Various indigenous peoples lived in the territory of the present-day state of Montana for thousands of years. Historic tribes encountered by Europeans and settlers from the United States included the Crow in the south-central area; the Cheyenne in the southeast; the Blackfeet, Assiniboine and Gros Ventres in the central and north-central area; and the Kootenai and Salish in the west. The smaller Pend d'Oreille and Kalispel tribes lived near Flathead Lake and the western mountains, respectively.
The land in Montana east of the continental divide was part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Subsequent to the Lewis and Clark Expedition and after the finding of gold and copper (see the Copper Kings) in the area in the late 1850s, Montana became a United States territory (Montana Territory) on May 26, 1864. Prior to the creation of Montana Territory (1864–1889), various parts of what is now Montana were parts of Oregon Territory (1848–1859), Washington Territory (1853–1863), Idaho Territory (1863–1864), and Dakota Territory (1861–1864).
The Army established a series of posts in the late 1860s, including Fort Shaw, Camp Cooke on the Judith River and Fort C.F. Smith on the Bozeman Trail.
Montana was the scene of warfare as the Native Americans struggled to maintain control of their land. The Battle of the Little Bighorn was fought near the present-day town of Hardin. Montana was also the location of the final battles of the Nez Perce Wars.
A series of major mining discoveries in the western third of the state starting in 1862 found gold, silver, copper lead, coal (and later oil) that attracted tens of thousands of miners to the area. The richest of all gold placer diggings was discovered at Alder Gulch, where the town of Virginia City was established. Other rich placer deposits were found at Last Chance Gulch, where the city of Helena now stands, Confederate Gulch, Silver Bow, Emigrant Gulch, and Cooke City. Gold output from 1862 through 1876 reached $144 million; silver then became even more important. The largest mining operations were in the city of Butte, which had important silver deposits and gigantic copper deposits.
Cattle ranching has been central to Montana's history and economy since the late-19th century. The Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site in Deer Lodge Valley is maintained as a link to the ranching style of the late 19th century. Operated by the National Park Service, it is a 1,900 acres (7.7 km2) working ranch.
The railroads arrived in the 1880s, including the Great Northern Railroad (1889) and its rival, the Northern Pacific Railroad (1883) from Minneapolis, and the Union Pacific Railroad (1881) from Denver. Montana railroading, with two transcontinentals to the Pacific coast and extensive operations to the mines, became a major industry, with centers in Billings and Havre. Montana became a state in 1889 in an omnibus package together with North Dakota, South Dakota and Washington. In 1888, Helena (the current state capital) had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the world.
The revised Homestead Act of 1909 greatly affected the settlement of Montana. This act expanded the amount of free land from 160 acres (0.6 km2) to 320 acres (1.3 km2) per family. Tens of thousands of inexperienced homesteaders arrived, lured by free land and high wheat prices, but they were unprepared for the climate, which usually had little rainfall and required special dry farming techniques. The droughts of 1917–1919 proved devastating, as many left, and half the banks in the state went bankrupt after providing mortgages that could not be repaid. The Great Depression caused further hardship for farmers and ranchers and miners, but the economy bounced back in the 1940s. The wheat farms in eastern Montana make the state a major producer; the wheat has a relatively high protein content and thus commands premium prices. After 1940 tourism became the state's third largest industry with Yellowstone and Glacier national parks as the largest tourist attractions.
The planned battleship USS Montana was named in honor of the state. However, the battleship was never completed, making Montana the only one of the 48 states during World War II not to have a battleship named after it. Additionally, Alaska and Hawaii have both had nuclear submarines named after them. As such Montana is the only state in the union without a modern naval ship named in its honor. However, in August 2007 Senator Jon Tester made a request to the Navy that a submarine be christened USS Montana.
Politics in the state has been competitive, with the Democrats usually holding an edge, thanks to the support among unionized miners and railroad workers. Large-scale battles revolved around the giant Anaconda Copper company, based in Butte and controlled by Rockefeller interests, until it closed in the 1970s. Until 1959, the company owned five of the state's six largest newspapers.
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