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In 1865 the Montana Legislative committee held a meeting in Bannack, the Territorial capital at the time, to create Montana's first seal. This committee was headed by Frances McGee Thompson, a representative from Beaverhead County who although didn't have great artistic ability, did have some experience engraving seals for mining companies.
Essential to the Legislative committee was to reflect in their seal the importance of agriculture and mining, the abundance of resources and wildlife, and the beauty of the land. With these ideas Thompson designed a seal which depicts a plow in a field, a pick and shovel for mining, the mountains, river, the falls, the sun, trees and wildlife of Montana. Around the seal were the words "The Seal of the Territory of Montana." A motto was also conceived, "Oro el Plata", which in Spanish means Gold and Silver. The motto appears in the lower portion of the seal.
On February 4, 1865 Thompson submitted a report and a sketch to the Legislature for approval. At some point some of the council members did want the motto changed to "El Dorado" which in Spanish means The Place of Gold. But both houses agreed to pass the measure with the seal in tact as the special committee and Thompson originally designed it with the exception that someone caught the grammatical error in the motto and it was changed to "Oro y Plata." On February 9, 1865 Governor Sidney Edgerton signed Montana's first symbol into law. The resolution was to read:

The Territorial seal shall as a central group represent a plow, a miner's pick and shovel, upon the left mountain scenery, underneath as a motto the words "Oro el Plata." The seal shall be two inches in diameter and surrounded by the words, "The Seal of the Territory of Montana."1

There were no experienced engravers in Montana to handle the job of properly engraving the intricate design of the seal. Governor Edgerton assigned his nephew William Fisk Sanders to handle this task. Sanders, a lawyer, was able to contact the needed professionals and delivered back the official seal in the spring of 1866. But as written above, the resolution did not precisely express the intentions of it's artist Mr. Thompson and the hired engraver created a version of the seal that lacked trees and wildlife. Sanders did remember to mention the buffalo so a single one was included.
The seal has seen its share of changes over time. In 1876 the buffalo was removed and clouds were added to the seal. Then in 1887 when a replacement was needed for the seal, the engraver returned a seal in which the mountains had changed, clouds were removed, trees replaced where the buffalo had stood, and the sun was now setting instead of rising.
Montana became a state on November 8, 1889 but still used the Territorial seal. It wasn't until 1891 that Senator Cornelius Hedges initiated a change in the seal:

"On the outer margin…the words 'The Great Seal of Montana,' and in smaller letters, connecting the ends of the foregoing words, separated therefrom by a scroll, and underneath the central design, the motto 'Sub Lege Libertas.' The foregoing marginal inscription shall be separated from the central device by a row of 41 stars, in the central line of which at the top shall be the figures '41' and at the bottom, the figures '1864-1889."

"The central design shall represent the sun rising over mountain peaks for a background, and to the left in the foreground shall appear as receding the Indian and buffalo with other wild game over a sage-brush desert, while on the right shall appear as entering the field, the emigrant wagon and stage-coach, followed by a rail-road train - also a miner with pick and shovel, the mouth of a tunnel and a quartz mill and smelter; a stream of water, a waterfall, a reservoir with water diverted over an irrigated field, also cattle, horses and sheep feeding on the foothills."2

There were other senators that wanted to add the original plow, pick, and shovel and to include such depictions as a mule train, school house, and a shepherd's crook. It was said by the House Members that the seal would need to be ten times larger and as it turns out, the proposal died.
Then in 1893 Governor John E. Rickards proposed to have an official "state" seal which is approved by the Legislature. The Territorial designed seal is preserved with the only change being to remove the word "Territorial" and replace it with the word "State."
A new seal needed to be created and G. R. Metten of Steimmetz Jewelry Company of Helen was assigned this task for a fee of $20.00. He took liberties of changing the state seal by reversing the flow of the Missouri River and Great Falls depicted in the seal, the sun would once again be seen rising, and he changed the mountains and and the positioning of trees.
As the seals have worn out and new ones needed, engravers have made minor changes over the years. But for the most part the seal today is a reflection of what Frances McGee Thompson and the Montana Legislative Committee of 1865 intended the seal to be.


1mt.gov        http://sos.mt.gov/About_Office/State_Seal.asp
2montanakids.com        http://montanakids.com/facts_and_figures/state_symbols/State_Seal.htm

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  Page last updated Mar. 16, 2016.