What’s in a name? Montana’s Roots-Where it all Started


It’s enjoyable to learn new things. And even some of us who’ve lived in Montana and called it home most of our lives don’t know everything about our great state. But here’s a start; you’re never too old to gain new tidbits. So although not every city or town is mentioned here it’s a good beginning and you can finish it by delving into the rest of them.

M O N T A N A- “Land of Shining Mountains”-(Spanish)

Helena (State Capitol)-“Four Georgians” originally named it Crabtown after John Crab, one of the founders. However, many of the miners from Minnesota began to call the town Saint Helena, after a town in Minnesota. The name was eventually shortened to Helena, its current name. Later tales of the naming of Helena claimed the name came from the island of St. Helena, where Napoleon was exiled, or was that of a miner’s sweetheart. Helena was surveyed by Captain John Wood in 1865 for the first time.”

Missoula-“The first inhabitants of the Missoula area were American Indians from the Salish tribe. They called the area “Nemissoolatakoo,” from which “Missoula” is derived. The word translates roughly to “river of ambush/surprise,” a reflection of the inter-tribal fighting common to the area.”

Kalispell- “A Salish word meaning “flat land above the lake“.

Billings-“Billings was nicknamed the “Magic City” because of its rapid growth from its founding as a railroad town in March 1882. The city is named for Frederick H. Billings, a former president of the Northern Pacific Railroad.”

Great Falls- “Stands for, the “Great Falls of the Missouri” where Lewis and Clark traveled through.

Libby-“The stream, ‘Libby Creek’ was named by prospectors in the 1860s after one of their daughters, and it is believed that the town of Libby was named after this creek. The first wagon roads in the area were built in the 1880s-1890s, and were nothing better than ungraded trails that accessed homesteads or mines.”

Anaconda-Founded: “In 1883 by Marcus Daly, who wanted to call it “Copperopolis.” There was already a town called Copperopolis in Meagher County so the first postmaster, Clinton Moore, named it Anaconda after Daly’s mining company.”

Helmville-“The community is named for J. H. Helms, who applied for a post office. It was granted in 1872.”

Browning-“Browning was named after Daniel M.Browning, who was then the Commissioner of Indian Affairs working in Washington D.C.”

Havre-“Havre is nicknamed the crown jewel of the Hi-Line. It is said to be named after the city of Le Havre in France.”

Columbia Falls-“Margaret Kennedy, wife of the first postmaster chose the name Columbia because of the town’s proximity to the headwaters of the Columbia River. Falls was added to create a distinction from Columbus.”

Somers-“The town was named for George O. Somers, a Vice President of the Great Northern Railroad, and the person responsible for overseeing the development of the new lumber town.”

Arlee-“Named after the Salish chief “Alee” and sitting in the shadow of the Mission Mountains.

Plentywood-“Pretty self explanatory.”

Troy-“It’s debatable. Some say it took its name for a civil engineer working for the Great Northern. Others think the town was named for the Troy weight system, which was used to weigh silver and gold.”

Sidney-“Walters and their six year old son, Sidney, were living in the home of Justice of the Peace, Hiram Otis, at the time. Judge Otis had grown very fond of Sidney, his young fishing partner. While he was making out the papers, he decided, on the spur of the moment, that Sidney would make a good name for the new town.”

Hungry Horse-“The name comes from a local legend about two horses, Tex and Jerry, that escaped and almost starved to death in deep snow along the South Fork of the Flathead.”


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  1. Thank you! Often wondered about some names.

    Still curious about origin of Lame Deer, Two Dot, Harlem, Miles City- and why it is called Rocky Boys Reservation (though usually referred to as ‘Rocky Boy’)?


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