Monday, August 20, 2018

Quirky Montana Historical Facts

I came across my share of quirky historical trivia while researching the Montana Gold series, set during Montana’s goldrush, a wild and wooly time in the Old Wild West. Many colorful stories attach to place names in particular. Here, for your entertainment are some of the gems I mined in my historical research. 

Quirky Montana Historical Facts 

Montana was Idaho

You read that right. Idaho Territory formed March 4 1863 and covered some of the, er, territory that would become part of southwestern Montana in the present day. Prior to that date, the land was part of Washington Territory.

Image: Idaho Territory Coat of Arms
 The borders shifted again on March 26 1864, at the birth of Montana Territory. One family living in Hell Gate (south of what is now Missoula) held an unusual claim to fame. Their three children had been born in a single house but three different territories.

Image: Montana Territory Coat of Arms

The Ruby River contained no rubies

The Upper Ruby River; image by Mike Cline [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons
Early settlers mistook the pretty red gemstones they found in the riverbed and along its banks for rubies. These were in fact garnets. The name stuck, regardless.

Hell Gate Canyon earned its name.

Hell Gate Canyon from Heaven's Gate overlook, Idaho. Image by Dsdugan [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
French trappers named Hell Gate Canyon for the piles of human bones they found within it. The Flathead tribe had to pass through the canyon to reach hunting grounds on the other side. Unfortunately, the narrow canyon entrances made ideal locations for members of the Blackfoot tribe to ambush the hunting parties.

Deer Lodge wasn’t a building.

Hot spring mound in the "Deer Lodge" prairie of the Rocky Mountains.
Color lithograph after G. Sohon. [CC BY 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons
Well, okay. There are buildings in the town of Deer Lodge, and Deer Lodge Valley has its share of buildings. However, both the town and the valley were named after a mound. A remarkable landmark in its day, Deer Lodge Mound has less status in modern times. A warm spring (now capped) steamed at the top of the 40-foot-high geologic formation and deposited minerals down its side. This made the mound into a salt lick for multitudes of local deer. The spring steamed in the cold winter air, reminding the local tribe of a lodge with smoke curling above it.

Tell it to the judge.

Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis in a portrait miniature by John Wood Dodge (1807-1893)
 ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Virginia City, Montana was almost named after Jefferson Davis’s beautiful wife, Varina. However, Judge Bissell, a devout Unionist, refused to approve the town charter until the name was changed. The framers of the town opted for the judge’s suggestion of Virginia City, and the charter went through.

The fort that wasn’t.

Fort Owen in Montana's Bitterroot Valley; image by Forest Service Northern Region from Missoula, MT, USA
[CC BY 2.0 or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Major John Owen, a retired army sutler (supply manager), settled in 1850 with his beloved Native American wife in the Bitterroot Valley and there established a ‘fort.’ Really just a trading post, Fort Owen never housed soldiers or heard a shot fired. Major Owen was trusted by the local tribe and settlers alike. He served as Indian Agent to the Flathead tribe between 1856 and 1862.

Uncovering very human stories while researching my books makes history come alive for me. I hope I have given you a small window into the past.

About Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt's unique blend of adventure, romance, suspense, and whimsy creates breathtaking fictional worlds for readers. Known for her vivid writing, this multi-faceted author writes in the western historical romance, medieval epic fantasy, and romantic suspense genres. 

Janalyn is represented by Wordserve Literary Agency. Her memberships include ACFW and NCWA. When she's not writing, she loves to garden and explore the great outdoors with her family.

Cheyenne Sunrise (Montana Gold 2)

Can a woman with no faith in men learn to trust the half-Cheyenne trail guide determined to protect her?
Young Irish widow Bry Brennan doesn’t want another husband to break her spirit. When she and her brother Con join a wagon train headed to Montana Territory, Bry ignores her fascination with Nick Laramie, the handsome trail guide.
Nick lives in an uneasy truce between the settlers and his mother’s tribe without fully fitting in among either. With no intention of dragging a woman into his troubles, he stifles his yearning for Bry.
The perilous journey throws the two together, leaving Bry no choice but to trust Nick with her life. Can she also trust him with her heart? Answering that riddle forces Bry to confront her unresolved questions about God’s love.

Based on actual historical events during a time of unrest in America, Cheyenne Sunrise explores faith, love, and courage in the wild west. Learn more.


  1. Replies
    1. You're welcome, Linda. It's nice to share with others who enjoy historical trivia.

  2. Thank you for sharing your very interesting post. Have a great day!

  3. Fun to learn these little tidbits of history. Thanks for sharing from your research. :)

  4. That was a very fun random post!

  5. Interesting tidbits about history of Montana. I loved visiting there where a great aunt resided in beautiful Montana.

    1. Montana is indeed beautiful. How lovely to visit a relative there. I'm sure you could tell more stories.

  6. Very interesting facts. I am enjoying this series.