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Montana Biographies



Looking for information on an interesting person for your Montana biography project? Below, find information about 48 Montanans, from artists and athletes to paleontologists and politicians. Each subject has two sources.

Note for teachers: The biographies for Sister Tolan and Minerva Allen include links to more scholarly articles than do the other entries.

 

Minerva Allen (1936-present): Allen is an Assiniboine/Gros Ventre educator, poet, and historian who champions the teaching of traditional Indian culture and language. She speaks both Assiniboine and Gros Ventre.
Amazing Montana Biography
"Minerva Allen: Educator Linguist Poet," by John Terreo, Montana The Magazine of Western History, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Winter, 1991): 58-68.
 

Sarah Bickford (1855-1931): Born into slavery, Bickford moved to Montana and became a businesswoman in Virginia City. Ultimately, she was the first African American woman to own a utility company.
"Sarah Gammon Bickford (1855-1933): Montana's First Career Woman," Gallery of Outstanding Montanans, montanahistoricalsociety.org
"Sarah Gammon Bickford," by Marlette C. Lacey, Blackpast.org, 2007-2011.


Eric Bergoust
(1969-present): Bergoust is an aerial freestyle skier. He is an innovator and Olympic gold medalist in the sport.
"Eric Bergoust," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"Eric Bergoust," Travel Montana, Montanakids.com, 2007.


Bertha Muzzy Bower
(1871-1940): Bower was a highly regarded author of 68 novels, 200 short stories, and 17 screen plays with Western themes. Bower wrote under a man's name in order to be published.
"B. M. Bower," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"B. M. Bower-Author biography," Pulp Flakes Blog, 9 May 2012.


Evelyn Cameron
(1868-1928): Cameron was born in London and moved to Montana to raise horses. She became a professional photographer. Her pictures left a beautiful record of eastern Montana life.
"Evelyn Cameron," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"Cameron, Evelyn (1868-1928)," University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, 2011.


Mattie Bost Bell Castner
(1848-1920): Born into slavery in North Carolina, Castner founded the town of Belt, Montana, with her husband John. Mattie opened a hotel and restaurant and was known for her generosity. Called the Mother of Belt, she was the town's largest landowner at the time of her death.
"Mattie Bost Bell Castner: Booster of Community Spirit (1848-1920)," Gallery of Outstanding Montanans, montanahistoricalsociety.org.
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"More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Montana Women," by Gayle C. Shirley, The Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, CN, 1995.


Chief Charlo
(1830-1910): Charlo was chief of the Bitteroot Salish. A Salish patriot, he placed his peoples' welfare above his own as he struggled to keep the Salish in the Bitterroot Valley.
Amazing Montanan Biography
"Charlo (ca. 1830-1910) Salish Patriot," Gallery of Outstanding Montanans, montanahistoricalsociety.org.


William Clark
(1839-1925): Clark made his wealth mining copper and became one of the richest men in the United States. Clark was passionate about business and politics and blended the two to dominate late-nineteenth-century Montana politics.
"Copper King W.A. Clark," The Copper King Mansion.
"The Copper Kings," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.


John Louis Clarke
(Cutapuis "The Man Who Talks Not") (1881-1970): Clarke was a Blackfeet artist. Left deaf and mute after contracting scarlet fever when he was two years old. Clarke went on to achieve international recognition for his carvings.
Amazing Montana Biography
"John Louis Clarke (1881-1970): Cutapuis - ‘The Man Who Talks Not,'" Gallery of Outstanding Montanans, montanahistoricalsociety.org.


Elouise Cobell
(1946-2011): Cobell was an accountant and the treasurer for the Blackfeet tribe. She successfully led a lawsuit against the federal government after realizing that it had cheated American Indians out of billions of dollars.
"Elouise Cobell," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"Indian Leader Cobell, 65, Dies," Helena Independent Record, October 18, 2011.


Fanny Cooney
(1877-1972): Cooney was an artist who illustrated books such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. From her ranch near Helena, she drew comics that were published in newspapers across the country.
"Fanny's World : The Life and Art of Fanny Cory Cooney," by Dave Walter, reprinted by F.Y. Cory Publishers, Inc., 1998.
"Fanny Cory Cooney," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.


Marcus Daly
(1841-1900): Daly was an Irish immigrant who owned the copper-rich Anaconda Copper Mining Company. Daly also dabbled in banking, lumbering, and coal mining, along with establishing the Anaconda Standard, which he used to further his political objectives.
"Marcus Daly (1841-1900),'" Gallery of Outstanding Montanans, montanahistoricalsociety.org.
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"The Copper Kings," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.


Father Pierre Jean de Smet
(1801-1873): Born in Belgium, Father de Smet immigrated to the United States to become a missionary. He traveled over 180,000 miles and established trust, good relations, and friendship with the Salish Indians.
"Fr. De Smet & Historic St. Mary's Misson," Historic St. Mary's Mission, 13 January 2012, historynet.com.
Amazing Montana Biography


Mary Fields
(1832-1914): Born into slavery, Fields originally moved to Montana to work for a convent. In Montana, Fields became known for her grit and hard work. She even drove a team of horses to deliver mail for the U.S. postal service.
"Mary Fields : Female Pioneer in Montana," by George Everett, Wild West Magazine, February 1996.
"Fields, Mary (ca. 1832-1914)," by Darlene Clark Hine, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, 1998.
 

Taylor Emmanuel Gordon
(1893-1971): Gordon was a vaudeville performer and singer. He was a central national and international figure in popularizing one of America's most distinctive and original forms of folk music, the spiritual. His autobiography, Born to Be, talks about his growing up in an African American family in White Sulphur Springs and his rise to stardom.
"Emmanuel Taylor Gordon," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"Guide to the Emmanuel Taylor Gordon Papers 1881-1980," The Northwest Digital Archives.


Idora Smith Guthrie
(1865-1937): Guthrie was a dynamic homesteader. A teacher, she also helped with farm chores, worked next to her husband at placer sites, and carried out domestic duties including washing, cooking, baking, milking, mending, and sewing. She was also an avid reader and journaler.
Amazing Montana Biography
"Guide to the Idora Z. Smith Guthrie Diaries 1871-1937," The Northwest Digital Archives.


Ella Knowles Haskell
(1860-1911): Knowles was the first woman allowed to practice law in Montana. She ran for office before women had the right to vote, and was respected for her eloquence, knowledge of the law, and fair play.
"Haskell, Ella Knowles (1860-1911)," by John R. Wunder, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.
"Ella Knowles Haskell (1860-1911): The Portia of the People," Gallery of Outstanding Montanans, montanahistoricalsociety.org.


Maggie Smith Hathaway
(1865-1955): Hathaway was a teacher, youth advocate, political activist, and diligent campaigner for women's rights and the temperance movement.
"Maggie Smith Hathaway: Social Crusader (1867-1955),"
Gallery of Outstanding Montanans, montanahistoricalsociety.org.
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"Maggie Smith Hathaway," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.


Frederick Heinze
(1869-1914): Heinze was one of Montana's most colorful early entrepreneurs. He was a copper baron and copper king who lost his riches when he moved to New York.
"The Copper Kings," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"The Copper King's Precipitous Fall," Smithsonian.com, 20 September 2012.


Jack Horner
(1946-present): Horner struggled with dyslexia (a reading disability) in school and had an undistinguished academic career. Yet he surged ahead to become the curator at the Museum of the Rockies, a consultant for the film "Jurassic Park," and Montana's most famous paleontologist.
"Jack Horner," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"Jack Horner," Travel Montana, Montanakids.com, 2007.


Natawista Ixsana
(1825-1893): Natawista was the Blackfeet wife of a white fur trader. She was an informal diplomat and interpreter, who helped maintain peaceful relations between the white traders and the Blackfeet Indians.
Amazing Montana Biography
"Natawista (Natawista Ikasana) ‘Sacred Snake Woman,' Madame Culbertson," by Mary Tollestrup, Mary's Geneology Treasures, 2000.


Alma Jacobs
(1916-1997): Jacobs was the first African American to serve as the Montana State librarian. She was a lifelong advocate of free access to library resources and was active in local and state civil rights causes.
"Jacobs, Alma S. (1916-1997)," by Carla W. Garner, Blackpast.org, 2007-2011.
"Alma Jacobs," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.


Evel Knievel
(1938-2007): Knievel was a motorcycle stuntman known for jumping incredible distances and obstacles.
"Evel Knievel Biography," www.thebiographychannel.co.uk, 2005-2011.
"'Evel' Knievel," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.


Frank Bird Linderman
(1869-1938): Linderman was a Montana pioneer who greatly respected Indian culture and traditions. He recorded Indian tales, autobiographies, and histories and was an advocate for homeless tribes.
"Frank Bird Linderman, Author (1869-1938," Gallery of Outstanding Montanans, montanahistoricalsociety.org.
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"Frank Linderman," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.


Elizabeth Davey Lochrie
(1890-1981): Lochrie was an artist known for her richly colored American Indian portraits. Lochrie spoke the Blackfeet language, learned sign language, and was adopted into the Blackfeet tribe.
Amazing Montana Biography
"Elizabeth Lochrie," by Doane Hoag, doanehoag.com, 2008.


Myrna Loy
(1905-1993):Loy was an actress who began in silent movies 1924. She retired from acting in the 1980s after having appeared in 124 films. At the height of her fame, she was crowned "Queen of the Movies."
"Myrna Loy," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"Myrna Loy," Travel Montana, Montanakids.com, 2007.


Mike Mansfield
(1903-2001): Mansfield was many things during his life: an enlisted sailor during World War I (at the age of 14!), a copper miner, a professor, a politician, and ambassador to Japan. Most significantly, he served in the U.S. Senate for 24 years, including sixteen years as the majority leader.
"Mike Mansfield," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"Mike Mansfield: Statesman (1903-2001)," Gallery of Outstanding Montanans, montanahistoricalsociety.org.
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Bob Marshall
(1901-1939): Marshall was a wilderness advocate who persuaded the government to protect 14 million acres of untouched forestland. The Bob Marshall Wilderness (950,000 acres of protected land) was named after him.
"Bob Marshall," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"Bob Marshall," wilderness.net.


Caroline McGill
(1879-1959): McGill was a respected physician in Montana who enjoyed a remarkable career in an age still awakening to the capabilities of women.
"A True Pioneer : Caroline McGill," by Rob Chaney, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 11 March 1997.
"Dr. Caroline M. McGill : ‘A Remarkable Life,'" Gallery of Outstanding Montanans, montanahistoricalsociety.org.


D'Arcy McNickel
(1904-1977): McNickel was an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes. He became an author known for his vivid descriptions of how white culture affected traditional Indian ways. His books also showed the human element in the Native American experience.
"D'ArcyMcNickle," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"American Indian Biography : D'ArcyMcNickle," Native American Netroots, nativeamericannetroots.net,


George Oiye
(1922-2006): Oiye hoped to join the Army Air Corps during World War II and was originally rejected because he was a Japanese-American. In 1943, two of his college professors defended Oiye's right to enlist. After passing a physical examination, he became part of the extremely well-trained 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated fighting unit of its size in American history.
Amazing Montana Biography
"George Oiye," interviewed by Ryan B., Syndey A., Bryce R., Jaime R., with Howard Levin, Telling Their Stories: Oral History Archives Project, 20 May 2004.


Earl Old Person
(1929-Present): Old Person is chief of the Blackfeet Nation. He was the longtime tribal chairman before becoming a Blackfeet ambassador and committed to preserving Blackfeet culture and traditions.
"Earl Old Person," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"Blackfeet Chief Seeks Museum for Treasures," by Eric Newhouse, Great Falls Tribune online, 7 April 2008.


Alice Greenough Orr
(1902-1995): Greenough Orr was a saddle bronc champion, bull rider, and dynamic rodeo star. She was known for her grit and style.
"Alice Greenough Orr," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"Alice Orr, 93, Top Bronc Rider and Rodeo Star," by Robert McG. Thomas Jr., New York Times, 24 August 1995.


Edgar Samuel Paxson
(1852-1919): Paxson was a Montana pioneer and self-taught western painter. He was recognized for his well-researched depictions of Montana historical events.
"E.S. Paxson: Artist (1852-1919)," Gallery of Outstanding Montanans, montanahistoricalsociety.org.
"Edgar S. Paxson (1852-1919)," Buffalo Bill Historic Center.


Janine Pease
(1949-present): Pease is a respected Crow educator and advocate.
She was the founding president of the Little Big Horn College in Hardin. She champions education as a means of Indian empowerment.
"Janine Pease," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"Janine Pease's Life and Work," Worldwisdom.com.


Chief Plenty Coups
(1848-1932): Plenty Coups was the last of the traditional Crow chiefs.
He was a skillful negotiator with the U.S. Government and a wise counselor to his own people.
"Chief Plenty Coups," by Rick and Susie Gratz, excerpted from Crow Country: Montana's Crow Tribe of Indians, Little Big Horn College.
"Chief Plenty Coups," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.


Huie Pock
(1849-1927): Pock overcame discrimination as a Chinese immigrant and became a respected Chinese physician in Butte. He saved many lives during the influenza outbreak in 1918.
Amazing Montana Biography
"Doctor Huie Pock," MahWah Society, maiwah.org.


Jeannette Rankin
(1880-1973): Rankin was the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1916. A feminist and pacifist, she voted against U.S. involvement in both World War I and World War II and protested against the Vietnam War.
"Jeannette Rankin," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"A Chronology and Primary Sources for, Teaching about Jeannette Rankin," by Jean Luckowski and James Lopach


Running Eagle
(Pi'tamaka) (c. 1820-1850): Running Eagle was a Blackfeet woman warrior known for her courage. She is one of the most famous women in Blackfeet history.
"Woman Spirit: Pitamakan (Running Eagle) – Piegan," by Julia White, Inner Space.
Amazing Montana Biography


Charles Marion Russell
(1864-1926): Russell is most famous as a western artist. He was also a brilliant story-teller, an advocate of the Northern Plains Indians, a cowboy, and a conservationist.
Amazing Montana Biography
"About Charles M. Russell," C.M. Russell Museum.


Minnie Spotted Wolf
(1923-1988): Spotted Wolf is believed to be the first Native American woman to join the Marine Corps Women's Reserve. She grew up on a ranch near Heart Butte, which may be why she found boot camp as "hard, but not too hard."
"On Memorial Day : A Trucker to Remember," by Todd Dills, overdriveonline.com, 30 May 2011.
"Heart Butte Rancher was First Native American Female in the U.S. Marines," by Peter Johnson, Montanacana, Great Falls Tribune.


Sister Providencia Tolan
(1909-1989): Tolan was a nun and professor who became an advocate for landless Indians in Montana.
"Tolan, Providencia, Sister," SNAC : The Social Networks and Archival Context Project.
"From Hill 57 to Capitol Hill: ‘Making the Sparks Fly': Sister Providencia Tolan's Drive on Behalf of Montana's Off-Reservation Indians, 1950-1970," by Joan Bishop, in Montana The Magazine of Western History, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Summer, 1993): 16-29.


Reverend William Van Orsdel
(1848-1919): Van Orsdel was a traveling preacher. He was known for coming to people "on their turf" to spread faith and friendship across Montana.
"William ‘Brother Van' Van Orsdel," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"William Van Orsdel: Minister (1848-1919)," Gallery of Outstanding Montanans, montanahistoricalsociety.org.
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Esther Vance
(1903-1983): Vance was the first woman licensed to fly airplanes in Montana.
"Vance, Esther Combes, 1903-1983," SNAC : The Social Networks and Archival Context Project.
"Esther Vance," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.


Burton K. Wheeler
(1882-1975): Wheeler was a Progressive political figure who served 24 years in the senate. In his early career, he was known for his strong belief in free speech and for standing up to the Anaconda Company. In his later career, he was known for opposing many of President Roosevelt's policies.
"Burton K. Wheeler," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
"Burton Wheeler," Spartacus Educational Publishers Ltd., www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk.


Jean Wrobel
(1920-2004): Wrobel was a jazz pianist. She was called the "young boogie-woogie sensation" when she traveled to New York at age twenty-two and began her career as a musician.
"Jean Wrobel," Great Falls Tribune, 125 Montanan Newsmakers.
 "Jean (Fileff) Wrobel," The Missoulian, 26 August 2004. 


Robert Yellowtail
(1889-1988): Yellowtail studied law as a young man in order to defend Indian rights. He became the interpreter and lawyer for Chief Plenty Coups and the Crow tribe. He later became Crow tribal chairman.
Amazing Montana Biography
"Robert Yellowtail," Travel Montana, Montanakids.com, 2007.


Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail
(1903-1981): Yellowtail was an extraordinary leader and the first American Indian graduate registered nurse. She put her nursing skills to work on the Crow Reservation and for the U.S. Public Health Service.
"Big Heart," American Society of Registered Nurses, 1 November 2007.
"Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail: Health Care and Native Rights Advocate (1903-1981)," Gallery of Outstanding Montanans, montanahistoricalsociety.org.
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