Today in History

Today in History: May 26

Montana

panorama of Helena Montana
B.E. view, Helena, Mont.
c 1908.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

On May 26, 1864, President Lincoln signed an enabling act creating the Territory of Montana. Twenty-five years later, on November 8, 1889, Montana became the forty-first state.

detail of the legend on a map of the Montana territory
Map of the territory of Montana with portions of the adjoining territories [Detail of Legend],
Drawn by W. W. de Lacy for the use of the first legislature of Montana,
St. Louis, Mo: Jul. Hutawa, lithr., 1865.
Map Collections

Numerous Native American tribes originally inhabited the Montana Territory. Today, Montana's Indian reservations maintain the heritage and culture of many of these tribes including the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Assiniboine, Gros Ventre or Atsina, Blackfeet, Kootenai, Salish, Chippewa, and Cree. Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the members of their expedition were the first explorers to document a journey through Montana and the lands of the Louisiana Purchase. Soon, forts were established to facilitate regular fur trading with Native American tribes. Missionaries and trailblazers followed.

The discovery of gold in the early 1860s sped the creation of the Montana Territory. As settlers and gold prospectors entered Montana in the 1860s and 1870s conflicts with the Indians arose. Perhaps the most famous clash between Native Americans and the United States military occurred in Montana on June 25, 1876. On that day, Sioux and Cheyenne defeated Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer's 7th United States Cavalry regiment at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer's Last Stand. A year later, Nez Percé Chief Joseph surrendered in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana after traveling over 1,000 miles across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana, trying to elude the U.S. Army and reach safe haven in Canada.

landscape with sheep on the plain
Bands of sheep on the Gravelly Range at the foot of Black Butte, Madison County, Montana,
Russell Lee, photographer, August 1942.
FSA/OWI Color Photographs, 1938-1944

Lured by gold in the 1860s and copper in the 1880s, mining brought many settlers to Montana. Rich grazing lands for cattle and sheep attracted other pioneers. Irene Binderies recalls her memories of moving to Superior, Montana as a young girl:

My family came to Superior from Missoula in 1898, when I was about 14. My father had been editor of several of the larger Montana papers, among them the Butte Miner. Our former environment had been so different from the one we found here that the mining atmosphere made quite an…impression on my brothers and sisters and me, at first mainly of shock.

"Social Life in and about Superior," Superior, Montana,
Mabel Olson, interviewer, between 1936 and 1940.
American Life Histories, 1936-1940

Learn more about Montana in American Memory: