Montana is a beautiful place and a national treasure, but is that why it’s called the Treasure State? Today, we are going to take a deep dive into the history of Montana, specifically surrounding the symbols, mottos, and other icons that have been associated with the state. Whether you live in Montana or just want to learn a little about this wonderful place, let’s get started!
Why Is Montana Called the Treasure State?
Montana is known as the Treasure State for a simple reason: because of its rich mineral resources!
Treasure has long been tied to material wealth, and Montana as a state has long produced gold, silver, copper, and gemstones (namely sapphires and garnets). The nickname originated in 1895 when it appeared on the cover of a promotional booklet published by the Montana Bureau of Agriculture, Labor, and Industry. The booklet was trying to market Montana’s status as the country’s foremost producer of minerals and saw an opportunity!
The nickname also reflects Montana’s state motto, “Oro y Plata” (which is simply the Spanish translation for “Gold and Silver”), which was adopted in 1865. Montana’s mineral wealth has shaped its history, economy, and culture in some dramatic ways. One of the major gold rushes of the 19th century happened in Montana, as well as the copper boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Looking for a bit of treasure? Montana is the place for you! At least, that’s the marketing message that they hoped to convey when the nickname was created.
Other Nicknames Used in Montana
While “Treasure State” may be focused on the mineral wealth of Montana, there are a whole host of other nicknames and mottos that people use to reference the vast (immaterial) wealth in the region. Some names are even more popular or well-known than the Treasure State! Let’s look at a few.
Big Sky Country
Is there a more famous nickname for Montana than Big Sky Country? The nickname is originally based on the novel The Big Sky by A. B. Guthrie Jr. First in a series of six, the novel depicts the American West and the Oregon Trail. Even without the book reference, it’s pretty clear to what this nickname refers. The entire landscape of Montana is dominated by vast and open skies that are a marvel to witness.
Land of Shining Mountains
When you see mountains capped in fresh snow, there’s a bit of a “gleam” to them, right? Well, that’s what French explorers and fur traders thought when they first saw the Rocky Mountains in Montana. They called the Rockies “les montagnes brillantes,” or “the shining mountains”. Funny enough, the French weren’t even the first to call the mountains “shining”. It also relates to the Native American tribes who used similar terms to describe the snow-capped peaks.
The Last Best Place
Another name from a book, The Last Best Place, is a tribute to Montana’s indelible natural beauty, wildlife, and quality of life. A book entitled The Last Best Place, edited by William Kittredge and Annick Smith, helped popularize the nickname. The title mostly consists of essays and stories about Montana, all somewhat romanticized to capture the beauty of maybe the Last Best Place on Earth.
This nickname is much more modern. It derives from Montana’s area code, which is 406, and locals use it to show their Montana pride. Like others across the United States, Montanans love their home state.
Montana’s State Symbols
Each state (Montana included) has a handful of important state symbols and icons. Let’s look at a few of the most notable, especially Montana’s state animals, flowers, and birds.
- State animal: The grizzly bear was chosen by school children in 1983 as the state animal, and for good reason! Grizzly bears are native to Montana, and the state is one of the last places in the mainland US where they still live.
- State flower: The bitterroot was adopted as the state flower in 1895. The bitterroot is a pink or white flower that grows in dry and rocky areas (pretty much all of Montana). It was an important food source for Native Americans and early settlers and ties into the state’s history.
- State bird: The western meadowlark became the state bird in 1931. It mostly lives in grasslands and prairies, both of which are the primary landscapes in Montana.
- State fish: The black-spotted cutthroat trout became the state fish in 1977. The trout is a unique native species that lives in cold and clear streams and lakes, making Montana a perfect home for it. Due to its endemic nature to the state, it makes sense to have it as the state fish.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ansel B/Shutterstock.com
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