Montana Territory

Portions of this article was copied from Wikipedia. The majority of the links have been preserved to make research easier.

The Territory of Montana was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from May 26, 1864, until November 8, 1889, when it was admitted as the 41st state in the Union as the State of Montana.

Original Boundaries

Main article: Territorial evolution of Montana

The Montana Territory was organized out of the existing Idaho Territory by Act of Congress and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 26, 1864. The areas east of the Continental Divide had been previously part of the Nebraska Territory and Dakota Territory and had been acquired by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.

The territory also included a portion of the Idaho Territory west of the continental divide and east of the Bitterroot Range, which had been acquired by the United States in the Oregon Treaty, and originally included in the Oregon Territory. The part of the Oregon Territory that became part of Montana had been split off as part of the Washington Territory.

The boundary between the Washington Territory and Dakota Territory was the Continental Divide (as shown on the 1861 map); however, the boundary between the Idaho Territory and the Montana Territory followed the Bitterroot Range north of 46°30′ north (as shown on the 1864 map). This change was due in part to Congress unifying the area with the creation of Idaho Territory in 1863, coupled with the subsequent political maneuvering of Sidney Edgerton, soon to be the first Territorial Governor of Montana, and his allies in the Congress. They successfully implemented the boundary change that won the Flathead and Bitterroot valleys for Montana Territory.[1] The Organic Act of the Territory of Montana[2] defines the boundary as extending from the modern intersection of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming at:

The forty-fourth degree and thirty minutes of north latitude; thence due west along said forty-fourth degree and thirty minutes of north latitude to a point formed by its intersection with the crest of the Rocky Mountains; thence following the crest of the Rocky Mountains northward till its intersection with the Bitter Root Mountains; thence northward along the crest of the Bitter Root Mountains to its intersection with the thirty-ninth degree of longitude west from Washington; thence along said thirty-ninth degree of longitude northward to the boundary line of British possessions.

The boundaries of the territory did not change during its existence. It was admitted to the Union as the State of Montana on November 8, 1889.

Montana History Timeline

The Native Indians of Montana were the Arapaho, Arikara, Assiniboin, Atsina, Bannock, Cheyenne, Chippewa, Cree, Crow, Dakota, Hidatsa, Kalispel, Kiowa, Kutenai, Mandan, Nez Perce, Piegan, Salish, Tunaheand the Spokan tribes. Montana was first explored by the Spanish
Prior to 1756Most of the Montana area was subject to the Louisiana Purchase of 1803
1756 – 1763The Seven Years War (French and Indian War) due to disputes over land is won by Great Britain. France gives England all French territory east of the Mississippi River, except New Orleans. The Spanish give up east and west Florida to the English in return for Cuba.
1775 – 1783The American Revolution creates the United States of America. The Revolution was due to the British burden of taxes and total power to legislate any laws governing the American colonies. George Washington led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War (American War of Independence).
1776July 4, 1776: United States Declaration of Independence
1778July 10, 1778: France declares war against Britain and makes an alliance with the American revolutionary forces.
1783September 3, 1783: The Treaty of Paris is signed by the victorious United States and the defeated Great Britain.
1800’sConflict erupts between settlers and Native Indians including the Arapaho, Arikara, Assiniboin, Atsina, Bannock, Cheyenne, Chippewa, Cree, Crow, Dakota, Hidatsa, Kalispel, Kiowa, Kutenai, Mandan, Nez Perce, Piegan, Salish, Tunaheand the Spokan tribes throughout the 1800’s. The Native Indians are gradually forced to cede their lands
1803The Louisiana Purchase

In 1803, the United States bought the Louisiana Territory from France. The U.S. Secretary of State, James Madison paid 15 million dollars for the land

1805 – 1806Choctaw and northern (Chickasaw and Cherokee) Indian cessions open up land to white settlement.
1805 – 1806Lewis and Clark explored Montana ( Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) and William Clark (1770- 1838)
1812 – 1815The War of 1812 between U.S. and Great Britain ended in a stalemate but confirmed America’s Independence.
1846The Oregon Treaty gives the rest of Montana to the U.S.
1861April 12: The American Civil War begins. Montana was still divided between the territories of Dakota and Washington.
1862Gold mining in Montana began during the Civil War; gold placer deposits were discovered at Bannack.
1863Montana area was part of the Idaho Territory.

Gold deposits discovered in Virginia City.

May 26, 1864Montana Territory created.
1864Gold discovered in Helena and Butte.
1865The surrender of Robert E. Lee on April 9 1865 signaled the end of the Confederacy.
1865December 6: The Abolishment of Slavery. The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, officially abolishing slavery.
1872Congress created Yellowstone National Park
1876The Plains Indians, including the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Ute, Kiowa, Lakota and Comanche nations, fought bitter wars over the land during the 1800’s. They were led by chiefs such as Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, and Sitting Bull.
1876George Armstrong Custer was defeated at the Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876.

Treaties were made and broken and there were bloody massacres. Many of the tribes were forced to go to Indian Reservations.

1876Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians, led his people out of Oregon into Montana, but was forced to surrender in 1877 near Bear’s Paw Mountains in northern Montana.

Montana became a state on November 8, 1889. It was the 41st State to be admitted to the Union.

State Motto – ” Oro y plata ” the State Motto is translated as ” Gold and Silver “.

1898 – 1901The Spanish American War

On December 10, 1898 the Treaty of Paris the US annexes Puerto Rico, Guam, Philippines.

Montana in the Civil War

The area that eventually became the U.S. State of Montana played little direct role in the American Civil War. The closest the Confederate Army ever came to the area was New Mexico and eastern Kansas, each over a thousand miles away. The Montana Territory was not created until May 26, 1864, three years after the Battle of Fort Sumter. In 1861, the area was divided between the Dakota Territory and the Washington Territory, and in 1863, it was part of the Idaho Territory.

Nevertheless, Confederate sympathizers did have a presence in the area that eventually became the State of Montana. Those in the Montana Territory who supported the Confederate side were varied. Among them were Confederate sympathizers who were determined that some of Montana’s gold would go into the Southern instead of Northern coffers. But most were those who would rather not fight in the war, which ranged from pure drifters to actual Confederate deserters.

In southwest Montana, Madison County residents of the area native to the Southeast United States wished to name their new town Varina, in honor of Varina Davis, the wife of the Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Varina Townsite Company, on June 16, 1863, went to confirm the 320 acres (1.3 km2) of land as the town of Varina. However, when they applied for the name, the judge, Connecticut native Dr. G.G. Bissell, refused, saying they would be “damned” before he would allow the town to be named for the First Lady of the Confederacy. Bissell did say he would allow the company to name the town after the state of Virginia, and they did so, incorporating the town of Virginia City. The town would remain sympathetic to the South, even after being named the capital of Montana. When boats sailed down the Yellowstone River from the town (this is manifestly wrong, since the Yellowstone River does not even penetrate Madison County, much less flow through Virginia City), the local newspaper said they were “sailing to America”.

The loyalty toward the Confederacy concerned many supporters of the Union. In 1863, Sidney Edgerton went to see Abraham Lincoln about the situation. This was the impetus, in part, for the swift creation of the Montana Territory.

Montana Civil War Regiments

Although no organized Confederate forces reached Montana Territory, a series of detachment from union regiments, most of which were raised to fight confederates in the south, instead found themselves far to the west of the Civil War, fighting Native Americans and guarding outposts in Montana Territory. The regiments that these detachments came from are listed here:[10]


  • 1st United States Volunteer Infantry Regiment
  • 8th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment
  • 30th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment


  • 1st Dakota Territory Volunteer Cavalry Battalion
  • 2nd California Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
  • 2nd Minnesota Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
  • 6th Iowa Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
  • 6th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
  • 7th Iowa Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
  • 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
  • 12th Missouri Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
  • 15th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
  • 16th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
  • Brackett’s Minnesota Volunteer Cavalry Battalion
  • Independent Company, Pawnee Scouts, Nebraska Cavalry
  • Independent Company, Omaha and Winnebago Scouts, Nebraska Cavalry
  • Stufft’s Independent Company of Indian Scouts, Nebraska Cavalry


  • 2nd Missouri Volunteer Light Artillery Regiment
  • 3rd Minnesota Volunteer Light Artillery Battery
  • Prairie Light Artillery Battery

Gold Rush

Gold mining in Montana began during the Civil War; gold placer deposits were discovered at Bannack in 1862. The gold rush resulted in more placer discoveries, including those at Virginia City in 1863 and at Helena and Butte in 1864. Gold from the Montana gold mines went to both sides of the conflict. In Broadwater County, in the central portion of the state, Confederate sympathizers found a vein of gold eight miles (13 km) west of Townsend, with the immediate area named “Confederate Gulch” in their honor. It was said to be among the “largest and richest of the placer diggings” within the state.


The act of Congress of 1864 creating Montana, known as the Organic Act,[3] prescribed a somewhat standard organization for the territorial government of Montana. It established executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government, however, the federal government held a dominant role in administering the new territory. Particularly, Congress reserved the right to nullify any laws passed by the citizen-elected territorial legislature. The President of the United States appointed the most powerful positions in the territory, including a governor, secretary of the territory, and three members of the territorial supreme court, with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. The citizens of the territory elected a legislative assembly, consisting of a Council and House of Representatives, which together created the laws for the territory. Citizens also elected a lone delegate to Congress as strictly an advisor to the U.S. House of Representatives; a territorial delegate was not permitted to vote.[4] The territorial government was meant to provide a training ground for a future move to statehood, allowing time for an area’s institutions to mature and populations to grow.[5]



The governor served a four-year term, unless removed by the President. Duties of the office included 1) the faithful execution of the laws, 2) to serve as the commander-in-chief of the militia, and 3) to serve as the superintendent of Indian affairs. The governor also had to approve or veto laws within three days of passage by the territorial legislative assembly.[6]

Governors of Montana Territory

#GovernorPartyTerm StartTerm endAppointed ByNotes
1Sidney EdgertonRepJune 22, 1864July 12, 1866Abraham LincolnDid not find out he had been appointed right away; left the state in September 1865 and did not return for 25 years
2Green Clay SmithDemJuly 13, 1866April 9, 1869Andrew JohnsonDid not assume office until October 1866; stopped functioning as governor in summer 1868
3James Mitchell AshleyRepApril 9, 1869July 12, 1870Ulysses S. GrantRemoved from office by President Ulysses S. Grant in mid-December 1869 for unclear reasons.[8]
4Benjamin F. PottsRepJuly 13, 1870January 14, 1883Ulysses S. Grant
5John Schuyler CrosbyRepJanuary 15, 1883December 15, 1884Chester A. Arthur
6B. Platt CarpenterRepDecember 16, 1884July 13, 1885Chester A. Arthur
7Samuel Thomas HauserDemJuly 14, 1885February 7, 1887Grover Cleveland
8Preston Hopkins LeslieDemFebruary 8, 1887April 8, 1889Grover Cleveland
9Benjamin F. WhiteRepApril 9, 1889November 8, 1889Benjamin Harrison

Secretary of the Territory

The secretary of the territory served a four-year term, unless removed by the President. Duties of the office included 1) the recording of all laws and proceedings of the legislative assembly and the acts of the governor, 2) the transmission of copies of the laws and journals of the legislative assembly to the President and the leaders of Congress, and 3) the transmission of executive proceedings and correspondence twice a year to the President. Importantly, the secretary also served as acting governor in case of the death, removal, resignation, or absence of the governor from the territory.

Congressional Delegation

The eligible citizens of Montana Territory voted for a delegate to Congress, electing them to a two-year term. The territorial delegate had a seat in the House of Representatives and, as any other representative, participated in debates, yet they did not have the right to vote.[24] During the time Montana was a territory, some delegates to Congress were allowed to sit on select committees and even standing committees of the House, yet as on the floor of the House, they were not permitted to vote.[25]

Gallery of Maps