Montana: A Unit Study

Montana: A Unit Study

On this day, May 26, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the act that created the Territory of Montana which 25 years later became the 41st state in the Union.  The land was originally purchased from the French as part of the Louisiana Purchase, at that time being inhabited by many Indian tribes including the Crow, Cheyenne, Chippewa, and Cree.  After the gold discoveries between 1862 and 1864, numerous armed conflicts arose between the indigenous peoples and U.S. soldiers who were charged with protecting the property and settlers of the territory, as settlers streamed into the area.  The most famous of these conflicts, the Battle of the Little Bighorn, occurred on June 25, 1876, when Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry regiment were defeated by combined forces of the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes.

Montana Geography

The geography of Montana consists of about 60% prairie in the eastern part of the state and 40% mountain ranges making up the Northern Rockies that cross from the southwest to the northwest part of the state.  These western features are the source of Montana’s name, derived from a Spanish word meaning mountain.  The main ridge of the Rockies extends from Glacier National Park in the north to Yellowstone National Park in the south.  The state is also divided into three major watersheds atop Triple Divide Peak in Glacier National Park, where two continental divides coincide.  Water to the north and east flow into the Hudson Bay, water to the south and west flow into the Pacific Ocean, and water to the south and east flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

Montana: A Unit StudyAlthough the state is the fourth largest in area (after Alaska, Texas, and California) it is the third lowest in population density.  Montana shares a 545 mile-long border with Canada to the north which crosses the provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.  As a result of the vast expanse and geographic variation of the state, the climate varies significantly.  Average temperatures vary from 28°F in January to 84.5°F in July.  The highest observed temperature was 117°F on July 20, 1893 and the coldest -70°F on January 20, 1954.

Montana Economy

The Montana economy consists primarily of farming, oil production, mining, lumber, and tourism.  In 1883, the Northern Pacific Railway was completed, which sparked the farming and stock raising industries.  The railway opened access to markets mostly in the West and farming thrived as a result.  Cattle production, first fueled by the beef demands of gold mining towns, increased even more after the completion of the railroad.  Oil fields were first discovered as early as 1892 with major production beginning around 1915.  Modern drilling, exploration techniques, and oil prices have again somewhat rejuvenated the oil and gas industry in Montana.

Mining can be broken into two major categories, coal in the east, and hard rock in the west.  Hard rock mining began with gold early in the state’s development.  Then later silver and vast copper deposits, as well as lead, zinc, and magnesium began to be mined.  Other mining includes vermiculite, titanium, and chromite ore.

The lumber industry began with demand by the gold towns for mine and flue timber.  Major forests lie west of the continental divide with minor forests on the eastern slopes of the Rockies.  Poles, plywood, laminated beams, pulpwood, and mining and railroad timbers make up a part of the output from the lumber industry in the state.

Tourism also plays a large part in Montana’s economy as millions of tourists flock to the Glacier and Yellowstone national parks in the summer months.

Interesting Montana Facts

  • Montana is named for the Spanish word for mountain.
  • The state’s nickname, “Treasure State,” comes from the gold, copper, silver, oil, and other buried resources.
  • William Clark scaled Pompey’s Pillar, a 200-foot-high Montana rock formation, while on the expedition of 1806 and inscribed his name.
  • Montana is home to the Roe River, the world’s shortest river.
  • Montana also holds the world’s record for the largest temperature change in a 24-hour period — 103 degrees!
  • In 1916, Jeanette Rankin from Montana became the first woman elected to the U.S. House.



Label the following on a map of Montana (see Notebooking Pages below):

  • Helena (state capital)
  • Butte
  • Billings
  • Glacier National Park
  • The Continental Divide
  • Custer Battlefield National Monument


Further Investigation

Quick Facts

Lincoln Created the Montana Territory
Montana’s beginnings.

Montana State History
From the official Montana State government site.

Montana: Stories of the Land Timeline
From the official Montana State government site.

The Louisiana Purchase
Text of the Louisiana Purchase from MontanaHistory.net.

The Battle of Little Bighorn
Eyewitness to History account.

Custer Battlefield
Photo from Denver Public Library.

Yellowstone National Park Video Series
More videos.

The Petrified Forests in Yellowstone
Free brochure from Answers in Genesis.

Glacier National Park Video Series
More videos.

Elected Officials
Montana elected officials.



Traditional Foods
Cook up something the Montana way!

Montana Map and Quiz Printout
From EnchantedLearning.com.

Interactive Writing Tool {Free}
Create a state brochure using this interactive printing press.

USA Map Puzzle
Free download from Owl & Mouse Software.

Interactive Map Maker
Make and label your own map of Montana.



Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden and the Founding of the Yellowstone National Park
Heavily illustrated public domain work from the Department of the Interior.

My State NotebookMy State Notebook
From A Beka. “A basic guide to help students collect and learn the facts that are unique to their state as well as beginning research skills.”

Civics Activity BookCivics Activity Book
Also from A Beka, but written for a higher level than the above title, this activity book guides state research “in a study of national, state, and local government with a brief overview of the Constitution and a variety of interesting activity sheets. In addition to government, students also study the history, geography, and other characteristics of their state and local areas.” We have enjoyed many of the activities in this book, which include writing letters to state officials, researching the state history and other activities.


Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

Custer's Little Bighorn: A Unit StudyCuster’s Little Bighorn: A Unit Study
Explore the area where the battle took place.

The Louisiana Purchase: A Unit Study
The purchase that created Montana Territory.

Free History Studies: Lewis & ClarkFree History Studies: Lewis & Clark
More about the expedition that went through Montana.

My State {Free Unit Study}
A recommended state study unit that covers civics, history, geography, language arts, applied math, science, and art, culminating in a personalized state notebook. We have also included additional go-along resources.

State History Outline & Projects {Free}State History Outline & Projects
A wealth of original ideas and projects for making any state study a work of art!

Studying the 50 United States
Suggestions for a unit on any state from LearningTreasures.com.


Printables & Notebooking Pages

Montana Maps for Notebook

Montana State Facts Coloring Pages for Notebook

Montana Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, recording state facts, or wrapping up.

U.S. States and Capitals Map
Color Montana and write in the capital on this printable at PrintableMaps.net.


View all of our state unit studies:

Free State Unit Studies