The Improbable History of Montana: Introduction

Montana is the fourth largest state in the Union. At 147,040 square miles (or 380,800 sq km) it is two-thirds the size of France, although it is 95 percent less Frenchy.

The land that would become Montana originally belonged to the Native Americans. Then illegal European immigrants persuaded the Indians to cede their lands, mostly by shooting them. This was considered rude by the Native population, whose traditional ways only allowed ethnic cleansing free of guns and record keeping.

Some famous white people became early Montana tourists. For example, captains William A. Clark and Meriwether Lewis traveled through in 1805-1806. They gave the Indians cheap beads and tobacco. The Indians gave them friendship, food, and a warm place to stay for the winter. Oh, and syphilis.

President Thomas Jefferson hired Lewis and Clark. He wanted to discover what was Out Yonder so more people would be free to go there and open slave plantations. Jefferson funded his “Corps of Discovery” through taxpayer money. He had to, he’d massively and illegally spent the entire American treasury for three generations to come on the Louisiana Purchase. Liberals! However, back in them-thar days, if the American President said it was okay to do something, it was. Nowadays it isn’t, unless we get a Fox News host in the White House.

None of this mattered much to the first pioneers, who forgot about both Lewis and Clark and Thomas Jefferson . Pioneers are the guys who sleep through history class because they figure living it is boring enough. (A few years later, after he returned from his travels, and depressed that he was not mentioned in any history books, Meriwether Lewis committed suicide. Or did he? )

Montana was soon found to be chock full of minerals under the ground where the Great Spirit hid them. Gold was the favorite, but there was lots of other junk, including silver and copper and yogi berra sapphires. This is why we call Montana the Treasure State, and not because Fred and Wilma Treasure lived here.

White men went nuts over buried treasure and dashed out by the tens of thousands to dig it up so they could spend it on booze and whores, a dynamic part of any frontier economy. They built ghost towns all over the place so they could live better as ghosts like Casper.

Journey along as we explore more improbable facts about our Treasure State!