosebud, Yellowstone Hardin
Blaine 1912 Choteau, Hill Chinook
Broadwater 1897 Jefferson, Meagher Townsend
Carbon 1895 Park, Yellowstone Red Lodge
Carter 1917 Custer Ekalaka
Cascade 1887 Chouteau, Meagher Great Falls
Chouteau 1865 Original County Fort Benton
Custer 1865 Original County Miles City
Daniels 1920 Valley Scobey
Dawson 1865 Original county Glendive
Deer Lodge 1864 Original County Anaconda
Fallon 1913 Custer Baker
Fergus 1885 Meagher Lewistown
Flathead 1893 Missoula Kalispel
Gallatin 1864 Original County Bozeman
Garfield 1919 Valley, McCone Jordan
Glacier 1919 Teton Cut Bank
Golden Valley 1920 Musselshell Ryegate
Granite 1893 Deer Lodge Philipsburg
Hill 1912 Chouteau Havre
Jefferson 1864 Original County Boulder
Judith Basin 1920 Fergus, Cascade Stanford
Lake 1923 Flathead, Missoula Polson
Lewis & Clark 1864 Original County Helena
Liberty 1920 Chouteau Chester
Lincoln 1909 Flathead Libby
McCone 1919 Dawson, Richland Circle
Madison 1864 Original County Virginia City
Meagher 1867 Original County White Sulpher Springs
Mineral 1914 Missoula Superior
Musselshell 1911 Fergus, Meagher Roundup
Park 1887 Gallatin Livingston
Petroleum 1825 Fergus, Garfield Winnett
Phillips 1915 Valley Malta
Pondera 1919 Yellowstone Conrad
Powder River 1919 Custer Broadus
Powell 1901 Missoula Deer Lodge
Prairie 1915 Custer Terry
Ravalli 1893 Missoula Hamilton
Richland 1914 Dawson Sidney
Roosevelt 1919 Valley, Richland Wolf Point
Rosebud 1901 Dawson Forsyth
Sanders 1906 Missoula Thompson Falls
Sheridan 1911 Custer Plentywood
Silver Bow 1881 Deer Lodge Butte
Stillwater 1913 Sweet Grass, Yellowstone, Carbon Columbus
Sweet Grass   1895 Meagher, Park, Yellowstone Big Timber
Teton 1893 Chouteau Choteau
Toole 1914 Teton Shelby
Treasure 1919 Big Horn Hysham
Valley 1893 Dawson Glasgow
Wheatland 1917 Meagher, Sweet Grass Harlowton
Wilbaux 1914 Dawson Wilbaux
Yellowstone 1893 Gallatin, Meagher, Custer Billings