October 28, 2014

Being Sidney Edgerton

by Jeff Malcomson, Montana Historical Society Gov't Records Archivist

As children, and some adults, prepare their costumes for this coming Halloween, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on my recent experiences with historical performance. Sometimes called first-person historical interpretation, historical performance has been around for a long time, though perhaps not as well developed a tool for public history in the Rocky Mountain region as in other parts of the country. Expert historical performer Joyce M. Thierer defines historical performance as "direct-address first-person narrative in correct clothing followed by taking questions in character and as the scholar."

Jeff Malcomson as Montana's first territorial governor,
Sidney Edgerton (ca. 1864) posing with the portrait of
Ellen Farrar Hauser, the wife of Samuel T. Hauser,
another Montana pioneer. The portrait is part of the current

MHS exhibit "Montana's Territorial Legacy."
"Gov. Edgerton" spoke at the exhibit opening.

My own recent experience started back in May portraying Montana's first territorial governor, Sidney Edgerton, during Helena's annual History Fair on the walking mall and for a couple special events celebrating the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Montana Territory. My experience culminated at the Montana History Conference in Helena this fall where I portrayed Edgerton's nephew, and fellow Montana pioneer, Wilbur Fisk Sanders. In this latter historical performance, I was joined by my MHS colleagues, Rich Aarstad (as Samuel Word) and Jodie Foley (as Martha Edgerton Rolfe). We dreamed up a historical debate between these two real-life political adversaries of the territorial period (Sanders vs. Word). Over the summer we constructed a script based on many actual primary sources from Sanders, Word and Rolfe, and our own secondary-source research into the politics of the times. The dramatic climax of the performance—when Word challenges Sanders to a duel in Virginia City—was based on a real event during the 1878 political campaign.

Rich Aarstad plays democratic party "hatchet-man" Samuel Word
during a historic debate at the 2014 Montana History
Conference in Helena. (Photo courtesy of Ken Robison.)

Through this past six months of experimenting with historical performance I have learned that it can be great fun playing historical figures, though sometimes the clothing is a bit uncomfortable. More than anything though, I've found that as a historian and someone who loves to research, this is a fantastic way to engage the public, and history enthusiasts more particularly, to share the significance of the past. Through historical performances we can enliven the past, conveying information and context about how people lived, how they thought, and how they made choices that even now impact our lives. So if you dress up this year, I encourage you to choose your favorite historical figure and spend a little time in someone else's shoes, sharing the stories of the past as you go.

October 16, 2014

Chuck Wagon Provisions

by Zoe Ann Stoltz, Montana Historical Society Reference Historian

We would be hard pressed to find a topic more iconic of Montana’s cattle history than the Chuck Wagon. Used during cattle drives as well as roundups, the camp cook and his provisioned chuck wagon were responsible for sustaining crews of hardworking cowboys for days, if not weeks. Camp cooks were only able to accomplish this task if they were adept at planning and packing the right provisions.  

Cowboys of the 1860s and 1870s often carried their own food supplies, including biscuits or cornbread, salt, coffee, and salted meat. Due to the weight of skillets, they packed large tin cups to warm water, and used sticks to cook meat and bread over camp fires. Texas rancher and freighter, Charles Goodnight, reportedly designed the first “Chuck” wagon around 1866. Although Goodnight’s original design consisted of a basic compartmentalized wooden cupboard, it served as the inspiration for later designs and improvements.

Mex John Making Pies, 1880-1900?, L.A. Huffman photo (Montana Historical Society Photo Archives 981-254)

Larger drives often included "bed wagons" to carry additional gear, such as tents and portable cook stoves, which became necessities with the industry’s exposure to cooler northern climates.
By the 1880s, the crude “chuck” boxes had evolved into sophisticated centers for food storage and preparation. They provided accessible storage for frequently-used spices, utensils, crocks, and pots. The remainder of the wagon was organized into storage for bulk foods, water, kindling, skillets, pots, ropes, tool box, portable wood cook stoves, and so much more. When dropped open, the hinged end created a work table.
By 1883, Northern plains culture, evolving social conventions, and the development of better food preservation methods had redefined camp cooking. The 1892 journal left by XIT trail boss Ealey Moore recorded the supplies used for a crew of 10 men during the thirteen weeks it took to drive 2500 cattle from Channing, Texas to the confluence of the Yellowstone River and Cedar Creek north of Miles City. The inventory included both traditional as well as recent additions to the cowboy diet. The cook, Sam Williamson, ground and brewed almost 2 pounds of coffee beans a day, going through 3 coffee mills. Each day he cooked 10 pounds of bacon. During the 13 week drive, the crew consumed
          • 40 pounds of rice
          • 160 pounds of beans
          • 9 gallons of sorghum
          • almost 300 pounds of fruit, including dried currants and prunes as well as dried, fresh, and canned apples and peaches
          • 1750 pounds of white flour
          • 405 pounds of white sugar
Williamson flavored his cooking with vanilla and lemon extracts, cinnamon and mustard. And, he brought both baking powder and soda. The only vegetables purchased during the trip were kegs of pickles and 720 pounds of potatoes. The inventory portrays a diet incredibly more varied than that from just twenty years earlier.

Cook and Pie Biter At Work, 1886?, L.A. Huffman photo (Montana Historical Society Photo Archives 98-253)

Moore’s inventory confirms many of the reminiscences and recipes associated with cattle drives and roundups. Teddy Blue Abbott raved about the amount of “white bread” eaten by Montana cowboys. Early photographer L.A. Huffman listed “hot biscuits” and “pudding with raisins” as mainstays. Robert Rice, Powder River Country cowboy, remembered being well fed. The offerings included, “several kinds of dried fruit stewed, bacon, beans, fried potatoes (or spuds), canned vegetables, biscuits or bread, usually made of sour dough, beefsteak, . . . all washed down with strong black coffee . . .” Traditional recipes also reflect inventory ingredients. They included suet pudding with raisins (also called S.O.B. in a Sack), vinegar dumplings or pie, biscuits, bacon and beans, potatoes and pan gravy, and fruit pies.  

Imagine carrying enough varied and nutritious foods and cooking supplies in the back of a wagon to feed a hungry cowboy crew for days! 


Abbott, E.C. ("Teddy Blue") and Helena Huntington Smith. We Pointed Them North; Recollections of a Cowpuncher. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1939.

Beach, Maude L., comp. and Robert L. Thaden, Jr.,ed. Faded Hoof Prints--Bygone Dreams: Stories from Montana’s Greatest Livestock Frontier, Powder River Country, from the Montana Writer’s Project, of the Work Projects Administration, from the 1860s to the 1920s. Broadus, MT: Powder River Historical Society, 1989.

Huffman, L.A. “Last Busting at Bow-Gun,” Montana, the Magazine of Western History 1 (Autumn 1956): 15.

Moore, Ealy ed. by J. Evetts Haley. A Log of the Montana Trail / as kept by Ealy Moore. Amarillo: Russell Stationary Co., 1932.

Price, B. Byron. National Cowboy Hall of Fame Chuck Wagon Cookbook: Authentic Recipes from the Ranch and Range. New York: Hearst Books, 1995.




October 1, 2014

Advice for Fall: Tie One On

by Christine Kirkham, Coordinator, Montana Digital Newspaper Project

Ad for the Copper City Commercial Company in
Ad for the Copper City
Commercial Company in
the Anaconda Standard,
September 1897.
The world’s annual couture expo, Fashion Week, is currently underway in Paris. Women’s clothing styles shift rapidly, so an outfit that was au courant a few years ago may now look dated. But for men, the classic suit-and-tie has endured for decades.

I decided to see if I could pinpoint, in Montana's historical newspapers, the arrival of that familiar silhouette sported by executives, bankers, and other white-collar workers. When did Montana’s city-dwelling men begin looking, well, new-fashioned?

Ad for Lymon's in Butte,
Anaconda Standard, June 1899.
A quick survey of menswear ads shows male dress remaining decidedly Victorian well into the 1890s. Consider the smoker at right. Besides the telltale bowler and 'stache, there’s a heaviness to the coat, which hangs to the knees in back. For the 1899 gentleman at left, the coat is still boxy and the high collar stiff.

But perhaps the one item dating these men to pre-1900 is their neckwear. Aristocrats and military officers had sported ascots, scarves and cravats for centuries. But after the Industrial Revolution, everyday Joes needed a similar dignified appearance — without the nuisance of fastening an elaborate knot. The man of the modern era needed neckwear he could put on quickly, sans manservant.*

Caldwell (Idaho) Tribune, October 1910.

Consider the 1910 park strollers at right, looking casual, comfortable, and streamlined. (Those hairless upper lips add to their modern look.)

Finally, the neckwear worn by the dapper fellows below, from 1922, bears a striking resemblance to the Langsdorf tie, which is still in use. They are wearing what would become the white-collar uniform for the next hundred years.

Thousands of fascinating ads like these can be found in Montana's digitized newspapers at Chronicling America, where historical Idaho newspapers will begin appearing soon.

Lewis-Wedum Department Store ad, Glasgow Courier, September 1922

* SOURCE: The Origins of the Neck Tie 

September 15, 2014

Ask A Curator Day, September 17, 2014

Do you have questions you’ve always wanted to ask a curator? This is your chance. On Wednesday, September 17, curators around the globe will log on to Twitter during #AskACurator Day. Here at the Montana Historical Society (MHS), we’re lucky enough to have two curators participating.

Kendra Newhall, MHS Museum Registrar
Kendra Newhall is our museum’s registrar. In her time at the Montana Historical Society, she’s cataloged thousands of artifacts, and she’s an expert on their care. How do we keep hundred-year-old tools from rusting and papers from crumbling? Kendra will answer your questions about collection care from 10:00 A.M. to 11:00 A.M. (Mountain Daylight Time) on #AskACuratorDay.
Maggie Ordon, MHS Museum Curator of History

Maggie Ordon, Montana Historical Society's Curator of History, will be available from 11:00 A.M. until noon (Mountain Daylight Time) on #AskACurator Day. She’ll answer your questions about historic fashion. How exactly did ladies and gentlemen (and children and workers and homesteaders) dress in the early days of Montana? Maggie knows the details, right down to the historically accurate fabrics.

To ask Kendra or Maggie a question, simply log in to Twitter on September 17 and tweet to @MThist using #AskACurator.

September 3, 2014

Lee Metcalf's Legacy of Conservation

By Matthew M. Peek, Photograph Archivist

The narrative that is often told of the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act describes how conservation groups and key politicians nation-wide united to support the conservation of America’s natural resources and wild areas. While true, the story of the Wilderness Act’s origin and development has up to now largely left unexplored the influence of one of its greatest proponents: Senator Lee Metcalf of Montana.

On the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1964 Wilderness Act, a look at the role Metcalf played in shaping our national wilderness policy is vital to understanding the full extent of his dedication. Serving as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1953-1960) and the U.S. Senate (1961-January 1978), Lee Metcalf’s priorities were not just about preserving forests and wilderness, but managing and protecting all resources which are part of nature’s lifecycle, including wildlife and their habitats, streams and rivers, bird migration routes, clean water resources, and so much more.
Dr. Arnold W. Bolle, Dean of the Montana State University School of Forestry [present-day University of Montana], testified in support of a bill to establish a land and water conservation fund to assist state and federal governments in meeting outdoor recreation needs. Pictured are (left to right) Agriculture Secretary Orville L. Freeman; Senator Lee Metcalf; Bolle; and Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, March 6, 1963. [Lot 31 B16/6.10]
As early as the 1950s, Metcalf was determining the course of conservation efforts. The proposed Echo Park Dam would have flooded portions of Dinosaur National Monument.  Metcalf became one of the most vocal opponents of its construction and one of the major reasons the Echo Park Dam was dropped from the Upper Colorado River Project.  The Echo Park Dam controversy sparked the modern conservation movement, and made the need for federal wilderness legislation glaringly apparent.

Just after President Eisenhower was sworn into office in 1953, Montana U.S. Rep. Wesley D’Ewart introduced the Uniform Federal Grazing Land Act, which would have allowed cattle ranchers to graze their herds on national forest lands and would potentially destroy wildlife habitats. Rep. Metcalf’s testimony and advocacy to protect wild areas helped kill that grazing act.

He also helped stop another grazing bill (S. 2548) that would impact national forests.  During the U.S. Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee hearings on January 21-22, 1954, Metcalf testified against that bill stating:    
In the light of industrial development and expansion we should continue to be alert to protect our water...and to follow the leadership of enlightened local community leaders who know the problems and are familiar with local conditions. A balanced constructive legislative program is needed.
That same year, Metcalf blocked the passage of the Ellsworth Timber Exchange Bill. This bill would have allowed the federal government to exchange national forest lands for private lands in order to reimburse private owners for federal projects developed on their land. Metcalf called this trading “trees for stumps,” and was the strongest opponent of the bill. For his efforts, Metcalf received the 1954 National Award for Distinguished Service to Conservation.

In addition to helping stop potentially destructive legislation, Lee Metcalf introduced many conservation and wilderness-related measures from 1953 to 1963, including: an outdoor recreation bill in 1956 (H.R. 1823); the first ever federal legislation for studying the effects of pesticides and insecticides on wildlife and fish, which passed in 1958 as the Pesticide Research Act; a bill, introduced in January 1956, to protect federal wildlife refuges from dissolution; and the “Save Our Streams” bill (S. 2767), on January 30, 1962, to cease the destruction of rivers and streams by sloppy highway construction.

When John F. Kennedy was running for President in 1960, he and Metcalf discussed Kennedy’s stance on conservation issues if he were to win the presidency. In the autumn of 1960, Metcalf and Kennedy shot a television program on conservation for Kennedy’s campaign. On October 21, 1960, shortly before the national elections, Metcalf wrote to Senator Kennedy:
Conservation has the power to impart to an administration a quality of character which makes it stand out in history. I sincerely believe you could set the tone for your Administration by this approach. Through the medium of conservation the needs and aspirations of our people can be galvanized—the challenge of tomorrow translated in a visible way.
Senator Lee Metcalf meets with other national conservation leaders, August 6-12, 1961, to discuss legislative strategy regarding the proposed national wilderness preservation system bill. (Pictured left to right, standing) Alden J. Erskin, Izaak Walton League president; Phil Schneider, International Association of Game, Fish & Conservation Commissioners president; Tom Kimball, National Wildlife Federation exce; Carl W. Buchheister, president of National Audubon Society; (left to right, seated) C.R. Gutermuth, chairman of the Natural Resources Council of America; Senator Metcalf; and Ira N. Gabrielson, president of the Wildlife Management Institute. [Lot 31 B16/2.06]
As a precursor to the Wilderness Act, Metcalf introduced the National Preservation System bill in the House of Representatives on June 13, 1956. Eight years later, on August 21, 1964, Senator Lee Metcalf, as presiding officer, signed the Wilderness Act on behalf of the U.S Senate. In a ceremony on the grounds of the White House Rose Garden, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act and the Wilderness Act on September 3, 1964.

Lee Metcalf was one of America's most vocal and effective conservation congressmen. He had a hand in the classification, eventual creation of, or passage of every acre of wilderness in Montana by the time of his death in January 1978. He also is one of the major reasons Montana has the great outdoor recreation sites and facilities it does, which draw millions of tourists to the state and employ thousands of Montanans.

His is a truly great legacy, which is fitting to recall on the anniversary of the signing of the 1964 Wilderness Act.