Many times, possibly to take the people’s minds off of long wars, presidents have worked to change some things back home. Sometimes that is a bad thing, and sometimes, as is the case on this day in 1864, it is a good thing. Abraham Lincoln was anxious to create new territories where people could settle during the Civil War, so on May 26, 1864, he signed an act establishing the Montana Territory. Abraham Lincoln had hoped to lift the spirits of the war weary, and open up the territory for gold exploration, but unfortunately the region was pretty unstable, so it didn’t do much to help the nation…at least not right away. In fact, it was so bad, that Sidney Edgerton, the territory’s first governor, fled after suffering through months of Indian raids. Some people probably thought of him as somewhat cowardly, but I think that months of Indian raids would make a man think that maybe he should get out before his number was up.
I’m sure we would all have to agree that now, Montana is a key part of the nation…especially in the area of agriculture, just not back then. Nevertheless, this new territory belonged to the United States, for better or worse. Montana Territory in the 19th century was home to the Sioux, the Blackfoot, the Shoshone, the Arapaho, the Cheyenne, the Kutenai and the Flathead Indians. That had to be a large number of Indians…and all were feeling like you were invaders in their territory…which you probably were. They decided that the best course of action was to raid your place, steal what they wanted, and kill those they needed to. It would make for a dangerous place to be.
Montana Territory came into United States possession as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Within a couple of years, there were explorers, including Lewis and Clark, who were the first known explorers of European origin to pass through the region on their way to the Pacific Ocean. Still, the area remained pretty much untouched, until gold was discovered in the 1850s. That discovery brought people to mining camps such as those at Bannack and Virginia City, Montana, finally bringing growth to the territory. There are several members of my family, and of my husband, Bob Schulenberg’s family who came to Montana in those days. I’m not sure if they were there to hunt for gold, or just to get land, but they lived there for many years, and many of them still do to this day. I’m sure it was that territorial growth that brought the area to the attention of Abraham Lincoln when he decided that making the area an official territory was in the nations best interest at the time. While it would be another 25 years before Montana would official become the 41st state in the Union, I have to think it was worth waiting for. Montana is a beautiful state, and while their winters are a little more extreme than I would be comfortable with, I do love to visit there.