Helena's First Presbyterian Church celebrates 150 years

Vic Reiman For the Independent Record

The congregation of First Presbyterian Church.

Gary Marshall, BMGphotos.com

Life was not necessarily easy or even safe for the first Presbyterian missionaries who came to Montana Territory in the mid-1860s when the gold rush was in full swing and “road agents” threatened travelers’ fortunes or very lives.

Dr. Jonathan Blanchard of the Cincinnati Presbytery visited Montana in the early summer of 1864. (A presbytery is a regional association of Presbyterian churches.) Blanchard stayed in Virginia City for several weeks, presumably preaching in impromptu settings, and then departed for the East, having established no church in the territory.

The Rev. George Grantham Smith of the Philadelphia Presbytery arrived in Bannack in June of 1864 and remained for about two years, preaching the gospel in Bannack, Virginia City and adjoining camps and ranches. He found that making converts “was hard ‘prospecting’ in those days.”

Living conditions were primitive and very expensive.

Smith recalled: “I paid $28.00 … for coarse factory (fabric) sufficient to make a bed tick and pillow, which I filled with dried grass for myself and the

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