Although there is not yet a comprehensive history of Latinos in Montana, there exist many different and disparate documents on the Latino presence in the state before the nineteenth century. The first document of historical significance regarding a Latino in Montana is that of Manuel Lisa, a Spaniard who was born in New Orleans in 1772, established the first trading post in Montana in 1807, and started the Missouri Fur Company. Lisa led his first trading expedition up the Missouri
River and into Montana with Benito Vasquez2 as his second-in-command. There were a number of Mexican vaqueros working with cattle, and Mexican migrants working in agriculture with sheep or picking cotton as early as 1865. John Francis Grant’s (1831-1907) memoir mentions many Mexicans and Spaniards who worked with him on his ranch in Deer Lodge. Grant, who settled in Deer Lodge between 1847 and 1867, founded the historic Grant-Kohrs Ranch, which later became the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historical Site. Grant mentions in his memoir laborers such as Thomas Lavatta, who were ranch hands and worked with him during his time in Montana.
In turn, Jack Holterman, an independent historian, traces in The Augustan the arrival of New Mexicans in Montana from 1830 to 1900. He highlights a fur trader, Don Manuel de Alvarez (1794-1856), born in Spain and living in New Spain, and a fur trapper, Marcelino Baca. Although not enough is known about what happened to these Mexicans or Spaniards, there is enough evidence to suggest that Montana had its first encounters with Latino groups during the nineteenth century.