Montana State History

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General State History
Historic Figures

General Montana State History

The United States through the Louisiana Purchase acquired the territory that would become Montana in 1803. The acquisition included the region of west central North America between the Mississippi River & the Rockies, approximately 885,000 square miles (2,301,000 square kilometers), at the time an unexplored wilderness. Thomas Jefferson, exercising questionable constitutional authority, paid Napoleon Bonaparte $15 million dollars for the entire area, about three cents an acre. The sum was nearly twice the entire federal budget. Thirteen states or parts of states have been carved from the Louisiana Purchase. They are as follows: Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Colorado and Montana. Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery conducted the first organized expedition into the area.

Montana was admitted to the Union (became a state) on November 9, 1889, by presidential proclamation, the 41st state. Prior to becoming a state Congress made Montana a territory (a part of the U.S. not included within any state but organized with a separate legislature) in May 1864. In December the first legislative assembly met in a dirt-roofed cabin in Bannack City. Virginia City was selected as the territorial capitol. Montana remained a territory for 25 years. In 1894 Helena out bid Anaconda to become the state capitol, the result of a infamous battle in the "War of the Copper Kings."

The original state constitution was ratified in 1889. By 1969 the document had become outdated. Montana voters called for a constitutional convention. One hundred elected delegates met in 1972 to rewrite the document.

The Montana Legislature has 50 senators and 100 representatives elected from single-member districts. The legislature meets at regular biennial sessions for 90 days in odd-numbered years. Montana is governed by its constitution, and its laws are administered by its executive branch officers and various boards and commissions. Executive officers include Governor Marc Racicot (R), Lt. Governor Judy Martz (R), Attorney General Joe Mazurek (D), Auditor Mark O'Keefe (D), and Superintendent of Public Instruction Nancy Keenan (D). All were elected to four-year terms beginning January 1996.

Montana Historic Figures

Jeannette Rankin
1880-1973: U.S. representative; born in Missoula, Mont. A graduate of the University of Montana (1902) and of the New York School for Social Work (1909), she fought for women's suffrage and helped obtain it in Montana (1914). Running on a platform that called for prohibition and "preparedness that will make for peace" (1916), she was the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (Rep., Mont.; 1917--19) and became one of only 57 members to vote against U.S. entry into World War I. After losing a reelection bid, she devoted herself to pacifism and women's and children's causes. Serving again in the House (1941--43), she was the only member of Congress to vote, on December 8, 1941, against U.S. entry into World War II. She continued to lobby for peace in later years, particularly during the Korean and Vietnam Wars; in 1967 a group of women formed the Jeannette Rankin Brigade to oppose the latter war.


Harold C. Urey
1893-1981: Chemist, born in Walkerton, Indiana, USA. With great persistence he managed to get a college education, and then, after working for a chemical company during World War 1, he finally obtained his PhD in physical chemistry from the University of California: Berkeley (1923). He worked on the theory of atomic structure with Niels Bohr in Copenhagen before joining the faculty at Columbia University (1929--45). He won the 1934 Nobel Prize in chemistry for separating the isotope deuterium from hydrogen; instead of attending the prize ceremony, he stayed at home to attend the birth of his third daughter. During World War 2 he directed the search to separate uranium-235 from uranium-238 for the Manhattan project. After the war he took the lead in questioning the ethics of using nuclear weapons. At the Enrico Fermi Institute of Nuclear Studies (University of Chicago, 1945--58), he pondered the origin of the elements, their abundance in stars, and the derivation of planets. Among his other important contributions was a technique that used oxygen isotope-bearing minerals to date geological formations and to measure annual water temperatures. His publications include The Planets: Their Origin and Development (1952). At the University of California: San Diego (1958--81) he analysed lunar rocks from the Apollo missions. Highly regarded, he won more than 30 awards as well as honorary degrees from 25 universities.


Henry Plummer
1837-64: Bandit; place of birth unknown. Nothing is known of his early years. He became the marshal of Nevada City, Calif. (1856), but turned to banditry after he murdered a man there. He organized a bandit group that terrorized the Washington Territory and southern Montana (1862--64). He masqueraded as the sheriff of Bannack, Mont., before being apprehended and hanged by a group of vigilantes.


Charles M. Russell
1864-1926: Painter, sculptor, illustrator; born in St. Louis, Mo. Growing up fascinated with sketching and modeling cowboys, Indians, and animals, he went to Montana at age 16 and settled there, worked as a hunter and cowboy, and lived one winter with the Blood tribe of Canada until in 1892 he decided to devote himself to art full-time. Entirely self-taught, working with oils, water colors, pen-and-ink, and clay, he captured the authentic drama and details of the classic American West, but he never gained quite the standing of his contemporary, Frederic Remington.


Gary Cooper
1901-61: Actor; born in Helena, Mont. Son of English parents who had settled in Montana, after graduating from Grinnell College, Iowa, he worked as cartoonist and at various other jobs before getting into movies in 1925 as an extra in a Western. His role as the laconic cowboy in The Virginian (1929) launched him as a star. Initially better known for his offscreen romantic escapades than his acting, he settled down after his marriage to socialite Veronica Balfe (1933). Whether as a cowboy or a peace-loving, but determined character, he came to personify the archetypal American for many around the world, winning Academy Awards for his work in Sergeant York (1941) and High Noon (1952), as well as an honorary Oscar in 1960.