Montana State Study

Big skies, wild spaces, and tall mountains, Montanatoday is a Montana State Study.

Teaching Tip

When I study a state with my kids, I usually just spend an hour or two on it and then the older ones read a book about the state.  We sit down and go over all the facts with my personal annotation.  Below I’ll give you a detailed example of how I do this.  I put the facts behind bullets and then in parenthesis are the comments I would make to my kids.  For heavens sake, don’t use this as a script, just put in your own natural comments as you go through.

Montana State Facts

  • The major economic activities in Montana are lumber, mining, oil and natural gas, cattle ranching, tourism and wheat farming.   (The western and northern parts of the state are mostly mountainous and the east is part of the Great Plains, so where do you think most of the cattle ranching takes place?  The lumber production?  The mining?)
  • Some animals found in Montana include deer, elk, bald eagles, grizzly bear, moose, trumpeter swans, pelicans, geese, and much more. The state animal is the grizzly bear.  (Hunting is very popular in Montana.  Discuss hunting and why people do it and how it controls animal populations, etc.)
  • Custer’s Last Stand occurred just south of Billings, Montana.  (Do you remember Custer’s Last Stand?  Discuss . . . )
  • There are only six people per square mile.  (Does that mean every six people live on a square mile and are scattered throughout the state? Discuss population density and how it is measured.)

This is Beartooth Pass in Montana. There is a highway you can drive over the pass during the summer months. It is closed in the winter because of the heavy snowfalls. Photo by Xyclone, released to the public domain, Wikimedia.

  • Glacier National Park is in Montana.  (Do you remember when we went to Glacier?  Do you remember how tall the mountains were?)
  • The state’s motto is Oro y Platta, which is Spanish for Gold and Silver.  (Why do you think that is their state motto?)
  • Montana is a Spanish word meaning mountain.  (Does it sound like “mountain”?  That is because both Spanish and English have roots in Latin, so many of our words sound alike.)
  • Montana’s first capital was Bannack, which is now a ghost town.  (What is a ghost town?  Does it mean it is haunted?)

This is a wheat field in Montana. A great deal of Montana looks like this, broad rolling plains interrupted by high mountains and long, long views. Photo by Tony Hisgett, CC license, Wikimedia.

Montana State History

We also briefly discuss the history of the state.

Montana was inhabited by Plains Indian tribes including Kootenai, Blackfoot, Gros Ventre, Assiniboine, Flathead, Salish, Kalispell, Shoshone, Crow, Sioux, and Cheyenne.

Blackfoot riders

The first Europeans to explore were probably French trappers followed by Lewis and Clark a century or so later.  American fur trappers came soon after Lewis and Clark, but their trade was short lived and the area was trapped out by the 1840’s.  The first permanent settlement in Montana was Saint Mary’s Mission, established by Roman Catholic Missionaries.  Gold was discovered in the 1860’s and people poured into Montana so quickly that it became an organized territory in 1864.

The American settlers began to threaten the various tribes and their way of life and a series of wars between the tribes and the U.S. army began.  At first the Indians were successful, but the settlers did not stop coming and the army did not give up.  Eventually the tribes were defeated and sent to live on reservations that the Americans did not want.  In 1889, Montana became a state.

In 1909, The U.S. government began a program to open up the west for poor farmers and anyone willing to work.  For a very low price and a number of years of active farming and living on the land, a person could have their own acreage.  Many people poured out west on the new railroads to take advantage of the cheap land.  As Montana’s gold deposits began to fizzle out, the cattle ranches and wheat farmers began to flourish.

This is a view of the Mission Mountains, which are a range within the Rocky Mountains. They are snow capped all year round. Photo by Jaix Chaix, CC license, Wikimedia.

Montana suffered setbacks with a prolonged drought following WWI and they did not recover until WWII.  Many people left the state to work in factories on the west coast.  Montana’s population has remained low, and their economy has shifted partially to outdoors tourism.

Map Exploration

After we go over some facts about the state we do map work – sometimes doing elevation maps, other times doing population or resource maps.  Once in awhile we use the map to review latitude and longitude or we do a project like making the map out of salt dough, or my kids favorite, sugar cookie dough.

Here’s an idea for the Montana Map:

  1. Print out the map from the link above.
  2. Use a Montana state guidebook, a student atlas, and/or the internet to find information about the state (choose from history, economics, landforms, and so on).
  3. Cut pictures out from a magazine that show or represent the information you found above.  You can also draw pictures where you can’t find them.
  4. Glue the pictures onto the map in the correct locations.

Montana map web

To expand this activity have the kids write captions for each picture or a short paragraph about a few of the items pictured.  Mount it all onto a larger piece of paper or poster board with the captions and paragraphs around the outside.

Additional Layers

  • Montana recently passed a law stating that the federal government has no right to regulate guns made, sold, and used in Montana.  The federal government strongly disagrees.  What do you think?
  • Learn about one of the animals found in Montana.  Were you surprised that pelicans are on the list?  Find out what pelicans are doing in Montana.
  • Why are some places so heavily populated while others, like Montana, have so much open space?  Why do people live where they do?
  • Learn more about the desperate fight the Nez Perce put up for their freedom ending with the battle at Big Hole, which you can visit here.  Read Chief Joseph’s immortal surrender speech.  Discuss its meaning with your kids.  Analyze the events of the past and apply them to today.
  • Learn more about the missionary efforts of both Catholics and Protestants during the settlement periods of this continent.

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