June 30, 2015

The Indelible Mark of Francis Thompson

by Rich Aarstad, Senior Archivist

Montana Historical Society librarian Laura E. Howey sat down on October 31, 1899 to read a letter she had received regarding Francis Thompson, one-time Montana pioneer who spent a brief three years in the goldfields of the West.  Recent Montana newspapers had published obituaries for Thompson prompting her to write to his heirs in hopes of acquiring any letters, diaries, or other records of his time in Montana.  To her surprise the letter opened, "Your kind letter addressed to the 'Heirs of Francis M. Thompson' I have received in person.  As long as the Montana papers say nothing but good of me it is rather interesting to read their obituary notices, but should the case be reversed, I should prefer that they let me continue my allotted time."  One can almost hear the amusement in his voice when he penned his response, but then everything about Montana charmed Thompson from his very first arrival in 1862 until his death in 1916.
Francis M. Thompson
MHS Photo Archives 945-291

Perhaps no single pioneer left such a lasting mark on Montana as Francis M. Thompson.  Born in Colrain, MA on October 16, 1833 to John and Elvira (Adams) Thompson, he attended Science Hill Select School and Williston Seminary in Massachusetts.  At the age of 23, Francis made his way to Cincinnati, Ohio and began a career in banking.  Six years later, feeling restless and less than inspired about joining the Union Army, he departed for the goldfields of the territories to make his fortune. On his arrival at Fort Benton, then a part of Dakota Territory, Thompson made the acquaintance of the Vail family who traveled west to operate the Government Farm at Sun River crossing.  Traveling with them was Electa Bryan, the sister of Mrs. Martha Vail.  A year later Thompson fulfilled the duties of bride's maid for Electa Bryan who married Henry Plummer, the notorious sheriff of Bannack City.

Looking to establish a business in the mining community of Bannack, Thompson headed for the goldfields on Grasshopper Creek in 1863.  During the winter of 1863-1864, Francis Thompson witnessed the birth of the vigilante movement, as the honest miners and business men of the newly-created Idaho Territory banded together to rid themselves of the dreaded outlaw gang preying on the innocent men and women of the Territory's mining communities.  When he learned that the Vigilantes planned on arresting and executing Plummer for leading the outlaw gang, Thompson spent the last night with his friend and did not warn the unsuspecting sheriff of his impending doom.  The Vigilantes struck the next day, hanging Sheriff Henry Plummer, Deputy Buck Stinson, and Ned Ray. Thompson served as the executor of Plummer's estate paying for the construction of a coffin and burial of the outlaw chief (receipt below). He sent the remainder of Plummer's assets to Electa, who
Receipt for purchase of Henry Plummer's coffin and burial
MHS Archives Collection SC 297
returned to Iowa several months prior to the execution.  Thompson worried for a time that his friendship with Henry Plummer would tarnish his reputation with the respectable residents of Bannack, but Sidney Edgerton, the leading government official of Idaho Territory, and his nephew, leader within the Vigilantes, Wilbur Fisk Sanders, assured him that his reputation was secure.

Francis Thompson also played a role in the creation of Montana as a new territory.  Allying himself with Edgerton and Sanders, he used what political influence he had in the effort to get Sidney Edgerton appointed as territorial governor.  Upon his return from Washington D.C., Governor Edgerton wasted no time in drawing a sharp demarcation between those who were members of the Union (Republican) Party and those he branded as traitors for their allegiance to the Democratic Party.  As such, Montana's first election was a microcosm of the political angst that divided the nation and led to a bloody Civil War.  The Democrats swept the election for Congressional delegate and enjoyed a one vote majority in the Territorial House of Representatives.  Voters of Beaverhead County elected Francis Thompson to represent them in the Council for the first legislative assembly.
Thompson proved a leader in the legislature by carrying bills to fund public education, establishing the Montana Historical Society, and designing and sketching the territorial seal for the new territory.
Original sketch of  proposed seal for the
Territory of Montana made by
Francis M. Thompson
MHS Archives collection SC 839

Upon the completion of the legislature, Governor Edgerton appointed Francis Thompson Commissioner of Emigration for Montana.  Returning east he settled in Greenfield, Massachusetts.  From there, he worked on recruiting settlers for the new territory as well as promoting the various economic opportunities available to interested investors.  It is uncertain if Thompson intended to return east permanently, but a few months later he married Mary Nimms, and his days of wanderlust and adventure in Montana came to an end.

Having passed the Massachusetts Bar in 1876, Thompson settled down and served in public office as a judge.  He did retain a lifelong interest in Montana and kept in close touch with friends such as Wilbur Sanders.  As the new century unfolded, he began an active correspondence with the librarians of the Montana Historical Society, describing his contributions to the creation of the territory and the Montana Historical Society.  He was especially proud of the territorial seal that now graced the Montana state flag.  Thompson delighted in sharing his early memories and penned a reminiscence of his time in the West entitled, A Tenderfoot in Montana: Reminiscences of the Gold Rush, the Vigilantes & the Birth of Montana Territory.  In three brief years Francis Thompson had left an indelible mark on Montana that still exists today; public education, the state flag, and the Montana Historical Society remain hallmarks of the Treasure State.  His friend Wilbur Fisk Sanders summed up Thompson's contributions best.  "No man ever came to Montana and staid so short a time, left so deep an impress on history as did you, and it is a pleasure to know, in a rude time, the influence was wholly wholesome."

Selected Bibliography 
  • George D. French Receipt, 1864 (Collection # SC 297)
  • Martha Edgerton Plassmann Papers (MC 78)
  • Montana Historical Society Research Center Records (MHS 3)
  • Montana Territorial Legislative Assembly (LR-Terr. 1)
  • Francis M. Thompson Papers (SC 839)
  • Francis M. Thompson, A Tenderfoot in Montana: Reminiscences of the Gold Rush, the Vigilantes & the Birth of Montana Territory, edited by Kenneth N. Owens. (Helena, Mont.: Montana Historical Society Press, 2004).

June 16, 2015

“I put down what I considered the best”: Walter W. de Lacy’s Mapping of Montana

by Molly Kruckenberg, Research Center Director

In February of 1865 the first Territorial Legislative Assembly approved the payment of $625 to Walter W. de Lacy for creating a map of the Territory of Montana, “for the use of the Governor and the Legislative Assembly.”  The map that de Lacy created (shown below) is the first map of what is now the State of Montana; the original of that map is in the collections at the Montana Historical Society.

Walter W. de Lacy's Map of the territory of Montana, with portions of the adjoining territories : showing the gulch or placer diggings actually worked and districts where quartz (gold & silver) lodes have been discovered up to January 1865 [See map on Montana Memory Project].
Walter W. de Lacy was a bachelor, traveling across much of the country during the 73 years of his life.  Born in 1819 in Petersburg, Virginia, de Lacy was educated as a civil engineer by West Point professors.  His first engineering jobs as part of railroad surveys, took him west to Illinois and Missouri.  After a few years as a language and mathematics professor with the U.S. Navy, de Lacy joined the first of several exploratory expeditions in the southwest, for the purpose of determining the viability of road construction, military fort placement and railroad engineering.

By the mid-1850s de Lacy had made his way to the Pacific Northwest, working on similar surveying assignments.  In 1859 he was attached to the command of Lt. John Mullan to survey and build a road from Fort Benton to Walla Walla; this was de Lacy’s first venture into what would become Montana Territory.

de Lacy’s most well-known accomplishment was the completion of the first map of the new territory of Montana in 1865.  But he was instrumental in many early mapping and surveying endeavors in Montana.  He created a map of Oro Fino and Grizzly Gulches near Helena, in 1865, as well as laying out the townsites of Deer Lodge and Argenta in the same year and Fort Benton in 1864.  And, with B. F. Marsh, he located the initial point for public survey in the Territory.
Map of Oro Fino and Grizzly Gulches near Helena City, Edgerton County, Montana Territory [See map on Montana Memory Project].
After serving in the Sioux War in 1867, de Lacy retired from military service and spent the remainder of his life in public service.  He worked as an engineer for the city of Helena from 1872-1886, serving as the City Engineer from 1883-1884.  From 1886 until his death in 1892, de Lacy worked for the U.S. Surveyor General’s Office in Helena.  He was a founding member of the Montana Society of Civil Engineers and the Montana Historical Society.

Walter de Lacy’s maps are both significant parts of Montana’s history, telling much about the early development of the Territory, as well as being works of art in their own right.  Much of de Lacy’s work is documented in the collections of the MHS, through nearly 20 maps authored by de Lacy as well as a small collection of his personal papers (see the guide to the collection of personal papers).

May 18, 2015

Gary Cooper: Helena's Hollywood Hero

by Susan R. Near, Development & Marketing Officer

In over 100 movies, actor and Helena native, Gary Cooper portrayed a wide array of characters – soldiers, cowboys, and ordinary Joes – all with charm and a succinct stateliness.  However, Gary Cooper was best known as the tall, Western American hero of 20th century film. During his 36-year movie career, Gary Cooper became one of Hollywood's leading men. When moving pictures were silent, his first jobs were as an extra in Westerns. Cooper quickly made the transition from silent film to talkies, and from stunt man to leading man.

Gary Cooper’s big break came in 1926 with a part in "The Winning of Barbara Worth."  He then  appeared in "Wings," the first movie to receive a Best Picture Oscar.  "The Virginian," the screen adaptation of Owen Wister's classic 1901 Western novel released in 1929, was Cooper’s first "talkie" and helped launch his career.  Cooper's on-film presence – tall, handsome and shy – had an immediate appeal to the movie-going public. 
Gary Cooper publicity photo for "The Westerner;" 1940;
Photo credit: Culver Pictures, Inc.
MHS Photo Archives Gary Cooper Research Collection Box 2, Folder 2

In the 1930s, Cooper was Hollywood's #1 male box-office star – earning him both unbelievable wealth and fame during the dark years of the Great Depression. In movies like "A Farewell To Arms," the first film adaptation of an Ernest Hemingway novel; Frank Capra's screwball comedy, "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town;" and "The Plainsman," Cooper's roles depicted the common man who persevered through adversity–and as always–was the hero. Some of Gary Cooper's most famous movies came in the 1940s and 1950s.  The leading roles in "Sergeant York" (1941) and "High Noon" (1952) earned Cooper two Best Actor Academy Awards. Many of his films remind us of his own heritage, bringing to a culmination his image as a true Western American hero.

Gary Cooper started out life as Frank James Cooper, the second son of Charles H. and Alice Brazier Cooper, both British-born. Charles immigrated to Montana in 1885, and studied law in Helena. Alice Brazier came to Helena in 1893, and she and Charles married in 1895. Their first child, Arthur, was born soon after. By the time Frank was born on May 7, 1901, Charles had earned his law degree and was busy expanding his political circle - even introducing Theodore Roosevelt when the candidate visited Helena during the 1904 Presidential campaign.

Family finances were good, and in 1906, Charles purchased a 600-acre ranch, the Seven Bar Nine near Craig. It was a place to 'turn the boys loose.'  The ranch, also known as Sunnyside, was along the Missouri River, but was 60 miles from Helena. "We had fast, convenient transportation from Helena to Dad's ranch," Cooper later remembered, "but that was only when we went by train. If we decided to hitch up the horse to the wagon, it was a trip that took a long day—and put the nag out of commission for a week."1
Frank Cooper (far left), Arthur, and visiting relatives
 at the Cooper Ranch along the Missouri River, ca. 1906
Photo credit: Brown Brothers, NY
MHS Photo Archives Gary Cooper Research Collection, B 1/F 1


In 1909, the Coopers moved their Helena residence from 730 11th Avenue to 123 Breckenridge and Frank and his brother continued attending Helena public schools. However, insisting that the boys needed some British discipline, Alice took her sons to England and enrolled them in The Dunstable School (Bedfordshire) in 1910. Because of their frontier manners, schoolmates at Dunstable teased them, but they soon adapted to life in England.

Alice and the boys returned to Helena from England in 1915 and lived at 115 North Beattie. The opposite of their English school experience occurred when the Cooper boys' British formal dress resulted in ridicule of their "fancy English duds."  It only took one day for Frank to change his attire from a tailored suit to overalls. Despite her attempts, Mrs. Cooper could not impose her form of culture on her boys in Montana. Frank's experience of living in two worlds would bode well for him later when he hit Hollywood.

In Helena, Frank often practiced boxing with close family friend Wellington Rankin - colleague of Charles Cooper and brother of suffragist Jeannette Rankin. Frank also frequently marveled at the art in Montana's new Capitol when visiting his father there. He especially related to the magnificent mural of Lewis & Clark by Charles Russell; it inspired him to be an artist himself one day.

At the family's Craig ranch, though, there was a substantial herd of cattle to tend, so Frank quit school and spent two years working there until the end of World War I. Frank learned about ranching, the outdoors, Western history, hunting, and getting along with characters as diverse as local ranchers, itinerant cowboys and the American Indians who lived nearby.  One of the cowboys who worked on the ranch, Slim Talbot, would later become Cooper's Hollywood stand-in.

Back in Helena, Frank broke his hip in a car accident on his way to school. The doctor's advice was to get exercise, so Frank returned to the ranch and rode horses for therapy. Though painful to ride, Frank learned how to gingerly move with the horse in an effort to minimize the pain. Many years later Cooper attributed this episode as the reason for his expert horsemanship.

Alice thought Frank's "rowdy" crowd was too much of a distraction, so he was sent to Bozeman's Gallatin County High School.  His teacher—Ida Davis, an influential force in his life—put Frank on the debate team and encouraged his participation in school plays. During the summer, Frank worked as a gear jammer, or tour bus driver, in Yellowstone National Park for a few years beginning in 1921.

Frank yearned to go to art school with the goal of becoming an illustrator.  As a compromise with his parents, he headed off to Iowa's Grinnell College for 3 years. He returned to Helena in 1924 though his parents had moved to California after Charles retired.  Frank sought a job as a political cartoonist, and four of his drawings were published in the Helena newspaper, The Independent Record.  When this line of work did not pan out, he headed to California to look for similar work. Frank's lack of success in this field led him to other employment; however, art continued to be a lifelong passion.
Political cartoon by Frank Cooper, Helena Independent Record, Nov. 2, 1924.
A couple of friends from Montana were working as movie extras, riding and doing stunts in Hollywood when they introduced Frank to some casting directors.  Slim Talbot, from the Seven Bar Nine Ranch, was an established stunt man.  Cooper wound up playing bit parts in twelve films during his first two years in California—nearly all Westerns.  Cooper later said, "I quit trying to draw when I started falling off horses for a living."2

Frank changed his first name to Gary during this time as there were already two actors named Frank Cooper. He forever after became known as Gary Cooper. Frank also took advice from his old friend, Wellington Rankin, "…Look at how this fellow [Valentino] puts over an idea.  He thinks it so strongly that it becomes obvious to the audience."3 Years later in a letter to Rankin, Cooper said, "I hold you partially responsible for my good fortune in Hollywood because you were the first to put the bee in my head about becoming an actor."4

Lobby Card, "A Farewell to Arms," 1932;
MHS Museum Collection, L88.12.05

Cooper's health began deteriorating in the 1950s. He contracted cancer in 1959 and never recovered.  Cooper was too ill in April 1961 to attend the Academy Awards, during which his friend Jimmy Stewart accepted Gary Cooper's lifetime achievement Oscar. Gary Cooper died in 1961, prior to the release of his last movie, The Naked Edge, which premiered at the historic Marlow Theater in Helena.  Family friend Wellington Rankin wrote a telegram to Cooper's mother, "All who knew him and of him are glad that he lived and are sorry that he seems to be gone.  His memory will always live."5



From stunt man to leading man—Cooper portrayed the quintessential American hero.  His image as an honest, courageous man survives in his films.  Most of all, Cooper was personally grounded in reality and his own history. Charles M. Russell once remarked, "No man should be condemned for what he can't do nor should get too much credit for what he can do because he can't help it." Gary Cooper could not help it.

Notes
1. Carpozi, p.13.
2. Hedda Hopper column, “Not ‘Diversified’ Wails Cooper,” Toledo Blade, July 17, 1949, p.4.
3. Salt Lake Tribune, May 22, 1961.
4. Letter, Gary Cooper to Wellington Rankin, October 9, 1946; MHS Research Center, MC 288, Box   1, Folder 12.
5. Telegram, Wellington Rankin to Mrs. Charles Cooper, May 1961; MHS Research Center, MC 288, Box 1, Folder 12.

Resources
  • Hector Arce, Gary Cooper: An Intimate Biography (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1979).
  • George Carpozi, Jr., The Gary Cooper Story (New York: Arlington House, 1970).
  • Gary Cooper Filmography
  • Maria Cooper Janis, Gary Cooper Off Camera, A Daughter Remembers (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999).

May 6, 2015

Montana Wild Flower Booklet for the Chicago World's Fair


By Brian Shovers, Montana Historical Society Library Manager, retired


During the month of May, hikers in Trout Creek Canyon east of Helena frequently see a beautiful pink flower sprouting from the limestone cliffs. 

Kelseya uniflora - Trout Creek, near York, in the Big Belt Mountains
Photo credit: Barbara Pepper-Rotness
The Latin name for this elegant member of the Rose family is Kelseya uniflora, named for Rev. Francis D. Kelsey, a prominent botanist and Congregational minister who resided in Helena from 1885-1893. 

While pastor of the Helena Congregational Church, Reverend Kelsey also taught botany at the College of Montana in Deer Lodge from 1887 to 1890 and was granted a Doctorate of Science by that institution. During his short stay in Helena, he amassed one of Montana's most important early botanical collections and identified several new species. Dr. Kelsey left Montana in 1893 to accept the position of Professor of Botany at Oberlin College (Ohio).

 The entire booklet (Pamphlet 4157) is available for viewing on the Montana Memory Project
The Montana Historical Society Library recently acquired a beautiful handmade booklet containing eleven botanical pressed specimens. This booklet, produced under the direction of Dr. Kelsey, was intended to accompany the exhibit of Montana wild flora for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Epilobium spicatum (Fireweed) - one of eleven pressed botanical specimens in PAM 4157.
The book, prepared by L.A. Fitch of Sheridan, Montana in the autumn of 1892, also includes pen and ink drawings of Rainbow Falls on the Missouri and Ruby Lake in southwestern Montana. 

"Ruby Lake near Sheridan, Mont."
Through a recent, generous donation by Matt Lavin at the Montana State University Herbarium (MONT), a major portion of Montana's wild plant exhibit for the 1893 World's Fair now resides at the Montana Historical Society Museum. The remainder of Dr. Kelsey's extensive personal collection can be found at the Miami University Herbarium in Oxford, Ohio. 

And, his legacy lives on in the naming of the Helena Chapter of the Native Plant Society: Kelsey

(Brian contributed this post shortly before his retirement at the end of last year; we saved it to kick-off the Spring wildflower season.)

April 16, 2015

Montana's Ties to the Titanic

Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian

My first response to the recent question, "Were there any people from Montana on the Titanic?" was not historical.  Rather, the only thing that came to mind was the very contemporary link with Montana resident Al Giddings.  Mr. Giddings participated in the 1991 joint Russian-Canadian-American expedition to the wreck and later played an integral role in the production and underwater filming for the blockbuster 1997 movie, Titanic.

Within moments of hitting the microfilm machine, however, I became obsessed with the stories of the men and women who both perished as well as survived the sinking.  Not only were there 17 or more (depending on the source) passengers of the RMS Titanic who planned to make Montana their final destination, there were also numerous personal and professional Montana connections.  The aspirations and make-up of these individuals—miners, emigrants, carpenters, homesteaders, and millionaires—represent the story of 1912 Montana.


Several third and second class passengers were headed for Butte and other Montana opportunities.  These included at least four railroad workers who had worked in Butte the previous fall, but returned to their homes in Bulgaria for the winter.  Menko Angeloff, Hristo Danchoff, Stanio Georfieff, and Ivan Staneff, all steerage tickets, were well known by Butte's Bulgarian community.  According to the Anaconda Standard, Staneff was "considered a leader among his countrymen."  Frederick Pengelly, a 19-year-old miner, boarded the Titanic with 23-year-old blacksmith William Ware, both from Cornwall, England.  The young men listed Butte as their final destination with hopes of earning employment in the booming mining town.  Carpenter William Gilbert, on the other hand, had lived in the Butte area for 20 years.  The Butte Miner reported he was returning from a trip to Cornwall to visit his mother.  Sadly, just ten days before the Titanic disaster, his siblings had received a letter explaining that he missed boarding the California, his initial ticket, so he was reassigned to the Titanic.  These men's dreams died with them the night the Titanic sank.

Four other men, all steerage passengers from Croatia, also listed Montana as their destination.  Three married brothers, or perhaps cousins, Bartol, Ivan, and Liudevit Cor, ages 35, 27, and 19, respectively, hoped to end their travels in Great Falls.  Jovan Dimic, age 42, was traveling to Red Lodge.  Their stories wait to be discovered.  None of these men were among the survivors.  Another passenger, Edward Larsson-Rondberg, was heading home to Missoula after a visit to Sweden.  He had saved enough money from cooking at the Atlantic Hotel and Restaurant on North Higgins to bring his childhood sweetheart, Berta Nilsson, to Montana.  The Butte Miner described how Berta survived after boarding Lifeboat D, the final boat to be lowered from the steamer, just 15 minutes before it sank to the ocean floor.  Edward was never seen again.
Lifeboat D, with Berta Nilsson aboard, just prior to rescue by the Carpathia
(source: National Archives–Northeast Region, New York City, RG 21, Records of District Courts of the United States).
Deer Lodge resident, Imanita Parrish Shelley, and her mother, Lutie Parrish, were seasoned travelers returning to the States from England.  Following the collision with the iceberg, the mother and daughter boarded Lifeboat 12, one of the few lifeboats to later take on additional survivors.  These included  approximately 16 men found clinging to the sinking collapsible Lifeboat B just before dawn.  The ladies arrived in Deer Lodge ten days after the sinking.  Mrs. Shelley would later send an affidavit to the U.S. Senate inquiry describing her experiences in detail.

Gilliam and Anna De Messemaeker, recently married in Belgium, were on their way to Gilliam's log home and homestead outside Tampico, Montana.  Anna was lifted into Lifeboat 13, filled with over 65 second- and third-class women and children.  Gilliam, not allowed to join his wife, began assisting with the next boat, number 15.  Believing Gilliam to be a crew member, an officer ordered him to take up oars.  The couple was reunited aboard rescue boat Carpathia.  According to the Glasgow Valley County News, they arrived in Valley County on April 27th.  The newspaper printed a detailed interview of the couple's frightening experience less than a week after their return home.

In addition to the 17 souls described above, the Titanic carried many others with ties to Montana.   These included first-class passengers Mr. and Mrs. Walter Clark, both born in Montana and with solid ties to Butte.  Clark, the nephew of Copper King and Montana Senator William Clark, assisted his wife into Lifeboat 4, which also carried several first-class passengers and their staff, including the young Mrs. Astor, her maid, and nurse.  Young Mr. Clark was last seen with Mr. Astor helping others onto the remaining lifeboats.  By April 25, Virginia Clark had returned to their Los Angeles home to grieve.

Investigating Montana's ties to the Titanic taught me that Mr. Giddings was not the first Montanan to look upon the notorious ship.  Cooks, homesteaders, and laborers, all boarded the Titanic with hopes of creating a new life upon their arrival in the booming young State of Montana.  The sinking ended those hopes and dreams.  However, their stories reflect those of thousands of people heading to Montana in 1912.

Helpful Sources: