The Military in Montana: History Collections
Montana and the military have been linked since the earliest days of the Territory. The formation of the Montana Territory occurred in 1864, as the bloody Civil War hurtled towards an end. While the Civil War raged across the continent, settlers in Montana battled Native Americans in the first battles in this vast western wilderness. This fighting went on for decades, as the number of settlers increased, and Native Americans were gradually confined to reservations. The Army built forts all over the landscape, protecting the interests of settlers against the threat - both real and imagined - of Native American action. Perhaps the most famous military engagement of the Indian Wars, and the most significant fought in Montana, was the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, which saw the annihilation of the 7th Cavalry Regiment led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, at the hands of the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes.
The end of the Indian Wars did not lead to a diminished military presence in Montana. Over the next 150 years, all branches of the armed forces established a presence in the state. In the late 19th century, African-American Buffalo Soldiers of the U.S. Army were stationed in Montana. Of particular significance, these men embarked on a landmark cross-country bicycle operation in 1897, riding from Fort Missoula on primitive roads and trails, all the way to St. Louis. Read more about that here.
In the 20th century and on into the 21st, military bases and training facilities sprung up all over the state - particularly during World War II. All branches of the armed forces established training facilities in Montana to provide soldiers and sailors for this massive global conflict. During World War II, Montana housed thousands of Italian and Japanese-Americans detainees at Fort Missoula - read about that here. The fields of Montana sprouted a new crop during the Cold War: underground silos for Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). Today, most of the World War II and Cold War military facilities in Montana are closed. Some, like the former Glasgow Air Force Base, have taken on an eerie ghost town status like the many abandoned mining towns all over the state. The last remaining major military facilities in Montana are Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls, and Fort William Henry Harrison in Helena. Those with a keen eye will spot radar installations and discrete ICBM bunkers in their travels across the state.
It is also important to acknowledge the large volume of materials and manufacturing that occurred in Montana to support American war efforts. Farm and ranches provided food for those who served. Copper mined in Butte was critical to the victory in World War I. Conversely, it is of interest to consider the use of the military to suppress labor movements in the early 20th century in that same town of Butte.
A look at the military in Montana must recognize the tens of thousands of Montanans who have served in the armed forces, both in war time and in peace. And we must remember those who supported our soldiers on the home front - farmers, miners, ranchers, manufacturers. You will find some of their stories here, in the collections available on the Montana History Portal.
Above photo: Group of African American soldiers from Fort Missoula, circa 1900
Military Collections on the Montana History Portal
The Montana History Portal, in collaboration with nearly 100 institutions around the state, is pleased to present a wide variety of historical resources on the military in Montana. Some of these collections are narrowly focused on military topics. Others cover a broader range of topics in Montana history, with selected items related to the military. We have divided the list below into two sections. The first contains collections that focus specifically on the military in Montana. The second contains collections that have a broader focus, with selected materials related to the military in Montana. The scope of material includes large photo collections, diaries, official records, maps. and area-specific histories. We encourage you to browse through them to explore the many stories of Montana and those who served.
Fort Missoula Alien Detention Camp Collection
Collections Containing Some Military Related Materials
Archival Photographs from the University of Montana
Arrowhead (The) - Great Falls Anaconda Copper Mining Company Newsletters
Big Horn County Obituaries
Billings - Historic Document Collection
Billings - Historic Photo Collection
Billings - Images of Events
Billings - Images of People
Books, Pamphlets and Ephemera from the University of Montana
Business and Professional Women's Club (BPW) 1946-1952
Butte Digital Image Project
Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives Documents
Central Montana Historical Documents
Central Montana Historical Photographs
Central Montana Metis
Central Montana R.L. Polk Directories
Diaries, Letters and Ledgers from the University of Montana
Early Montana Histories
Fallon County History and Pictures
Flathead and Lincoln Counties Directories
Jack L. Demmons' Photographs of Bonner, Montana
Letters, Diaries and Documents from the Montana Historical Society
Local Histories of Montana
Mapping Montana and the West
Miles City Historical Documents
Montana Woman Magazine
Mountain-Plains Native Americans
Musselshell Valley Historical Museum Photographs
Northwest Montana History Museum Photographs
Photographs from the Montana Historical Society
Publications and Ephemera from the Montana Historical Society
Range Riders Museum Early Frontier History
Sax and Fryer Collection
Sidney-Richland County Library Historical Collection
Voices of Labor
Searching for Military Content on the Montana History Portal
The military has been present in Montana since the very early days of the Territory. As such, the Portal has thousands of military related items on our website, from institutions around the state. It can be difficult to find everything related to your search. The history collections listed in this research guide are a starting point for you, but only just a beginning. If you have not used the search function on the Portal, we have a guide for Searching for Items on the Montana History Portal. This guide will explain how to filter by item type (images, documents, etc.) and explain other features of our advanced search engine. This search engine will allow you to narrow your selections by date range, which may be helpful to you. If you have a specific collection in mind, and it is too large to browse through each item, we also have a guide for Searching for Items in a Specific Collection. As you use the search tools on the Portal, try to use a variety of different words and phrases in your search. You can try service branch terms such as "Army" or "Navy." If you know the names of individuals you are researching, make sure to try those. Place names and locations are a great way to narrow results as well, perhaps such as "Fort Missoula" or "Fort Harrison."