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MONTANA, UNITED STATES

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Montana is a state in the Western United States. The western third of the state contains numerous mountain ranges; other 'island' ranges are found in the central third of the state, for a total of 77 named ranges of the Rocky Mountains. This geographic and geographical fact is reflected in the state's name, derived from the Spanish word montaña 'mountain', from Latin. The state nickname is the "Treasure State." Other nicknames include "Land of Shining Mountains," "Big Sky Country," and the slogan "The Last Best Place." The state ranks fourth in area, but 44th in population, and therefore has the third lowest population density in the United States. The economy is primarily based on ranching and wheat farming in the east, lumber and tourism in the west, oil and coal in the east, and hard rock mining in the west. Millions of tourists annually visit Glacier National Park, the Battle of Little Bighorn site, and three of the five entrances to Yellowstone National Park.

Native Americans were the first inhabitants of the state of Montana. Groups included the Crow in the south-central area, the Cheyenne in the southeast, the Blackfeet, Assiniboine and Gros Ventres in the central and north-central area and the Kootenai and Salish in the west. The smaller Pend d'Oreille and Kalispel tribes lived near Flathead Lake and the western mountains, respectively.

Montana east of the continental divide was part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Subsequent to the Lewis and Clark Expedition and after the finding of gold and copper (see the Copper Kings) in the state in the late 1850s, Montana became a United States territory (Montana Territory) on May 26, 1864, and the 41st state on November 8, 1889.

Fort Shaw (Montana Territory) was established in Spring 1867. It is located west of Great Falls in the Sun River Valley and was one of three posts authorized to be built by Congress in 1865. The other two posts in the Montana Territory were Camp Cooke on the Judith River and Fort C.F. Smith on the Bozeman Trail in south central Montana Territory. Fort Shaw, named after Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who commanded the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first all African-American regiments, during the American Civil War, was built of adobe and lumber by the 13th Infantry. The fort had a parade ground that was 400 ft² (120 m²), and consisted of barracks for officers, a hospital, and a trading post, and could house up to 450 soldiers. Completed in 1868, it was used by military personnel until 1891.

After the close of the military post, the government established Fort Shaw as a school to provide industrial training to young Native Americans. The Fort Shaw Indian Industrial School was opened on April 30, 1892. The school had at one time 17 faculty members, 11 Indian assistants and 300 students. The school made use of over 20 of the buildings built by the Army.

The revised Homestead Act of the early 1900s greatly affected the settlement of Montana. This act expanded the land that was provided by the Homestead Act of 1862 from 160 acres (0.6 km2) to 320 acres (1.3 km2). When the latter act was signed by President William Howard Taft, it also reduced the time necessary to prove up from five years to three years and permitted five months' absence from the claim each year.

In 1908, the Sun River Irrigation Project, west of Great Falls was opened up for homesteading. Under this Reclamation Act, a person could obtain 40 acres (16 ha). Most of the people who came to file on these homesteads were young couples who were eager to live near mountains where hunting and fishing were good. Many of these homesteaders came from the Midwest and Minnesota.

Montana was the scene of the Native Americans' last effort to keep their land, and the last stand of U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer was fought near the present day town of Hardin. Montana was also the location of the final battles of the Nez Perce Wars.

Cattle ranching has long been central to Montana's history and economy. The Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site in Deer Lodge Valley is maintained as a link to the ranching style of the late 19th century. It is operated by the National Park Service but is also a 1,900 acre (7.7 km²) working ranch.

Historically, Montana is a Swing state of cross-ticket voters with a tradition of sending "conservatives to Helena (the state capital) and liberals to Washington." However, there have also been long-term shifts of party control. During the 1970s, the state was dominated by the Democratic Party, with Democratic governors for a 20-year period, and a Democratic majority of both the national congressional delegation and during many sessions of the state legislature. This pattern shifted, beginning with the 1988 election, when Montana elected a Republican governor and sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate for the first time since the 1940s. This shift continued with the reapportionment of the state's legislative districts that took effect in 1994, when the Republican Party took control of both houses of the state legislature, consolidating a party dominance that lasted until 2004. The state last supported a Democrat for president in 1992, when Bill Clinton won a plurality victory.

In recent years, Montana has been classified as a Republican-leaning state, and the state supported President George W. Bush by a wide margin in 2000 and 2004. However, the state currently has two Democratic U.S. Senators and a Democratic governor (Brian Schweitzer), elected in 2004. In the 2006 midterm elections, Democratic candidate Jon Tester narrowly defeated (by only 3000 votes) incumbent Republican Senator Conrad Burns ,one of several crucial races that allowed the Democratic Party to win the majority in the U.S. Senate. Montana's lone US Representative, Republican Denny Rehberg, easily won reelection. The state Senate is (as of 2007) controlled by the Democrats and the State House of Representatives is controlled by the Republicans.

On April 17th, 2007, Montana became the first state to pass legislation against the federal government's Real ID Act. Gov. Schweitzer signed a bill banning the Montana Motor Vehicle Division from enforcing the new regulations.

Montana is an Alcoholic beverage control state.

The topography of the state is diverse, but roughly defined by the Continental Divide, which runs on an approximate diagonal through the state from northwest to south-central, splitting it into two distinct eastern and western regions. Montana is well known for its mountainous western region, part of the northern Rocky Mountains. However, about 60% of the state is actually prairie, part of the northern Great Plains. Nonetheless, even east of the Continental Divide and the Rocky Mountain Front, there are a number of isolated "Island Ranges" that dot the prairie landscape.

The Bitterroot Mountains divide the state from Idaho to the west with the southern third of the range blending into the Continental Divide. Mountain ranges between the Bitterroots and the top of the Continental Divide include the Cabinet Mountains, the Missions, the Garnet, Sapphire, Flint Creek, and Pintlar ranges.

The northern section of the Divide, where the mountains give way rapidly to prairie, is known collectively as the Rocky Mountain Front and is most pronounced in the Lewis Range located primarily in Glacier National Park. Due to the configuration of mountain ranges in Glacier National Park, the Northern Divide (which begins in Alaska's Seward Peninsula) crosses this region and turns east in Montana at Triple Divide Peak. Thus, the Waterton, Belly, and Saint Mary rivers flow north into Alberta, Canada, joining the Saskatchewan River and ultimately emptying into Hudson Bay.

East of the Divide, several parallel ranges march across the southern half of the state, including the Gravelly Range, the Tobacco Roots, the Madison Range, Gallatin Range, Big Belt Mountains, Bridger Mountains, Absaroka Mountains, and the Beartooth Mountains. The Beartooth Plateau is the largest continuous land mass over 10,000 feet (3,000 m) in the lower 48 states and contains the highest point in the state, Granite Peak, 12,799 feet (3,901 m) high.

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September 2008

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