January 19, 2018

Bradley Fellow Hard at Work

by Jill Falcon Mackin, 2017 Bradley Fellow

Jill Mackin at the
Montana Historical Society Research Center
Photo by Tom Ferris
The opportunity to spend an extended and supported time in the Montana Historical Society archives as a James H. Bradley Fellow, has built a solid foundation for my doctoral research. Under the working title, “Miinigoowiziwin (That Which is Given to US): Changing Anishinaabe Food Systems, 1780-1920,” my dissertation research focuses on the Old North Trail Corridor and human relationships to this bioregion. Given the infrequency in which native foods were discussed in historical source documents, my research in the MHS archives threw a broad net at the sources for this period including fur trade journals, military post journals, oral histories and reminiscences, newspapers, maps, and State Historic Preservation Office site reports.

Working in this diversified group of records has nuanced my understanding of how, within the context of colonization, the lifeways and foodways of my own ancestors--Ojibwe, Cree, and Métis people--changed. My overarching observation from my research at MHS is the emergence of two highly interwoven economies during this timeframe—the gift or subsistence economy and the capitalist economy. Both are concerned with resources. In Anishinaabe culture, food is not merely subsistence but gift. The pull of food resources drew native people out of the Red River to the West, while they themselves were drawn deeper into the evolving capitalist economy of the fur trade and westward nation building. The capitalist economy expands to the West in search of furs, gold, and land.

A few specific examples from the records illustrate my emerging conclusions on the interface of these two economies. The Journal of Larocque from the Assiniboine to the Yellowstone, 1805, shows the dependency the traders had on indigenous geographic knowledge, as well as how native communities functioned as weigh stations for traders where they procured food and clothing. The journals of Fort Benton, Fort Belknap, and Fort Shaw shed light on evolving trade relationships between Indians and settler colonists, in which native peoples delivered furs and robes in exchange for food. The U.S. Interior Department: Montana Superintendency of Indian Affairs Records, (1861-1871) report government initiatives to deliver food annuities and press native people into Euro-American style farming.

While, there is a clear shift in agency and dependency for both settler-colonists and native peoples, there is also a growing ambiguity in the identity of some fur traders of mixed native-Euro-American descent. These individuals are identified with native bands and living an indigenous lifestyle, but are also caught up in congealing racial boundaries. Racial identity, socio-economic roles, and settlement patterns, impacted the evolution of Anishinaabe food systems as the people moved from the Red River Valley to the Rocky Mountains. Reminiscences, such as that of Ben Kline and Eli Guardipee, and oral histories, such as those of the Métis Cultural Recovery Trust, are especially valuable for the light they shed on the persistence or “survivance” of Anishinaabe foodways into the early 20th century.

Additionally, during my research time I have gathered essential information on settlement sites of Ojibwe-Cree-Métis along the Old North Trail Corridor; significant place names longer in use; the relative abundance and scarcity of game; the influence of the Whoop-up Trail and whiskey trade on well-being and access to food; locations of bison herds and native camps throughout the Corridor; a view of the rapid rise of the cattle industry; and, the infrastructure issues involved in the delivery of food annuities to native peoples on the Missouri by steamboat.  These insights are part of the patchwork quilt of changing indigenous foodways through the 19th century and, thus lend a foundation going forth with my dissertation research. My research follows with these questions: How do these two economies affect the food systems? How do the competing food systems and economies interact in native life?

I am deeply grateful for my time spent at MHS, for the hospitality, collegiality, and resourcefulness of the staff. Thank you for this great opportunity to study history together.

If you are a graduate student, faculty, or independent scholar looking to do research in the collections of the Montana Historical, please consider applying for a James H. Bradley Fellowship.  The deadline is March 1.

December 28, 2017

Court DuRand’s “Wild Game Water Rodeo”

by Kelly Burton, Film Archivist

While Montana’s guest ranches have long explored ways to distinguish themselves from the competition, it would be difficult for anyone to best the Big Elk Ranch, circa 1930, when it comes to sheer outrageousness and hucksterism. The proprietor of the Big Elk, Courtland Eugene DuRand, was born in Minneapolis in 1877. His parents filed a claim on Trail Creek in 1892, and the DuRands soon moved their six children to the foothills of the Little Belt Mountains north of present-day Checkerboard, Montana. Young Court helped to build the family cattle ranch, the N Lazy I, before going off to study engineering at Princeton University. After graduation, DuRand returned to the 2100-acre ranch to assist neighbors with irrigation systems and stock management, and then traveled the world as a supervisor of overseas prospects for a mining conglomerate. He increasingly visited Montana after the death of his father in 1910, and permanently settled on the family property in the early 1920s.

Letter from Roosevelt to DuRand, 1927. 
(MHS vertical file, Courtland DuRand)
Promotional materials for the Wild Elk Range of Montana. 
(MHS vertical file, Courtland DuRand)

The DuRand Ranch Company was incorporated in 1921, but the falling beef prices of the mid-1920s led Court to consider two business options: opening a dude ranch, and domesticating wild animals for breeding and commercial sale as meat. In late 1927, the Bureau of Biological Survey sold him seventy-four cow and calf elk, twelve bull elk, fourteen bison, two mountain goats, several sheep, some black-tail deer, and one dozen antelope. Originally started as a common-law trust bearing the name “Wild Elk Range of Montana,” the moniker was soon changed to Big Elk Ranch in 1929. The premier attraction of the ranch soon became the “Wild Game Water Rodeo,” which featured domesticated elk and bison plummeting from a 40-foot platform into an artificial pool below. The dude ranch ran to near-capacity from June to November for several years, but the 1930s economic depression eventually decreased the market for exotic meats and leisure activities. DuRand kept his trained animals in the spotlight, however, and they continued to appear in various Montana parades, sports shows in Cleveland and Chicago, the New York World’s Fair, and even a bison diving show on New Jersey’s Steel Pier.

The Wild Game Water Rodeo. 
(MHS Photo Archives, PAc 83-48)
The Wild Game Water Rodeo. 
(MHS Photo Archives, PAc 83-48)

With the Wild Elk Range of Montana, Court maintained that what he was creating was: “an experiment station for the study of elk and other animals…the first venture of its kind in the United States. I am a firm believer that domesticated elk will someday find a place on the American menu. These animals can be raised to provide more meat than any other animal, for the comparable amount of food.” [1] Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s name graces the promotional materials for the Wild Elk Range as a member of the organization’s Advisory Committee, and a letter of support from the former president speaks to the enthusiasm that DuRand was able to generate for his unique Montana endeavor. The naturalist slant presented by the Wild Elk Range soon becomes sensationalized with the introduction of the Big Elk Ranch theatrics, however: “A diving platform, water corrals, and fish-hook chutes have been constructed, from which buffalo, elk, and horses dove into 15 feet of water. Dudes were able to catch the buffalo and elk and ride on their backs across the lake. One elk was lassoed, and it pulled a row boat with two passengers. Fox Movietone men have taken moving pictures of the aquatic rodeo for international distribution.” [2]

The Wild Game Water Rodeo. 
(MHS Photo Archives, PAc 83-48)
The Wild Game Water Rodeo. 
(MHS Photo Archives, PAc 83-48)

A print of this Movietone newsreel was loaned to the Montana Historical Society in 1983, and new 16mm positive and negative prints were struck at that time. The newsreel inevitably emphasizes the sensational elements of DuRand’s endeavor, and the first images are of both elk and bison tumbling from the top of a 40-foot-high chute into the water below. A boy in a small rowboat is then pulled around the diving pool by an elk on a lead. Bison and elk herds are seen running around enclosures and jumping fences at high speeds, driven by two Big Elk Ranch hands on horseback. Returning to the pool, we see herds of elk and bison swimming through the water in a somewhat synchronized fashion. Next, a woman stands at the bow of a small boat, holding a rope that is tied to a swimming elk. The elk has balloons tied to its antlers and is, of course, towing the small boat and its passengers in circles around the pool. Diving elk and bison are the focus of the remainder of the film, though now we see young ranch guests diving in after the animals to catch a ride to shore. A row of boards has been set up near the water’s edge for human divers, and we witness a group of young boys plunging into the water to ride atop the swimming bison herd.

The Wild Game Water Rodeo. 
(MHS Photo Archives, PAc 83-48)
The Wild Game Water Rodeo. 
(MHS Photo Archives, PAc 83-48)

World War II and a 1943 fire at the central lodge finally put an end to Court’s dude ranch enterprise, and the DuRands soon returned to cultivating cattle and crops on the family land. In 1951, Court was gored in the stomach by a bull elk he had raised from birth (an injury from which he never fully recovered), and subsequently suffered a stroke and lost his sight. The family auctioned off the livestock herds at Lewistown’s Central Montana Stock Yards, and eventually sold the Trail Creek property in 1952. At the time of his death in 1955, Courtland DuRand was lovingly eulogized as “one of Montana’s most colorful and progressive citizens.” [3]

[1] Meagher Republican, February 3, 1928.
[2] Meagher County News, August 26, 1936.
[3] Biographical information has been largely summarized from “Courtland DuRand Wrangles the Dudes…and the Elk…and the Bison...and the Antelope…and the Deer,” Montana Magazine, July/August 1999, 88-95.

December 14, 2017

Montana’s Museum and the Great War: A Story of an Exhibition, Part Two of Two

by Maggie Ordon, Curator of History

This post is the second part of two that goes behind-the-scenes of the Museum’s newest exhibition. Times of Trouble, Times of Change: Montana and the Great War opens with a free reception on Thursday, December 14, from 5 to 7 p.m. The reception will have refreshments inspired by historic recipes, hands-on activities for all ages, and WWI-era music from the Continental Divide Tuba Society.

In the last post, we shared a little about the process of moving from abstract ideas and collections of stuff to an exhibit idea with text, stories, and interactives. The final stages bring all these items together.

Todd Saarinen, exhibit prepator, building an interactive device. Photo by author.

Roberta Jones-Wallace, exhibit designer,
trimming posters for display.
Photo by author.
Before and throughout the installation, the team produced text panels, labels, photographs, and other signs, and built cases and other components for the exhibit. Every phogotraph, diagram, poster, text panel, or identification label in the exhibition needed to be researched, written, designed, proofed, and finally printed and matted. For some exhibition components, such as the interactive wall for the “Follow a Montanan” experience, that included several production stages—from designing and building an interactive wall panel that features 18 Montanans impacted by the war to gluing and sealing panels on it. While we try to do as much of this work before installation begins, there’s always a few changes and last minute tweaks to make sure we have things just right.
Amanda Street Trum, curator of collections,
prepping an interactive. Photo by author.

Vic Reiman, exhibit technician, painting walls in the gallery.
Photo by author.

Before the museum team can begin installing the new exhibit, we had to take down the existing one. Museum staff unloaded cases and returned objects to our processing room, where staff check to make sure they are in still good shape. Staff then return the objects to their home in storage, where they rest until we pull them for researchers, tours, or another exhibit. Once the artifacts are safely removed from the gallery, staff started tearing down walls. They built and painted new walls, creating new spaces and pathways in the now transformed gallery.
Todd Saarinen, exhibit prepator, building back wall for interactive trench.
Photo by author.
Roberta Jones-Wallace, exhibit designer,
working on custom figurines
Photo by author.
Roberta Jones-Wallace, exhibit designer,
working on custom figurines
Photo by author.

Roberta Jones Wallace, exhibit designer, providing
artistic direction to Karen Rouns, museum
administrative assistant. Photo by author.
Each exhibit requires its own look and feel to bring the stories to life. For Times of Trouble, Times of Change, we juxtaposed stories of hope and pride with stories of fear and sorrow. We used a number of devices—from color, photographs, artifacts, and reproduction items to capture those feelings. For example, we hung bunting over a large photograph of a patriotic parade. Exhibit prepator Todd Saarinen built a trench scene to show a Montana soldier with his gear, while photos of no man’s land loom overhead. Exhibit designer Roberta Jones-Wallace designed, carved, and painted three figures that mark the “times of trouble and times of change” that the exhibition explores.
Roberta Jones-Wallace, exhibit designer, and Todd Saarinen,
exhibit prepator, installing custom-built trench.
Photo by author.

Roberta Jones-Wallace, exhibit designer, and Todd Saarinen,
exhibit prepartor, mounting case to wall.
Photo by author.
Part of the exhibition planning process is making sure artifacts are appropriately displayed. Museum staff assess each artifact and determine the best mount—both to ensure the safety of the object and to showcase the artifact for visitors to enjoy. The custom slant board being hung in the above photograph will support a delicate Hutterite apron. Karen Rouns secured the apron to a padded board with as few stitches as were needed. To display a shaving kit, Roberta Jones-Wallace carefully secured the kit’s flaps with strips of clear polyester film (e.g. Mylar®). Materials used in mounts, such as transparent polyester film, linen fabric, and polyethylene foam, are archivally safe. This means they are nonabrasive, physically durable, and chemically stable (i.e. they do not release anything that could harm artifacts).
Karen Rouns, museum administrative assistant, attaching a
Hutterite apron to a slant board. Photo by author.

Shaving kit mounted and ready to shine. Item on loan from the Hayes and Lia Otoupalik collection.
Photo by author.
Over the past year we’ve enjoyed planning the exhibition, and over the past three weeks, installaing it. We look forward to seeing you at the reception celebrating the exhibition opening on Thursday, December 14, from 5 to 7 p.m. or whenever you are able to stop in and visit.

December 7, 2017

Montana’s Museum and the Great War: A Story of an Exhibition, Part One of Two

by Maggie Ordon, Curator of History

This post is the first part of two going behind-the-scenes of the Museum’s newest exhibition. Times of Trouble, Times of Change: Montana and the Great War will open with a free reception on Thursday, December 14, from 5 to 7 p.m. The reception will have refreshments inspired by historic recipes, hands-on activities for all ages, and WWI-era music from the Continental Divide Tuba Society.

For the past couple years at the Montana Historical Society, we have been wrestling with how to tell Montana’s stories of the Great War. Because the topic was so big, we came up with four projects. Martha Kohl in the Outreach & Interpretation department led a project to tell place-based stories via a website (http://mhs.mt.gov/education/WWI). Bobi Harris, interpretive tour guide, co-curated an immersive experience, Doing Our Bit, at the Original Governor’s Mansion. Our annual history conference this year focused on Montana, ca. 1917, and we had more proposals than we could accept. And for the past year, folks across the society have come together to tell Montana’s stories in a special exhibition at the museum: Times of Trouble, Times of Change: Montana and the Great War.

Winnowing this tumultuous time period into a single gallery has been a collaborative effort that included brainstorming topics, reading books and articles, discussing topics with colleagues, pulling and reviewing artifacts, searching through databases for photographs and posters, scanning newspapers on microfilm, flipping through old magazines, poring over letters and diaries, writing and revising pages of interpretive text, making models of exhibit components, designing interactive experiences, and consulting with Montana families of Great War veterans.

Notes from a team brainstorming session. Photo by author.
In the beginning of the planning process, the exhibit team met to brainstorm topics. Although this exhibit commemorates the First World War, we found that there were many issues at stake that went beyond the battlefields of France. We came up with ideas that we thought were important to include, but we also had to make difficult decisions of what not to include in the exhibit. For example, sometimes we selected topics to show the changes and troubles Montana was facing during the Great War, such as the labor unrest in Butte and influenza pandemic across the state. Other times, we knew we didn’t have the room to include everything, and had to cut topics out we otherwise would have liked to include, including the role of technology in the war. While making these decisions we thought about the physical space; the artifacts, photographs, and stories available; and the emotional sides of the stories.

Some of the museum objects being considered for inclusion in the exhibit. Photo by author.

Museum artifacts staged for planning exhibit cases. Photo by author.

One of the first things we did in planning this exhibition was to take stock of the artifacts, photographs, and archival materials we had or might borrow. As we figured out what we had space for and what told Montana’s stories best, we put some items away and sorted others into cases (the blue tape lines on the table are the rough outlines of a case). Museum registrars diligently cataloged and described the condition of Museum and loaned objects to make sure they were safe and ready to be on display.

Throughout the exhibition process we also had the pleasure of working with Hayes Otoupalik, an expert on U.S. militaria who was appointed Special Military Historical Advisor to the WW1 Centennial Commission. He generously loaned many artifacts, including a German machine gun and fabric from a German aircraft rudder, Distinguished Service Cross and medal group for Philip Prevost of Geyser, and a variety of field gear and personal items a Montana soldier would have had in the trenches.

Model of gallery space, built by R. Jones-Wallace. Photo by author.

The exhibit’s team—designer, prepator, curator, education specialist, and various advisors—planned what the main content areas would be, how topics would be organized (e.g. Montana before the war, home front, overseas service, and Montana after the war), what artifacts and photographs would be used, and what interactive experiences to develop. As curator, I wrote text for each of these sections and the individual objects. The exhibit designer mapped out new walls, figured out what would fit where (or wouldn’t fit!), and selected colors that captured the mood of the exhibit. One of the planning strategies the museum team used is building models of the gallery and exhibit components. The team was always moving between the model, the artifacts, and text—reworking each as needed to reach a final version. The model helped the team move from a blank slate to a fully-realized, unique space. Transforming that vision into a 3-dimensional reality will be the topic of part two.

November 22, 2017


by Kelly Burton, Film Archivist

Of all the larger-than-life figures to emerge from twentieth century history, few rival the early aviators when it comes to pure panache and romantic allure. This is certainly true in the case of Amelia Earhart, an aviation pioneer and author whose celebrity has remained extremely durable throughout the decades following her disappearance over the central Pacific Ocean in 1937. The brief visit that Ms. Earhart made to Helena, Montana in 1933 stands as a testament to her appeal at the time, and both the enthusiastic civic response and the wide regional press coverage speak to the breadth of her fame. References to Earhart’s historic appearance persist to this day: Helena’s annual history pageant – the Vigilante Parade – honored Earhart’s visit with separate floats in 2013 and 2017, and the appearance was further immortalized in 2010 with a painting which now hangs at the Helena Airport.

telegram from Amelia Earhart, 1933 (PAc 2003-62)
title card from Amelia Earhart, 1933 (PAc 2003-62)

Adding its own unique piece to this historical narrative, the Montana Historical Society has an amateur motion picture film of a portion of Amelia Earhart’s 1933 promotional tour for Northwest Airways.  As part of the airline’s bid for the coveted airmail contract for the Northern Transcontinental Route from Minneapolis to Seattle, general manager John Croil Hunter invited Earhart to fly as a guest aboard a Northwest Airways Ford Trimotor on a portion of the northern route to “assess the desirability of flying the route in mid-winter.” [1]  The aviator landed in Helena around 4:30 pm on January 29, 1933, and this particular trip found her playing the role of passenger, observer, and spokesperson for the value of aeronautics. After addressing a crowd of thousands at the Helena Airport administration building, Earhart was then taken to a banquet in her honor at Helena’s Placer Hotel, where she regaled Montana governor John E. Erickson and the town’s elite with stories of her various transatlantic flights. Staying with the State Commissioner of Aeronautics Fred B. Sheriff and his family at 700 Power Street in Helena that evening, Earhart departed for Spokane and Seattle after a luncheon the following afternoon. [2]

Earhart landing at Helena Airport (PAc 2003-62)  
Earhart disembarking at Helena Airport (PAc 2003-62)

The 70-foot, 5-minute reel of silent, black and white, 8mm film begins with handwritten title cards that read, “these pictures of Amelia Earhart taken in Helena Feb. 1933” and “the flight pictures are from Helena to Seattle.” Following these homemade titles, we find footage of a telegram sent from Earhart to Mrs. Fred B. Sheriff of Helena, Montana: “Mr. Putnam and I are off to Chicago this afternoon where I expect to see Mr. Hunter. Please tell your husband I will write him after the interview. Sincerely yours, Amelia Earhart.” The film then shows the approach, landing and taxiing of a Northwest Airways Ford Trimotor airplane, as photographed from the ground at the Helena Airport. Earhart disembarks the plane, where she is immediately engaged by a closely-gathered crowd. The aviator is soon escorted to the airport’s administration building, where she speaks and gestures from a second-story window, and eventually leaves the airport. On what is presumed to be the following day, we see Earhart board the same Ford plane and depart from the Helena valley.  The final images from the reel are aerial views of various mountain ranges and lakes, culminating in very brief shots of the Seattle area from the air and ground.

Earhart at the Helena Airport (PAc 2003-62)

Earhart speaking from the airport administration building (PAc 2003-62)

While motion pictures of early promotional aviation tours – especially those undertaken by pilots of Earhart’s stature –  often existed as widely-distributed newsreels, there are several details from this Helena film which point to a more unique document. In lieu of professionally printed credits, intertitles and copyright information, the filmmaker used only two homemade title cards to identify the contents of the reel. The presence in the film of a personal telegram from Earhart to Bernice Sheriff points to the family of the aeronautics commissioner as the probable source for the amateur film, and this idea is confirmed by the donation paperwork itself. American historian and Montana rancher Jean Baucus, who brought the film to the Historical Society in 2003, is in fact the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Sheriff. A VHS transfer of this wonderfully distinctive film (collection PAc 2003-62) was provided by the donor, and this copy is available for viewing in the Historical Society’s Research Center.

Earhart leaving the Helena valley (PAc 2003-62)

Earhart departing from Helena Airport (PAc 2003-62)

[1] Ric Gillespie, Finding Amelia: The True Story of the Earhart Electra (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2009), 55-56.
[2] “Greatest Woman Flyer Delights Helena Crowd,” Helena Independent (Helena, MT), January 30, 1933.