Montana Place Names From Alzada to Zortman

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-07-15
  • Publisher: Montana Historical Society Press
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Among Montana's most enduring legacies are the names assigned to its geographic features and places found on the state map. As long as humans have inhabited Montana they have named places. While the past two centuries have changed the way people live in Montana, the names given to some rivers, mountain ranges, cities, and towns have persisted, while others have changed with time.Naming Montanaexplores the origins of more than 1,000 Montana place names, drawing upon the knowledge of Montana Historical Society historians and the expertise of local historians from across the state. This new publication includes both geographic features, selected historic sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, historic photographs, and maps. The authors' extensive research illuminates the stories behind the names of places that we call home.

Author Biography

For more than two years, five staff members from the Montana Historical Society Research Center in Helena researched Montana’s varied place names. Using a Montana state highway map as their guide, they set out to find the history behind the naming of more than 1,000 Montana places. Collectively, the authors represent decades of archival and historical research experience.

Table of Contents

Alphabetical guide to place names
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.


Since the early nineteenth century, explorers and surveyors placed names on their maps of the region of North America that would become Montana Territory in 1864. Among the earliest mapmakers, Lewis and Clark arrived in 1804–1806, David Thompson of the North West Fur Company followed shortly. Geographic features dominate those maps, especially rivers and mountain ranges. Father Pierre DeSmet, a Jesuit missionary, arrived on the scene in the 1840s. The first towns appear on Walter W. DeLacy’s 1865 map, commissioned by the first Territorial Legislature. In just over half a century the Montana map sprouted hundreds of new names, created by hundreds of thousands of homesteaders who poured into the state seeking cheap land. The railroads promoted homesteading and offered up a wide array of names, some associated with railroad executives but others plucked off a world atlas, such as Sumatra and Malta. Between 1900 and 1918, Montana’s population more than tripled, but drought during the 1920s and 1930s prompted a mass exodus from eastern Montana, and the current Montana highway map reflects the steep decline in population; hundreds of towns have disappeared reflecting a shift in the state’s economy from mining, timbering, and small farms to a service economy and much larger farms and ranches served by regional commercial centers.

This new traveler’s guide explores the origins of more than 1,100 Montana place names, drawing upon the knowledge of Montana Historical Society historians and the Society’s extensive collection of historic maps and newspapers, as well as the expertise of local and county historians.

Montana is a vast landscape, its history and significance unknown to many, both to the native and the interested tourist. Clues to the meaning of the past can be found in the names that grace the contemporary Montana highway map, and this guidebook strives to illuminate some of the mysteries. The following entries document the names as we currently know then, and whenever possible, include both the history of the present name, as well as any and all previous names.

Excerpted from Montana Place Names from Alzada to Zortman by Charlene Porsild, Brian Shovers, Ellen Baumler, Ellie Arguimbau, Rich Aarstad, Montana Historical Society Press Staff
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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