August 11, 2017

Trials of a Prairie Photographer

By Christopher Gray, Digital Projects Intern

Evelyn Cameron’s photography was born from necessity and love for the art. The Camerons were frequently out of cash, so Evelyn sold vegetables, hosted boarders, and took up photography to supplement what little income they had.

Living on a ranch, Evelyn was no stranger to hard work. Photography in the 1890s and early 20th century was a demanding and tricky endeavor, so adding the business of making photographs to her daily routine would have taken a great deal of energy and motivation.

Though photography was rapidly becoming more accessible to the public, it had not reached the level of efficiency it has today. Evelyn had only what was technologically available in Montana at the turn of the last century. Living on the prairie, her options were further limited to whatever mail-order equipment she could afford. Despite these limitations, Evelyn managed to excel at her work.

Some of the other difficulties she faced included a camera with slow shutter speeds [1] and photographic plates that weren’t very light-sensitive.

Catalog # PAc 90-87.G002-016
“Mary Phillips, May 4th, 1905.”
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron

For example, this picture, taken with a 5x7 Kodak in 1905, illustrates how Evelyn worked within those technical limits. She wrote her camera settings for this picture in her diary, noting a shutter speed of 1/5 of a second and an aperture of f32—slow shutter, small aperture [2]. These settings were necessitated by the slowness of the plate (about ISO 5 or 10) and Evelyn’s aesthetic preference [3]. She preferred well-defined backgrounds for her pictures, and a small aperture allowed that. 

Slow shutter speeds are no nuisance if the subject is stationary, the camera is mounted on a tripod, and the wind is calm. However, Evelyn’s subjects and the prairie wind were seldom still. 

Catalog #PAc 90-87.G003-002
“Cat sitting in hole in rock. 1900”
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron

Cats especially fall into the “seldom still” category. Pet photography is best done with a fast shutter speed, but here Evelyn used a slow shutter speed and a small aperture (perhaps out of habit). That the cat, Patchy, stayed still for this picture seems like a miracle. However, that Patchy appears unblurred in a handful of other photos suggests the cat was a more agreeable model than most. 

Catalog #PAc 90-87.G059-011
“[[Railroad crew on handcar]. 
[Five railroad workers standing on handcar.] [ca. 1910]”
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron

This photo of Northern Pacific workmen on a handcar may look ordinary for a moment, but its odd nature soon becomes apparent. Evelyn took two images on the same plate, most likely by accident. Looking closely, it seems she took one picture without the workmen and one with them. Note how the man on the far right looks translucent!

Catalog # PAc 90-87.NB067K
“[Family on parsonage porch, Marsh, Montana]. 
At the Lutheran Church parsonage. July 25, 1920”
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron

Finally, some unintentional elements in a photo can actually improve it. This would be a normal, staid family photo were it not for the mischievous young’un peering from behind the screen door. This may have gone unnoticed by Evelyn as she took the picture, but given her sense of humor she probably knew the girl was there and proceeded anyway.

[1] Only until late 1905, when she received a more advanced camera.
[2] Cameron diary, 7 May 1905
[3] Cameron diary, 27 June 1904

August 1, 2017

Remembering Frank Little

by Rich Aarstad, Senior Archivist, and Martha Kohl, Historical Specialist

Slain by capitalist interests for organizing his fellow men
This epithet appears on Frank Little’s headstone in the Mountain View Cemetery of Butte, MT. 

Portrait, Frank Little, 1910s
Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

A top field organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW, or the Wobblies), Frank Little stepped gingerly from the train in Butte on July 20, 1917, still bearing marks of a beating he took while agitating on behalf of striking copper miners in Bisbee, AZ. Life as the Wobblies top field organizer had few perks and more than a bit of personal risk.  Like a prophet from the Old Testament, Frank wandered the West from one labor hotspot to another, preaching the gospel of the One Big Union.  His mission was simple: affiliate the Metal Mine Workers’ Union with the IWW and force the company officials running the Anaconda Company from the sixth floor of the Hennessy Building “’down below with a muckstick.’”

When Little arrived in Butte, the mining city was in the midst of a general strike. Three months earlier, the U.S. had entered World War I. A month earlier, on June 5, miners rioted, protesting the implementation of a compulsory draft. Then, on June 8, a fire in the Granite Mountain/Speculator mine claimed the lives of 165 miners. Workers were demanding safer working conditions and higher wages. The state had responded by sending in troops. Butte was under martial law.

MHS Ephemera File
Neither the Anaconda Company nor the leaders of Metal Mine Workers Union (MMWU) were happy to see Little. The Anaconda Company’s unhappiness was self-explanatory. But Butte’s labor leaders also rejected his radical rhetoric, objecting both to the IWW’s hardline stance against the war and its commitment to overthrowing of the capitalist system.

These inflammatory positions were particularly dangerous since the start of the war. Even IWW president William “Big Bill” Haywood was cautioning his field organizers to lighten up on the rhetoric lest they incur the federal government’s wrath and feel the full weight of its opposition.  But if Frank Little got the message, he chose to ignore it.

Instead, Little passionately preached the IWW message. During a speech at Finlander Hall, Little referred to U.S. soldiers as “uniformed thugs” and stressed his opposition to the draft and the war.  Why, he asked, would workers choose to fight for their capitalist masters, when instead they could end the war by turning on their masters and overthrowing the capitalist system?

The Anaconda Company—delighted to tar labor as treasonous—had its papers report Little’s speeches. It also joined local political leaders in asking U.S. Attorney B. K. Wheeler to arrest Little, claiming that his “treasonous utterances” violated the Espionage Act of 1917. Wheeler refused: according to the attorney, Little had not violated the Espionage Act but had only exercised his right to free speech.

Nevertheless, Little was soon silenced. In the early morning hours of August 1, six men entered the boarding house where Frank Little was staying and physically removed him from his room.  They tied him to the bumper of a waiting car and dragged him to the edge of town where they beat then lynched him from a railroad trestle with a warning pinned to his chest.

Frank Little, Death, Missoula, Montana Free Speech Fight, 1917
Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

In the wake of the brutal murder, Governor Stewart received a flood of messages from across the nation from labor organizations and concerned citizens. The message left on Little’s body harkened back to the vigilante days of early Montana and the initials at the bottom corresponded with the last names of the leaders of the MMWU strike: Frank Little (with the “L” circled), Bill Dunne, Tom Campbell, Daniel Shovlin, Joe Shannon, Jim Williams, and John Tomich.  The use of 3-7-77 legitimized the action in the eyes of some, who believed that if authorities would have arrested Little under the charge of treason reasonable men would not have felt the need to act.  It would also help justify, less than a year, later the passage of the Montana Sedition Act and Criminal Syndicalism Act during a special session of the legislature.

Frank Little, Funeral, Montana Free Speech Fight, 1917
Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

The murder of Frank Little remains unsolved even though most agree the Anaconda Company played some role in his death.  While his message for the most part fell on deaf ears, his murder gave rise to an impassioned citizenry who four days later gave Frank Little an epic send off with the largest funeral in the history of Butte.  They laid Frank Little to rest in the pauper section of the Mountain View Cemetery.

Photo courtesy of the author

Today, his headstone faces “the Hill” and standing at the foot of his grave one can see the memorial the North Butte Mining Company erected to the memory of those unidentified miners who died in the Granite Mountain/Speculator Mine fire.  I think Frank would appreciate that.

July 28, 2017

The Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company

by Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Services Technician

 Sanders County Ledger (Thompson Falls, MT)

Newspaper ads for the Mountain State Telephone and Telegraph Co (MST&T) have always stood out to me, but the ad above convinced me that they were worthy of a blog post.  Well, technically the ad I saw wasn’t this specific one because MST&T was prolific in their advertising.  With few exceptions, all the ads I’ve seen were published in multiple Montana newspapers. Considering that MST&T served Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico plus the western corner of Texas, it isn’t surprising that I’ve seen many of them in Idaho newspapers as well.

The truth about blog posts is that most of us over-research them.  Most of the information that we find and sources we consult never make it into the post.  In this case, I clipped an instance of every unique ad I could find. When I found the same ad in multiple places, I choose which one to keep first by image quality and then trying to use as many newspapers as possible.  The ads date from December 1911 (shortly after the founding of the company) until January 1924 (when I realized I had 103 ads and should really stop).

I know 103 ads sounds a little crazy, but I was going to talk about the themes found in the ads and how they changed over time. It seemed like a good idea, but I had a difficult time selecting which special few to share. Instead I thought it would be fun to open the collection up to you all so that you can tell me what you find interesting.

There are a couple of ways to view the collection.  If you’d like a collage-type experience, you can see the Pinterest Board here.  If you’d like a more organized approach, they can be viewed here in an exhibit where you can look at the ads by location (using the map), title (on the right) or chronology (using the timeline at the bottom).  When you click on an item, the item's record will pop up.  Scroll to the bottom to find the image and then click on it to view.

Is there an ad that really stands out to you? As you look through the collection, what do you notice?Do you have a favorite? I’d love to know so comment below.

Below are a few of my favorites to get you started.

I like these two together to show the difference in attitude towards WWI between 1914 and 1917.

Big Timber Pioneer
November 5, 1914     
Mineral Independent (Superior, MT)
June 28, 1917

This ad is a good visual representation of how the company tries to explain their financial situation.

Mineral Independent (Superior, MT)
November 16, 1916

This one always makes me laugh.  Probably because when I first saw it, I was starting a walking challenge, which constantly emphasized “More Steps”.
Choteau Acantha
June 14, 1923

Lastly, this one has my favorite image.

River Press (Fort Benton, MT)
February 9, 1915

July 13, 2017

Montana History online

by Tammy Troup, MHS Digital Services Manager

History researchers employ a variety of strategies to gather and organize historical evidence. While we’re collecting evidence, we’re thinking about what we’re discovering, developing hypotheses, and ignoring tangents. Finally—if we’re fortunate—we draw evidence-supported conclusions which contribute to the scholarly record.
In this blog post, we’ll outline methods to help researchers conduct online research:

Database Search

You can search many online databases such as the Montana Memory Project (CONTENTdm), Digital Vault (Omeka), Internet Archive, Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), Chronicling America, and MONTANA NEWSPAPERS using Structured Query Language (SQL).  Several online databases (including the databases mentioned above) include a Graphical User Interface (GUI) which structures (organizes) data into specific fields (e.g., Title, Creator/Author, Type, etc.) or which allows multi-faceted (categorical) searching.
For Google-trained online researchers, database research can be frustrating. Simple keyword searches are not effective. Researchers will have more successful results by employing a few SQL-derived techniques:
  • Look for Advanced Search options. Advanced Search provides researchers with an interface to organize and search specific fields and by specific types of searches (exact phrase, any words, all words, none, etc.);
  • Use Boolean operators to focus a search and connect related pieces of information. These operators include AND (all search terms must be present), OR (any of the search terms may be included), and NOT (none of the search terms will be included);
  • Use special characters to expand search results. An asterisk * may be placed in a word such as wom*n  to return results with woman or women.
  • The order of your search commands will determine the order of your results.  You may use parentheticals, which will determine the execution order of the commands you use (e.g., Homesteading AND (Norwegian OR Swedish).
Google Search

Complex websites with thousands of pages, pdf attachments, and links can be difficult for search engines to index and even more difficult for researchers to use efficiently. However, researchers may search the entire site if the understand the functionality which Google builds into the search bar (of course Google also features an Advanced Search option). Another resource, Nancy Blachman’s Google Guide is a well-organized tutorial to help people structure useful queries. A few of these query inputs include the following:
  • Special Characters:
    • - Operator (minus sign) to exclude specific words (same as NOT)
    • * Operator when a wildcard or placeholder is needed or you may use it before a word so search results will return synonyms of the word searched.
    • .. Operator between two years will produce a time range of results
    • “ “ will return results exact phrase results
  • Specific fields:
    • intitle: will return results which include metadata of a specific type (in this case title). This type of search is useful if you know what you are searching for may have specific metadata (e.g., title, creator or author, date, publisher, subject, etc.)
  • site: domain restricts search results to a specific domain
  • filetype: will restrict search results to a specific filetype
History Online

While the Montana Historical Society collects a wealth of information about the history of Montana, there is also a vast amount of data collected and owned by other individuals and organizations. We create billions of gigabytes of information every day.  Meanwhile more and more Montanans create digital information and place it online.  Printing or formally archiving the bulk of this information (image, text, moving image, software, database, etc.) will never occur. As such, historians will need to develop new research methods to identify, find, and collect evidence of the past, and we will need to carefully monitor information policy related to access to these collections.

EXTRA! Montana Newspapers Stories 1864-1922: Extermination of Wolves

Wolves were abundant in newly created Montana Territory in the 1860s. The same merchants who shipped bison hides to the East found a ready market for wolf pelts; the fur was widely used as trim on clothing. Between 1871 and 1875, an estimated 34,000 wolves were killed in northern Montana and southern Alberta. As the cattle industry rose in prominence, the territorial government began paying bounties for wolves, coyotes and other predators. By the end of the 1880s, the total extermination of wolves became a goal of ranchers—one that was finally achieved by government-salaried hunters in the 1920s.

Key dates

1883—Territorial legislature offers a $1 bounty for a full wolfskin. At the end of 1884, the treasury reports paying bounties for 5,540 wolves, 1,774 coyotes, 568 bears, and 146 mountain lions.
1887—Bounty claims are so numerous, the territory can no longer afford to pay them, and bounty laws are repealed.
1899—Under pressure from stock growers, bounties on cattle predators are reinstated, funded by a new tax on livestock.
1905—The latest bounty pays $10 per full-grown wolf scalp. Because an immature animal cannot kill cattle as efficiently as an adult, the bounty per pup is only $3.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: wolves, wolf hunting, bounty