Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

Museum and research center closed for renovations. For more info, call (406) 444-2694.

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: Entries for Minerva Allen and Sister Providencia Tolan have links to scholarly articles that are harder to read than 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 Montanans: Minerva Allen
"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,
"Celebrating Sarah Gammon Bickford," by Ellen Baumler. Women's History Matters. 2014

Eric Bergoust (1969-present): Bergoust is an aerial freestyle skier. He is an innovator and Olympic gold medalist in the sport.
"Eric Bergoust," Missoulian
"Eric Bergoust,", Cool Montana Stories

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," Encyclopedia Brittanica, B.M. Bower: American Author and Screenwriter
"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," Evelyn Cameron Heritage Inc., The Evelyn Cameron Story
"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,
"Successful Ex-Slave Key in Belt's Founding, Growth," by Mary Pickett, Billings Gazette

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 Montanans: Chief Charlo
"Charlo (ca. 1830-1910) Salish Patriot," Gallery of Outstanding Montanans,

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.
"William Clark, The Copper King," by Keith Edgarton PhD
"The Copper King Mansion History," Copper King Mansion

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 Montanans: John Louis Clarke
"John Louis Clarke (1881-1970): Cutapuis—‘The Man Who Talks Not'," Gallery of Outstanding Montanans,

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 Pepion Cobell: Banker-Warrior," by Laura Ferguson. Women's History Matters. 2014
"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
"Drawing on Motherhood: The Cartoons and Illustrations of Fanny Cory Cooney," Women's History Matters. 2014.

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,
""Marcus Daly," Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004.

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.
Amazing Montanans: Father de Smet
"Fr. De Smet & Historic St. Mary's Mission," Historic St. Mary's Mission, 13 January 2012,

Smoke Elser (1934-present): Outfitter, guide and teacher, Elser has dedicated his life to sharing Montana's wild places with others. With his wife Thelma, he built an outfitting business that introduced thousands of people from around the world to Montana's wilderness.
"81-Year-Old Wrangler Teaches Cowboy Skills to Navy SEALs, FBI," by Molly Loomis, National Geographic, July 3, 2015
"Smoke Elser's Fire: Montana’s Most Famous Horse Packer Continues His Life’s Work," by Jayme Feary, American Cowboy, n.d.
Three Miles an Hour: A PBS Documentary, MontanaPBS, 2011.

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
"The Life and Legend of Mary Fields," by Annie Hanshew. Women's History Matters. 2014
"Fields, Mary (ca. 1832-1914)," by Darlene Clark Hine, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, 1998

Emmanuel Taylor 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.
"Gordon, Taylor Emmanuel (1893-1971)," by Barbara C. Behan
Taylor Emanuel Gordon,
"Guide to the Emmanuel Taylor Gordon Papers 1881-1980," 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 Montanans: Idora Smith Guthrie
"Guide to the Idora Z. Smith Guthrie Diaries 1871-1937," 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.
"Ella Knowles: Portia of the People," by Ellen Baumler. Women's History Matters. 2014.
"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,

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,
"After Suffrage: Women Politicians at the Montana State Capitol," by Ellen Baumler. Women's History Matters. 2014

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.
"Fritz Augusts Heinze by Ellen Baumler. Montana Moments, 2013.

"F. Augustus Heinze of Montana and the Panic of 1907," by David Fettig. 1989.

"The Copper King's Precipitous Fall,", 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," Famous Scientists. 2015.
"Jack Horner,", Cool Montana Stories

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 Montanans: Natawista Ixsana
"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.
"Alma Smith Jacobs: Beloved Librarian, Tireless Activist," by Annie Hanshew. Women's History Matters. 2014
"Jacobs, Alma S. (1916-1997)," by Carla W. Garner,, 2007-2011

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,
"Linderman, Frank (1869-1938)," by James Bachman.

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 Montanans: Elizabeth Davey Lochrie
"Elizabeth Lochrie," by Doane Hoag,, 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,", Cool Montana Stories
"Myrna Loy,", Montana

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: The Great American Statesman," The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation
"Mike Mansfield: Statesman (1903-2001)," Gallery of Outstanding Montanans,

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.
"Robert Marshall," American National Biography
"Bob Marshall,"

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 Compassionate Heart and Keen Mind: The Life of Doctor Caroline McGill," by Annie Hanshew. Women's History Matters. 2014
"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,

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'Arcy McNickle," Encyclopedia of World Biography
"American Indian Biography: D'Arcy McNickle," Native American Netroots,

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 Montanans: George Oiye
"George Oiye," interviewed by Ryan B., Sydney 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.
"Old Person: A Legacy for the Ages," Great Falls Tribune, by David Murray
"Battle for the Blackfeet: An interview with Chief Earl Old Person," byJustin Franz, The Flathead Beacon online, 23 October 20013

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: Rodeo Queen of the Wild West," by Brian D'Ambrosio.
"Alice Greenough Orr, 93, Queen of Rodeo Bronc Riders," Chicago Tribune, 27 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,
"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 Pretty-on-Top," Women of Hope, Native American/Hawaiian, page 15.
"Janine Pease's Life and Work,"

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, Crow Chief,", Cool Montana Stories

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 Montanans: Huie Pock
"Doctor Huie Pock," MahWah Society,

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: Suffragist, Congresswoman, Pacifist," by Mary Murphy. Women's History Matters. 2014.
"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.
Amazing Montanans: Running Eagle
"The Saga of Pitamakan, the Pikuni Blackfeet Joan of Arc," Historical Fort Benton, 2011
"Woman Spirit: Pitamakan (Running Eagle)—Piegan," by Julia White, Inner Space (This resource is temporarily unavailable.)

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 Montanans: Charles Marion Russell
Illustration History: Charles Marion Russell

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,, 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.
"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.” Montana The Magazine of Western History 43, no. 3 (Summer 1993):16-29.
"Sister Providencia: Advocate for Landless Indians," by Laura Ferguson. Women's History Matters. 2014

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.
"Obituary for William Wesley Van Orsdel," Find A Grave
"William Van Orsdel: Minister (1848-1919)," Gallery of Outstanding Montanans,

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
"Queens of the Clouds," Women's History Matters

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.
"Mining City History: Wheeler had colorful start in Butte, brilliant career," Montana Standard, 2 November 2020
"Burton Wheeler," Spartacus Educational Publishers Ltd.

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.
"Backroads of Montana: Episode 7 Havre to Hamilton," beginning at 20:25. 1995.
"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 Montanans: Robert Yellowtail
"Robert Yellowtail,", Cool Montana Stories

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.
"Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail: Our Bright Morning Star," by Laura Ferguson. Women's History Matters. 2014
"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,