November 16, 2017

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: Montana Historical Society's founding

When the territory was only a few months old, Montana's earliest white settlers began planning for a historical society.

Key dates

February 2, 1865—The territorial assembly passes an act to incorporate the Historical Society of Montana.
March 4, 1865—Society President W. F. Sanders advertises for the first public event at the Society, a lecture by a local judge. The event is held in a local church.
March 25, 1865—The Historical Society is officially organized with elected officers.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for these terms: historical society

Written by Catherine W. Ockey

November 9, 2017

"Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry."

"Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry." FDR, 3 February 1943

George Suyama
Photo Courtesy of Carl Williams
Montana native George Washington Suyama was last seen October 22, 1944, as he was shot from a tank by a German shooter.   The tank was one of several on the road to liberate Bruyeres, France from German occupation.  Sergeant Suyama was a member of Company A, 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment.  The 100th Battalion and 442nd were segregated units manned by hundreds of first generation Japanese fighting for the USA  in the European Theater.  They fought for the United States while many of their families were interned in the United States.  A year and a day after his disappearance, the U.S. Government contacted George’s  siblings of his “Missing in Action” status. [1] Sergeant Suyama died a long way from home.

George Suyama was born in Great Falls, MT, 7 October 1918, the second child of Harry and Tamy Suyama.  The family was among a group of Japanese who lived near, and worked for the Great Northern Railway.   By 1930, the Suyama family included five children.  They had moved north of Havre to establish a truck farm.[2]  Mr. and Mrs. Suyama’s produce soon earned a reputation of quality, and the family was active in the local Methodist church. They encouraged their children to attend school and all excelled in their education.  Sadly, both parents passed away while the two younger children were still in school. [3] It appears the older siblinlgs, Marda, George, and Tana, supported the family. By 1940 the Suyama children, all Nisei, or first generation Japanese Americans, were hard at work. Betty, the youngest, lodged with the Green family while finishing Havre High School. Frank and George labored at a mine in Fergus County, while 23-year-old Mary lived and worked in Helena for Montana’s ex-governor John Erickson and his wife Grace. [4]  After graduating from Havre High School with a 4.0 average, Tana headed east.  By 1942 she would meet and marry Dr. George Marumoto in Minneapolis. [5]

George Suyama with coworkers and neighbors at Mill Site near Brooks, MT circa 1940
Photo courtesy of  Carl Williams
In December 1941, George Washington Suyama was once again living near the railroad with other workers of Japanese descent, this time in Helena.  His enlistment card recorded his employer as Ogata Gardens.   He traveled to Missoula to enlist in the Army two weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack. [6] Due to his Japanese ethnicity, he was denied combat duty and stationed in Arkansas. However, with the formation of the 442nd Infantry, Sergeant Suyama saw the opportunity to prove the “lie to the wrong headedness and racism that led to internment.” [7]   By October 1944, he was serving as a replacement for the 100th Battalion Combat Unit as it fearlessly fought its way through France.  For his service and sacrifice, the U.S. Army recognized Sergeant George Washington Suyama for,

 . . . heroic achievement on 22 October 1944. Directed to establish contact with elements of their battalion entrapped in the vicinity of Biffontaine, France, Sergeant Suyama and his comrades started for their objective mounted on five light tanks. Encountering a hail of fire from well dug-in enemy positions on the road, Sergeant Suyama and the rest of the platoon fearlessly resisted with their individual weapons and the machine guns emplaced on the tanks, neutralized a considerable portion of the concentrated fire and enabled the tanks to reach friendly forces. By his heroic disregard for personal safety, Sergeant Suyama contributed immeasurably to the subsequent attainment of the objective and reflects honor on the United States Army.” HEADQUARTERS SIXTH ARMY GROUP, U.S. ARMY, GENERAL ORDERS NUMBER 15, 30 December, 1944. [8]

Sergeant Suyama was ultimately awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart, Distinguished Unit Badge, Combat Infantry Badge, American Campaign Medal, and more.  For its size, the 442nd was the most decorated unit in the history of U.S. warfare. [9]

With the naming of their oldest son George Washington, Harry and Tamy  Suyama professed their appreciation and commitment to this county.  With his actions and sacrifice so far from the fields of central Montana, Sergeant Suyama not only reinforced his parents’ love of the United States, he succeeded in proving that despite the grotesquely unfair treatment that Americans of Japanese descent were subjected, patriotism is not a matter of ethnicity.

[1] Neil Nakadate, Looking After Minidoka: An American Memoir, Indiana University Press, 2013, p. 195
[2] See 1920, 1930 & 1940 U.S. Census for Harry Suyama family. 
[3] “Mrs. Harry Suyama Taken By Death,” The Havre Daily News, 23 August 1938.
[4] 1940 U.S. Census, Suyama, George, Frank, Betty & Mary
[5] Nakadate,  p. 124-126,  194-96
[6] Suyama, George Enlistment card, RS 223, Montana Adjutant General’s Office Records, Polks Helena City Directory 1941-42, p, 204, 1940 U.S. Census for Rinzi Ogata. 
[7] Nakadate, p. 195
[8] Carl Williams, Hill 555 Project, Report to Donors, 31 October, 2017, Biography Sgt. George Washington Suyama,   Russ Pickett, “Sgt. George W. Suymana,” Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial, Lorraine, France, Find a Grave,  Accessed 7 September 2017.
[9] Ibid. 

October 26, 2017

From the Ground Up: Montana Women and Agriculture

Brad Hansen
Federal Grants Manager
State Historic Preservation Office
Montana Historical Society
Thirty-seven ranches along the Missouri River near Townsend, Montana, were drowned when Canyon Ferry Dam was completed in 1954. Dorothy Hahn’s ranch was one of them. Determined not to lose her home, Dorothy and her husband Paul refused the federal government’s low-ball offer of $42,000 for their $200,000 property. They hung on, hoping the project might be cancelled, or at least the location of the dam might be moved upriver to Toston. The project wasn’t cancelled, and the site of the dam did not change. The summer of 1954 they watched as the Missouri swallowed their fields, their fences and their way of life. In an oral history conducted by the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC) Dorothy recalled,

“So, we ended up going to court and they awarded us $82,000 and we had to pay the lawyer $20,000. We ended up with $62,000 for our $200,000 place. We had a set of scales just like the ones they have at the stockyards, and they wouldn't let us take ‘em. They put the water over them. We had wire fences and they wouldn't let us take those, so they are all under the lake, and if anybody gets caught in that wire they will never get out… That was the best land in Broadwater County. Real black soil. There were so many trees that went along the river. All those leaves built up... Paul, he worked up one piece of ground and put it into oats and it made 100 bushel to the acre… It was hard on Paul, real hard on him. He even cried when we had our trial. You know, it just took it all away. We figured we'd raise our kids there on that ideal spot. There was hunting and fishing and we could make a good living for them.”

While Dorothy and Paul did move on to successful ranching careers in Winston, Montana, Dorothy never really got over losing the original ranch. At ninety-one years old (at the time of her interview), you can still hear the emotion in her voice as she recalls what the land and animals meant to her. Her story, now recorded for present and future generations to enjoy, spans decades and reveals how ranch life in Montana evolved. Her life is an excellent example of the important role women played in the growth of Montana’s agriculture and ranching economy.

 And, Dorothy is just one of many exceptional women with a background in ranching and/or agriculture who have volunteered to participate in the Montana DNRC’s From the Ground Up: Women and Agriculture Oral History Project. To date, over 40 women from across the state have shared their stories. Combined, the oral histories form a collection of primary sources that document and explore the history of ranching and farming in Montana from the perspective of women. They are well worth a listen!

Audio files and transcriptions of the interviews are available online at Montana DNRC or by visiting the Montana Historical Society Research Center. To learn more about the oral history project or to volunteer please contact Linda Brander, Program Specialist at Montana DNRC. 406.444.0520.

Photo: 1870s “View of the Missouri River and
Canton Valley Looking South from Avalanche Creek”
Photo courtesy of Helena as She Was:

October 12, 2017

The Green Paradise of William A. Clark III

by Kelly Burton, Film Archivist

cover page of Our Last Frontier, SC 993

title card for Green Paradise, PAc 2017-56

It is always rewarding to piece together a historical narrative that spans various formats and collections within the archives, and such is the case with a 1931 camping trip taken by William A. Clark III into the wilderness of western Montana. As the namesake and entrepreneurial grandson of the famous copper magnate, the 28-year-old Clark not only had the means with which to generously outfit his month-long excursion, but also the materials needed to document the outing in detail. A 60-page manuscript chronicling the trip arrived at the Montana Historical Society in 1949 under the title Our Last Frontier, with eleven still photographs serving to illustrate the outdoor activities of Clark and his camping party. Six unidentified home movie reels were brought to the Historical Society by a separate donor in 1976, and title cards from one of these films have recently allowed us to match them with the Clark writings and photographs from 1931. Named Green Paradise: The Story of a Camping Trip by their creator, the film reels serve as a wonderful complement to the Our Last Frontier materials and provide us with a unique viewpoint concerning the Clark family story.

The Rovero brothers flanking Gene Kelly
"Repacking Supplies at Danaher Camp", PAc 77-17
Gene Kelly, "A Native Trout from the Sun River", PAc 77-17
In the first paragraph of the manuscript, Clark states three reasons for his lengthy trip to the wilderness: “One was the fact that I had become greatly interested in colored motion picture photography, another than I had just planned to pass two years in Arizona, and the third was that I felt the need of a trip into the woods. The last reason, a manifestation of relish for the wilderness, can better be understood by those who have been intimately associated with the mountain trail and the camp fire.” (3) In addition to the companionship of his attorney, friend, and previous camping partner E.J. (Gene) Kelly, Clark also procured the assistance of brothers’ Pete and Dennis Rovero, who would in turn “buy twelve head of pack horses and four saddle horses, as well as the necessaries to establish a base of supplies at White River.” (4) As the cards from the titled motion picture boast, these four men ultimately “covered 300 miles in 31 days, established 15 camps, forded many streams and rivers, and crossed the Continental Divide four times.” The motion picture films, still photographs, and written words all serve to document the following locations within western Montana and what is now known as the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area: Chinese Wall, Kootenai Mountains, Morrell Falls, Cottonwood Lake, South Fork Flathead River, Sun River, Twin Peaks, Big Salmon Lake, McDonald Peak, and Holland Lake.

"Bull Elk with Horns in Velvet", PAc 77-17

fording the Sun River, from Green Paradise, PAc 2017-56
Of the six film reels donated to the Historical Society, we find one edited product with title cards accompanied by five reels of additional footage. Though the manuscript does not always differentiate between the taking of still photographs and moving images, Clark does make direct references to the shooting of motion picture film on a few occasions: “The purpose of the trip would be to photograph in natural colors the scenic beauty of the country we had in the past covered by trail, and the attempt to again photograph the wild game of this section of Montana. Since the film was not to be for commercial exhibition but rather for our own use we decided to use the Eastman sixteen millimeter Kodacolor camera.” (3) The film on all six reels is in fact 1931 Kodacolor stock, so it’s unclear as to why the images appear in black and white rather than in color.
at the Chinese Wall, from Green Paradise, PAc 2017-56
At another point in his writings, Clark describes a failed attempt at capturing moving images of an elk: “The first morning we were honored by a not unwelcome visitor – a bull elk that strolled boldly into camp just at daybreak. He awoke us all with his seemingly annoyed stomping, probably occasioned by the total lack of ceremonial greeting to which so eminent a member of forest nobility is entitled, and remained inquiringly within fifty yards of camp until the sun came over the hill when he reluctantly and with many backward glances at us returned to the brush. We took some excellent still pictures of him but unfortunately were unable, due to the dim light, to ‘feature’ him in any motion pictures.” (37) Rectification of this missed opportunity can be found near the end of the narrative, and Clark states that “to this time we had recorded only about fifty feet of the animals, but Dame Fortune favored me most generously at this last attempt.” (53-54) While this elk footage did not make Clark’s edited version of the home movie, these images can be found on the outtake reels.

the final page of Our Last Frontier, SC 993

The two sentences that comprise the final page of Clark’s memoir speak of the group’s reluctance to leave the Montana wilderness at the end of the trip: “The next morning it was all too apparent that the end of our trail was in sight. We dawdled about camp as long as we dared, changing packs here, splicing ropes there, taking pictures of scenes that we had taken the afternoon before just to procrastinate the longer, but we finally made a most reluctant start and by three o’clock that afternoon we arrived at the Holland Lake Lodge and – well – the trip was over.” (60) The melancholy of this sentiment is punctuated by the fact that William A. Clark III died less than a year after these documents were created, making this perhaps his final trip to the Montana wilderness. An aviator, Clark died in an airplane crash on May 15, 1932 outside of Clarkdale, Arizona – the company smelter town founded in 1912 by his industrious grandfather.

William A. Clark III, from Green Paradise, PAc 2017-56

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: Original Governor's Mansion

The first two governors of the State of Montana, Joseph Toole and Edwin Norris, lived in their own homes while serving. When Samuel Stewart, who was from Virginia City, was elected, the state legislature appropriated funds to purchase and maintain a furnished home in Helena, where the governor and his family would live and host receptions for dignitaries.

Key dates

1888—William A. Chessman builds a residence at 304 N. Ewing for his own use.
1913—The state buys the Chessman home to serve as the executive mansion.
1913-1959—Nine governors and their families reside in the mansion.
1959—Governor Hugo Aaronson moves to the new governor’s mansion at 2 Carson Street.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: governor’s mansion, executive mansion, chessman, helena.

Written by Catherine W. Ockey