Montana, state in the northwestern United States in the Rocky Mountain region; bordered by Canada to the north, North Dakota and South Dakota to the east, Wyoming to the south, and Idaho to the south and west.
Land and climate
Montana’s two main land regions are separated by the Continental Divide, which marks the division between streams flowing west toward the Pacific and those flowing east toward the Atlantic. The Great Plains, in the eastern three-fifths of the state, are part of the huge Interior Plain of North America. They consist of high flat or gently rolling land: the northern section has numerous lakes. The Rocky Mountains, in the state’s western two-fifths, is very high, rugged land with many snow-capped or heavily forested peaks. Montana has many rivers, the two principal ones being the Missouri and the Yellowstone. Grassland covers about half of Montana’s area; forests cover another fourth. Many wild animals—including deer, pronghorn antelope, bear, moose, mountain goats and sheep, wolves, coyotes, and elk—live in the state. Montana’s varied elevations make for great differences in climate. West of the Continental Divide, summers are cooler and winter’s warmer than east of the divide. Principal cities are Billings, Great Falls, and Butte.
Montana’s main industries are manufacturing, agriculture, mining, and tourism. Chief manufactured goods are lumber and wood products, petroleum products, primary metals and minerals, farm machinery and processed foods. Chief crops are wheat, barley, sugar beets, hay, and oats; chief livestock products are cattle, hogs, sheep, and wool. Petroleum and coal are the top mineral products, followed by gold, silver, copper, and lead. The manufacture of lumber and wood products is Montana’s leading industry, even though trees in the national parks cannot be logged. (The U.S. government owns about 30% of Montana’s land.) National parks and forests, fishing, hiking, skiing, and dude ranches are popular with tourists.
Montana’s present constitution was adopted in 1973. The governor serves a four-year term. The state’s legislature consists of 50 senators serving four-year terms and 100 representatives serving two-year terms. In the U.S. Congress, Montana is represented by two senators and one representative.
The area was home to many Native American tribes before the arrival of whites. French trappers probably entered the area in the 1700s, but the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803–06 was the first recorded visit by whites. For decades after, fur trappers and traders were the only whites in the region. The discovery of gold at Gold Creek in 1852 swelled the white population—as well as lawlessness. To better control the area, Congress created the Montana Territory in 1864. Conflicts between whites and Indians peaked in the 1870s; “Custer’s Last Stand” was fought at Montana’s Little Bighorn River in 1876. Montana became a state in 1889. During the early 1900s, Montana developed its natural resources. Its economy suffered during the Great Depression of the 1930s, then boomed after World War II. The petroleum industry and tourism expanded in the mid-1900s. During the 1980s, thousands of jobs were lost in Montana’s farming, mining, and lumber industries. Today, Montana is working to develop its natural resources, new businesses, and tourism.