October 28, 2014

Being Sidney Edgerton

by Jeff Malcomson, Montana Historical Society Gov't Records Archivist

As children, and some adults, prepare their costumes for this coming Halloween, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on my recent experiences with historical performance. Sometimes called first-person historical interpretation, historical performance has been around for a long time, though perhaps not as well developed a tool for public history in the Rocky Mountain region as in other parts of the country. Expert historical performer Joyce M. Thierer defines historical performance as "direct-address first-person narrative in correct clothing followed by taking questions in character and as the scholar."

Jeff Malcomson as Montana's first territorial governor,
Sidney Edgerton (ca. 1864) posing with the portrait of
Ellen Farrar Hauser, the wife of Samuel T. Hauser,
another Montana pioneer. The portrait is part of the current

MHS exhibit "Montana's Territorial Legacy."
"Gov. Edgerton" spoke at the exhibit opening.

My own recent experience started back in May portraying Montana's first territorial governor, Sidney Edgerton, during Helena's annual History Fair on the walking mall and for a couple special events celebrating the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Montana Territory. My experience culminated at the Montana History Conference in Helena this fall where I portrayed Edgerton's nephew, and fellow Montana pioneer, Wilbur Fisk Sanders. In this latter historical performance, I was joined by my MHS colleagues, Rich Aarstad (as Samuel Word) and Jodie Foley (as Martha Edgerton Rolfe). We dreamed up a historical debate between these two real-life political adversaries of the territorial period (Sanders vs. Word). Over the summer we constructed a script based on many actual primary sources from Sanders, Word and Rolfe, and our own secondary-source research into the politics of the times. The dramatic climax of the performance—when Word challenges Sanders to a duel in Virginia City—was based on a real event during the 1878 political campaign.

Rich Aarstad plays democratic party "hatchet-man" Samuel Word
during a historic debate at the 2014 Montana History
Conference in Helena. (Photo courtesy of Ken Robison.)

Through this past six months of experimenting with historical performance I have learned that it can be great fun playing historical figures, though sometimes the clothing is a bit uncomfortable. More than anything though, I've found that as a historian and someone who loves to research, this is a fantastic way to engage the public, and history enthusiasts more particularly, to share the significance of the past. Through historical performances we can enliven the past, conveying information and context about how people lived, how they thought, and how they made choices that even now impact our lives. So if you dress up this year, I encourage you to choose your favorite historical figure and spend a little time in someone else's shoes, sharing the stories of the past as you go.

October 23, 2014

Chuck Wagon Provisions

by Zoe Ann Stoltz, 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