Montana Then and Now by Aaron Parrett

Montana Then and Now, by Aaron Parrett
When Montana Territory was established in 1864, it was a land of teepees and ramshackle cabins, of lawless vigilantes and miners scraping out meager livings. One hundred and fifty years later, the dramatic changes to the Treasure State are overshadowed only by the startling similarities. On the occasion of Montana’s 150th territorial anniversary, Aaron Parrett compares where we started with where we are today, and along the way shows us a Montana we never could have previously imagined.

Book Information

Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5
Price: $16.95
Release Date: April 1, 2014

Amazon: Purchase Online

About Aaron Parrett

Aaron Parrett, authorAaron Parrett is on the faculty at the University of Great Falls, where he teaches literature and philosophy. His work has appeared in many books and journals, most recently in The Complete Montana Gothic and The Old-Time Herald. He was born in Butte at St. James Hospital.


“In the tradition of Joseph Kinsey Howard and K. Ross Toole, Aaron Parrett interrogates Montana as both place and idea, revealing that what has long distinguished the state—robust island communities surrounded by a sea of redemptive space—has largely survived.”
— Edwin Dobb, U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism

“Aaron Parrett has told Montana’s story entertainingly without shying from the darker bits. The result is a romp through our state’s history that is at once lighthearted and intelligent.”
­— Molly Holz, Editor, Montana The Magazine of Western History

“Aaron Parret’s Montana: Then and Now stitches together the tapestry that is Montana’s 150-year-long history with the perspective born of years of sincere appreciation and study. This account gives us pause and at the same time gives us hope, that Montana’s next generation realizes its role in preserving the unique qualities inherent in the ‘last best place.”
— Stephenie Ambrose Tubbs, Why Sacagawea Deserves the Day Off and Other Lessons of the Lewis and Clark Trail


On a frosty Montana evening in late autumn of 1863, three nervous men waited in the darkness for a stagecoach. They stamped their feet to keep warm and pulled their heavy woolen overcoats more snugly around them. They did not speak much as they listened in the darkness for the driver and his team, peering anxiously behind them to make sure they were alone. The stage would take them from Bannack in the Idaho Territory to Salt Lake City, and from there to St. Louis, where they would board a train that, a few weeks later, would put them in Washington, DC.

Once they made it to the nation’s capital, they planned to petition President Lincoln and Congress to grant territorial status to Montana. It wasn’t the prospect of an audience with the president that made them nervous—it was the fear of being murdered for the fortune they carried in belts around their waists. The gold they were carrying to Washington was the key to the whole enterprise. Then, as now, congress wouldn’t likely be convinced to act unless there was money involved, and lots of it.

The notorious bandit and murderer Henry Plummer and several of his henchmen were at large, though vigilantes had been hanging known thieves and killers. The worst of the lot, however, was Plummer—a sociopath who kept his criminal tendencies hidden below a veneer of engaging charisma and gentlemanly demeanor. So clever was this well-mannered schemer that, in 1863, he’d finagled his way into becoming the sheriff of Bannack, whereupon he installed his cronies as deputies, eliminating the last obstacle to the unbridled crime spree that ensued.

It wasn’t just the Montana bandits they had to worry about, either. Granville Stuart noted in his diary entry for November 13: “Sam T. Hauser and N. P. Langford started for St. Louis today, via Salt Lake City. Before them lies a long and perilous journey of eighteen hundred miles; through cold and storm and be-set on all sides by hostile Indians and road agents. It will take six weeks to make the trip.” The vast distance between Virginia and the western territories had been crossed many times by many travelers since the 1840s, when the wagon trains first began transporting settlers to Oregon and California, but the journey itself had not grown much easier, especially not between St. Louis and points west.