150 years ago, Helena was nothing but a dusty gulch at the base of a mountain. Native American tribes like the Blackfeet, Salish and Crow frequently passed through but made no long-term settlements in the area. Helena wasn’t even a thought until 1864 when a group now known as the Four Georgians stumbled upon gold in the gulch.
The Four Georgians staked their claim and named it Last Chance Gulch. It didn’t take long for news to spread about the gold there. The town became a bustling metro—or what passed for a metro in the 1860s—within a few short years. Hundreds of businesses opened, and people moved in droves to be a part of this new community and try their luck in the gold mines. Many of the town’s 3,000 new residents were miners from Minnesota, and they started to call the town Saint Helena, after a familiar town in their home territory. Over time, residents abbreviated the name to just Helena, and the city we know and love was officially born.
In 1875, after a long, fierce battle between leaders of Helena and Anaconda, Helena became the capital of Montana, and remains the seat of Montana’s government today. The Northern Pacific Railroad connected Helena to the rest of the rapidly industrializing world in 1883, and the town grew more and more as people passed through by rail. Helena started to become a town in its own right, not just a mining community, which helped prevent its collapse when the gold finally ran out.
People who’d gotten rich off the gold in Last Chance Gulch stayed in Helena and supported local businesses and trade industries. Helena became a supplies hub for outlying mining towns and railroads and developed a strong agricultural industry.
Today, more than 30,000 people call Helena home. Last Chance Gulch has been lovingly restored as a historic downtown, and both businesses and agricultural industries thrive. You’ll often see locals going out of their way to make life easier for their fellow community members and relying on their own ingenuity to make Montana an even better place to live, work and experience the joys of life. Helena is and always will be a monument to the pioneering spirit of everyday Montanans.