Rural Montana in the 1890s and early 1900s was a microcosm that reflected the changes and struggles going on in the United States as the country dealt with its changing identity, economy and worldview. Montana was also one of the last states to be homesteaded and experienced a very fast change in technology and growth because of this.
With the influx of settlers during the Homestead Acts, the population of Montana grew by the thousands. Homesteaders bought up land sold by the railroads, helping pay for the Great Northern Railroad, which connected St. Paul to Seattle, and began settling what was previously open range and cattle land. This sparked a conflict in the area between the cattle drivers and the homesteaders and resulted in a continuation of the range wars that were seen in other parts of the newly developing west.
The advent of electricity caused a soaring demand for copper, which was already playing a big part in Montana's history with its many mining communities and its "Copper Kings" Marcus Daly and W.A. Clark. The mines in Butte and Anaconda brought the area much wealth and growth in population. This growth was similar to what was happening across the country in other large cities and urban centers with the focus moving from rural farming to industrial trade.
Because Montana was one of the last states to be homesteaded it saw one of the fastest changes of all the states. The population has always been diverse and wide ranging. Large numbers of German, Irish, Slavic, Italian and Scandinavian populations arrived between 1890 and 1910. Large numbers of Chinese immigrants also came to Montana and populated the copper mining communities before the turn of the century.
Many of the homesteaders were not just farmers but doctors, lawyers, teachers and entrepreneurs. Often whole extended families would travel out to collect plots of land to farm and prove up, including many women homesteaders.
Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to be elected to the US Congress, voted against the entry of the United States to World War I, a view that was held by many American at a time when the country was struggling with the debate of isolationism versus a broader world view. This struggle was something that many Montanans were conflicted about and reflected the bigger question of whether or not the country should go to war overseas for a conflict it was not directly involved with.
Montana has always been a mixture of political views, people and ideals. It has always been a balance of isolated independence and progressive growth. Its rich and diverse history is a reflection of the changes and turmoil the United States and the world was going through.