July 18, 2018

Making Happy Kampers: Documenting the History of KOA

by Jodie Foley, Montana Historical Society State Archivist

What does summer mean to you?  Hiking, swimming and picnics?  For most of us summer is the time to hit the road and explore as a family.  One of the most familiar sites folks see as they travel our highways is the big yellow and black KOA sign.
KOA signs have called to weary travelers since the 1960s, but many don’t know that the company behind the sign has its origins in Montana.
[Dave Drum, Life Magazine, September 29, 1972]
In 1962 Dave Drum, local business man and entrepreneur, noticing the high number of travelers heading for the Seattle World’s Fair, decided to set up a campground on his property just outside of Billings.  Following on that successful summer, Drum surveyed his visitors asking what they thought of the facilities, location and to give general impressions of the campground.  The enthusiastic responses encouraged Drum and his new partners to think bigger and by 1969 they had expanded Kampers of  America into a network of over 250 modern campgrounds across the county.
1967 KOA Directory
Unknown family at the Billings KOA, ca.1960s

In time KOA’s bright yellow logo became synonymous with America's modern ideas of camping—hot showers, concession stores, swimming pools, game rooms and other amenities meant to make camping accessible and attractive to a larger audience.

Today there are nearly five hundred KOA campgrounds, either corporate or franchises, in the United States and Canada.  
2016 KOA Directory
Much of the success of the company lies in its ability to promote both its services, its franchise model and its overall mission in bold color.
KOA promotional materials
With the donation of these records, researchers can now learn more about a company that has been dedicated to making “Happy Kampers” for over 50 years.  Come see this and many more collections that explore Montanans' love affair with the great outdoors!  A description of the collection can be found in our catalog at http://mhs.mt.gov/
"We're Happy Campers" coaster, no date

July 2, 2018

The Sun Gave Man The Power

by Kelly Burton, MHS Research Center Film Archivist

When the two-hundredth anniversary of the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence was celebrated nationwide in 1976, the Montana Bicentennial Administration was charged with coordinating the event’s commemoration at a state level. Over three hundred projects were considered by the Bicentennial Administration in the years preceding the celebration, each with its own unique narrative and set of requirements. One of the few organizations to apply for motion picture funding was the Sun Foundation, a non-profit based in rural Washburn, Illinois. Formed in 1973, the Sun Foundation’s mission has been to “strengthen and advance the arts and environmental sciences in rural and urban communities by providing quality and innovative programs, services, publications, research, regranting financial support, and cooperative efforts for the general public, underserved groups, schools, Illinois artists, and local arts organizations.”[1] Founders Bob and Joan Root Ericksen approached the Bicentennial Administration at the end of 1974 with a film about the Piegans of northwestern Montana. Beginning as a slideshow with accompanying narration and oral history interviews, the Sun Foundation hoped to expand the project into a longer informational film about the Piegan tribe: “The purpose of this project is to produce a film of historical relevance and authenticity for educational use in curricular studies of American history, Native American culture, and environmental arts. The film would utilize oral histories given by elder members of the Pikuni-Blackfeet tribe of Montana, and present documentation of the historical and religious heritage of Blackfeet tribal life through the narrative of scholars.”[2]

Still image from The Sun Gave Man the Power (collection PAc 2018-16)

Still image from The Sun Gave Man the Power
(collection PAc 2018-16)
Produced with partial grant assistance from the Montana Bicentennial Administration, the Montana Arts Council, and the Illinois Bicentennial Commission, “The Sun Gave Man the Power” was completed in 1975. Promotional print materials described the 27-minute, 16mm film as “an oral history given by elder members of the Pikuni-Blackfeet Indian tribe,” one in which the “family structure of the Blackfeet, their use of materials and tools, gathering of food and medicines and ecological orientation” allows the viewer to witness the “intertwining of their spiritual beliefs into their daily lives.”[3] Expanding on ideas put forward in their original project, the Ericksens presented themes of ecology and tradition through a wider range photographs and artwork pertaining to several tribes across North America. In addition to the tribal histories and scholarly commentaries that provided audio for the slideshow, the filmmakers also introduced an overarching narration and commentary into the final edit of the motion picture.

Several notable figures lent their talents to the making of “The Sun Gave Man the Power.” The film was narrated by famed Chicago author and broadcaster Studs Terkel, with commentary by Salish Kootenai activist/anthropologist/educator D’Arcy McNickle and scientist Dr. James Breeling. Still photographs were the work of Walter McClintock and Edward Curtis, with paintings provided by such Native American artists as John Bear Medicine and Victor Pepion (Blackfoot), Doc Tate Nevaquaya (Comanche), White Buffalo (Kiowa), Dick West (Southern Cheyenne). Old West artists Charles M. Russell and O.C. Seltzer provided additional paintings, and the traditional music for the film was created by John Bear Medicine and Doc Tate Nevaquaya.[4]

Still image from The Sun Gave Man the Power (collection PAc 2018-16)
After the film was completed, the Sun Foundation presented “The Sun Gave Man the Power” to various scholars to evalute the appropriateness of the subject matter. D’Arcy McNickle was an obvious choice from the Native American community in Montana, as was Earl Barlow of the Blackfoot tribe. Barlow was serving as the Superintendent of Public Schools on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning and would go on to be the director of the Office of Indian Education for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington D.C. from 1979 to 1981. Father Peter Powell, founder and first director of St. Augustine’s Center for American Indians in Chicago would also serve on the evaluation committee. Superintendent of Glacier National Park, Mr. Phillip Iverson (1974-1980), and Mr. Ed Rothfuss, the Chief Naturalist at Glacier rounded out the list of scholars to review the film before its 1975 release.[5]

Film order form and proposal cover page (collection RS 142)

Over the course of its 45-year lifespan, the Sun Foundation has continued to “research, design, produce, and disseminate educational materials that advance and develop integrative and interdisciplinary studies between artists and scientists and the understanding thereof, to enable humankind to live in harmony with nature, by securing a quality environment for all life, thereby enriching the human condition.”[4] To learn more about the past and current endeavors of the Sun Foundation, please visit their website at http://sunfoundation.org/sun2/. The Montana Historical Society has recently digitized its excellent 16mm print of ”The Sun Gave Man the Power,” and the film can be found on our Moving Image Archives YouTube playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p67he6X_kqQ.

[1] The Sun Foundation website: http://sunfoundation.org/sun2/.
[2] Montana Bicentennial Administration papers. Montana Historical Society Archives, collection RS 142.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] The Sun Foundation website.

June 14, 2018

In Search of the Oldest Montana Photograph, Part 1

by Jeff Malcomson, MHS Photo Archives Manager

What is the oldest photograph taken in Montana? This question haunts the staff of the MHS Photograph Archives. Hundreds of thousands of variously interesting, even compelling, historical images, but which are the oldest, and which one can claim that incredible status of being the oldest of them all?  For a repository of historical materials, the oldest items are often some of the most significant, and in many ways, they help us define the most prized objects in our collections. The problem with labeling items as “the oldest” for archivists and historians is almost always in the details.

An ambrotype (C969-001) showing a mining camp scene in French Gulch, dated Aug. 23, 1862.]
Enter the French Gulch ambrotype.  It is a prized cased image showing a small mining camp high in the mountains. Written on the back of the case in handwriting is “French Gulch, Aug. 23, 1862.”  The photograph was donated to the Montana Historical Society Library in early June of 1969 by the grandson of a man who was reportedly a gold prospector in the Rockies during the 1860s.  In the September 1969 issue of the Society’s newsletter, Montana Post, MHS staff reported the interesting news: “this could be it…MONTANA’S OLDEST PICTURE.”  While mistakenly referring to the cased image as a tintype (an easy mistake because the donor referred to it as a tintype) and quoting the wrong year (1863 instead of 1862), the staff gave it tentative status as what they believed to be “the earliest picture ever taken in Montana.”

Nov/Dec. 1969 issue of Montana Post on the status of the French Gulch ambrotype as the 'oldest picture'.
This theory was quickly shot down in the following issue of Montana Post, when the staff reported the comments of veteran Smithsonian ethnologist, John C. Ewers, denouncing the image’s hopeful status as the “earliest.”  Ewers stated, “We know that John Mix Stanley was taking daguerreotypes of Blackfoot Indians as early as 1853.”  And he continued, “we also know that a member of Reynolds’ expedition to the Yellowstone in 1858 took pictures—of Crow Indians if not other subjects.”  He reported that he had not located any surviving daguerreotypes from Stanley’s work, but thought he had found prints from the Crow portraits taken by the Reynolds’ party’s photographer and, yet, did not mention where those were found.

With Ewers’ muddying of the already murky waters, the French Gulch cased image - discovered to be an ambrotype in the intervening years - held a place near the front of the line as likely one of the oldest extant photographs of Montana, certainly from its mining gold rush days of the 1860s.  For many years, we continued to believe it was taken at one of two different early mining camps in Montana known as French Gulch, most likely the one 15 or so miles south of Anaconda.  The date of Aug. 1862 would have been very early indeed since our first major gold discovery was in summer 1862 at Bannack.  We considered this photo perhaps the first photographic evidence of a small, primitive mining camp in Montana.

This past January, I endeavored to finally lay to rest the question about the location of this compelling and significant image, let alone its very early date.  Because the mountains on the horizon in the background of the image are fairly distinct and appear to be above tree line, I thought that they would be crucial to pinpointing the location, or at the very least, to ruling out other potential locations.  After investigating the two French Gulch locations in Montana, I determined that neither of them matched.

Discouraged, I noted that the writing on the back said only “French Gulch” with no state or territory designation.  Why not see if there was a French Gulch in Idaho where mining occurred slightly before it did here in Montana?  I found one possible location in northern Idaho but again the topography of mountains above the tree line did not fit.  Because I attended graduate school at Colorado State University and had studied some Colorado mining history, I next thought of Colorado. Back to Google maps and the only result for Colorado was French Gulch Road in Breckenridge, Colorado.  I switched to the 3D mode and looked along what appeared to be French Gulch. Looking back toward Breckenridge and the ski slopes, the mountain ridgeline came into view.  To my astonishment the peaks right above the ski slopes (now known to be Peaks 8, 9, and 10) fit very precisely the ridgeline in the French Gulch ambrotype.  The date certainly better fits French Gulch, Colorado as well, since the peak of early mining activity was post-1859 and into the early 1860s.

Comparison of French Gulch ambrotype image with Google Maps 3D image.
The French Gulch ambrotype, for nearly 50 years thought to be one of the earliest photographs taken in Montana, turns out to be an early Colorado image.  The search for Montana’s oldest extant photograph continues…

May 24, 2018

Campbell Farming Co. and the "Wheat King of the World"

by Kelly Burton, Film Archivist

Machinery in the Campbell Farming Co. fields (collection PAc 91-86)
The life of agriculturalist Thomas D. Campbell was largely defined by the merging of farming practices with those of large-scale business. Born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Campbell applied his engineering education to the mechanizing of a 95,000-acre wheat farm on land leased from the Crow and Fort Peck reservations in Montana. As special adviser to the Soviet government in 1929, he assisted in the agricultural development of 10 million acres as part of Joseph Stalin’s first Five-Year Plan. Campbell subsequently served as a farming advisor to the British government and to the French government in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. He entered the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel in World War II at the age of sixty and was later named as a permanent brigadier general of the honorary U.S. Army Reserve by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Montana historian Joseph Kinsey Howard described Campbell as the “acknowledged ‘wheat king of the world’ and one of the most theatrical figures in public life” in 1949, stating that “praise and castigation have been equally intemperate and few have been able to make sense out of his complex character.” (1)

Thomas Campbell (left) greeting a farm visitor at the train station (collection PAc 91-86)
As a pioneer of industrialized corporate farming in the early decades of the twentieth century, Thomas Campbell distinguished his Hardin, Montana farming business by producing more wheat than any other. He expressed his approach to agriculture in the June 1928 issue of The Magazine of Business: “Farming should be considered as a manufacturing business, with a proper record of costs and a constant endeavor to reduce these costs. (2) There is no doubt but that the greatest industrial opportunity in the United States today is in agriculture and the biggest opportunity for the technical college man is in agricultural engineering. Some day there will be a farming organization comparable in size to United States Steel or General Motors, for food is the most necessary commodity of all.” (3)

Battling a straw stack fire at Campbell Farming Co. (collection PAc 91-86)
 The films that comprise the Montana Historical Society’s Campbell Farming Co. collection were shot between the mid-1920s and the early-1930s, and they demonstrate what Campbell considered one of his major contributions to industrial agriculture: the windrow method of harvesting. Doug Edwards, a Campbell Fellow researching in the MHS Archives, described Campbell’s orchestration of large-scale activities for the cameras: “The sequence of starting the combines, cutting the grain, and making a turn gives the impression of manufacturing precision: the farm as a factory. Campbell’s use of the movies to advertise his farming operations demonstrates his ability as a promoter. The ‘enginemen’ operated the tractors and combines in precise sequence for the cameraman, and Campbell had the cameraman focus on specific steps of the operation when he demonstrated his windrow method.” (4) In addition to recording harvesting activities, the films show other day-to-day operations such as the modification and repairing machinery in the company shop and battling the occasional fire in the farm’s straw stacks. Campbell can be seen throughout these films, greeting guests at the nearby Montana train station, eating lunch with his field crew, and traveling around the farm in his Stutz-Bearcat convertible.

Farmers in Russia (collection PAc91-86)
 While the primary function of the Campbell Farming Co. films was the promotion of industrialized and mechanized agricultural practices, Campbell also used the motion picture camera to document more personal moments with his wife and children. His daughters can be seen enjoying several outdoor activities in these reels, riding horses on their father’s Montana farm and visiting what is presumably the Columbia Gardens amusement park in Butte. Several members of the Campbell family also accompany the agriculturalist on his return consultation trip to Russia in 1930. Footage from this excursion shows the family making the ocean voyage, visiting various ports of call, and engaging with locals as they travel to farm sites across the Soviet Union.

Campbell's daughters on the Campbell Farming Co. property (collection PAc 91-86)
The Campbell Farming Co. films were donated to the Montana Historical Society by Phoebe Knapp Warren, Thomas Campbell’s granddaughter, on September 4, 1991. Originally shot by both Campbell and a larger production crew on 35mm cellulose nitrate film, the deteriorating and hazardous reels were transferred to new polyester stock in the late 1990s with the help of a Cultural/Aesthetic Project grant funded by the Montana Cultural Trust Fund. VHS copies of the films were created during the transfer to new stock, and these cassettes are available for viewing in the Historical Society’s Research Center.

Film production assistant with Campbell (front, center) and his work crew (collection PAc 91-86)

  1.  Joseph Kinsey Howard, “Tom Campbell: Farmer of Two Continents,’ Harper’s Magazine, March 1949: 56.
  2. Thomas D. Campbell, “What the Farmer Really Needs,” The Magazine of Business, June 1928: 725.
  3. Ibid. 752.
  4. MHS vertical file, Campbell Farms.

May 10, 2018

World War II in Sanders County

by Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Projects Librarian

Nameplate of the Sanders County Independent-Ledger, December 3, 1941
If you’ve ever looked at newspapers published during either world war, you know that typically newspapers become consumed by war news, most of it consisting of national coverage by entities like AP, instead of locally or even state produced news. While the Sanders County Independent-Ledger did have some national coverage, most of the 8 pages per issue remained focused on how the war affected Sanders County.
Sanders County Independent-Ledger, December 10, 1941, p1
I expected the Pearl Harbor attack to be the major headline in the issue following the attack, but there were no screaming headlines and only one direct reference: a proclamation by the County Commissioners declaring “ourselves in behalf of the people of this county, State of Montana, to be wholeheartedly in support of our government and will do everything in our power and capacity to repel, defeat and crush the enemy…” [1] There were two other articles related to the consequences of the attack. One called “Defense Steps” talked about a report written in late October or early November which concluded that while enemy bombing of Sanders County was unlikely, sabotage was a concern, especially the possibility that enemy agents could set forest fires thereby creating “a serious hazard to airplane operations” [2] and destroying the timber supply. To defend against this threat, another article informed readers that “The office of the Sanders County Defense Commission will be held open from 9:00 A. M. until 8:00 P. M. for the purpose of registering men for Guard Service in Sanders County, bridges, power lines, etc.” [3] After a little thought, it occurred to me that this issue was published on December 10, by which point most people had probably heard details about the attack from the radio so why would the newspaper spend precious space telling their readers what they already knew?
Sanders County Independent-Ledger, May 20, 1942, p5
With this local focus in mind, even the ads from national organizations seemed more targeted. There was a map (above) of the Official U. S. Treasury War Bond Quotas for May 1942 showing the amount to be raised by each Montana county. Meanwhile, the War Production Board focused their scrap metal drives on heavy farm equipment. Check out the bottom of this ad (below) where we learn what a tractor, a plow, a stove and a pump were each turned into.
Sanders County Independent-Ledger, June 9, 1943, p5
From how rubber and gas rationing was affecting business to the farm labor shortage, this paper - instead of just announcing regulations and orders - reported their consequences on the community. Still the country was at war, so of particular interest were the local boys serving in the armed forces. “If you are one of our subscribers and your son earns promotion let us know about it so we can mention him with the rest of the boys whom we are proud of” declared the newspaper. [4] Not only did they print draft registrations, enlistments, commissions, and promotions, as the war continued, letters written by the soldiers, sailors and airmen were printed. Occasionally these communications included poetry, my personal favorite being this one by Dave Grant.

 Sanders County Independent-Ledger, January 6, 1943, p1
Newspapers provide a glimpse into another time, and that view is never more powerful than when they show how big events impact their local communities.

[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid