October 16, 2014

Chuck Wagon Provisions

by Zoe Ann Stoltz, Montana Historical Society Reference Historian

We would be hard pressed to find a topic more iconic of Montana’s cattle history than the Chuck Wagon. Used during cattle drives as well as roundups, the camp cook and his provisioned chuck wagon were responsible for sustaining crews of hardworking cowboys for days, if not weeks. Camp cooks were only able to accomplish this task if they were adept at planning and packing the right provisions.  

Cowboys of the 1860s and 1870s often carried their own food supplies, including biscuits or cornbread, salt, coffee, and salted meat. Due to the weight of skillets, they packed large tin cups to warm water, and used sticks to cook meat and bread over camp fires. Texas rancher and freighter, Charles Goodnight, reportedly designed the first “Chuck” wagon around 1866. Although Goodnight’s original design consisted of a basic compartmentalized wooden cupboard, it served as the inspiration for later designs and improvements.

Mex John Making Pies, 1880-1900?, L.A. Huffman photo (Montana Historical Society Photo Archives 981-254)

Larger drives often included "bed wagons" to carry additional gear, such as tents and portable cook stoves, which became necessities with the industry’s exposure to cooler northern climates.
By the 1880s, the crude “chuck” boxes had evolved into sophisticated centers for food storage and preparation. They provided accessible storage for frequently-used spices, utensils, crocks, and pots. The remainder of the wagon was organized into storage for bulk foods, water, kindling, skillets, pots, ropes, tool box, portable wood cook stoves, and so much more. When dropped open, the hinged end created a work table.
By 1883, Northern plains culture, evolving social conventions, and the development of better food preservation methods had redefined camp cooking. The 1892 journal left by XIT trail boss Ealey Moore recorded the supplies used for a crew of 10 men during the thirteen weeks it took to drive 2500 cattle from Channing, Texas to the confluence of the Yellowstone River and Cedar Creek north of Miles City. The inventory included both traditional as well as recent additions to the cowboy diet. The cook, Sam Williamson, ground and brewed almost 2 pounds of coffee beans a day, going through 3 coffee mills. Each day he cooked 10 pounds of bacon. During the 13 week drive, the crew consumed
          • 40 pounds of rice
          • 160 pounds of beans
          • 9 gallons of sorghum
          • almost 300 pounds of fruit, including dried currants and prunes as well as dried, fresh, and canned apples and peaches
          • 1750 pounds of white flour
          • 405 pounds of white sugar
Williamson flavored his cooking with vanilla and lemon extracts, cinnamon and mustard. And, he brought both baking powder and soda. The only vegetables purchased during the trip were kegs of pickles and 720 pounds of potatoes. The inventory portrays a diet incredibly more varied than that from just twenty years earlier.

Cook and Pie Biter At Work, 1886?, L.A. Huffman photo (Montana Historical Society Photo Archives 98-253)

Moore’s inventory confirms many of the reminiscences and recipes associated with cattle drives and roundups. Teddy Blue Abbott raved about the amount of “white bread” eaten by Montana cowboys. Early photographer L.A. Huffman listed “hot biscuits” and “pudding with raisins” as mainstays. Robert Rice, Powder River Country cowboy, remembered being well fed. The offerings included, “several kinds of dried fruit stewed, bacon, beans, fried potatoes (or spuds), canned vegetables, biscuits or bread, usually made of sour dough, beefsteak, . . . all washed down with strong black coffee . . .” Traditional recipes also reflect inventory ingredients. They included suet pudding with raisins (also called S.O.B. in a Sack), vinegar dumplings or pie, biscuits, bacon and beans, potatoes and pan gravy, and fruit pies.  

Imagine carrying enough varied and nutritious foods and cooking supplies in the back of a wagon to feed a hungry cowboy crew for days! 


Abbott, E.C. ("Teddy Blue") and Helena Huntington Smith. We Pointed Them North; Recollections of a Cowpuncher. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1939.

Beach, Maude L., comp. and Robert L. Thaden, Jr.,ed. Faded Hoof Prints--Bygone Dreams: Stories from Montana’s Greatest Livestock Frontier, Powder River Country, from the Montana Writer’s Project, of the Work Projects Administration, from the 1860s to the 1920s. Broadus, MT: Powder River Historical Society, 1989.

Huffman, L.A. “Last Busting at Bow-Gun,” Montana, the Magazine of Western History 1 (Autumn 1956): 15.

Moore, Ealy ed. by J. Evetts Haley. A Log of the Montana Trail / as kept by Ealy Moore. Amarillo: Russell Stationary Co., 1932.

Price, B. Byron. National Cowboy Hall of Fame Chuck Wagon Cookbook: Authentic Recipes from the Ranch and Range. New York: Hearst Books, 1995.




October 1, 2014

Advice for Fall: Tie One On

by Christine Kirkham, Coordinator, Montana Digital Newspaper Project

Ad for the Copper City Commercial Company in
Ad for the Copper City
Commercial Company in
the Anaconda Standard,
September 1897.
The world’s annual couture expo, Fashion Week, is currently underway in Paris. Women’s clothing styles shift rapidly, so an outfit that was au courant a few years ago may now look dated. But for men, the classic suit-and-tie has endured for decades.

I decided to see if I could pinpoint, in Montana's historical newspapers, the arrival of that familiar silhouette sported by executives, bankers, and other white-collar workers. When did Montana’s city-dwelling men begin looking, well, new-fashioned?

Ad for Lymon's in Butte,
Anaconda Standard, June 1899.
A quick survey of menswear ads shows male dress remaining decidedly Victorian well into the 1890s. Consider the smoker at right. Besides the telltale bowler and 'stache, there’s a heaviness to the coat, which hangs to the knees in back. For the 1899 gentleman at left, the coat is still boxy and the high collar stiff.

But perhaps the one item dating these men to pre-1900 is their neckwear. Aristocrats and military officers had sported ascots, scarves and cravats for centuries. But after the Industrial Revolution, everyday Joes needed a similar dignified appearance — without the nuisance of fastening an elaborate knot. The man of the modern era needed neckwear he could put on quickly, sans manservant.*

Caldwell (Idaho) Tribune, October 1910.

Consider the 1910 park strollers at right, looking casual, comfortable, and streamlined. (Those hairless upper lips add to their modern look.)

Finally, the neckwear worn by the dapper fellows below, from 1922, bears a striking resemblance to the Langsdorf tie, which is still in use. They are wearing what would become the white-collar uniform for the next hundred years.

Thousands of fascinating ads like these can be found in Montana's digitized newspapers at Chronicling America, where historical Idaho newspapers will begin appearing soon.

Lewis-Wedum Department Store ad, Glasgow Courier, September 1922

* SOURCE: The Origins of the Neck Tie 

September 15, 2014

Ask A Curator Day, September 17, 2014

Do you have questions you’ve always wanted to ask a curator? This is your chance. On Wednesday, September 17, curators around the globe will log on to Twitter during #AskACurator Day. Here at the Montana Historical Society (MHS), we’re lucky enough to have two curators participating.

Kendra Newhall, MHS Museum Registrar
Kendra Newhall is our museum’s registrar. In her time at the Montana Historical Society, she’s cataloged thousands of artifacts, and she’s an expert on their care. How do we keep hundred-year-old tools from rusting and papers from crumbling? Kendra will answer your questions about collection care from 10:00 A.M. to 11:00 A.M. (Mountain Daylight Time) on #AskACuratorDay.
Maggie Ordon, MHS Museum Curator of History

Maggie Ordon, Montana Historical Society's Curator of History, will be available from 11:00 A.M. until noon (Mountain Daylight Time) on #AskACurator Day. She’ll answer your questions about historic fashion. How exactly did ladies and gentlemen (and children and workers and homesteaders) dress in the early days of Montana? Maggie knows the details, right down to the historically accurate fabrics.

To ask Kendra or Maggie a question, simply log in to Twitter on September 17 and tweet to @MThist using #AskACurator.

September 3, 2014

Lee Metcalf's Legacy of Conservation

By Matthew M. Peek, Photograph Archivist

The narrative that is often told of the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act describes how conservation groups and key politicians nation-wide united to support the conservation of America’s natural resources and wild areas. While true, the story of the Wilderness Act’s origin and development has up to now largely left unexplored the influence of one of its greatest proponents: Senator Lee Metcalf of Montana.

On the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1964 Wilderness Act, a look at the role Metcalf played in shaping our national wilderness policy is vital to understanding the full extent of his dedication. Serving as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1953-1960) and the U.S. Senate (1961-January 1978), Lee Metcalf’s priorities were not just about preserving forests and wilderness, but managing and protecting all resources which are part of nature’s lifecycle, including wildlife and their habitats, streams and rivers, bird migration routes, clean water resources, and so much more.
Dr. Arnold W. Bolle, Dean of the Montana State University School of Forestry [present-day University of Montana], testified in support of a bill to establish a land and water conservation fund to assist state and federal governments in meeting outdoor recreation needs. Pictured are (left to right) Agriculture Secretary Orville L. Freeman; Senator Lee Metcalf; Bolle; and Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, March 6, 1963. [Lot 31 B16/6.10]
As early as the 1950s, Metcalf was determining the course of conservation efforts. The proposed Echo Park Dam would have flooded portions of Dinosaur National Monument.  Metcalf became one of the most vocal opponents of its construction and one of the major reasons the Echo Park Dam was dropped from the Upper Colorado River Project.  The Echo Park Dam controversy sparked the modern conservation movement, and made the need for federal wilderness legislation glaringly apparent.

Just after President Eisenhower was sworn into office in 1953, Montana U.S. Rep. Wesley D’Ewart introduced the Uniform Federal Grazing Land Act, which would have allowed cattle ranchers to graze their herds on national forest lands and would potentially destroy wildlife habitats. Rep. Metcalf’s testimony and advocacy to protect wild areas helped kill that grazing act.

He also helped stop another grazing bill (S. 2548) that would impact national forests.  During the U.S. Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee hearings on January 21-22, 1954, Metcalf testified against that bill stating:    
In the light of industrial development and expansion we should continue to be alert to protect our water...and to follow the leadership of enlightened local community leaders who know the problems and are familiar with local conditions. A balanced constructive legislative program is needed.
That same year, Metcalf blocked the passage of the Ellsworth Timber Exchange Bill. This bill would have allowed the federal government to exchange national forest lands for private lands in order to reimburse private owners for federal projects developed on their land. Metcalf called this trading “trees for stumps,” and was the strongest opponent of the bill. For his efforts, Metcalf received the 1954 National Award for Distinguished Service to Conservation.

In addition to helping stop potentially destructive legislation, Lee Metcalf introduced many conservation and wilderness-related measures from 1953 to 1963, including: an outdoor recreation bill in 1956 (H.R. 1823); the first ever federal legislation for studying the effects of pesticides and insecticides on wildlife and fish, which passed in 1958 as the Pesticide Research Act; a bill, introduced in January 1956, to protect federal wildlife refuges from dissolution; and the “Save Our Streams” bill (S. 2767), on January 30, 1962, to cease the destruction of rivers and streams by sloppy highway construction.

When John F. Kennedy was running for President in 1960, he and Metcalf discussed Kennedy’s stance on conservation issues if he were to win the presidency. In the autumn of 1960, Metcalf and Kennedy shot a television program on conservation for Kennedy’s campaign. On October 21, 1960, shortly before the national elections, Metcalf wrote to Senator Kennedy:
Conservation has the power to impart to an administration a quality of character which makes it stand out in history. I sincerely believe you could set the tone for your Administration by this approach. Through the medium of conservation the needs and aspirations of our people can be galvanized—the challenge of tomorrow translated in a visible way.
Senator Lee Metcalf meets with other national conservation leaders, August 6-12, 1961, to discuss legislative strategy regarding the proposed national wilderness preservation system bill. (Pictured left to right, standing) Alden J. Erskin, Izaak Walton League president; Phil Schneider, International Association of Game, Fish & Conservation Commissioners president; Tom Kimball, National Wildlife Federation exce; Carl W. Buchheister, president of National Audubon Society; (left to right, seated) C.R. Gutermuth, chairman of the Natural Resources Council of America; Senator Metcalf; and Ira N. Gabrielson, president of the Wildlife Management Institute. [Lot 31 B16/2.06]
As a precursor to the Wilderness Act, Metcalf introduced the National Preservation System bill in the House of Representatives on June 13, 1956. Eight years later, on August 21, 1964, Senator Lee Metcalf, as presiding officer, signed the Wilderness Act on behalf of the U.S Senate. In a ceremony on the grounds of the White House Rose Garden, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act and the Wilderness Act on September 3, 1964.

Lee Metcalf was one of America's most vocal and effective conservation congressmen. He had a hand in the classification, eventual creation of, or passage of every acre of wilderness in Montana by the time of his death in January 1978. He also is one of the major reasons Montana has the great outdoor recreation sites and facilities it does, which draw millions of tourists to the state and employ thousands of Montanans.

His is a truly great legacy, which is fitting to recall on the anniversary of the signing of the 1964 Wilderness Act.

August 22, 2014

Montana's Role in the War on Poverty: 50th Anniversary of the Passage of the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act

By Matthew M. Peek, MHS Photograph Archivist

In his State of the Union address in January 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty.”  Speaking on March 18, 1964, just after a major bill to fight poverty was introduced to Congress, Montana’s U.S. Senator Lee Metcalf expressed his deeply held support:
Only a small fraction of our nation’s poor are wholly responsible for their condition.  Most often they are the victims of circumstances.  Just as some Americans inherit wealth, others are born into poverty. . . .  Somehow, we must find a way to break the cycle of poverty that so frequently carries from father to son.  The elimination of poverty is above all a moral obligation.
In July 1964, with a vote of 61 to 34, the U.S. Senate passed Senate bill 2642, its version of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.  The U.S. House passed the bill a couple weeks later and President Johnson signed the bill into law on August 20, 1964.  Johnson’s “War on Poverty” was launched with this act, signaling a national dedication to the eradication of poverty in the United States through the provision of “opportunity.”  The Economic Opportunity Act would become the hallmark of Johnson’s administration.

MHS Photo Archives, Lot 31 B8/14.04: Great Falls School District speech therapist Jean Irwin (right) works with Lily Meyer, a participant in Head Start, in Great Falls, Montana, [circa 1960s].

What few people realize is this ground-breaking legislation had its origins in the patient work of Montana’s Lee Metcalf, first as a representative to Congress in the 1950s, and later as a U.S. Senator in the 1960s.  Working closely with his friend and colleague Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D-MN), then Representative Metcalf envisioned a program for youth patterned on the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps, which he and Humphrey called the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC).  The idea behind the program was to help lower youth delinquency through federally-funded summer forest, park, and wilderness conservation and improvement programs.  The program allowed for “enrollment of up to 150,000 boys and young men, between the ages of 16 and 22.”

On December 29, 1956, Senator Humphrey unveiled the first version of the YCC, in a six-point youth opportunity program to address education, delinquency, and employment for youth and college students in America. On behalf of his colleague, Rep. Metcalf, Montana Senator James E. Murray introduced a bill (S. 812) he wrote for the establishment of the YCC in 1959, based on Humphrey’s proposal.  Despite setbacks, Humphrey and Metcalf would continue to work from 1956 to 1964 for passage of America’s most sweeping social welfare programs.

Metcalf testified with Senator Humphrey before a House of Representatives Education Subcommittee in April 1960 regarding the situation in which young boys and men found themselves after World War II.  Referring to the constant flow of youngsters into the labor market which he said “is at best inhospitable to teenagers,” Metcalf declared,
Many of these youngsters . . . are not going anywhere, except to boredom, confusion and trouble.  Evidence of this is provided by the growing problem of juvenile delinquency—and the increasing numbers of youngsters in our custodial and penal institutions.
The program failed in the U.S. House in 1960.  Nothing happened with the bill until February 14, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy gave a “Special Message to the Congress on the Nation’s Youth.”  He called for solutions to deal with the growing issues faced by America’s youth.

After years of work, Metcalf was ready to make the final push.  By 1963, he had become a U.S. Senator involved with Senate committees dealing with education, public works projects, and the Interior Department.  Senator Metcalf helped strategize and publically campaigned for the establishment of a series of national social welfare programs, trying to address rising social problems across the country.

After ascending to the presidency following Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Johnson moved to capitalize on the years of preparation when he called for his “war on poverty.”  The President’s poverty program was multifaceted.  Along with an authorization for nearly a billion dollar appropriation to implement the proposed act, the bill called for the creation of the following: a Jobs Corps; work-training programs; a federal college work-study program; community action programs; rural areas programs; employment and investment incentives; a version of the Peace Corps for the United States, labeled the Volunteers in Service to America, or “VISTA”; and experimental or demonstration programs labeled “Family Unity Through Jobs.”  The bill would also create the Office of Economic Opportunity, whose Director would hold the power to define broad portions of the act and delineate funds for various programs.

MHS Photo Archives, Lot 31 B17/8.13: Glenn W. Ferguson (right), Director of VISTA (a branch of the Office of Economic Opportunity), appears as a guest with Senator Lee Metcalf (left) on set in the Senate Recording Studio, during the filming of a June 1966 film segment for one of Metcalf’s weekly “Washington Report”. Ferguson was discussing the role of Montanans in the VISTA program, June 21, 1966.
A key sponsor of this Economic Opportunity bill, Senator Metcalf was a member of the Senate’s Special Subcommittee on Poverty, whose responsibility was to conduct hearings on the Senate version of President Johnson’s poverty bill (S. 2642).  The Poverty Subcommittee began hearings on the bill on June 17, 1964, amidst accusations that it was Johnson’s attempt to court votes in the upcoming 1964 presidential election.  Laying politics aside, in a July 29, 1964 radio address, Lee Metcalf reflected on the purpose and need for the Economic Opportunity Act:
It is the constitutional responsibility of Congress to provide for the general welfare.  The Economic Opportunity Bill of which I am a sponsor and which passed the Senate this last week is designed to help fulfill that responsibility. . . .  I am proud to have had a part in its inception.
Following the bill’s passage, Metcalf worked to establish and get funding for Head Start programs in Great Falls, Montana, Job Corps Camps at Kickinghorse on the Flathead Indian Reservation, neighborhood centers, and Neighborhood Youth Corps programs in Butte, Montana, among many others.

Despite the War on Poverty’s ultimate failure to fulfill its grand scheme, the legislation did and does still bring great benefit to the United States and Montana.  Senator Lee Metcalf’s role in laying the groundwork for the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 was not in vain, and his steady and active drive to pass it marks him as one of America’s great social welfare legislators.