Montana is the home to about 48,000 Native Americans. Their ancestors called the region the "Land of Shining Mountains" because the sun shines on its high, snow-capped mountains. In 1876, General George Custer and 266 of his men were killed by Sioux and Cheyenne Indians at Little Big Horn. The Indians were led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. The famous battle is known as "Custard's Last Stand" and was probably the biggest force of Indian warriors to gather in Western history.
Montana's name comes from the Latin or Spanish word for mountainous. The state is sometimes called "The Big Sky Country." Billings is Montana's largest city and Great Falls is the state's second largest city. The abbreviation for Montana is MT.
Montana is a Rocky Mountain state bordered by Canada to the north, North Dakota and South Dakota to the east, Wyoming to the south, and Idaho to the west and south. It is the largest Rocky Mountain state and the fourth largest state in the country; only Alaska, Texas, and California are bigger. However, Montana is the third least densely populated state in the country; only Wyoming and Alaska have fewer residents per square mile.
Montana's land runs from the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide in the western part of the state to rolling plains in the eastern part of the state. Two-thirds of Montana is in the Great Plains. The state's beautiful landscape includes forests, prairies, highlands, and valleys.
Montana is a leading state in gold, copper, lead, zinc, platinum, and palladium mining, and has the largest coal reserves in the country. Because of the state's great abundance of minerals, especially gold and silver, it is known as the "Treasure State" and the "Bonanza State." When gold was discovered in Montana in 1862, many prospectors rushed to the region. Mining camps were established very quickly.
Prospectors weren't the only people who came to the area; outlaws also went there. Groups of citizens called vigilantes acted as the law in these lawless communities and hanged many of the outlaws, who had been terrorizing the miners. Last Chance Gulch, now Helena, was one of the mining towns established. Last Chance Gulch is now the name of the main street in Helena, Montana's capital.
Manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism are important parts of Montana's economy. Irrigation and insecticides have made farming less risky. Montana produces a large amount of wheat and barley. It is a leading sheep grazing state. Montana's cattle ranches are stocked with carefully bred Angus and Herefords.
Tourists visit Montana to experience the American frontier. See the state's mountains, battlefields (like Custer Battlefield National Monument in the Valley of the Little Big Horn), and old gold camps. Tourists can experience a spectacular view of mountains, lakes, and about 50 glaciers in Glacier National Park. The park has mountains that are so steep and remote that no one has ever climbed them. If you're in the park in late October, you can see a gathering of bald eagles feasting on the salmon in lower McDonald Creek.