American states and territories have been adopting flags since the first colonization, with official flags appearing as early as the 1860s. The trend was more popular in the 1890s and, by World War I, most states proudly flew their flag just below the country’s banner. Most states have since tweaked their original designs – Utah just adopted a new design in 2011. The state flag of Montana has remained unchanged for years and contains a wealth of information about the state in its imagery.
Before Montana was even a consolidated territory, the area was divided between the Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Dakota territories. It became a sovereign territory in May of 1864 but had a rough road to statehood. The citizens attempted to ratify a constitution and become a state in 1866, but failed.
They succeeded in passing a constitution in November of 1884, but, due to political motivations, the Congress of the United States did not officially admit them to the union until 1889, after the state legislature had approved a constitution that was accepted by a majority in Congress. Once admitted, President Benjamin Harrison declared Montana the 41st American state.
They created their flag shortly after achieving statehood, using it as a banner to rally militia during the Spanish-American War in 1898. It was not officially adopted as the state flag until 1905. Unlike many states, Montana’s flag has changed very little since its initial adoption. The biggest change came in 1981 when the word “Montana” was officially added to the design. The size and type of the state name were standardized in 1985, and this official design remains unchanged.
Montana Territory Coat of Arms
Symbols and Meanings
The Montana flag is like many state flags, consisting of the state seal presented on a blue field with the word “Montana” in Helvetica Bold font. The blue field ties it to the blue of the national flag to emphasize Montana’s role in the larger union. It is also traditionally presented with gold fringe on three edges – excluding the flag pole edge.
The state seal depicts the beauty, industry, and history of Montana, underlined by its motto – “Oro y Plata,” which translates to Gold and Silver. It is in Spanish as a nod to the early Spanish settlement and rule of the area before it was acquired by France and, later, the United States through the Louisiana Purchase.
The motto and an earlier version of the seal were adopted in 1865 by the first meeting of the territorial legislature to recognize the impact of the mining industry on the wealth of the Montana territory. In fact, due to the gold rush, by the 1880s the state capitol of Helena had more millionaires per capita than any other United States city.
The Great Seal of the State of Montana
The Great Seal of the State of Montana as we know it today predates the flag by just five years, created in 1893 by the state legislature. It features a miner’s pick and shovel, another nod to the importance of mining in the state. It also features a plow to represent the thousands of acres of farmland.
These tools are surrounded by representations of the state’s natural beauty. The sun rises over a snowcapped mountain and shines down on the Great Falls flowing into the Missouri River. It also displays the landscape of plains and forests filled with the state tree, the Ponderosa pine.
The motto is displayed in a ribbon across the bottom of the seal. When the seal is displayed alone, it is edged by a white ring with the words “The Great Seal of the State of Montana,” though this ring is dropped when it is displayed on the flag.
Montanans proudly fly their flag on many state and local properties, but it has also taken on a special significance to the Grizzlies football players at the University of Montana. Every game day, whether they are at home or away, four Montana players carry flags as they run from the tunnel – three Montana flags and one United States flag.
The honor of carrying a flag is semi-rotating. The two senior captains traditionally carry two of the flags, while the other two bearers are selected in varying ways. Sometimes they are chosen for geographical significance – a player hailing from Arizona at a game in that state – or a player is honored for outstanding performance in a game or practice.
The tradition, though it has expanded from one Montana flag to three, has outlasted many other game day rituals, dating back to before the Grizzlies were even based in Missoula.
Though the Montana flag is not outstanding for its uniqueness or hailed for its creativity, it represents the pride and hard work of the people of that state, and they fly it with pride.