64 miles N of Butte; 115 miles SE of Missoula; 89 miles S of Great Falls
Cradled in the foothills of the Montana Rockies, Helena is the focal point of the state's politics. During the week, it's a bustling community of elected officials, lobbyists, and bureaucrats. On the weekends, however, it seems they all turn into outdoors fanatics, heading to the lakes and mountains. Helena is also a haven for artists and other creative types, evidenced by the galleries that dot the streets once dominated by mining-era saloons and houses of ill repute.
In its early days, Helena was a wild-and-woolly boomtown, built on gold mining. Last Chance Gulch was named when four miners said they had one last chance to hit it big in the West -- and they did. The town boomed in the gold rush of 1865. During the height of this prosperity, only Manhattan could boast more millionaires than the small Montana city. And along the way, the town recorded an alarming number of murders and robberies. Then, in 1935, earthquakes devastated the town. Beginning October 3, more than 2,000 tremors rocked the city, causing millions of dollars in damage.
After Helena took state capital rights from Virginia City in 1875, Marcus Daly, the Butte copper king with more than just a bystander's interest in the capital's location, decided to steal it away from Helena and move it to Anaconda, 25 miles from Butte. As we all now know, Daly's efforts proved unsuccessful, but he started a political war that echoes throughout the state even today.