Montana is a state in the Western United States. The western third of Montana contains numerous mountain ranges. Smaller "island ranges" are found in the central third of the state, for a total of 77 named ranges that are part of the Rocky Mountains. This geographical fact is reflected in the state's name, derived from the Spanish word (mountain). Montana has several nicknames, none official, including: "Big Sky Country" and "The Treasure State", and slogans that include "Land of the Shining Mountains" and more recently, "The Last Best Place". Montana is the 4th-most extensive, but the 7th-least populous and the 3rd-least densely populated of the 50 United States. The economy is primarily based on services, with ranching, wheat farming, oil and coal mining in the east, and lumber, tourism, and hard rock mining in the west. Millions of tourists annually visit Glacier National Park, the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, and three of the five entrances to Yellowstone National Park.
The name Montana comes from the Spanish word Montaña meaning "mountain" or more broadly, "mountainous country". Montaña del Norte was the name given by early Spanish explorers to describe the entire mountainous region of the west. Historians believe General and former Kansas Territory Governor James W. Denver was aware of this when asked by Senate chairman of the Committee on Territories Stephen A. Douglas for a name of one of the several territories he was planning on proposing. Though Douglas never did introduce a bill with the name Montana, he is credited with at least introducing the name. The name was eventually added to a bill by the United States House Committee on Territories, which was chaired at the time by Rep. James Ashley of Ohio, for the territory that would become Idaho Territory. The name was successfully changed by Representatives Henry Wilson (Massachusetts) and Benjamin F. Harding (Oregon) both complained that Montana had "no meaning". When Ashley presented a bill to establish a temporary government in 1864, for a new territory to be carved out of Idaho, he again chose Montana Territory. This time Rep. Samuel Cox, also of Ohio, objected to the name. He complained that the name was a misnomer given that most of the territory was not at all mountainous and that an Indian name would be more appropriate than a Spanish one. To this Rep. Elihu Washburne of Illinois jokingly suggested Abyssinia. Cox suggested Shoshone, but its translated meaning of "snake" elicited laughter and a remark that the bill had progressed too far to have the territory's name changed without unanimous consent. Cox then suggested that the new territory be called 'Jefferson', to which Ashley responded, "Oh, well, we are opposed to that." This astounded Cox, "Opposed to Jefferson! I propose that we name the new territory, by unanimous consent, 'Douglas Territory.' I think the gentleman opposite will agree to that," to which Ashley replied, "Oh, no, we cannot do that." Rep. John Pruyn then commented that the Governor Lyon of Idaho Territory said he thought the names for the two territories should be reversed given Idaho was more mountainous than Montana. Finally, Rep. Edwin Webster of Maryland stepped in and suggested that every father has the right to name his own child, and since the bill was the progeny of the Committee on Territories, the committee could name it whatever they wanted. After more laughter the name was settled.
Note: The eastern and central parts of Montana were acquired as early as the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, but had no organized government until Nebraska Territory was established in 1854. The northwestern part of Montana was included in the newly established Oregon Territory in 1848. The whole of the present-day State was included in Idaho Territory in 1863, and was established as a separate territory in 1864 with essentially its present boundaries. Montana was admitted as a State on November 8, 1889. In 1860 census coverage of present-day Montana was limited to two forts enumerated in Nebraska Territory and some settlers in the Bitter Root Valley enumerated in Washington Territory. In 1870 census coverage included all of the present State.. Totals for 1890 and 1900 include population of certain Indian reservations not reported by county (1890: 10,765; 1900: 2,660).
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
Outstanding guide to Montana family history and genealogy (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Birth, marriage, and death records, wills, deeds, county records, archives, Bible records, cemeteries, churches, censuses, directories, immigration lists, naturalizations, maps, history, newspapers, and societies.
The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries at the Newberry Library features an interactive map of the historical counties of Montana.