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The U.S. Presidents who visited Montana while in office

Bill Clinton held a Town Hall meeting in Billings at the KTVQ studio on June 1, 1995.
The U.S. Presidents who visited Montana in office
Posted at 9:21 AM, Feb 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-19 12:05:28-05

HELENA — Montana is a popular destination for people to visit. Since its creation as a territory, people have traveled far and wide to see the splendors of Big Sky Country—those visitors included 19 presidents of the United States. Let’s take a look at when sitting presidents visited Montana.

While researching this piece, I found two notable similarities between presidents visiting Montana. The first, every U.S. president who visited remarked on the beauty and grandeur of the landscape. The second, many presidents wanted to go fishing while they were here.

The following list includes visits to Montana from U.S. presidents who were in office at the time of their visit that I could verify with documentation. There may be additional visits or undocumented visits not included in this list that I wasn't able to find in my brief research.

Chester A. Arthur - 1883

Chester A. Arthur visit Yellowstone National Park
President Chester A. Arthur’s party at Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone Park, Aug. 24, 1883. Seated from left, Montana Gov. Schuyler Crosby, Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan, President Arthur, War Secretary Robert T. Lincoln, Sen. George Vest; standing from left, Lt. Col. Michael Sheridan, Gen. Anson Stager, Capt. Philo Clark, Surrogate of New York Daniel Rollins, Lt. Col. James F. Gregory. F. Jay Haynes photo, Library of Congress.

The 21st president of the United States, Chester A. Arthur briefly stopped through the Montana Territory in 1883 to visit Yellowstone National Park for a fishing trip. Included in the party was Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan, commanding general of the U.S. Army, and Montana Territorial Gov. John S. Crosby. The trip was the furthest west a sitting U.S. president had traveled at the time.

Theodore Roosevelt - 1903

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was no stranger to Montana when he visited as president in 1903. He first came to the Dakota territory in 1883 and owned a ranch along the Little Missouri River near Medora, ND and did business in Montana. While living in the area he even got in a bar fight in Mingusville, now Wibaux, which the Harvard boxer won according to his recounting of the incident.

Theodore Roosevelt in Montana
Library of Congress

In 1903 as President, Roosevelt made a grand tour of the West heading to Yellowstone National Park. On his way, he visited and gave speeches in Butte, Helena and Gardiner. While in Gardiner he dedicated the Roosevelt Arch.

William H. Taft - 1909 and 1911

In 1909 William H. Taft visited Butte, Anaconda and Helena as part of his 14,000-mile, 57-day train tour of the United States. While in Helena, Taft disappeared from his regularly scheduled parade route after speaking at the Montana State Fairgrounds which were housed in Helena at the time. The 27th President of the United States made a quick detour to the site where Mount St. Charles College, now known as Carroll College, was being built. Taft joined John Patrick Carroll in the laying of the cornerstone of St. Charles Hall.

William Taft in Montana
University of Montana Mansfield Library

Taft returned to Butte in 1911 where he gave a speech and was presented with the Charles M. Russell painting “Roping a Grizzly”. That painting now resides in the Buffalo Bill Center for the West in Cody, WY.

Woodrow Wilson -1919

Woodrow Wilson gave speeches in Billings, Livingston and Helena as part of his tour trying to win over public support for the United States to join the League of Nations. The U.S. never joined the League of Nations but was a founding member of its replacement organization the United Nations.

Warren G. Harding -1923

In 1923, President Warren G. Harding embarked on his “Voyage of Understanding” tour, the first visit of a sitting president to the U.S. territory of Alaska. As part of the trip he visited and spoke in Helena, Butte and Gardiner. Harding never made it back to Washington D.C., dying from a heart attack in San Francisco on August 2, 1923.

Calvin Coolidge - 1927

The 30th President of the U.S. Calvin Coolidge came to Montana in 1927 with the same aspiration as many modern visitors, angling for trout. Coolidge made a brief stop at the Billings train depot on his way to Livingstone and then to Gardiner to visit Yellowstone National Park.

Franklin D. Roosevelt - 1934 and 1937

Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Glacier National Park in August 1934, specifically the Two Medicine Chalet. It was there were he gave one of his public radio broadcasts.

“Today, for the first time in my life, I have seen Glacier Park. Perhaps I can best express to you my thrill and delight by saying that I wish every American, old and young, could have been with me today. The great mountains, the glaciers, the lakes and the trees make me long to stay here for all the rest of the summer,” said FDR in his address.

FDR visits Fort Peck Dam
Montana Historical Society

FDR also made a stop at where the Fort Peck Dam was being constructed. The dam was a major project for Public Works Administration and part of Roosevelt’s “New Deal”.

The 32nd President of the U.S. returned to Montana in 1937 to again tour the Fort Peck Dam construction site. He made several speaking stops along the Hi-Line.

Harry S. Truman - 1948, 1950 and 1952

Harry S. Truman's first visit was to Butte on June 8, 1948, while campaigning for his second term against Republican candidate Tom Dewey. Local reports at the time estimated that 40,000 people filled the streets to greet him during the campaign stop. Two years later at a speech in Butte, Truman stated it was a night he would never forget.

Truman’s second visit was on May 12, 1950, to Great Falls and Havre to address the development of reclamation dams. While making his way to the Electric City the 33rd U.S. president made a “whistle-stop” in Helena which coincided with Vigilante Day.

“I certainly am glad to be here on Vigilante Day,” said Truman at the event. “I wish I could have seen that parade. I was glad to get a chance to see those floats alongside the train on each side. I think my family has enjoyed them as much as anything they have seen on the trip.”

President Harry S. Truman Visits Hungry Horse Dam
President Harry S. Truman Visits Hungry Horse Dam

Truman’s final visit to the Treasure State was on October 1, 1952, for the dedication of the Hungry Horse Dam.

Dwight D. Eisenhower - 1954

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first sitting U.S. president to visit Missoula. In 1954, the Garden City welcomed Eisenhower for the dedication fo the Forest Service smokejumper headquarters.

John F. Kennedy - 1963

John F. Kennedy visits Great Falls
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum

John F. Kennedy visited Billings and Great Falls as part of his Conservation Tour of Western States. Kennedy used the tour to raise awareness of environmental issues and discuss his administration’s agenda on national and international affairs.

Lyndon B. Johnson - 1964

Lyndon B. Johnson visited Great Falls on Sept. 16, 1964. Around 30,000 turned out for his speech at Malmstrom Airforce Base with Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson to mark the development of the Columbia River Basin project.

On October 12, 1964, Johnson visited Butte during his election campaign.

Richard Nixon - 1971

Richard Nixon visited Montana in 1971 to tour the Libby Dam construction site. He was joined by U.S Senator Mike Mansfield and U.S Rep. Richard Shoup. The dam came from the 1964 Columbia River Development Treaty.

Gerald Ford - 1975

Four years later Gerald Ford visited Libby for the dedication of the Libby Dam. The completed 422-foot tall Libby Dam created lake Koocanusa, a 90-mile-long reservoir that extends 42 miles into Canada. The lake’s name comes from combining the letters of Kootenai, Canada, and the United States.

President Gerald R. Ford and Canadian Minister of Energy, Mines, and Resources Donald S. Macdonald With Others on the Observation Deck at Libby Dam in Libby, Montana
Gerald R. Ford Library

Ford said at the dedication: “All of you know better than I that Montana is one of our most rugged and untouched areas. It stands as a symbol of our natural resources and of our native soil. Libby Dam is also a symbol of how a commitment to the environment can be balanced with our technological needs.”

Ronald Reagan - 1982

Ronald Reagan's first trip to Montana as president was to Billings for the celebration of the centennial of Billings and Yellowstone County. When speaking at the event Reagan also spoke about issues important to his administration and praised Montana U.S. Rep. Ron Marlenee, a Republican, who was up for reelection.

The 40th President of the United States returned to Big Sky Country on October 28, 1982, to campaign for Republican candidates including Marlenee and U.S. Senate candidate Larry R. Williams, father of actress Michelle Williams. Marlenee would win his reelection but Williams would lose to Democrat incumbent John Melcher.

George H. W. Bush - 1989, 1990 and 1992

George H.W. Bush visited Helena on September 18, 1989, to help Montana celebrate its centennial.

“Let me say to everyone here and to all the people of Montana, that it is a great pleasure for me to be back in this great state. Happy birthday… 100,” President Bush said in his speech that day.

Bush would make two more visits to the state. In 1990 he held an antidrug rally in Billings and advocated for his administration's efforts to address drug abuse in the country.

The 41st President of the United States returned to the Treasure State again in 1992, again returning to Billings but this time to campaign for Republican candidates and his re-election.

Bill Clinton - 1995

Bill Clinton held a Town Hall meeting in Billings at the KTVQ studio on June 1, 1995. The 42nd president to questions on various topics including the public’s distrust of government, gun violence and the fighting in Bosnia at the time.

qclinton.jpg

George W. Bush - 2001 and 2005

George W. Bush spoke at MetraPark Expo and Convention Center in Billings on March 26, 2001. At the event he spoke about his administration’s proposed budget and financial spending on the federal level.

George W. Bush in Billings
WHITE HOUSE PHOTO BY ERIC DRAPER

Bush returned to Montana in 2005, holding a Social Security-focused town hall meeting in Great Falls on Thursday, Feb. 3. The event was part of a series of town hall meetings being held in multiple states.

RELATED: Bush in Montana: A look back at campaigning, conservation, the centennial and compassion

Barack Obama - 2009

On August 14, 2009, Barack Obama traveled to Belgrade to hold a town hall meeting on health care and health insurance reform. Obama held similar town halls across the nation at the time trying to get public support for a federal overhaul of the U.S. health care system.

President Barack Obama and local fishing guide Dan Vermillion fish for trout on the East Gallatin River near Belgrade, Mont., on Aug.14, 2009.
U.S. National Archives

While in the Gallatin Valley, he did as many visitors in Montana do. He tried his hand at fly fishing and attempted to land a trout in the East Gallatin River.

Donald J. Trump - 2018

Two years into Donald Trump’s presidency, the Republican set the record for the most visits to Montana by a sitting U.S. president. Trump traveled four times to Big Sky Country in 2018, all to campaign for Republican candidates.

In particular, Trump campaigned to unseat then two-term Democrat U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. Tester’s seat had been seen as one of the highest chances for Republicans to flip that year. Trump also took issue with Tester for derailing Trump’s cabinet nomination of Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, then White House doctor and now Republican U.S. Rep. for Texas's 13th district.

RELATED: An inside look: Q2 rides along in presidential press pool for Trump rally

Trump held rallies in Great Falls, Billings, Missoula and Bozeman leading up to the election, heavily supporting Republican Matt Rosendale, now Montana U.S. Rep., in a challenging Tester. The race saw record spending, with more than $70.5 million spent across all candidates. Tester would win re-election for a third term and again briefly challenged by Rosendale in 2024, with Rosendale dropping from the race after six days following Trump’s endorsement of Rosendale’s primary opponent Republican Tim Sheehy.