January 24, 2019

Montana's Last Best Nicknames

This year marks the 130th Anniversary of Montana’s Statehood. Montana has had many nicknames through the years, and we often wonder how each came into being. Below is a brief look at some of the more popular ones. 

Treasure State
In 1895 "Treasure State" became the first nickname to gain wide appeal.  It appeared on the cover of a promotional booklet published by the Montana Bureau of Agriculture, Labor, and Industry.  "Treasure State" was chosen because of Montana's status as the country's foremost producer of metallic treasures - gold, silver, and copper.

Land of Shining Mountains
"Land of Shining Mountains" also appeared in 1895 in the same promotional booklet published by the Montana Breau of Agriculture, Labor, and Industry that introduced "Treasure State."  This motto had its origins with brothers Pierre and Chevalier Verendrye, French Canadian fur traders and explorers, who gazed upon the northern Rockies and upped them the "Shining Mountains."  According to Joaquin Miller's 1894 history Montana, Native tribes also referred to the Rockies as "the Shining" because of their snow caps.

Last Best Place
Originally the title of a compilation of essays, poems, stories by Montanans, The Last Best Place: A Montana Anthology, it developed into the ‘last best’ descriptor of the state of Montana. William Kittredge, co-editor of the anthology, coined the phrase through an ‘epiphany’ of sorts:
“In an interview, they recalled being "in a tizzy" at an editorial meeting in 1987. They could not come up with a title for the book. Then Kittredge had an epiphany, which may or may not have been helped by the gin-and-tonic he was drinking at the time. He melded a line from a Richard Hugo poem about "the last good kiss" with Abraham Lincoln's definition of the United States as "the last best hope of mankind."*
Stubbed-Toe State
First seen in the 1922 edition of the World Almanac, the only explanation for Montana as the "Stubbed-Toe State" comes from the Dictionary of Americanisms, which asserts that the nickname refers to the mountainous region of western Montana where the multitude of rocks might pose a hazard to the novice hiker.

Montana: High, Wide and Handsome
Montana: High, Wide and Handsome first appeared in the 1940s on the cover of a Montana Highway Department publicity brochure. This phrase was also the title of Joseph Kinsey Howard's acclaimed book. Although the original source of the phrase is unknown, evidence points to C. B. Glasscock, who stated in War of the Copper Kings published in 1935 that "Life in Butte was high, wide, and occasionally handsome."

Big Sky Country
Big Sky Country was adopted as a Montana nickname in 1961 and is based on the book by A. B. "Bud" Guthrie.  In the summer of 1961 Jack Hallowell hosted writer John Weaver of Holiday magazine, who asked to meet Guthrie.  During their meeting Hallowell casually asked if Guthrie would object to the state advertising department using "Big Sky" to promote tourism.  Guthrie granted his permission on the spot.  Ironically, the title of the classic novel of the American fur trade originated with Guthrie's editor, Bill Sloane, because Guthrie submitted his manuscript without a title.  Guthrie had sent biographical notes, including the exclamation--"standing under the big sky I feel free"--that his father made during his first day in Montana."

Montana - Naturally Inviting
In 1985 state promoters developed "Montana - Naturally Inviting" as a replacement to "Big Sky Country," as they feared that state advertising using that slogan would be confused with advertising for Chet Huntley's Big Sky Resort south of Bozeman.


*[From the August 26, 2005 Washington Post https://wapo.st/2RNb3vY]

[Content borrowed and updated from the MHS Montana History Compass, which contains so much more information about Montana’s history. https://bit.ly/2F93E8y]