November 21, 2019

ExploreBig Gets Bigger and Better

by Christine Brown, Historical Specialist

In 2017, MHS launched—a website and mobile app—to share the history and architectural significance of selected Montana buildings, neighborhoods, and cultural sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Initially, ExploreBig included approximately 250 individual stories and several historic district and themed tours. In January 2019, the MHS Outreach and Interpretation program began efforts to make a good thing even better by showcasing our entire treasure trove of interpretive material.

Contractor Michael Connolly points out the interactive map featured on
MHS’s, soon to be renamed

After many months, ExploreBig now has 1,700 brief stories on a dizzying array of historic sites ranging from grand business blocks, churches, and schoolhouses to railroad depots, brothels, mansions, humble homes, cabins, and industrial buildings. Thankfully we had help in this time-consuming process from a dedicated group of volunteers and students. MHS volunteer turned part-time contractor Michael Connolly assisted in uploading photos and text and creating links to digitized bibliographic sources. The project is far from complete however. Connolly continues to expand the site’s visual resources, researching and adding historic images from the MHS Photo Archives and State Historic Preservation Office collections, while MHS volunteer Joe Furshong is scanning photographs from National Register of Historic Places records and contributing contemporary photographs from his travels around the state. 

ExploreBig looks good now, but will soon have a new name and look.
Watch for the launch of Historic Montana in 2020. 
Students have also been key players in expanding the project. In September, Carroll College intern Augustus Krier-Ness and seven graduate students in a University of Montana public history course started work to add at least ten new themed tours to the site. And most recently, the Butte High School History Club has agreed to capture new photographs of buildings with National Register signs in the Butte National Historic Landmark, about 250 properties. Pairing new photos with historic Butte photos collected from the MHS Photo Archives and the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives will create a striking “then and now” virtual tour of Butte’s unparalleled collection of historic buildings.

A glimpse of the forthcoming Historic Montana exhibit on the
second floor of the museum. Rendering by Wyatt Design.
The next step in ExploreBig’s transformation is a new name and look and a physical exhibit inside the Montana Historical Society building. The website and app will be renamed Historic Montana and have a new address, The makeover clearly defines the site as Montana’s go-to place to learn about historic Montana buildings and places. The exhibit, near the Society’s second-floor Research Center, will provide a dedicated touchscreen tablet for visitors and researchers to use during their visit.

Work on Historic Montana will continue long after the name change becomes part of history. MHS historians create about fifty to a hundred new National Register signs every year and the content of each one will be added to the site along with photographs and links to research sources. It’s hard to say if the site will ever be complete, but the ongoing process is well worth the time to make this information readily available. Historic Montana will be an invaluable tool for students and teachers, researchers, and curious travelers delving into place-based Montana history for years to come. 

October 28, 2019

Betty’s Kitchen, Sleeping Buffalo and Heidelhaus: Montana Restaurants, 1984

by Molly Kruckenberg, 
MHS Research Center Program Manager

In 1984 Ray Risho, a chef and restaurateur from Missoula, traveled across the length and breadth of Montana, stopping at restaurants in every small town or crossroads that he found.  As a former chef at Emmaus Road restaurant in Missoula and a cooking instructor, Risho understood the restaurant business.  In his work as a wine salesman in 1984, Risho visited and reviewed 450 different eating establishments across Montana.  The restaurants included everything from the “finest continental restaurants” to small, family cafes.  The reviews resulted in the book Risho’s Registry: From Absarokee to Zortman, A Town-by-Town Review of Montana Eateries.

In the course of gathering the information for Risho’s Registry, Risho also gathered menus from many of the restaurants and cafés that he visited.  Ray and his wife, Susie, recently donated those menus to the Research Center at the Montana Historical Society.  Their menu collection contains 288 menus from 87 different towns across Montana.  They represent all types of eating establishments, from the fanciest restaurant in Whitefish to the local café in Saco.   This menu collection is important in that it is representative of the restaurant business in Montana at a time before the wide-spread introduction of national chains to the state.  The menus are from single location restaurants for the most part, although there are a few restaurants that could be considered Montana chains, having multiple locations within the state. 

Menus provide a wealth of information, in both their content and their design.  They provide us with information on the popularity of different foods at certain time periods and, when looked at over time, can provide evidence of changing culinary tastes.  They indicate what and how particular foods were utilized locally and regionally.  The graphic designs of menus show the use of design elements over time.

The Montana menus in the Ray Risho Menu Collection provide all of these different insights for restaurants in Montana at one specific time – 1984.  In that way, they provide a snapshot of both common and unique foods being served.    The collection contains menus from Montana icons – Lydia’s in Butte, On Broadway in Helena, The Mustard Seed in Missoula – as well as many establishments that did not survive the last ensuing decades.  Fare in Montana restaurants in 1984 was as diverse as the many towns that populated the state.  Steak, burgers and pizzas share menu space with German, Mexican, Oriental, Lebanese and Hungarian foods.  Sandwich shops and pancake houses vied for customers with supper clubs, inns and cafés.  

Whether you are studying the foods Montanans were eating, the types of restaurants found in the state or graphic design of menus, we invite you to visit the MHS Research Center to see the wealth of menus in the Ray Risho Menu collection.

September 26, 2019

How to Choose a Newspaper

By Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Projects Librarian

Last August, we were awarded a fourth NDNP grant, and with this blog post, we’re announcing which titles and date ranges have been selected and giving you a little behind-the-scenes of the selection process.

First some NDNP basics. NDNP stands for the National Digital Newspaper Program. It is funded through the National Endowment for the Humanities; but, the content is hosted by the Library of Congress on the Chronicling America website. Each grant cycle is 2 years and should produce about 100,000 pages.

One hundred thousand pages sounds like a lot, until you actually try to select titles and date ranges. When we were putting together our application, we needed a focus, a reason why NEH should approve our proposal. Since our last grant, the accepted date range has expanded from 1836-1922 to 1690-1963, so we knew we wanted to choose content after 1922, but what? We decided to focus on booms and busts in the mining, logging, agriculture and oil industries. Consider that for a moment, four major industries across the entire state over four decades, which include the Great Depression and WWII, in 100,000 pages!

Geographic distribution of selected newspapers this round
At this point the selection committee became my lifeline. We had a meeting in November 2018. They gave me a list of titles with date ranges that they thought would accomplish our goals. However, many of those titles were suggested with a 20 or 30-year date range. I had to look at these titles on microfilm, and if you’ve ever tried to look at a long date range of newspapers on microfilm you know how challenging and time consuming that is. Here are a few factors that I considered.

The Microfilm Itself:
The quality of the digital image is dependent on the quality of the microfilm image, which in turn is dependent on how it was microfilmed and, on the quality of the print pages it was created from. It’s also important to keep in mind that when the microfilm is digitized, the settings are determined for the whole reel, not for individual pages. When you see digitized newspaper pages that are too light or dark to read, are partially covered by the next page, or have random ink blots, those problems were on the microfilm.

Content - % of Local/State Coverage:
Obviously, priority goes to newspapers that have higher percentages of local and state coverage, but what counts as local or state coverage? Much of the state coverage comes from regular columns that you see in newspapers across the state or, from reprinted articles for other Montana newspapers. What I focus on more is how much of the issue is local. Columns titled “Local News”, “About Town”, or any news that comes from surrounding communities are what I look for. Are they covering the county commissioners’ meetings? Are they publishing obituaries? Do they talk about the local schools? And, for this grant in particular, are they covering one of the industries we’re interested in? For example, in an agricultural community are they providing advise from the extension service, information about crop prices, and legislation that will affect farmers? If the paper is overwhelmingly concerned with national or international news from the AP and doesn’t tie these events back to Montana, it won’t be selected.

Content – Copyright:
For published materials including newspapers, anything published in 1923 or earlier is in the public domain. From 1924-1963, a newspaper might be in the public domain. (In order to still be under copyright, they had to register the copyright for each issue and then renew the copyright 28 years later.) I have yet to find a Montana newspaper that went through the trouble of copyrighting.  However, during this period, newspapers published things like comics and fiction that potentially has its own copyright. Therefore, another selection question is how much copyrighted material is in each issue? We decided early on that we wanted to include the Producers News, a socialist newspaper out of Plentywood. But, we also wanted to pick another paper from the area for that same time period in order to compare and contrast political positions of the time. The committee suggested the Daniels County Leader; however, over half of each issue was copyrighted material. The thing about copyrighted material isn’t just that it’s copyrighted, making it a potential legal issue. If there is a high percentage of that, then, there’s probably not enough local and state content.  The Plentywood Herald was chosen instead.

Page Count:
Here’s a little newspaper math for you. The page count for a year’s worth of an 8-page weekly is 416 pages. A year’s worth of an 8-page paper published 6 days a week is 2,504 pages. Unfortunately, daily papers tend to have more pages per issue and, they also include a lot more non-local and state content; such as, a full sports page, a society section, a fashion section, and so on. This is why there are few daily Montana papers on Chronicling America and the few included have very short date ranges. While we didn’t choose any daily papers this time around, we are including the Montana Farmer-Stockman which was published twice a month, the shortest issue having 28 pages. We’re also doing an extended run of it (1948-1963), which is unusual for such a high page count paper. The difference is that this paper pulls content, and highlights people, from across the state, as opposed to covering the news of  just one town.

Now that you know a little more about the process, here is the list of titles that have recently been chosen.
Belt Valley Times (Oct 1921-1926)
Bozeman Courier (1921-1927)
Montana Labor News (1932-1951)
Circle Banner (Nov 1914-1924, 1921 and 1/2 of 1922 missing)
Columbian/Hungry Horse News (Aug 1946-1955)
Eureka Mirror (Mar 1932-Nov 1936)
The Fort Peck Press (Aug 1934-May 1937)
Glasgow Courier (1942-1945)
Montana Oil Journal/Montana Oil and Mining Journal (1931-1946)
Montana Farmer-Stockman (1948-1963)
The People’s Voice (Dec 1939-1963)
The Kevin Courier/The Montana Courier/The Kevin Review (May 1922-Jun 1929)
Laurel Outlook (1944-1950)
Western News and the Libby Times/Western News (1929-1949)
The Producers News (1928-Mar 1937)
Plentywood Herald (1927-1936)
Carbon County Chronicle/Carbon County News/Red Lodge daily news combined with Carbon County News/Carbon County News (1924-Jul 1945)
The Sidney Herald (1955-1963)
The Wolf Point Herald (1920-1932)

September 12, 2019

Olga Ross Hannon, artist

by Kirby Lambert, Outreach and Interpretation Manager

Olga Ross Hannon

Olga Ross Hannon was born in Moline, Illinois, and educated at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, the Art Student’s League in New York City, and The School of Fine and Applied Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  An extensive traveler, Hannon also studied widely in Europe where she focused her study on traditional arts and crafts.

Life In The Open – Crow Fair
Olga Ross Hannon
Watercolor, 1941
Montana Historical Society Collection, 1977.39.236
Gift of Jack and Isabel Haynes
Hannon worked as a teacher and administrator at various institutions before moving to Montana in 1921 to head the art department at Montana State College (MSC) in Bozeman.  In her capacity as department chair, a position she held until her death, Hannon worked tirelessly to strengthen the school’s art program, especially in the field of painting.  In addition to hands on instruction in the classroom, she augmented students’ development by organizing a chapter of Delta Phi Delta, an art honorary fraternity, on the MSC campus, and serving as the national president of that organization for eight years. She was sponsor of the college art club and the Spurs, a sophomore women’s service organization.

Hannon’s contributions to the development of the arts in Montana were not limited to her work on campus.  She organized the Bozeman Chapter of the American Federation of the Arts and maintained a membership in the Western Association of Museum Directors.  She held various offices in the Montana Education Association, chaired the selection committee for Montana paintings and sculptures to be exhibited at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, and served as the Montana representative for the American Artists Professional League.  In addition, she was a regular contributor to various professional and education publications.

During summers away from Bozeman, Hannon traveled and studied around the globe, or taught art courses at universities and institutes ranging from Maine to Colorado.  While traveling, she collected artworks created by the indigenous peoples of the countries she visited, and gathered Plains Indian art from Montana and the surrounding region to strengthen the college’s art collection.  In the early 1940’s she began a project to record traditional Blackfeet tipi designs that was completed by Jessie Wilber after Hannon’s death.

Throughout her career as an educator Hannon remained active as an artist.  Oils and watercolors were her favored media but she was also quite proficient at lithography, etching and wood block printing.  Subjects commonly depicted in Hannon’s paintings included Montana’s historic mining camps and other early settlements as well as the arts and customs of the Big Sky’s Native American residents.  


August 22, 2019

First Gold in Montana

Ellen Vogelsang, MHS Volunteer

Most Montanans are familiar with the Grasshopper Creek Gold Discovery in 1862, which began the gold rush to Bannack and the Montana Territory. However, Granville Stuart “found” gold four years earlier, near what is now Gold Creek. Stuart had been delayed by illness at Malad Creek (Utah) in 1857, on his journey from the gold rush of California back to the 'States'. He heard, from other mountaineers, of gold found on a branch of the Hell Gate River (present-day Clark Fork River) and detoured to the north. He found gold, but lacked sufficient tools to excavate and did not return until 1862.
Granville Stuart, 1883 [MHS Photo Archives 981-260]
Earlier in Utah, Granville Stuart had learned of Metis trapper named Francois Finlay, known as “Benetsee”, who had found light float gold on what he called Benetsee Creek (now named Gold Creek) in 1852. This prompted the detour north by Stuart and associates. Benetsee traded the gold to Angus MacDonald at Fort Connah, which ultimately led to MacDonald finding gold in British Columbia. Both Benetsee and MacDonald were employed by the Hudson Bay Company and were told to keep the gold discovery quiet to protect HBC’s interests. The company had seen what the California gold rush had done to their trapping grounds and business.   

Stuart returned to Gold Creek in the spring of 1862 with the proper equipment to viably mine gold. The Pike’s Peakers got wind of gold in Montana, which led to John White coming north from Colorado and finding gold in Grasshopper Creek on July 28, 1862.
View of Bannack in 1891 with Grasshopper Creek in the background
[MHS Photo Archives 940-699]
Benetsee can be credited with finding the first recorded gold in Montana, 10 years prior to the Grasshopper Creek/Bannack discovery.  Granville Stuart had the means to make his discovery profitable several months before John White. 

Angus MacDonald (1816-1889) - MHS Archives Papers/SC 47: Box 3/Folder 3
Granville Stuart “Forty Years on the Frontier”
Wikipedia: Gold Creek, Hell Gate