Presidential visits to Montana date back 135 years

President Chester A. Arthur came to Montana before it was a state in 1883. Since then a long line of presidents made appearances in the Treasure State. Before President Donald Trump's visit to Missoula last week the last sitting president to come to 'The Garden City' was President Dwight D. Eisenhower. 'Ike' dedicated the Missoula Aerial Fire Depot in 1954.

In this week's Montana Moment we explore past presidential visits to Big Sky Country.

President Trump is the 18th sitting president to visit Montana.

Trump spoke to huge crowds in Missoula last week.

The last sitting president to visit Missoula was Dwight D. Eisenhower who came to the Garden City to dedicate the Missoula Aerial Fire Depot in 1954.

Presidential visits date back to 1883 when Chester A. Arthur came to Yellowstone Park before Montana was even a state.

President Eisenhower's visit in 1954 attracted huge crowds and fanfare.

Missoula Smokejumper Base Operations Foreman Dan Cottrell showed NBC Montana framed pictures that are on the wall of the center of President Eisenhower's visit.

Pointing to one of the photos he showed us the massive lines of cars of people who came to see the President 64 years ago.

He showed us several pictures encased in a large frame.

"In these photos you've got Eisenhower," he said, " You can see a couple jumpers talking with Eisenhower and presenting him with an honorary certificate from the smokejumper program."

In one of the photos there is a picture of Eisenhower accepting a helmet.

"He put the helmet on," said Cottrell.

Joan Buck Nicholson was in going to college in Missoula in 1954.

She remembers the Eisenhower visit well.

" A group of us rode our bicycles out to the Smokejumper Center," she said. " But there was so much traffic and such a big crowd we never did see the President."

High School bands turned out to play for Eisenhower at the dedication.

Janice Park Carmichael played clarinet for the Corvallis High School band.

She remembers the buttons that were prevalent at the time and the slogan "I Like Ike."

Carmichael was thrilled to be part of that huge crowd.

But she said the band was so far back it was hard to see "Ike."

"I felt like I needed a stool and some field glasses," she said, "so I could see him better."

"Supposedly it was the biggest gathering of people in Montana at that time," said Missoula historian, author and publisher Stan Cohen.

One of Cohen's favorite stories of a presidential visit was in 1911.

President Theodore Roosevelt was already out of office.

" He was not sitting," said Cohen. " He was running for president under the Bull Moose Party, an election he did not win."

But Cohen has a rare keepsake from Roosevelt's appearance.

He displayed a menu from the Florence Hotel in Missoula for a banquet in honor of Roosevelt.

The menu is dated 1911.

The number of visits by presidents to Montana are limited compared to appearances in states with larger populations.

But they are well documented.

The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library at the University of Montana has an extensive collection of photos.

There is one of Warren G. Harding, who was in Boulder in 1923.

There's another photo of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Butte during the 1932 campaign.

" Franklin Delano Roosevelt was apparently here twice," said Cohen.

As a sitting president FDR came to Montana in 1934 and 1937.

President Harry Truman visited the state three times.

He was in Butte, Havre and Kalispell.

President John Kennedy came to Billings and Great Falls in September, 1963.

"He of course was killed in November 1963," said Cohen, " so he was here right before his death."

A year later President Lyndon Johnson visited crowds in Butte.

President Richard Nixon came to Kalispell and Libby in 1971.

President Gerald Ford dedicated Libby Dam in 1975.

President Barack Obama was in Belgrade in 2009.

Montanans have always been proud to show off their state-to Presidents Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

"We're a little mystique being a western state," said Cohen.

He said many people in other parts of the country consider Montana "the wild west."

NBC Montana spent some time in downtown Missoula where we met Jonathan and Sonia Warner and their young daughter Iris.

Sonia said she thinks it's good for a president to see "where people stand" and to see the "pride they take in their state."

"Here you can see where politics work a little better on a smaller scale," said Jonathan.

The Warners think it's "useful" for a president to get out of Washington D.C, sometimes to see how that smaller scale works.




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