Geography and Landforms:

Montana is bordered by Canada on the north and by Idaho and Wyoming on the south. On the east, Montana is bordered by North and South Dakota, and on the west, it is bordered by Idaho.

Major rivers in Montana include the Clark Fork River, the Missouri River, and the Yellowstone River.

The eastern three-fifths of Montana is covered by the Great Plains. The Great Plains are high, gently rolling areas with wide river valleys. The western portion of the state rises up in tall, rugged Rocky Mountain country. There are more than 50 mountain ranges in this region; they have provided Montana its name and yielded a fortune of gold and silver.

The Continental Divide separates waters running west into the Pacific Ocean and east to the Atlantic Ocean, and runs through the Rocky Mountain Region. Montana is the only state that has rivers that drain into the Gulf of Mexico, Hudson Bay, and the Pacific Ocean.


The first white explorers to come to Montana were part of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804 through 1806. Soon after this group, however, came fur traders and trappers who were interested in the vast natural resources and trade with the Native Americans. Unfortunately, they also brought disease and alcohol to the Native people, and changed their economic system forever. Although the fur trade brought great change to the area, it was relatively short lived, dying out by the 1840s due to the over-hunting of beaver, and the loss of popularity of beaver pelts used for men's hats.

After the fur traders, the next group to come to Montana was Roman Catholic missionaries. They established St. Mary's Mission in the Bitterroot Valley, probably the first permanent white settlement in Montana. Along with their efforts to bring Christianity to the Native populations, they also promoted agriculture, and they built a sawmill for use in the lumber trade.

In the 1860s, gold was discovered in the area, and prospectors came in great numbers. Montana became a territory in 1864, and the influx of people coming to look for wealth led to the creation of "boomtowns." Unfortunately, when the gold ran out, these towns quickly declined.

The number of white settlers coming to Montana meant that the Native people lost access to their traditional hunting grounds. In the 1870s, trying to defend their territory, the Sioux and the Cheyenne defeated US troops at the Battle of Little Bighorn, and Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians won a victory in the Big Hole Basin. In the long run, however, the Native Americans could not match the strength of the United States Army.

After the miners, the next group to settle Montana was cattle ranchers. There was a great demand for meat from the miners and other settlers, and the availability of free land to those who wanted to establish ranches made the enterprise profitable. The coming of the railroads in the 1880s also meant there was an easy way to ship meat to other parts of the country, further strengthening the ranchers' position in the state.

By 1889, Montana was admitted to the Union as the 41st state. Although the promise of gold had not been realized, Butte became famous when silver and copper were discovered. The Anaconda copper mine, owned by Marcus Daly, became one of the world's largest.

In 1909, the Enlarged Homestead Act brought more homesteaders to Montana for the availability of inexpensive land. The new settlers had success with wheat farming until the beginning of the 20th century when drought and changes in the market for grain ruined many farmers.


Montana's largest industries are agriculture (including both crops and livestock), travel and tourism, timber, and mining. Livestock and wildlife actually outnumber the people in Montana; there are three cows for every person in the state! The state also has the largest grizzly bear population in the US, and the largest elk herd in the US. Other leading agricultural commodities are wheat (ranking fifth in the United States), barley, dairy products, sugar beets, hay, hogs, sheep and lambs. The state is large and sparsely populated, and the economy has always depended upon the area's natural resources. The vast, open plains are perfect for grain farming, and for providing grazing land for large herds of beef cattle.

In addition, the land also contains natural resources under the ground in the form of oil and gas fields and rich coal deposits. Mining in the state of Montana includes coal production, petroleum, precious metals and natural gas.

The more mountainous areas of western Montana support a strong industry in timber and wood products manufacturing. The mountains are also a source of minerals for mining.

More recently, Montana has been diversifying its economy and relying less on its natural resources. Tourism is becoming more important to the state and now ranks second in terms of its financial contribution.

First Inhabitants:

The first inhabitants of the area now known as Montana were nomadic people who followed the mammoth and the buffalo and gathered plants. Although some tribal people believe their ancestors have lived in the northern Rocky Mountain region since the world began, archaeologists believe the first inhabitants crossed the Bering Strait from Asia around 12,000 years ago. There is evidence of a thriving culture living west of the Rocky Mountains as early as 9,000 years ago.

By the time white explorers first came to Montana, tribal groups of Native Americans were living in the area. The Crow lived in south central Montana, the Cheyenne lived in the south east, Blackfeet, Assiniboine and Gros Ventres lived in the central and north central areas and the Kootenai and Salish lived in the western area. Finally, there were Pend d'Oreille Indians around Flathead Lake and Kalispel Indians in the western mountains. When the first white traders came west, there may have been as many as 15,000 people belonging to the Blackfeet Nation living in this area.

Each of these tribal cultures worshipped all sources of life and believed the earth was sacred. Their contact with white traders and the introduction of guns and horses into these societies changed them forever and made them dependent upon trade for their existence. Their use of horses for hunting made them much more efficient in killing the bison upon which they lived, but may also have led to the near extinction of these animals.

Books Related To Montana

B is for Big Sky Country: A Montana Alphabet - Sneed Collard
(978-1585360987) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 1 - 2
This book features all the things that are special about the state of Montana.

The Big Burn - Jeanette Ingold
(978-0152049249) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, Lexile: 860, ESL level: 3 - 4
Three teenagers become involved in fighting the historical Big Burn of 1910.

Blind Mountain - Jane Resh Thomas
(978-0618648726) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-6, Lexile: 690, ESL level: 3 - 4
Sam is forced to lead a mountain expedition after his difficult father becomes temporarily unable to see.

Cryer's Cross - Lisa McMann
(978-1416994824) , Fiction
Interest level: 7-12, Lexile: 640, ESL level: 3 - 4
Kendall has to look beyond her frequently disabling obsessive-compulsive disorder to try and solve the mystery of how two of her friends have disappeared and she seems to be receiving visits from ghosts.

Eye of the Great Bear - Bill Wallace
(978-0671025021) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-7, Lexile: 640, ESL level: 3
After pre-teen Bailey encounters a bear in the Montana wilds, his reputation as that of a scardey-cat changes to follow an Indian seer's prophecy.

Faithful - Janet Fox
(978-0142414132) , Fiction
Interest level: 7-12, Lexile: 650, ESL level: 3 - 4
Maggie tries to forget her mother's disappearance and possible death after she moves with her father to the Yellowstone area of Montana and meets an interesting young man.

Flash Point - Sneed Collard
(978-1561453856) , Fiction
Interest level: 7-10, Lexile: 830, ESL level: 4
Luther is unable to keep his environmentalist views quiet in a small conservative town after he starts working to rescue birds of prey.

Hattie Big Sky - Kirby Larson
(978-0385735957) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-9, Lexile: 700, ESL level: 3 - 4
A young teen travels to a homesteading claim to create her own home, but finds difficulties there because of the events of WWI.

Hitch - Jeanette Ingold
(978-0152056193) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, Lexile: 830, ESL level: 3 - 4
Moss becomes interested in helping with the creation of a new camp in Minnesota sponsored by the historic Civilian Conservation Core in order to become different from his drunken father.

The Last Exit to Normal - Michael Harmon
(375-840982) , Fiction
Interest level: 7-12, Lexile: 620, ESL level: 3 - 4
Ben's anger about having to move to Montana with his father and his gay lover is moderated when he decides to help the neighbor child who seems to be hiding something.

Mountain Solo - Jeanette Ingold
(978-0152053581) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-12, Lexile: 810, ESL level: 3 - 4
A promising young musician retreats to her frontier home with her father instead of pursuing her promising career as a violinist.

Rescue Josh McGuire - Ben Mikaelsen
(978-1562825232) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-9, Lexile: 680, ESL level: 3
Josh causes an entire community to mount a search for him during a violent snowstorm in the mountains after he kidnaps an orphaned bear cub to save it from animal testing.

When the Circus Came to Town - Laurence Yep
(006-029325X) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-6, Lexile: 530, ESL level: 2 - 3
A young girl gains confidence despite her smallpox scars when a traveling circus comes into her community and she makes some new friends.

When the Sargeant Came Marching Home - Don Lemna
(978-0823420834) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-7, Lexile: 840, ESL level: 4
The family of a ten-year-old boy is forced to struggle to survive an outdated farm after the father comes home from WWII.

Famous Citizens:

Gary Cooper
Born Frank James Cooper in Helena, Montana, Gary Cooper was the son of a rancher. His first acting experience was while he was still in high school, and he soon starred in a series of Westerns, first in the silent movie era, and also after "talkies" became popular. He won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in the movie Sergeant York, and was nominated for several other Oscars. In 1961 he was awarded a special career-achievement Oscar, just months before his death of cancer.

Jack Horner
Born in Shelby, Montana, Jack Horner found his first dinosaur fossil at the age of 8. Although he wasn't an outstanding student in school, he excelled at science projects. After spending time in the US Marine Corps, he went to college and discovered his love for fossils and paleontology. Although he studied for seven years, he was unable to get a college degree, and discovered that his academic difficulties were caused by a learning disability--dyslexia. By this time, however, he was a working paleontologist at Princeton University. Today he is the curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies in Montana, and served as the model of the scientist Alan Grant in the movie Jurassic Park.

Evel Knievel
Born in Butte, Montana, Robert Craig Knievel was raised by his grandparents. When he was 8 years old he went to an auto daredevil show and made the decision to become a motorcycle stuntman. An outstanding high school athlete, he participated in track and field, ski jumping, and became a semi professional ice hockey player. He began his daredevil career in 1965 by forming a touring show in which he and others performed motorcycle stunts. Probably his most daring stunt was jumping a motorcycle over the Snake River Canyon.

Jeannette Rankin
Born in Missoula, Montana, Jeannette Rankin became the first woman to serve in either house of the United States Congress. She was elected in 1916, a time when most states did not even permit women to vote. While serving as a member of Congress, she introduced legislation in support of government sponsored prenatal and child-care education for women. Her decision to vote against US entry into World War I and World II, particularly after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, ended her political career.

Capital: Helena
Entered Union: November 8, 1889
Population: 1,023,579
Area 147,042
Bird Western Meadowlark
Flower Bitterroot
Nickname: Treasure State
Governor Steve Bullock

Places to Visit in Montana: (Click the links to learn more.)

Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana - Ronan
This museum was established to discover and memorialize the history and culture of the Flathead Reservation. It includes an art gallery, Indian artifacts including Native American beadwork, and representations of life in Montana throughout history.

World Museum of Mining - Butte
This museum preserves the mining, ethnic and social history of Butte, Montana. The museum is located on the site of the Orphan Girl mine, from which silver, zinc and gold were extracted. You can travel underground and visit a simulated underground mine as well as see full size mining equipment in the outdoor mining yard.

Museum of the Rockies - Bozeman
The Museum of the Rockies is Montana's premiere natural history museum, and also includes the Taylor Planetarium and a Living History Farm. The Bowman Fossil Bank provides a place for visitors to talk with volunteers cleaning dinosaur bones.

Yellowstone National Park -
Located in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park is the first and oldest national park in the world. The park includes Old Faithful Geyser along with over 10.000 other hot springs and geysers. There are also grizzly bear and wolf, as well as free-ranging herds of bison and elk.