Montana History Timeline

Important Dates, Events, and Milestones in Montana History

Offers a chronological timeline of important dates, events, and milestones in Montana history.

Beginning some 2 million years ago, however, dramatic temperature changes profoundly altered what we now call Montana. At four different times, great sheets of glacial ice moved south through Canada to cover much of the north. The last glacial retreat, about 10,000 years ago, did much to carve the state's present topographic feature. Montana's first humans probably came from across the Bering Strait; their fragmentary remains indicate a presence dating between 10,000 and 4000 BC. 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.

Montana is the fourth largest U.S. state by area, behind Alaska, Texas and California, but with an average of just six people per square mile, it is one of the country's least densely populated states

17th Century Montana History Timeline

1680 - Montana natives acquire the horse.

18th Century Montana History Timeline

1720 - Montana natives acquire the gun.

1795 - Yellowstone River named by James Mackay

19th Century Montana History Timeline

1803 - United States acquires most of Montana in the Louisiana Purchase

1805-1806 - Lewis and Clark Expedition crosses and recrosses Montana

1807 - Manuel Lisa builds first fur fort in Montana on the Yellowstone River

1828 - Fort Union, an American Fur Company post, is built at the mouth of the Yellowstone River

1841 - Father Pierre Jean de Smer establishes St. Mary's Mission in the Bitterrot Valley

1846 - The Oregon Treaty gives the rest of Montana to the US

1847 - Fort Benton founded on Missouri River as military and trading post; soon becoming world-renown "Head of Navigation" to the west, and world's furthest inland port. Steamboats brought gold seekers, fur traders, settlers and supplies, making Fort Benton the "Birthplace of Montana."

1853 - Johnny Grant starts the first beef herd in the Deer Lodge Valley

1857 - First sheep ranching begins in the Bitterroot Valley

1860 - First steamboat reaches Fort Benton

1862 -

  • Placer miners rush to gold strike on Grasshopper Creek (Bannack)
  • 14 July, James Stuart becomes first lawman in Montana History, elected sheriff of Gold Creek with jurisdiction covering most of Western Montana. Served to April 1863.

1863 -

  • May, Crawford resigns and returns home to an eastern state. Outlaw gang leader Henry Plummer elected sheriff of Bannack and all gold camps southeast of the Bitterroot.
  • 29 June, Chief Deputy Donald H, Dillingham of Virginia City, becomes first lawman killed in the Line of Duty, assassinated in broad-daylight on Virginia City's Main Street by two of Plummer's deputies.
  • December, 102 known killed and over a quarter million dollars in gold (at 1863 prices) stolen by Plummer's "Road Agents" gang. Outraged citizens form Vigilante Committee, and within five weeks 21 gang members hung, countless others banished from Territory.

1864 -

  • Vigilantes hang Henry Plummer and other "Innocents";
  • 26 May, Montana Territory officially created by act of President Abraham Lincoln, Bannack chosen as first Territorial Capitol.
  • First newspaper, the Montana Post, published in Virginia City

1865 - Montana's first US Marshal appointed by President Lincoln: George M. Pinney, serving from 1865 to 1867. Pinney first sets up his office in Butte, later moving to Helena.

1866 - US Military Post, Camp Cooke, created on the Judith River.

1870 - Open-range cattle industry begins on Montana Prairies

1872 - Congress creates Yellowstone National Park

1873 - Beginning of Royal Canadian Mounted Police, to "destroy illegal whiskey trade and lawlessness" caused by the "Whoop-Up Trail" operation from Fort Benton into Canadian Northwest Territories, the "Trail" having been created by Fort Benton's first sheriff, and subsequently participated in and protected by five of his successors.

1876 -

  • 24 June, Sioux Indians defeat Col. George ArmB Custer and 7th Cavalry at Battle of Little Big Horn River.
  • Following, Nez Pierce Indian Chief Joseph leads his people out of Oregon into Montana, outwitting superior US Army forces, until surrender in 1877 near Bear's Paw Mountains in northern Montana.

1877 -

  • Significant copper mining begins in Butte;
  • Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce retreat across Montana

1880 - Utah and Northern Railroad enters Montana

1883 -

  • Northern Pacific Railroad is completed through Montana;
  • Marcus Daly establishes the town of Anaconda and its smelting works

1885 - Montana Territorial Government creates first "state" law enforcement agency: Montana Department of Livestock.

1889 - 08 November, Montana becomes 41st state of United States under President Benjamin Harrison's administration, 16 original counties established, and 16 sheriffs appointed by new state government.

1890 - First hydroelectric dam is built at Great Falls

20th Century Montana History Timeline

1902 - Montana Capitol Building is completed.

1903 - Amalgamated Copper Company paralyzes the state's economy with the shut-down to force legislative relief.

1909 -Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad ("Milwaukee Road") is completed through Montana.

1910 -

  • Congress establishes Glacier National Park;
  • forest fires devastate western Montana.

1910-1918 - Homesteading boom peaks on Montana's plains.

1911-1925 - "County-busting" craze creates 25 new Montana counties.

1914 - Montana women receive the franchise (right to vote).

1916 - Jeanette Rankin elected the first woman in the US Congress.

1917 -

  • Rankin votes against US entry into World War I;
  • Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizer Frank Little is lynched in Butte.

1918 - February, Mrs Leo Hunter, Rosebud County Sheriff's Office, appointed first female law officer in state.

1919 - First of severe agricultural depressions (extending into the early 1940s) begins in Montana; oil is discovered in the Cat Creek field.

1921 - Wave of bank failures begins in Montana.

1922 - KDYS (Great Falls), Montana's first licensed radio station, broadcasts.

1923 - Jack Dempsey-Tommy Gibbons world heavyweight championship fight is staged in Shelby.

1926 - Montana artist Charlie Russell dies in Great Falls.

1930 - Significant tourist industry begins in Montana.

1933 -

  • Construction of Fort Peck Dam begins;
  • scores of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps are established across Montana.

1935 -

  • Works Progress Administration (WPA) begins projects in Montana;
  • Series of severe earthquakes hits central Montana

1936 - Rural Electrification Administration (REA) begins work in Montana

1941 - Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin votes against US entry into World War II

1943 - Smith Mine disaster kills 70 coal miners

1950 - Great Falls replaces Butte as Montana's largest city

1951 - Petroleum boom begins in eastern Montana

1952 - Mike Mansfield is first elected to the US Senate

1953 - KOOK-TV (Billings), Montana's first licensed television state, broadcasts

1955 -

  • Aluminum plant begins processing in Columbia Falls;
  • Berkeley Pit copper operation starts in Butte

1956 - Construction of the federal interstate-highway system begins in Montana

1959 - Severe earthquakes hit upper Madison Valley

1961 - Malmstrom Air Force Base (Great Falls) becomes site of the nation's first ICBM missile command

1964 - Congress passes federal Wilderness Act

1967 -

  • Bell Creek petroleum field is discovered and developed;
  • Longest and costliest strike in Montana history runs in Butte

1968 - Yellowtail Dam is completed; Work begins on Libby Dam

1969 - Large-scale strip mining of coal begins at Colstrip

1970 - Consolidation creates the Burlington Northern Railroad

1972 - Montana's electorate approves new constitution

1975 - Underground mining ceases in Butte

1976 - Mike Mansfield retires from US Senate; becomes US ambassador to Japan

1980 -

  • Anaconda Company announces the closing of its Montana operations;
  • Billings replaces Great Falls as Montana's largest city;
  • Fallout from Mount St. Helena volcanic eruption blankets Montana

1981 - Milwaukee Road declares bankruptcy

1982 - Copper-mining operations cease at Butte's Berkeley Pit

1986 -

  • Limited underground mining resumes in Butte;
  • Some high-tech gold mining reopens in Montana mountains

1987 -

  • Burlington Northern sells a major portion of its Montana trackage to Montana Rail Link;
  • Last gaps in federal interstate-highway system are completed in Montana

1988 -

  • US and Canada initiate a Free-Trade Agreement, directly affecting Montana's economy;
  • Large forest fires sweep areas of a drought-striken MOntana and Yellowstone National Park

1989 - Montana celebrates its statehood centennial

1990 - Montana's timber-industry income declines, while gains occur in tourism and specialized mining

1991 - Riot at State Prison in Deer Lodge results in five deaths.

1992 -

  • As a result of the 1990 federal census, Montana loses one of its two representatives in Congress; two incumbents oppose each other for the remaining seat;
  • Attorney General Marc Racicot (R) defeats legislator Dorothy Bradley (D) for governor's seat.

1993 -

  • Robert Redford's film, "A River Runs Through It," sparks increased tourism and immigration to Montana;
  • a generally wet summer produces record agricultural harvests.

1994 - 4,500 wildfires rage across Montana, burning 286,000 acres.

1995 - Wolves are returned to Yellowstone National Park, where they thrive.

1996 -

  • Montana Freeman and federal agents involved in a standoff in eastern Montana;
  • "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski captured near Lincoln.

1997 - A prison-population overflow creates a housing crisis for inmates, some sent out-of-state.

1998 - The Montana Power Company sells its electric generating facilities to Pacific Power and Light, Global, Inc.

1999 - As highway deaths rise, Montana reinstitutes a daylight speed limit of 70 mph on 2-lane paved roads.

21st Century Montana History Timeline

2000 -

  • Summer wildfires scorch nearly 1,000,000 acres and raze 320 homes, mostly in the Bitterroot Valley;
  • 19,600,000 acres of state and federal land are closed due to fire hazard.

2001 -

  • The Montana Legislature deregulates the electric industry in the state;
  • wildfires again dominate Montana's drought-beset summer.

2007 -

  • July hottest month ever recorded in state, many cities set heat records;
  • Montana first state to enact legislation against federal government's Real ID Act

2011 -

  • ExxonMobil pipeline running under Yellowstone River near Billings ruptured, dumped 1,000 barrels of oil
    Officials set fire to oil-tainted logjam along Yellowstone River from ExxonMobil pipeline spill

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