by Janet Spencer

Come along with Tidbits as we visit Montana!


Montana is the 4th largest state, following Alaska, California, and Texas. However, with only 1,104,000 people, it ranks 43rd in population, and 48th in population density.

• About 48% of Montana residents live in rural areas, compared to a national average of 25%. Around 80% of Montana communities have populations of 3,000 or fewer.

Hocking County Veterans Service Commission

• Montana has more cars registered per capita than any other state, with 184 vehicles for every 100 people. That’s nearly triple New York’s rate of car ownership of only 58 cars for every 100 citizens. Just over 34% of vehicles on the road in Montana are pickup trucks. The only state with more pickup trucks per capita is Wyoming, where it’s 38%. In 50th place is New Jersey, with only 8%. The national average is 17%.

• Giant Springs in Great Falls, one of the largest freshwater springs in the world, pumps out 7.9 million gallons of water per hour at a constant temperature of 54°F (12°C). The water has been carbon-dated at 3,000 years old. It forms the Roe River, which runs 201 feet (61m) where it empties into the Missouri River. It’s considered to be the shortest river in the world.

Montana holds the record for the all-time coldest temperature in the Lower 48 at -70°F (-57°C) set at Rogers Pass on the Continental Divide on January 20, 1954. It may have been colder than that, but that was the lowest temperature reading on the thermometer. Montana’s record high is 117°F (47°C) for a temperature range of 187°F (85°C). No other state has a larger temperature range than that. North Dakota comes in second place with a range of 181°F (83°C) and Alaska is third with 180°F (82°C).

• The town of Browning, near Glacier National Park, holds the national record for the greatest drop in temperature in 24 hours, for a 100-degree drop on January 23, 1916. The temperature went from 44°F (7°C) to -56°F (-49°C) in a single day. In Loma, Montana (pop. 121) the temperature rose 103°F in a 24-hour period, rising from -54°F (-48°C) at 9a.m. on January 14, 1972, to 49°F (9°C) by 8a.m. on January 15. This event still stands as a world record for the greatest change in temperature ever measured on earth in a single 24-hour period.

• The paddlefish was thought to be extinct until a man accidentally caught one in the Missouri River in 1962 near Fairview. Now they are fished for sport annually. About 35% of Montana residents buy a fishing license each year.

• The only state with more grizzly bears than Montana is Alaska. Today, there are around 1,800 grizzly bears in Montana. Only 10% of grizzlies living in the northern Rocky Mountain region die of natural causes; the rest are killed by humans, either deliberately or accidentally. The grizzly became Montana’s state animal in 1982 when 52,000 schoolchildren voted on the issue. The runner-up was the elk. The only land mammal with a slower reproduction rate than the grizzly is the musk ox of Alaska.

Millions of bison used to roam the plains of Montana. It took only seven years to reduce their numbers from an estimated 60 million to just 541 left in the world by 1889. Today, about 500 bison live at the National Bison Range in Moise, Montana, in addition to a number of privately-owned herds. Yellowstone National Park has between 3,000 and 5,000 bison at any given time.

• There are about 2,200 people in prison and only 1,760 police officers in the state. There are also 92 Fish, Wildlife, and Park officers patrolling the state, each covering an area the size of Delaware. The most common violation of fish and game laws is fishing without a license.

• Cows outnumber humans in Montana more than two to one. Black Angus and Hereford are the most popular breeds. Miles City bills itself as the “cow capital of the world” while Drummond boasts that they are “world-famous bull-shippers.”

• About fifty thousand Native Americans currently live in Montana, or six percent of the population. That ranks Montana fifth among states for the highest percentage of Native Americans, following Alaska, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Oklahoma.

• Coal lies underneath about 35% of Montana, part of what may be the largest coal basin on earth. If all of Montana’s coal reserves were mined and the mines continued production at their current rate, the coal would run out in about 3,000 years.

• In 1896 the U.S. government agreed to pay the Blackfeet Indian Nation a total of $1.5 million for the tribe to relinquish all rights to their ancestral lands that now compose Glacier National Park. The fee was paid at $150,000 per year (equal to $5.4 million today) for ten years. Today, over 3 million tourists visit Glacier Park annually.

Fort Benton is as far inland as a person can navigate by boat on any continent. Located 3,560 miles (5,726 km) from the Gulf of Mexico, it’s known as “the world’s innermost port.” In the early days of river navigation, 20% of the steamboats that left St. Louis bound for Fort Benton via the Missouri River never returned to St. Louis. Fort Benton was the end of the line because five waterfalls blocked the Missouri River where the city of Great Falls is now. When Lewis and Clark portaged the 18 miles (29 km) around the falls in 1805, the effort took them 31 days.

• Chet Huntley, a famous newscaster born in Cardwell, Montana, was the driving force behind the construction of the Big Sky ski resort town, but died three days before the grand opening ceremonies in 1974. Today, Big Sky has more vertical feet of skiing than any other ski area in the nation, with 4,180 feet (1,274 km).

• The world’s largest steer, which attained a weight of 3,980 pounds (1,805 kg), was born in Baker, Montana, where the red roan short-horn steer is now stuffed and on display at the O’Fallon County Museum. It weighed more than the combined weight of the entire starting offense for the Denver Broncos.

• Cascade County, home of Malmstrom Air Force Base, reports the greatest number of UFO sightings in the state. Malmstrom AFB controls the nuclear missile silos in the state.

• If Montana were its own country, it would be the 4th largest nuclear superpower in the world.

• Montana is the only state that is exactly one time zone wide. The state’s eastern border marks the line of Central Time and the western boundary marks Pacific Time. Montana is entirely within the Mountain Time Zone.