Immigrants in Montana: 1870-1930

The 1870 census was the first to record the population of the Montana territory.  According to these figures, foreign-born residents accounted for approximately 39% of Montana's population.  For comparison, foreign-born individuals accounted for 14.4% of the national population in 1870 while in current day New York City the foreign-born population is roughly 20%. 

Interior of Wah Chong Tai Company on Galena Street in Butte, Montana. Several Chinese men pose for the photograph.


As one might expect from these numbers, immigrants played an important role in the development of Montana, a fact reflected in the names that populate Montana's history and geography.  This is illustrated by figures such as Marcus Daly, James Fergus, and Anton M. Holder, as well as names of cities and counties, such as Belgrade and Glasgow.  While immigrants have made a visible impact on the popular history of Montana, the history of immigration to the state reveals a number of complex social and political issues related to the role and rights of immigrants.  This exhibit showcases materials from Archives and Special Collections that highlight specific aspects of the history of immigration to Montana.

This transcript from Professor Paul Chrisler Phillips research files is of a letter from Thomas Meagher, an Irish immigrant who became the first territorial governor of Montana, to Secretary of State William H. Seward. Meagher describes the political climate of Montana shortly after the Civil War and also refers to the Fenian Brotherhood, an Irish republican organization that was very active in Montana in the mid-1800s.

Immigrants in Montana: 1870-1930