Thanks to the railways, which have had and are continuing to have so important an effect upon the country overlooked by the Rocky Mountains, Montana's isolation is now a thing of the past. Two railroad routes connect it with the East and Pacific West, and there is still the Missouri, navigable from St. Louis to the great Falls, within easy reach of Helena.
The early history of Helena, which fortunately may still be gathered from living witnesses, is a striking illustration of the fact that chance and luck were once the two most important factors of ultimate success in the Territory. None who came into Montana in early days were systematic discoverers. The majority of them knew little of the the theory of mining. What success they had was due to luck. The paying properties they found were nearly all discovered by chance. When John Cowan and Robert Stanley grew dissatisfied with the amount of room afforded them in the overcrowded camps of Alder Bulch, they resolved to push northward to Kootanie, where rich diggings had been reported. In July, 1864, the two men and their friends reached a tributary of the Prickly-Pear. There the supply of food they had brought ran low, and further progress northward was impossible. In despair, the party made camp and began to dig for gold. Luckily finding it, they named their diggings the Last Chance Mines, and their district Rattlesnake, the latter word being suggested, no doubt, by the presence of earlier settlers than they themselves. In September Cowan and Stanley built their cabins, and thus had the honor of being the first residents of a camp that in after-years became the present city of Helena.
From the very first, Last Chance Gulch fulfilled it's first promise. Soon after Cowan's cabin was completed a Minnesota wagon train reach the valley, and brought an increase of population to the young camp, the fame of which had gone broadcast over the land. Fabulous stories were told of it's great wealth, and during the winter of 1864-5 there was a wild stampede to it from all the directions. But still the infant Helena was without a name. The first Territorial election had already been held, and on the 12th of December the first Legislature assembled at Bannak. In view of this progress, the miners of Last Chance decided that their camp must no longer go unchristened. At a meeting held in the cabin of Uncle John Somerville the name Helena was accepted, and given without dissent to the collection of rudely built huts in which the miners lived.
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