That was one of the first private ventures or businesses to set up in the state, way back in 1807 or so.
It was fur that dominated this area for the next three decades, and that was all private industry. American businessmen were trying to edge into the European trade, which itself had been propped-up initially by the British government.
That whole industry died when fashion trends in Europe changed and silk replaced beaver hats. After that Montana’s economy faltered for two decades until 1862. That’s when gold was first discovered, at least in a way that was noticed, as well as Montana’s first population boom.
By 1870 much of that had already died out, and population centers were also vanishing. It was a sleepy time that saw stagnation, not growth, and people just hanging on to what they had, not trying to make more.
By the 1880s things turned around and businessmen flocked into the state to invest, and often exploit. Mining took off again as technologies changed and demand for copper grew. Railroads came to move those resources out, and more people in. By the 1900s farming really began to get going, and it’d take off over the next two decades.
Montana’s industry was fur in the 1840s and '50s and then gold in the '60s. Silver took over for a time until the Panic of 1893 but then copper rose up to replace it. Farming began to dominate the industry of the state in the ‘00s and ‘10s, but by the 1920s all industries took a hit as the economy fell apart in Montana.
Timber was going strong in the '30s and the Depression ensured federal money would start to flow to the state in greater numbers, a trend that’s continued.
The 1940s saw the war and economies all over the country splutter as nationalism took hold. By the '50s we were getting so much from the feds that it was an industry in and of itself by the '60s.
Tourism and coal took hold by the '70s to become dominant, with retail and other service industry jobs taking a large chunk in the '80s and '90s. Old and gas are rearing back now in the '00s and '10s.
Things change, and if you can't adapt to them you change or get handouts. That’s Montana’s economic history in 550 words.