January 12, 2017

Imagining History

by Tom Ferris, Archival Photographer

The Montana Historical Society photograph archives is home to approximately 500,000 photographs, in print and negative form. A large portion of the collection can be identified by subject, photographer, place, and date - and quite a bit of it by only one or two of those identifiers. I’d like to share with you a photograph that falls into that second category and has always led me to imagine what the unknown details are. We know the photograph was made by Evelyn Cameron, in the Fallon/Terry, Montana area, and probably in 1912. The questions of who and why remain a mystery. Why a photograph was made can be one of the most important aspects of understanding an image.

PAc # 90-87 G046-001 [Perhaps Norman Wold  Circa 1912]
Photographer: Evelyn Cameron

As an archival photographer here at MHS, I have been lucky enough to work with the Evelyn Cameron collection over the course of the last twenty years. This is my favorite photo collection being housed and preserved here, and we recently digitized about 650 of Cameron’s glass plate and nitrate negatives and uploaded the images to the Montana Memory Project. You can see them here.

One of the benefits of scanning film, (in this case a 3”x5” glass plate negative) at a high resolution is that we get to see details in the image which had gone unnoticed in print form. This is especially true if enlarged prints had not been made. While working on this image, (which could be of Norman Wold) I enlarged it on the screen to check for sharpness and quality and was surprised to find an earring in the mans’ left ear. This is a very uncommon accessory for white men of European descent at this time in western history, and it made me look more closely and inquisitively at this portrait.

Why an earring? Is this man a Gypsy? A sailor who has crossed the equator or sailed the seven seas? Why has this photo been made? Is this a tribute to the mans’ lost wife made for her distant family? Is it an advertisement for a far away potential bride – a form of Match.com from the turn of the century?

In Evelyn Cameron’s detailed diaries there are some references to a Mr. Wold who is a blacksmith, and a Mrs. Wold who is sick and expected to die in 1912. The photograph is identified as circa 1912 and seems to portray a home and possessions that the man is proud of. He is letting the viewer know that he is literate by displaying books and holding a newspaper. We can guess that family is important to him due to the presence of the photo albums. There are lace curtains in the windows and a fine tablecloth pinned to an oilcloth cover on the table. The subject is wearing a clean white shirt and tailored jacket. We can also see the right hand in detail, resting on a nicely embroidered blanket, and the left hand grasping a newspaper. These are the hands of a working man, perhaps a blacksmith – perhaps Norman Wold.












The presence of the woman’s hat caringly displayed on the chair covered in a blanket and fine white linens leads me to think the photograph may have been made for her family, but after considering this image so often I’d like to believe that the image served two purposes – a tribute to her and their marriage, and an advertisement for him. I don’t know much about “Norman Wold” but I hope he found someone and was happy. Considering the care he took in displaying his wife’s belongings, he may have been the kind of person who made someone else happy too.



I enjoy wondering about an unknown story contained in an image as much as I like learning the history when we do have the facts and documentation. If you have information regarding this particular photograph, please drop us a line at mhslibrary@mt.gov or give us a call at 406-444-4739.

If you are interested in further reading about Evelyn Cameron and viewing more of her work the MHS Museum Store carries “Photographing Montana 1894-1928 – The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron” by author Donna Lucey. It is an amazing story and the photographs are wonderful.

December 22, 2016

Carnival of Spoils 1893 - Locating State Institutions

by Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Services Technician

Most Montanans have heard the story of the capital fight.  With the coming of statehood, the competition for state capital was fierce.  None of the seven contending cities won a majority in the first vote in 1892, so a runoff vote between Helena and Anaconda was announced for 1894. At this point, the contest escalated becoming part of the feud between copper kings Marcus Daly (Anaconda) and William Clark (Helena).  After a contest costing around three million dollars [1], the vote in 1894 declared Helena the state capital by about 2,000 votes.  However, the capital was only one state institution to be created in the aftermath of statehood.  The 1893 legislature proposed, argued, and finally located a number of state institutions, including the state prison and educational facilities which included a state university, an agricultural college with experimental station, a mining school, and a normal school.

“The carnival of spoils goes merrily on.”  This description from the Weekly Tribune of Great Falls on February 10, 1893, vividly describes the energy with which the legislature debated the placement of state institutions.

Educational Facilities
The Columbian
January 19, 1893, p.2

The location of the state’s educational facilities (state university, agricultural school with experimental station, school of mines, and normal school) drew the most controversy.  Two competing groups argued over the fundamental question of whether state institutions should be colocated or separated.  While originally the consolidationists wanted all state institutions located in the same city, they quickly decided to make their stand over the location of the four educational institutions.  Their main argument held that consolidated schools would reduce duplication of facilities and faculty.  Instead of separating these schools resulting in multiple tiny institutions competing with each other for funding, their vision was of a single institution serving all of these needs.  They accused their opponents of serving their local interests at the expense of Montana’s greater good.

Senator Paris Gibson of Great Falls led the consolidationists with energy and determination, always claiming that he was putting the best interests of the state above any other consideration.  His goals are called into question by the consistent impression that while claiming not to care where the consolidated school is located, the end goal was making Great Falls the consolidated location.  Many of the communities supporting consolidation indicated that they wanted it in Great Falls.  On the day the Senate debated the University Bill (SB 3), the first of the education facilities to come up for vote, Senator Gibson proposed an amendment that “Missoula must donate to the university 160 acres of land and $40,000 as an endowment fund”.  Later in his speech he offered on behalf of a consolidated university at Great Falls, 320 acres and $100,000 as an endowment fund.[2] Senator Elmer Matts, leading the segregatists, called Gibson’s amendment and speech an ambush intended only to delay the bill.  Both the amendment and the consolidationist cause failed, and the legislature proceeded to locate state institutions across Montana.



Even as the battle between consolidation and segregation waged, cities vied for state institutions.  The most heated of the educational fights was over the agricultural college.  The debate between Bozeman and Miles City came down to altitude.  Whose elevation was better for the experimental station: Bozeman at ~6000 ft or Miles City at ~2000ft?  The placement of the agricultural college influenced that of the normal school as well.  At various times Dillon, Livingston, Twin Bridges, and Deer Lodge were reported as wanting the normal school.  As the contest came down to Dillon and Livingston, the common refrain against Livingston was best summed up by the Red Lodge Picket “if Bozeman gets the agricultural college the normal school will hardly be located within twenty five miles”. [3]



State Prison
With statehood, the prison at Deer Lodge was transferred from federal to state control.  However, during the 1893 legislative session, Billings put up a strong challenge.  Since the Deer Lodge facility opened in 1871, overcrowding and maintenance had been continuous issues. [4] (Historic Structures Report Montana State Prison, prepared by James R. McDonald Architect, prepared for Powell County Museum and Arts Foundation, Deer Lodge. 725.6 M14h)  Billings advocates argued that Billings could build a new prison at less than the cost needed for upgrading and expanding the Deer Lodge facility.  Billings sweetened the deal by offering land and money even offering to pay the cost of transporting prisoners to the new prison.  The question of why Billings went after the state prison as opposed to one of the other state institutions is an interesting one.  The Anaconda Standard suggested one possible reason on January 15, 1893.  “As for the penitentiary, Billings wants it and wants it bad, not so much because she considers it a very desirable institution or especially beneficial in a pecuniary sense, as because she thinks it will insure the coming to Billings of the Burlington railroad, which otherwise may give her the slip.” The legislature declared that both cities would have a state prison:  the Western State Prison at Deer Lodge and the Eastern State Prison at Billings. Problems arose soon after when lack of funds put building plans in Billings on hold.  Due to the Economic Panic of 1893, the state treasury found itself unequal to the task of funding two prisons.  In 1896, the Board of State Prison Commissioners recommended that the Legislature “should make an appropriation to complete this building at once or else dispose of the materials and supplies on hand.” [5] The next report mentions using materials from the Billings facility at Deer Lodge. The Eastern State Prison was no more.



Other Institutions
While some cities lost the institution of their choice to another city, Boulder ran into a different problem.  At the beginning of the session, Boulder wanted the insane asylum.  However, as The Anaconda Standard explained on January 15, 1893 “there seems to be an impression that there is no need of haste in locating the asylum as the contract of Mussigbrod & Mitchell has still some time to run.” Eventually Boulder changed focus and obtained the State Deaf and Dumb Asylum (now Montana State Training School).  Both Miles City and Twin Bridges, who had lost their first choice were awarded other institutions, the Montana State Reform School (now Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility) and Montana State Orphans’ Home (closed in 1975) respectively.

How many of us can imagine these institutions being somewhere else?  How many of us can imagine these cities without their institutions?  Sometimes decisions of the past seem inevitable, but really they were decisions made by people.  What decisions of today will seem inevitable in a hundred years?

Works Cited
[1] Montana: Stories of the Land, Chapter 10, p195
[2] The Yellowstone Journal. February 3, 1893, p1.
[3] Red Lodge Picket. January 21, 1893 p2.
[4] Historic Structures Report Montana State Prison, prepared by James R. McDonald Architect, prepared for Powell County Museum and Arts Foundation, Deer Lodge. Call Number: 725.6 M14h
[5] Sixth Annual Report of the Board of State Prison Commissioners of the State of Montana. For the Year 1896. Helena: State Publishing Company, 1896, p21. Call Number: S353.39PR 1873, 1891-1906.

Additional Resources:
Laws Resolutions and Memorials of the State of Montana Passed at the Third Regular Session of the Legislative Assembly. Butte City: Inter Mountain Publishing Company, 1893. REF345.12M76

December 15, 2016

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: Calamity Jane

Martha Jane Cannary (or Canary) is a unique character in the lore of the West. She spent a portion of her childhood in Virginia City (Montana Territory) but was orphaned at the age of twelve. The eldest of six, she worked at a variety of jobs to support her younger siblings. It was as a scout for the U.S. Army that she first traveled to Deadwood (Dakota Territory), where many of the tall tales about her life took root. The source of her nickname is uncertain. Cannary claimed it related to her acts of heroism, i.e., she was a good friend to have in a calamity. As an adult, Cannary ranched near Miles City, Montana, and for many years, Calamity Jane sightings appeared in Montana newspapers. These accounts documented her heavy drinking, which is said to have contributed to her death at age 51. At her request, she was buried in Deadwood next to her friend, "Wild Bill" Hickok.


Key dates

1852—Born in Missouri.
1865—With her family travels by wagon to Montana Territory. During the five-month journey, Martha hunts with the men, honing her shooting skills.
1876—Meets James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok in Deadwood, South Dakota.
1882—Buys a ranch on the Yellowstone River.
1895—Travels throughout the Midwest with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, performing astride her horse as a sharpshooter.
1903—Dies in a Terry, South Dakota, hotel room.


From the newspapers


To find more

Search for the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: calamity jane, martha jane cannary (or canary), wild bill hickok, buffalo bill cody

Written by Catherine W. Ockey

December 9, 2016

How to Do Research in the Photograph Archives

Christy Eckerle, Associate Editor of Montana The Magazine of Western History


In a collection of more than 500,000 historic photos, how do you find the one perfect photo you want? I face this quandary every day. As an associate editor for Montana The Magazine of Western History, it’s my job to gather the historic photos that illustrate each article.

This sign stood by the highway near Eureka, Montana, a
t the height of the region’s Christmas tree boom. Richard
C. Shirley, photographer, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena,
PAc 99-34 p. 28 24a
Our forthcoming Winter 2016 issue features an article about western Montana’s Christmas tree industry, which boomed between 1926 and the 1950s with much of the activity centered around the town of Eureka. So, I had to find photographs of people cutting and shipping Christmas trees near Eureka in the twentieth century.


Luckily, the Photograph Archives here at the Montana Historical Society are a treasure trove of historic images. I started my search with the Research Center’s marvelous online catalog. I typed “Christmas tree” and narrowed my results to photos. The eight results included photos of Christmas trees at celebrations, but nothing of the industry itself. So, I tried searching “Eureka.” Among descriptions of photos of the local baseball team and postcards of the town, I found a collection called “Tobacco Valley News photos.” The description read: “Photographs taken to document information and events for the Tobacco Valley Newspaper of Eureka, Montana.”

Lois Workman ties trees at the J. Hofert Christmas Tree Company yard,
circa 1950s.  Richard C. Shirley, photographer, MHS Photograph Archives,
Helena, PAc 99-34 4x5

Jackpot.


With the catalog number of the collection (PAc 99-34) jotted down on a scratch paper, I headed for the Photograph Archives.
Handing a catalog number to an archivist is like handing a claim ticket to an infinitely knowledgeable valet. The archivist whisks the boxes you desire from their temperature-controlled storage room, sets them on a reading table, and hands you a pair of gloves.


The collection, “Tobacco Valley News photos,” is an unprocessed collection. Unprocessed means that no archivist has yet done his or her scientific and thorough sorting, arranging, and indexing of it. The collection remains in the disorganized state it was in when the donor dropped it off and the archivist plunked it into an acid-free Gaylord box.


Side note: most archives have many unprocessed collections—the culprit is understaffing and underfunding. Archivists spend much of their time helping us eager yet uninformed researchers answer questions like “Do you have any photos of cowboys?” (The answer, by the way, is: “We have several thousand. Can you be more specific?”) Even the most dedicated archivist has only so much time to divide between helping patrons and cataloging collections. So, should you ever run into the maddening phrase unprocessed collection in your research, instead of getting upset, consider donating to help solve the problem.


Jim Fuller’s family works together to bale Christmas trees at the
G. R. Kirk Tree Company yard in Eureka, circa October 1969.
Steve Shirley, photographer, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena,
PAc 99-34 p. 25 17a
Anyway, I had a strong hunch that the collection of Tobacco Valley News photos contained images of the Christmas tree industry. With no index to guide me, I sorted through photo by photo. And my hunch proved right. I found scores of images of people cutting, baling, and shipping Douglas fir trees.


The only remaining problem was that many of these photographs were unidentified. No dates, locations, or names were listed. I could, of course, sift through decades of the Tobacco Valley News on microfilm to try to find the photos with their original captions. But, I was saved from this daunting task by serendipity.
Workers load Christmas trees on a Great Northern Railway
freight car at the Eureka station, November or December 1972.
Richard C. Shirley, photographer, MHS Photograph Archives,
Helena, PAc 99-34 p. 324 9


While I was looking through the collection, the son of the former editor of the Tobacco Valley News walked into the Photograph Archives reading room. How such a coincidence is possible, that he should drive down from Eureka on the very day that I was looking at his father’s photographs, I don’t know. But he identified all the unidentified photographs that I wanted.


So, after my determined searching with the help of an archivist and a lot of luck, when Montana The Magazine of Western History subscribers open up their Winter issue in a few weeks, they’ll see these marvelous photos with captions chalk-full of information—not only about western Montana’s Christmas tree industry, but also about the people who worked it.


P.S. If you’d like to receive Montana, you can subscribe online or by calling (406) 444-4708.


P.P.S If you want to do research at the Montana Historical Society but can’t make it in person, you can submit a research request, and one of our talented staff members will help you.

November 17, 2016

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: Helen Piotopowaka (The Bird That Comes Home) Clarke

Born the daughter of a prominent Scottish-American and his Blackfeet wife, Helen (Nellie) Piotopowaka Clarke spent most of her childhood at a Catholic school in Minneapolis, returning to Montana a polished and well-educated young woman. She worked as an actress, a schoolteacher, and an Indian agent for the U.S. government. She was the first woman elected to public office in Montana, becoming the superintendent of public schools for Lewis and Clark County at age 38.


Key dates

1846—Born at the mouth of the Judith River.
1869—Father murdered by a group of Blackfeet men.
1875—Takes a teaching position in Helena.
1884—Elected Superintendent of Schools for Lewis and Clark County.
1889—Leaves Montana to work for the Indian Bureau as an allotment agent.
1909—With her brother, Horace, is granted tribal membership and allotments.
1923—Dies at East Glacier Park Village, Montana.


From the newspapers


To find more

Search for these terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: helen clarke, nellie clarke, malcolm clarke, horace clarke