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What Is the History of the State Flag of Montana?

T. Carrier
T. Carrier

Each individual state in the United States of America has many objects that are intended to represent and symbolize the state and its people. State flags reside among the most prominent political and cultural state symbols. The state flag of Montana was first recognized as the official flag of the northern state in 1905, due to its strong cultural and aesthetic images. Modifications involving the presentation of the state’s name were added in both 1981 and 1985. This particular flag’s history precedes its state status symbol, however, as it became a battleground fixture during the Spanish-American War.

The main portion of the state flag of Montana, consisting of the state seal against a blue background, has remained since the official 1905 recognition of the flag by the Ninth Legislative Assembly of Montana. This move was born out of Montana’s lack of a state flag. In 1981, officials voted to include the state’s name on the flag as well, in order to distinguish it from other flags. The basic yellow makeup of the name was further added in 1985, because flag makers had used a wide variety of printing styles and the government desired a more standard and uniform look.

Montana's first state flag was adopted in 1905.
Montana's first state flag was adopted in 1905.

The state flag of Montana makes use of some of the common images associated with the Montana landscape and Montana life. Farming equipment — specifically, a pick, shovel, and plow — is prominently displayed in the circular image on the flag, calling forth Montana’s rich agricultural and ranching heritage. One of the state’s major landmarks and natural resources, the Missouri River, also holds a prime spot in the flag’s image. This seal also pays tribute to the mountainous landscape that comprises much of the state.

In addition, mining plays an important role in Montana’s history, and this is recognized via the state motto that is inscribed on the state flag of Montana: “Oro y plata.” This Spanish phrase means “gold and silver.” In the mid-19th century, many prospectors uncovered rich deposits of gold, silver, and other precious minerals. These discoveries lead to Montana’s rise as a major mining destination and an important railroad site. The land thus became prosperous before Montana officially became a state later in the century.

Several military outposts were also established in Montana, which may have contributed to the ultimate use of a military flag as a state flag. The state flag of Montana actually began as a symbolic call of arms for Montana-based troops. This usage began during a conflict involving Spain and America over Caribbean territories: the Spanish-American War. The troops’ commander, Colonel Kessler, desired a flag that would bolster spirits and separate Montana military personnel from other American troops. Following the war, the governor was given ownership of the flag, which also likely increased its political appeal.

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    • Montana's first state flag was adopted in 1905.
      By: mmmg
      Montana's first state flag was adopted in 1905.