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

August 2, 2019

Montana and the Nineteenth Amendment

by Martha Kohl, MHS Outreach and Interpretation Historian

When Governor Samuel Stuart summoned legislators back to Helena on July 29, 1919, for an extraordinary legislative session, providing aid to Montana’s drought stricken farmers was his primary concern. Ratifying the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution—the women’s suffrage amendment—was almost an afterthought.
Hazel Hunkins, Billings Suffragist, as a young student [from]
Montana women had won the right to vote in 1914 and Montana had elected Jeannette Rankinthe first woman U.S. Representative—to Congress in 1916.  As Governor Stuart explained in his call for a special session, “Montana already has woman suffrage; her women vote upon every important issue presented to our people.” The amendment’s ratification would not change Montana women’s lives or rights at all; “nevertheless our women feel that the women of other states should have their aid and support in this important matter.”

Both parties supported the ratification, which passed the very first day of the special session. Governor Stuart certified the ratification on August 2, 1919, making Montana the thirteenth state to ratify (tying with Nebraska). The biggest controversy was over which party would get the credit. The Republican majority insisted that  Emma Ingalls, Republican representative from the Flathead, introduce HJR #1, much to the dismay of Representative Maggie Smith Hathaway, a longtime suffrage advocate and Democrat from Ravalli County.

Emma Ingalls [from]
The vote, though inevitable, came about only after years of struggle, within Montana and nationally. Jeannette Rankin is, of course, the most famous Montanan involved in the fight for women’s suffrage, but my favorite suffrage activist is Hazel Hunkins from Billings, who moved to Washington, D.C. at age twenty-six to work as the National Woman’s Party’s organizing secretary. She also engaged in direct action, spending many hours on the picket line in front of the White House as a “Silent Sentinel,” and was arrested three times. Her intimate letters home to her mother reveal that she hated picketing, persevering only because she believed it was “a wonderful piece of publicity. …. It would be like base desertion to quit at a time when they need me worse than they ever have before. But oh how I hate it.”
Women Voters Day on the Picket Line, February 14, 1917
The lead woman carrying the American flag and wearing a sash that reads “Voter” is Hazel Hunkins.
Hunkins’ letters and telegrams—preserved at the Schlessinger Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts—bring the suffrage story to life. Reading them, I can imagine her mother, worried in Billings—especially after receiving a telegram declaring, “TWENTY SIX OF AMERICAS FINEST WOMEN ARE ACCOMPANYING ME TO JAIL ITS SPLENDID DONT WORRY.”

In 2014, as part of the Montana suffrage centennial, the Montana Historical Society Outreach and Education Program worked with Billings school librarian Ruth Ferris to publish Hazel Hunkins, Billings Suffragist. The primary source investigation makes the fight over the Nineteenth Amendment real and personal, reminding students that the unfolding of history is not preordained and that women gained the right to vote only after seventy-two years of struggle. Hazel Hunkins’ letters are also just fun reading. Feel free to download the curriculum from the MHS website as you remember August 2, 1919, when Montana formally ratified the Nineteenth Amendment.

July 18, 2019

Flashback Montana 1969

Christine Brown
Historical Specialist

The world watched in awe in July 1969 as scientists and astronauts successfully launched the Apollo 11 spacecraft, explored the moon’s surface, and safely returned to Earth. The momentous occasion was ever-present in the media and for good reason. Nine years and billions of dollars brought unprecedented advances in engineering and technology, spawned whole new industries, and gave the world technological innovations we still benefit from (and can barely live without) today.

The Eagle has landed.  Apollo 11, July 22, 1969.  U.S. National Archives

While the nation focused on the space race, in Montana advances in aerospace engineering and space exploration took a back seat and local matters dominated the state’s newspaper headlines.

Governor Forrest Anderson took office in January 1969. Back then legislators had just sixty days to decide on a lengthy docket of proposed legislation. The state desperately needed money for infrastructure and programming, and the legislature passed a 15 to 18 percent increase in the individual income tax, along with increases in property tax, corporate income taxes and fees, gas and cigarette taxes, and a doubled beer tax.

Other historic legislation lowered the voting age to nineteen, created a Constitutional Revision Commission, funded the state’s five vocational-technical colleges, and condensed 100-plus agencies into 29 departments. Legislators failed to fund public kindergarten and a prison pre-release program, and voted down the minimum wage and collective bargaining for state employees.

The year 1969 saw low unemployment in Montana, but an increasing demand for federal welfare funds as county governments tried to help the working poor and correct social and economic inequalities. Federal funds transformed Montana’s physical landscape too, as Montana cities applied for urban renewal grants to clear deteriorated buildings in their historic commercial downtowns. At the same time, developers built new shopping centers at the outskirts of town.

Teens, college students, and drugs were of rising concern. Both Helena and Missoula reported multiple teen arrests and sentencing for marijuana crimes. The University of Montana addressed the issue by inviting noted professor and LSD user Timothy Leary to the campus for a debate on drug use.

The war in Vietnam also preoccupied Montana campuses. Thirty-four students and instructors at the University of Montana turned in their draft registration cards in April, refusing to serve in the war. On October 15, thousands of Montana students participated in a national day of protest against the war. By the end of 1969, Montana had lost 204 men to the conflict in Vietnam.
Peace march in Helena
Montana’s Jeanette Rankin, at age 89, participated in the October 15 Moratorium Day activities from her adopted home in Georgia and continued to campaign for women’s rights. Almost exactly fifty years after women won the vote, 30 percent of Montana women were full-time workers. While a few more women each year rose to prominent posts, female pay in 1969 was about 40 percent less than a male’s pay for doing the same work.

In many ways Montana in 1969 was in a parallel race alongside the U.S. and Russia. Instead of rocketing to the moon, Montana was racing to keep pace with neighboring states in the never-ending quest to fund, maintain, and modernize. Just prior to July 20, U.S. President Richard Nixon declared the impending moon landing a national holiday, a day to watch and reflect on the U.S.’s scientific achievements. While many Montanans stayed home, watched television, and toasted the moon landing with glasses of champagne, Montana state offices remained open and Governor Anderson was at work. He declined NASA’s invitation to watch the moon landing from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and instead traveled to Sun River with fish and game officials to survey problem elk range areas and help set antelope quotas.
The Independent Record (Helena, Montana) 22 July 1969

July 9, 2019

"The Whole Country was...One Robe"

by Barbara Pepper Rotness, MHS Research Center

We just received the book back from the conservator, nicely bound and protected from further wear and tear, it had been so well-used and perused. “The Whole Country was…’One Robe’”, the definitive history of the Little Shell tribe of Métis in Montana. And, the life work of Nicholas Vrooman, folklorist, historian and defender of Métis rights. With this one book, Nicholas made their complex history accessible to the rest of us. And, he continued making it accessible through presentations and interviews. And, through his genuine passion for and love of a culture not his own.

We were honored to hear Dr. Vrooman share a bit of his vast knowledge during a panel discussion this past April. Not nearly enough time to even scratch the surface, attendees stayed an hour after the discussion to talk with the panelists. Between the extensive experience and knowledge of both Nicholas and his partner on the panel, Al Wiseman, a Métis and Montana Heritage Keeper, the audience was mesmerized from beginning to long after the end.

[Image from the Humanities Montana website]
You can watch the video of the panel discussion here, and, you’ll see for yourself the passion and intelligence of a man who is no longer here to share his knowledge with us. Nicholas Vrooman died June 26, 2019, and there is now a void in this ‘whole country’.

The ‘under one robe’ part of the book's title refers to the fur trade days when vast buffalo herds roamed the plains and resources were plentiful; when the peoples sharing a space and time could learn from one another. The Métis, or, ‘mixed blood’, are the result of that coming together from two very different worlds: that of French, Scottish, and Irish, and, that of predominantly Chippewa, Cree, and Assiniboine. In addition to the intermarriages, the exchange of ideas and resources led to cross-cultural innovations like the red river cart. An ingenious combination of Native travois and Celtic cart, red river carts had no metal parts. They could be easily built and maintained and, at the height of their use, there were thousands of them on the plains. Now, there are, at the most, one or two original carts remaining.
[Red River Camp and Carts, c.1890, MHS Photo Archives 950-581]
The most innovative and beautiful combination of the two peoples that has survived is their language, Michif. It's not a babel of a language. The melding of a rural type of French with the Cree language created a lilting, rhythmic language that has a tidy simplicity of structure – all verbs are Native, all nouns are French.

Even their music is a blend of cultures. Heavily influenced by the Celtic side of their heritage, they took Irish fiddle music and added a syncopated beat. This film explains and demonstrates what that means.

And, of course, food became an amalgamation of two cultures. Bannack bread (or, Li Galette) is a type of Irish soda bread that is quick and inexpensive to make. And, it was portable and filling, something they could take with them on the red river carts. 
[Galette recipe courtesy of Reno Charette, MSU-Billings]

Instead of the buffalo robes of their earlier days and ways, the Métis now carry sashes woven with colorful threads. Al Wiseman pointed out what most people don’t know, that even Charlie Russell incorporated one into his own wardrobe. “Russell also used his sash to store his art supplies when he was traveling horseback. “All the breeds wear them,” he said.”* Black, red, white, green all have significance. Red is the blood of their ancestors, green the grass, black symbolizes loss and death, blue the sky, and white represents the clouds.
[‘Would you know me Bill?’ Charlie Russell watercolor, 1901, MHS 1986.06.07b]
As Nicholas commented, the story of the Métis is a difficult but beautiful one.

Currently, the Little Shells' tribal status is being reviewed in the U.S. Senate as part of a decades-long effort to become federally-recognized as a unique people and culture to be honored and protected. Vrooman, who dedicated years of his life to this fight, won't see the fruits of his labor, but his work and his impact will live on. So, too, will the Métis people, whose flag, with its infinity symbol, represents lasting life and hope. Today, we raise it high!