Carnal Enterprises: Western Montana Restricted Districts 1870-1940

Program Description

Between 1865 and 1917, Montana transformed from a territory of isolated Frontier outposts to an industrial state with bustling metropolitan cities connected through both rail and trade. Largely, through the success of mining and lumber operations, small trading communities that dotted the state’s vast landscape developed into regionally pivotal centers of commerce and effectively brought Montana into its own Gilded Age. An age that also witnessed a mass migration of both international immigrants and American citizens from all corners of the globe to cities like Missoula, Butte, and Helena which significantly diversified the state’s population for over half a century. Temporary mercantiles and saloons that serviced labor camps were quickly joined by the permanent red-light businesses and private residences of the state’s ostracized–or restricted–residents.

In this program, guests will not only learn about the development of red-light districts in Montana, but will also learn about the communities’ intricate social hierarchy and class system. Guests will also have the opportunity to learn about the state’s historic African American and Chinese communities and the crucial role they played in the sustainment of these districts. Throughout the presentation, attendees will ‘meet’ some of the state’s most notable red-light residents and listen to the true stories of their lives that changed Montana indefinitely. Unseen and forgotten stories that truly make Montana the Last Best Place.

Presenter Bio

Sophia Etier is a longtime Bitterroot Valley local and a Public Historian, focusing her research on the development of local Montana History as well as specializing in the history of Western Montana’s red-light districts and regional minority communities. Sophia has previously partnered with numerous Montana organizations in hopes of developing authentic community histories including the Montana Historical Society, Daly Mansion, Historic Museum at Fort Missoula, Missoula Historic Preservation Office, University of Montana Western, and the Missoula Public Library. Sophia also is a lead guide and tour developer for the Unseen Missoula heritage tour program, primarily overseeing the Carnal Enterprises red-light tour which she created in 2023. Etier is currently working on the advancement of her research as a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Montana.


Sophia Etier