The "last best place" or "the treasure state" highlights the essence of Montana. From Eastern farmlands to Central Missouri Brakes, to the Western mountainous regions, Montana has something for everyone who wants to escape the steel structures, black pavements, and the hectic life of big cities.
Montana, the 4th largest state in the union and 44th in population, has its name derived from the Spanish word montaña for mountain. So aptly is it named since nearly one third of Montana includes 77 mountain ranges of the Great Rockies. There are at least 3,223 named lakes and reservoirs in Montana including the largest natural freshwater lake in the western United States, Flathead Lake. There are thousands of named rivers and streams which have been labeled as a source of “blue-ribbon” trout.
Montana encompasses an area of 47,046 square miles and a population of 1,005,141. Seven of the 130 listed towns and cities in Montana are 20,000 or greater with Billings ranked as the largest with 105,636 people. The remaining 123 towns and cities are below 10,000 people. Thus, it is not difficult to see why Montana is considered a rural state.
The northeastern side of Montana is dotted with thousands of small lakes and makes for great water fowl hunting. The southeastern portion of Montana and north to north central part of the state is miles of farm and ranch lands. Montana ranchers take great pride in their natural free range fed cattle. Cattle fed exclusively on Montana ranges with rich nutritious grass and grains are claimed to yield the most tender and flavorful beef. Montana's most valuable agricultural production is in cattle in calves, accounting for almost 1/2 of the state's total agricultural receipts. Other livestock goods from Montana are dairy products, hogs, sheep and lambs, chicken and eggs. Wheat is Montana's most valuable crop. Wheat crops account for 25% of the state’s crop yields. Barley, hay, sugar beets and greenhouse and nursery products are also important to the state.
Montana has a greater variety of wildlife than any other state in the lower 48 captivating the interest of artists, game watchers, and hunters to indigenous animals such as antelope, elk, moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, cougars, eagles, cranes, trumpeter swans, bears, wolves, and much more. The residents of Montana have a long rich history of hunting and fishing. For many it is a means to fill their freezers with food. Some claim Montana has some of the best hunting and fishing in North America. Its diverse wildlife, clean air and fresh water, combined with the sparse population makes Montana an ideal place for wildlife enthusiasts.
Mining had a huge impact on Montana’s historic and economic development. During the early 1860’s settlers came to Idaho and Montana with the starry prospects of striking it rich with gold. Initially miners set placer mines or water extraction mining methods and focused around Bannock and Virginia City, Montana. From there they expanded their search for new gold territories. Mining districts ran early settlements by setting rules for claiming land, recording the claims, and providing an early sort of government. By 1870 underground quartz mines emerged requiring a substantial investment in stamp mills, reduction works, and smelters to treat the ore. The geology of the areas determined the metals extracted as well as the districts. Bannock, Virginia City, and Marysville primarily brought forth gold; Philipsburg produced mainly silver and manganese; and Butte produced chiefly copper. Montana also has about 25% of the United States recoverable coal reserves. Early coal mining brought throngs of foreign settlers to the Red Lodge area. With the introduction of strip mining in 1920’s, the coal mining industry experienced boom and later the bust brought on by mining tragedies and the great depression. Visitors can still not only visit restored historical buildings of the mining districts, they can also still see some active mining today.
Another area for touring is the Philipsburg area, Yogo City, for Montana’s rarest of all sapphires, the Yogo Sapphire. Hundreds of people flooded in to Yogo City looking for gold and deserted it. Only a handful of people remained so by the late 1880’s Yogo City was nearly a ghost town. In 1895, Jake Hoover came to Yogo City looking for gold. He noticed the tiny blue pebbles that settled to the bottom of the gravel beds along with the gold. Unlike others who noticed these small rocks Jake Hoover saved them and sent a box to New York for analysis by an expert who pronounced as "the finest precious gemstones ever found in the United States". Yogo Sapphire color and brilliance is so remarkable that some colors cannot be found anywhere in the world except Montana which makes them rare and unique. Today visitors and hobbyists can visit the area and publically mine for Yogo Sapphires.
There are approximately 8 Native American Reservations in Montana today. The reservations comprise 1,525,712 acres within its boundaries. Presently, the land is used for ranching, farming, oil and gas development. The main crops are wheat, barley, and hay. The Native American culture plays a huge part in Montana’s history and residents and visitors can explore American Indian arts and cultural activities such as pow-wows, rodeos, trade markets, and food. Historical sites that mark clashes such as the Battle of the Little Big Horn can be visited in remembrance of the tragic outcome of cultural dissidence.
Ghost towns, caverns, dinosaur trails, cattle drives, dude ranches, remarkable skiing as well as the finer art and dining can be found in Montana. Montana is a blend of the new and old West where old values and historical ways are merged with new ideas and new processes. The treasure state tugs on the heart strings of many who come here and lure them to stay and live in the Last Best Place, Montana.