The Railroad Arrives
Riverboats were the only form of transportation linking Montana and the rest of the nation until the 1880s. Boats could reach as far inland as Fort Benton on the Missouri and to Pompey’s Pillar on the Yellowstone, but real economic growth and settlement awaited the coming of the railroad.
The Union Pacific built a spur line north from Utah to Butte in 1881. The Northern Pacific crossed the length of Montana, linking Portland and Chicago in 1883. In return for opening the northern transcontinental line, the Northern Pacific was given a land grant: For every mile of track laid, the railroad received 40 sections (40 square miles) of land. In Montana alone, this amounted to 17 million acres.
The Great Northern stretched its service along the Montana-Canada border, joining Minneapolis and Seattle in 1893. The Milwaukee Road crossed central Montana on its way to Seattle in 1909. With access to coastal markets, Montana opened up to further development and immigration.
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition