Montana Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Montana’s links to immigration have a great deal to do with the mining industry. As the state’s mines developed and became specialized, immigrant labor was frequently brought in to work the mines and to service the mining industry in supporting roles. Immigration into Montana has been limited since the late twentieth century. A rising number of newcomers are entering the state to take advantage of its economic and social benefits.

At the time Montana became a state in 1889, the mining industry had been well established throughout the territory for thirty years. Prospectors began working the hills of southern Montana during the 1850’s. In 1862, the discovery of gold in Grasshopper Creek began a small gold rush that brought miners and speculators from California, Wyoming, and Colorado. Another gold strike was made during the following year, near the location of modern Virginia City, increasing the flow of people into Montana. As the mining industry developed, laborers were brought in to perform the demanding and dangerous work of extracting ore from the ground.MontanaMontana[cat]STATES;Montana[03610]

Late Nineteenth Century Immigration

During the nineteenth century, much of the difficult and dangerous mining work in Montana was done by Chinese immigrantsChinese immigrants;Montana and African Americans. These workers were generally paid at much lower rates than white workers and were frequently given perilous and demeaning tasks that other workers refused to do. Immigrants from Ireland, England, Germany, and the Scandinavian nations also entered the region to work as miners, merchants, and investors, hoping to strike it rich during Montana’s boom years. As the twentieth century approached, different regions of Montana began to specialize in certain ores. For example, Butte became a primary copper supplier for the entire United States, and Philipsburg specialized in silver production. Butte’s copper mines employed workers from Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Finland, and Italy.

Twentieth Century Developments

During the twentieth century, Montana’s population began to stabilize as the boom-and-bust mining and land speculation industries became secondary to the state’s agricultural and ranching industries. With the revisions to the Homestead Act of 1862 during the early twentieth century, immigrants were attracted to Montana by the availability of 320-acre plots of farmland for low prices. Many of these new arrivals relocated from areas in the American Midwest, particularly from Illinois and Indiana, and moved into southern and western Montana in search of good farmland and sites for home construction. The people moving into Montana were also increasingly foreign. By 1910, more than 25 percent of Montana’s population was classified as foreign born. New immigrants not involved in the mining industry typically worked in agriculture, growing Montana’s primary crops–wheat, barley, sugar beets, and rye. Some became ranchers, raising cattle and sheep. Throughout the twentieth century, agriculture dominated Montana’s economy.

By the early twenty-first century, Montana’s population was typical of states in the northern Rocky Mountain region. More than 92 percent of the population were classified as “white,” with very small numbers of African Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders. Native American accounted for about 4 percent of all Montanans, with a growing Hispanic population making up another 3 percent. The largest Hispanic concentration was located within the urban region of Billings.Montana

Further Reading
  • Lee, Rose Hum. The Growth and Decline of Chinese Communities in the Rocky Mountain Region. New York: Arno Press, 1978.
  • Montana Writers’ Program. Copper Camp: Stories of the World’s Greatest Mining Town, Butte, Montana. New York: Hastings House, 1943.
  • Murphy, Mary. Mining Cultures: Men, Women and Leisure in Butte, 1914-41. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1997.

African Americans and immigrants

Chinese immigrants

Economic opportunities


History of immigration after 1891


Italian immigrants

Labor unions


Categories: History