Montana is a vast and varied state of mountains, canyons, river valleys, forests, grassy plains, badlands and caverns. Its Big Sky covers a land area of more than 147,000 square miles, making Montana the fourth-largest state in the nation. It can accommodate Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York and still have room for the District of Columbia. Yet Montana’s population is just 925,865 (2004 estimate), making it the sixth least-populated state.
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In Big Sky Country there are six distinct areas that incorporate the history, landscape and culture into a region that offers its own unique experience. These regions, including the cities and towns that are found in them, help make Montana the "Last Best Place."
Custer Country (southeast Montana)
History is the link that unites Montana’s sprawling southeast corner. From prehistoric fossil beds and pictograph drawings to the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Custer Country stakes a sizable claim on the history of the American West.
The Little Bighorn National Monument near Hardin marks the spot where Lt. Col. George Custer was overwhelmed by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. Pompeys Pillar preserves graffiti from Lewis and Clarks famed "Corps of Discovery." One of the rivers they traveled, the Yellowstone, still flows freely through Custer Country, and another great river, the Bighorn, flows out of beautiful Bighorn Canyon. Bighorn Lake and Tongue River Reservoir are popular fisheries.
Located near the North Dakota border in southeast Montana, Baker came to life when the Milwaukee Railroad came across Montana in the 1900s. In 1915, a driller, seeking water, discovered natural gas. Many wells in the vicinity later produced oil in abundant quantities. Most of the downtown area was built during this time and in the 1960s and 1970s, when oil and gas exploration was plentiful. The highlight of O’Fallon Museum in Baker is the life-size taxidermy mount of Steer Montana, the largest bovine animal in the world at 3,980 pounds. Wind-carved sandstone formations can be found at Medicine Rocks State Park, located 25 miles south of Baker. Stocked with walleye and perch, Baker Lake is a natural for anglers.
Montana’s largest city, Billings is a regional business hub as well as a cultural, medical, educational and entertainment center. Billings was established in 1882 with the coming of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Museums, art galleries, theaters and shopping are all part of the appeal of this vibrant city. Billings is home to Montana State University-Billings and Rocky Mountain College. Bordered on the north by distinctive rock formations known as the Rimrocks and to the south by the Yellowstone River, Billings is a gateway to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Bighorn National Recreation Area, Yellowstone National Park, the Yellowstone River and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.
Western and contemporary art from nationally and internationally acclaimed artists dominate rotating exhibits at the Yellowstone Art Museum. Famed Billings artist J. K. Ralston put the West on canvas. His restored cabin and adjacent gallery can be found on the campus of Rocky Mountain College.
A friendly town along the Yellowstone River, visitors can enjoy agate hunting, fishing and rustic Boothill Cemetery. Nearby, at the junction of the Bighorn and Yellowstone rivers, is the site of Fort Manuel Lisa, the first building in Montana built by white settlers.
The cavalry set up camp at the mouth of the Tongue River on the Yellowstone after the 1876 campaign of "rounding up hostile Indians." Their commanding officer was Col. Nelson A. Miles, and this camp was the beginning of Miles City. It soon became a stopping place on the long cattle drives from Texas. As the cattle industry became more important, it was fitting that the Montana Stockgrowers Association was formed here in 1884. The coming of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1881 destined that Miles City would become (and still is) a leading cattle market. Miles City is the home of a popular rodeo called the Bucking Horse Sale, held each year in May.
At one time the largest U.S. Army post in Montana, Fort Keogh served from 1877-1908 as a major post at the close of the Indian wars. Several original buildings remain and the old parade grounds are still intact. The Range Riders Museum chronicles the colorful history of the area. This impressive historical center on the west edge of town includes Fort Keogh Officers’ Quarters, Pioneer Memorial Hall, Indian artifacts and the 400-piece Bert Clark Gun Collection.