August 17, 2017

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: The Capitol Building

After Helena won the popular vote to be the capital city of the new state of Montana, lawmakers immediately created a capital commission to oversee the construction of a building to house state government. Amid scandal, the original commission and the architect were dismissed, but a new commission soon contracted with different architects, and the completed building was dedicated on July 4, 1902. Two additional wings, to the east and the west, were completed ten years later.

Key dates

1895—Capitol Commission is appointed.
1897—Contract for building the capitol is awarded to Charles E. Bell and John H. Kent.
1902—Montana State Capitol dedicated.
1909—Legislature authorizes addition of east and west wings.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: montana capitol building, capitol commission, george r mann, bell and kent, capitol wings

Written by Catherine W. Ockey

August 11, 2017

Trials of a Prairie Photographer

By Christopher Gray, Digital Projects Intern

Evelyn Cameron’s photography was born from necessity and love for the art. The Camerons were frequently out of cash, so Evelyn sold vegetables, hosted boarders, and took up photography to supplement what little income they had.

Living on a ranch, Evelyn was no stranger to hard work. Photography in the 1890s and early 20th century was a demanding and tricky endeavor, so adding the business of making photographs to her daily routine would have taken a great deal of energy and motivation.

Though photography was rapidly becoming more accessible to the public, it had not reached the level of efficiency it has today. Evelyn had only what was technologically available in Montana at the turn of the last century. Living on the prairie, her options were further limited to whatever mail-order equipment she could afford. Despite these limitations, Evelyn managed to excel at her work.

Some of the other difficulties she faced included a camera with slow shutter speeds [1] and photographic plates that weren’t very light-sensitive.

Catalog # PAc 90-87.G002-016
“Mary Phillips, May 4th, 1905.”
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron

For example, this picture, taken with a 5x7 Kodak in 1905, illustrates how Evelyn worked within those technical limits. She wrote her camera settings for this picture in her diary, noting a shutter speed of 1/5 of a second and an aperture of f32—slow shutter, small aperture [2]. These settings were necessitated by the slowness of the plate (about ISO 5 or 10) and Evelyn’s aesthetic preference [3]. She preferred well-defined backgrounds for her pictures, and a small aperture allowed that. 

Slow shutter speeds are no nuisance if the subject is stationary, the camera is mounted on a tripod, and the wind is calm. However, Evelyn’s subjects and the prairie wind were seldom still. 

Catalog #PAc 90-87.G003-002
“Cat sitting in hole in rock. 1900”
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron

Cats especially fall into the “seldom still” category. Pet photography is best done with a fast shutter speed, but here Evelyn used a slow shutter speed and a small aperture (perhaps out of habit). That the cat, Patchy, stayed still for this picture seems like a miracle. However, that Patchy appears unblurred in a handful of other photos suggests the cat was a more agreeable model than most. 

Catalog #PAc 90-87.G059-011
“[[Railroad crew on handcar]. 
[Five railroad workers standing on handcar.] [ca. 1910]”
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron

This photo of Northern Pacific workmen on a handcar may look ordinary for a moment, but its odd nature soon becomes apparent. Evelyn took two images on the same plate, most likely by accident. Looking closely, it seems she took one picture without the workmen and one with them. Note how the man on the far right looks translucent!

Catalog # PAc 90-87.NB067K
“[Family on parsonage porch, Marsh, Montana]. 
At the Lutheran Church parsonage. July 25, 1920”
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron

Finally, some unintentional elements in a photo can actually improve it. This would be a normal, staid family photo were it not for the mischievous young’un peering from behind the screen door. This may have gone unnoticed by Evelyn as she took the picture, but given her sense of humor she probably knew the girl was there and proceeded anyway.

[1] Only until late 1905, when she received a more advanced camera.
[2] Cameron diary, 7 May 1905
[3] Cameron diary, 27 June 1904

August 1, 2017

Remembering Frank Little

by Rich Aarstad, Senior Archivist, and Martha Kohl, Historical Specialist

Slain by capitalist interests for organizing his fellow men
This epithet appears on Frank Little’s headstone in the Mountain View Cemetery of Butte, MT. 

Portrait, Frank Little, 1910s
Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

A top field organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW, or the Wobblies), Frank Little stepped gingerly from the train in Butte on July 20, 1917, still bearing marks of a beating he took while agitating on behalf of striking copper miners in Bisbee, AZ. Life as the Wobblies top field organizer had few perks and more than a bit of personal risk.  Like a prophet from the Old Testament, Frank wandered the West from one labor hotspot to another, preaching the gospel of the One Big Union.  His mission was simple: affiliate the Metal Mine Workers’ Union with the IWW and force the company officials running the Anaconda Company from the sixth floor of the Hennessy Building “’down below with a muckstick.’”

When Little arrived in Butte, the mining city was in the midst of a general strike. Three months earlier, the U.S. had entered World War I. A month earlier, on June 5, miners rioted, protesting the implementation of a compulsory draft. Then, on June 8, a fire in the Granite Mountain/Speculator mine claimed the lives of 165 miners. Workers were demanding safer working conditions and higher wages. The state had responded by sending in troops. Butte was under martial law.

MHS Ephemera File
Neither the Anaconda Company nor the leaders of Metal Mine Workers Union (MMWU) were happy to see Little. The Anaconda Company’s unhappiness was self-explanatory. But Butte’s labor leaders also rejected his radical rhetoric, objecting both to the IWW’s hardline stance against the war and its commitment to overthrowing of the capitalist system.

These inflammatory positions were particularly dangerous since the start of the war. Even IWW president William “Big Bill” Haywood was cautioning his field organizers to lighten up on the rhetoric lest they incur the federal government’s wrath and feel the full weight of its opposition.  But if Frank Little got the message, he chose to ignore it.

Instead, Little passionately preached the IWW message. During a speech at Finlander Hall, Little referred to U.S. soldiers as “uniformed thugs” and stressed his opposition to the draft and the war.  Why, he asked, would workers choose to fight for their capitalist masters, when instead they could end the war by turning on their masters and overthrowing the capitalist system?

The Anaconda Company—delighted to tar labor as treasonous—had its papers report Little’s speeches. It also joined local political leaders in asking U.S. Attorney B. K. Wheeler to arrest Little, claiming that his “treasonous utterances” violated the Espionage Act of 1917. Wheeler refused: according to the attorney, Little had not violated the Espionage Act but had only exercised his right to free speech.

Nevertheless, Little was soon silenced. In the early morning hours of August 1, six men entered the boarding house where Frank Little was staying and physically removed him from his room.  They tied him to the bumper of a waiting car and dragged him to the edge of town where they beat then lynched him from a railroad trestle with a warning pinned to his chest.

Frank Little, Death, Missoula, Montana Free Speech Fight, 1917
Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

In the wake of the brutal murder, Governor Stewart received a flood of messages from across the nation from labor organizations and concerned citizens. The message left on Little’s body harkened back to the vigilante days of early Montana and the initials at the bottom corresponded with the last names of the leaders of the MMWU strike: Frank Little (with the “L” circled), Bill Dunne, Tom Campbell, Daniel Shovlin, Joe Shannon, Jim Williams, and John Tomich.  The use of 3-7-77 legitimized the action in the eyes of some, who believed that if authorities would have arrested Little under the charge of treason reasonable men would not have felt the need to act.  It would also help justify, less than a year, later the passage of the Montana Sedition Act and Criminal Syndicalism Act during a special session of the legislature.

Frank Little, Funeral, Montana Free Speech Fight, 1917
Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

The murder of Frank Little remains unsolved even though most agree the Anaconda Company played some role in his death.  While his message for the most part fell on deaf ears, his murder gave rise to an impassioned citizenry who four days later gave Frank Little an epic send off with the largest funeral in the history of Butte.  They laid Frank Little to rest in the pauper section of the Mountain View Cemetery.

Photo courtesy of the author

Today, his headstone faces “the Hill” and standing at the foot of his grave one can see the memorial the North Butte Mining Company erected to the memory of those unidentified miners who died in the Granite Mountain/Speculator Mine fire.  I think Frank would appreciate that.

July 28, 2017

The Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company

by Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Services Technician

 Sanders County Ledger (Thompson Falls, MT)

Newspaper ads for the Mountain State Telephone and Telegraph Co (MST&T) have always stood out to me, but the ad above convinced me that they were worthy of a blog post.  Well, technically the ad I saw wasn’t this specific one because MST&T was prolific in their advertising.  With few exceptions, all the ads I’ve seen were published in multiple Montana newspapers. Considering that MST&T served Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico plus the western corner of Texas, it isn’t surprising that I’ve seen many of them in Idaho newspapers as well.

The truth about blog posts is that most of us over-research them.  Most of the information that we find and sources we consult never make it into the post.  In this case, I clipped an instance of every unique ad I could find. When I found the same ad in multiple places, I choose which one to keep first by image quality and then trying to use as many newspapers as possible.  The ads date from December 1911 (shortly after the founding of the company) until January 1924 (when I realized I had 103 ads and should really stop).

I know 103 ads sounds a little crazy, but I was going to talk about the themes found in the ads and how they changed over time. It seemed like a good idea, but I had a difficult time selecting which special few to share. Instead I thought it would be fun to open the collection up to you all so that you can tell me what you find interesting.

There are a couple of ways to view the collection.  If you’d like a collage-type experience, you can see the Pinterest Board here.  If you’d like a more organized approach, they can be viewed here in an exhibit where you can look at the ads by location (using the map), title (on the right) or chronology (using the timeline at the bottom).  When you click on an item, the item's record will pop up.  Scroll to the bottom to find the image and then click on it to view.

Is there an ad that really stands out to you? As you look through the collection, what do you notice?Do you have a favorite? I’d love to know so comment below.

Below are a few of my favorites to get you started.

I like these two together to show the difference in attitude towards WWI between 1914 and 1917.

Big Timber Pioneer
November 5, 1914     
Mineral Independent (Superior, MT)
June 28, 1917

This ad is a good visual representation of how the company tries to explain their financial situation.

Mineral Independent (Superior, MT)
November 16, 1916

This one always makes me laugh.  Probably because when I first saw it, I was starting a walking challenge, which constantly emphasized “More Steps”.
Choteau Acantha
June 14, 1923

Lastly, this one has my favorite image.

River Press (Fort Benton, MT)
February 9, 1915

July 13, 2017

Montana History online

by Tammy Troup, MHS Digital Services Manager

History researchers employ a variety of strategies to gather and organize historical evidence. While we’re collecting evidence, we’re thinking about what we’re discovering, developing hypotheses, and ignoring tangents. Finally—if we’re fortunate—we draw evidence-supported conclusions which contribute to the scholarly record.
In this blog post, we’ll outline methods to help researchers conduct online research:

Database Search

You can search many online databases such as the Montana Memory Project (CONTENTdm), Digital Vault (Omeka), Internet Archive, Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), Chronicling America, and MONTANA NEWSPAPERS using Structured Query Language (SQL).  Several online databases (including the databases mentioned above) include a Graphical User Interface (GUI) which structures (organizes) data into specific fields (e.g., Title, Creator/Author, Type, etc.) or which allows multi-faceted (categorical) searching.
For Google-trained online researchers, database research can be frustrating. Simple keyword searches are not effective. Researchers will have more successful results by employing a few SQL-derived techniques:
  • Look for Advanced Search options. Advanced Search provides researchers with an interface to organize and search specific fields and by specific types of searches (exact phrase, any words, all words, none, etc.);
  • Use Boolean operators to focus a search and connect related pieces of information. These operators include AND (all search terms must be present), OR (any of the search terms may be included), and NOT (none of the search terms will be included);
  • Use special characters to expand search results. An asterisk * may be placed in a word such as wom*n  to return results with woman or women.
  • The order of your search commands will determine the order of your results.  You may use parentheticals, which will determine the execution order of the commands you use (e.g., Homesteading AND (Norwegian OR Swedish).
Google Search

Complex websites with thousands of pages, pdf attachments, and links can be difficult for search engines to index and even more difficult for researchers to use efficiently. However, researchers may search the entire site if the understand the functionality which Google builds into the search bar (of course Google also features an Advanced Search option). Another resource, Nancy Blachman’s Google Guide is a well-organized tutorial to help people structure useful queries. A few of these query inputs include the following:
  • Special Characters:
    • - Operator (minus sign) to exclude specific words (same as NOT)
    • * Operator when a wildcard or placeholder is needed or you may use it before a word so search results will return synonyms of the word searched.
    • .. Operator between two years will produce a time range of results
    • “ “ will return results exact phrase results
  • Specific fields:
    • intitle: will return results which include metadata of a specific type (in this case title). This type of search is useful if you know what you are searching for may have specific metadata (e.g., title, creator or author, date, publisher, subject, etc.)
  • site: domain restricts search results to a specific domain
  • filetype: will restrict search results to a specific filetype
History Online

While the Montana Historical Society collects a wealth of information about the history of Montana, there is also a vast amount of data collected and owned by other individuals and organizations. We create billions of gigabytes of information every day.  Meanwhile more and more Montanans create digital information and place it online.  Printing or formally archiving the bulk of this information (image, text, moving image, software, database, etc.) will never occur. As such, historians will need to develop new research methods to identify, find, and collect evidence of the past, and we will need to carefully monitor information policy related to access to these collections.

EXTRA! Montana Newspapers Stories 1864-1922: Extermination of Wolves

Wolves were abundant in newly created Montana Territory in the 1860s. The same merchants who shipped bison hides to the East found a ready market for wolf pelts; the fur was widely used as trim on clothing. Between 1871 and 1875, an estimated 34,000 wolves were killed in northern Montana and southern Alberta. As the cattle industry rose in prominence, the territorial government began paying bounties for wolves, coyotes and other predators. By the end of the 1880s, the total extermination of wolves became a goal of ranchers—one that was finally achieved by government-salaried hunters in the 1920s.

Key dates

1883—Territorial legislature offers a $1 bounty for a full wolfskin. At the end of 1884, the treasury reports paying bounties for 5,540 wolves, 1,774 coyotes, 568 bears, and 146 mountain lions.
1887—Bounty claims are so numerous, the territory can no longer afford to pay them, and bounty laws are repealed.
1899—Under pressure from stock growers, bounties on cattle predators are reinstated, funded by a new tax on livestock.
1905—The latest bounty pays $10 per full-grown wolf scalp. Because an immature animal cannot kill cattle as efficiently as an adult, the bounty per pup is only $3.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: wolves, wolf hunting, bounty

July 3, 2017

"Rope in Your Chickens": Picnics and Picnic Food

by Molly Kruckenberg, Research Center Director

An American pastime with European origins, picnics were and continue to be a popular Montana activity.  Picnics often celebrate holidays, like the Fourth of July and Labor Day; gather together school, social and church organizations; or are just simply a way to get together with friends.  Picnics have been defined as “an outdoor meal distinguished by other meals because it requires the leisure to get away from home.” [1]

As a young child, Vera Whitney attended a Fourth of July picnic near Three Buttes in the Sidney area.  Early on the 4th, her mother “killed and dressed the first fryers of the season, made big bread-and-butter sandwiches and packed a jar of pickles.  The potato salad and white layer cake she had made the evening before were packed up” too, for the journey to the picnic area.  Spreading out their repast on a white tablecloth, the Whitney family enjoyed speeches, singing, and the usual picnic activities.  The highlight of the event for young Vera, though, was the call of “’Ice cream and lemonade! Come and get it.’”  That ice cream was made even more spectacular by being served in a cone.  The taste of the cone, her first, was like a “sweet, crisp cookie” to Vera. [2]

“Women with Ice Cream Cones, July 4, 1908.”  Evelyn Cameron, photographer.  
MHS Research Center Photograph Archives, PAc90-87.G027-006.  

Montanans picnic for many different reasons mostly in the summer and fall, when the weather is conducive to eating outdoors.  Whether private group picnics or community gatherings, picnics served to bring people together.  A group of 15 or 20 young people from Helena ascended Mount Helena in October of 1875 for a “genuine frolic.”  After their ascent, they “partook of a lunch . . . prepared in a style commensurate with the jolly occasion and capable of satiating the keen appetites that were engendered by ascending this precipitous mount.”  They were further “pacified” with two kegs of Nick Kessler’s XXX lager beer. [3]   On a larger scale but no less jubilant scale, the citizens of Ekalaka enjoyed a picnic at Medicine Rocks on August 15th, 1909 in a gathering “given by everybody, for everybody.”  Residents were advised to “rope in your chickens and cook ‘em up for the big feed.”  A “pie wagon” was available to take a load of food out to the picnic site.  Featuring baseball, music and speeches as well as a community feast, the Medicine Rocks picnic brought together all the activities and foods often associated with picnics. [4]

The Fourth of July serves as one of the most popular reasons to picnic.  In 1877 residents of the Bitterroot Valley celebrated the Fourth of July with a picnic that took place “about a mile from the home of Charlos [sic], the chief of the Flathead Indians, in a grove of large pine near a clear babbling brook, which meandered laughingly down from St. Mary’s mountain, across the bench land and into the Bitter Root River.”  As for food, the residents laid a table that “fairly tottered with its heavy load of good things,” including bread, boiled ham, chickens and turkey, several types of berries, pies (“great piles of them”), doughnuts, cookies, jelly cakes, confectioneries, pound cakes, and for dessert strawberries and cream.  At the end of the prodigious meal, there “remained enough to supply a meal for as many more.” [5]

Newspaper articles about picnics in Montana reveal three common foods consumed at picnics:  ice cream, lemonade and fried chicken. [6] While Montana cookbooks include recipes for ice cream, recipes for lemonade and fried chicken are not as prevalent, perhaps because the recipes were already known to the women making the dishes.  But a Dillon recipe from the 1908 cookbook Tested Recipes gave instruction to the inexperienced cook:
Chicken, To Fry – (Southern) – After you have killed and dressed your chicken, wash it in cold water thoroughly with a clean linen cloth.  Carve the chicken and season it with salt and pepper to suit taste.  Sift on enough flour to cover each piece and mix the chicken and flour thoroughly.  Put the chicken into a frying pan with equal parts of hot bacon grease and butter, or all butter, and then cover the pan with a lid.  Fry the chicken slowly, and to a nice, crisp brown. [7]

Picnics in Montana are varied, in food, occasion, and setting; yet they are the same in offering a social gathering in a setting away from home.   Whether held for a special occasion like the Fourth of July, to bring together a group of likeminded people, or for no reason whatsoever, picnics allowed participants an opportunity to relax in a social setting while consuming favored foods.  From traditional shared dishes of fried chicken, lemonade and ice cream to hosted events featuring cream cone cocktail or picnic goulash, picnic food was meant to be prodigious in amount, portable, and easily eaten outdoors.  The call of come and get it at Montana’s “recreational feasts” [8] might be at any number of locations for any number of reasons, but it always meant good times and good food.

[Title] "Big Picnic at Medicine Rocks.”  The Ekalaka Eagle, August 6, 1909. P1.
[1] Levy, Walter.  The Picnic: A History.  Rowman & Littlefield:  London, 2013.  P.5
[2] Page 83-85, Vera Whitney Gault Reminiscence.  SC2357.  Montana Historical Society Research Center Archives.
[3] “The Picnic on Mount Helena.”  Helena Weekly Herald, October 21, 1875.  P7.
[4] “Big Picnic at Medicine Rocks.”  The Ekalaka Eagle, August 6, 1909. P1.  Ad, “For the Picnic.”  The Ekalaka Eagle, August 6, 1909. P1.
[5] “Fourth of July on the Bitter Root.”  Rocky Mountain Husbandman., August 23, 1877, p7.
[6] For examples see:  “Boulder Valley.”  Rocky Mountain Husbandman, July 12, 1877, p2; “The Picnic on the Hillside.” The Bozeman Weekly Chronicle.  May 6, 1885, p.3; “The M.E. Sunday School Picnic.” The Wibaux Pioneer.  July 18, 1913. P.4; “Organized Farmers Attention.” The Producers News.  June 13, 1919, p. 1.
[7] Tested Recipes.  Dillon, Mont.: Tribune Publishing Co., 1908. P19.

[8] Levy.  The Picnic. P.5.

June 22, 2017

Edwin B. Trafton, "...aside from his outlaw traits was a pleasant companion..."

Zoe Ann Stoltz, MHS Reference Historian, came across a fascinating true crime story from 1914 Yellowstone Park.  It seems there was a man, Edwin B. Trafton, who robbed at least 15 stage coaches on the same day.  As her research developed, it became clear that this was but one of Edwin's exploits.  Instead of trying to reduce him to a single post, we're trying something different today at Montana History Revealed. Edwin's story has been divided into a 6 part series.  Read one or read them all.

Delinquent Boy and Horse Thief
Stealing from Momma
How Do You Rob 15+ Stagecoaches in 1 Day
Talking with the Tourists
Will Someone Please Catch This Man
Released for Good Behavior

Edwin B. Trafton - Delinquent Boy and Horse Thief

Part 1 of Edwin Trafton series by Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian

Born in New Brunswick, Canada in February 1857, Edward B. Trafton  discovered his affinity for theft early in life. At the age of ten, Edwin  was in the Denver Home for Delinquent Boys for theft.   After his release, he lived and worked with his mother and step father at their Denver boarding house, purchased with the proceeds from the sale of their Canadian farms.  For several years Edwin honed his larceny skills by stealing from the boarders.   Although often discovered, his mother Annie Knight continuously protected him from the law and consequences.   At the age of 20, Edwin became convinced that he was destined to become rich in the South Dakota Black Hills. After stealing food, cash, and a horse from his parents, he headed north. [1]

Not long after discovering that success in the gold fields demanded work, Trafton settled in Teton Valley, Wyoming.  Although ostensibly farming, he soon joined the Conant Gang of horse thieves.   By 1887, however, area ranchers tired of losing livestock took steps to round up the gang.  Found guilty, Trafton served just two years of a twenty-five year sentence. As explained by long time area resident, Trafton “ . . . was a clever fellow and aside from his outlaw traits was a pleasant companion. He elicited sympathy from people and petitions were soon signed for his release.” [2]

Return to Table of Contents

[1] Wayne Moss, “Friend or Faux?”  Teton Valley Magazine, 3 November 2015, (30 May, 2017) 
[2] Ibid. 

Edwin B. Trafton - Stealing from Momma

Part 2 of Edwin Trafton series by Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian


After serving time for horse theft as part of the Conant gang, Edwin Trafton spent the next two decades attempting to balance his criminal tendencies and family life. He married Minnie Lyman on July 3, 1891. They had five children, four girls and one son.

Following another two year prison sentence, this time for cattle rustling, the couple attempted homesteading, sheep ranching and operated a boarding house in Idaho’s Teton Basin. [1] Edwin even served as a postal carrier for the area.
Herald Democrat (Leadville, CO), May 3, 1910 p1
Retrieved from
Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection

In the fall of 1909, Edwin and Minnie now living in Denver set their sights on Annie Knight, Edwin's mother.  He convinced Annie to allow him to take control of several thousand dollars as well as the sale of her house. Surprisingly the couple soon reported that a satchel containing several thousand dollars had been stolen from them during a ride in a street car. [2] Maybe Annie finally realized the truth about her son.

The following May, Edwin and Minnie were found guilty of fraud and the theft of $7200.00 from his mother. [3] Minnie was released in February, 1912, and Edwin the fall of 1913. Reunited after serving their respective sentences, they attempted to settle in Rupert, Idaho.

[1] Wayne Moss, “Friend or Faux?”  Teton Valley Magazine, 3 November 2015, (30 May, 2017); Land Patent
[2] “Careless Couple Robbed of $10,000 on a Denver Street Car,” Cheyenne State Leader, 2 October 1909, pg.1 & 2 and “Sends Her Son to Prison,” Colorado Springs Gazette, 3 May 1910.
[3] “Sent to Prison for Stealing from Mother,” The Laramie Republican, 10 May 1910, pg. 1, and “Sends Her Son to Prison,” Colorado Springs Gazette, 3 May 1910. 

Edwin B. Tafton - How Do You Rob 15+ Stagecoaches in 1 Day

Part 3 of Edwin Trafton series by Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian


Although Edwin Trafton tried to settle in Rupert, Idaho with his wife after their release from prison, a life of crime still called. Within months, he had disappeared from a legitimate job at Jackson Lake near Moran, leaving a larcenous trail behind.  As he departed from Jackson, he stole two horses, a roan and a gray. Unknown to Edwin, one of the horse had thrown a shoe leaving unusual tracks. On his way into Yellowstone, Edwin shared a camp site with J. Martinez. Before parting ways with his host, Edwin robbed Martinez of food and his best saddle. [1]

Postcard showing Old Faithful Lodge, circa 1909
On the morning of Wednesday, July 29, 1914, Edwin pulled a rifle on the first of at least 15 tourist-filled stagecoaches (reports vary from 15 to 26). The tour coaches, which left at 15-20 minute intervals from Old Faithful lodge, traditionally paused at the Shoshone Point promontory to allow occupants to enjoy the lake view.  As each coach approached, Trafton ordered the occupants to disembark and the drivers to pull the coaches ahead.  He instructed the tourists to place their valuables onto a coat spread on the ground. Trafton then forced his victims to sit on the ground. He repeated the process with each successive stagecoach until finally an oncoming driver recognized the situation and turned to warn authorities. At that point, Edwin disappeared into the woods completely unconcerned by the fact that British tourist Estelle Hammond and Anna Squire of Illinois had taken photos of him sorting his loot.

Return to Table of Contents

[1] “Wonderland Tourists Relate Thrilling Hold-up Stories,” The Livingston Enterprise, 1 August 1914, pg. 1 & 8 and “Yellowstone Park Bandit Arrested,” Livingston Enterprise, 25 May 1915.

Edwin B. Trafton - Talking with the Tourists

Part 4 of Edwin Trafton series by Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian


The Livingston Enterprise
August 1, 1914
 A small crowd gathered at Livingston's Northern Pacific depot to ask victims of Edwin Trafton's Yellowstone Park stagecoach robberies for their first hand accounts. Many of them were anxious to share their adventures. [1] Their stories ranged from horrific to hilarious.

While he assured the stagecoach drivers that he was “not going to take their money,” because they “worked as hard” as he did [2], the passengers were not so lucky. After a self-professed suffragist settled herself on the roadside, she lost control of her anger with a shout at Trafton that “this is what we women get . . . when compelled to let a little man like you to take away our rights and force us to give up our money.” [3]  The bandit scolded the suffragist that she was “butting into his game.” [4]   He then ordered her to return to the coach and forfeit any remaining cash.  The tirade cost her $75.00.

During a confrontation with a Missouri woman who refused to leave her coach and children, the bandit reassured her that he “loved children,” and would not hurt them.  Although he guaranteed the children’s safety, he did not hesitate to take their mother’s money.

[1] “Wonderland Tourists Relate Thrilling Hold-up Stories,” The Livingston Enterprise, 1 August 1914, pg. 1 & 8. 
[2] “Wonderland Tourists Relate Thrilling Hold-up Stories,” The Livingston Enterprise, 1 August 1914, pg. 1 & 8 and “Yellowstone Park Bandit Arrested,” Livingston Enterprise, 25 May 1915.
[3] Ibid., pg. 8.
[4] Ibid., pg. 8.

Edwin B. Trafton - Will Someone Please Catch this Man

Part 5 of Edwin Trafton series by Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian


After the Yellowstone stagecoach robberies, Trafton spent time with his in-laws and took Minnie to Salt Lake City where he stole a new touring car. But government officials were following his trail, conducting interviews, and compiling evidence. Department of Justice Special Agent James Melrose was ultimately responsible for the arrest. Melrose followed up on rumors of the hold up of Mr. Martinez, traced the unusual horse tracks back to Trafton, and connected jewelry from the robbery to Trafton. An affidavit submitted by Minnie stating her husband had admitted to the robbery and that she later found jewelry in her husband’s possessions was the final nail in the coffin.  Trafton was taken into custody May 1915. [1]

The evidence against Edwin during the December 1915 trial in Cheyenne was overwhelming. Not only did Melrose present his carefully compiled evidence, but several of Trafton’s victims, who had sat for several hours and witnessed him threaten scores of fellow tourists, identified him. The prosecution was so confident that the photographs taken by Hammond and Squire were not even shown. Following the inevitable guilty verdict, he was sentenced to five years at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. [2]
The Livingston Enterprise.
December 14, 1915

[1] “Yellowstone Park Bandit Arrested,” Livingston Enterprise, 25 May 1915, pg. 8. [2] "Yellowstone Park Bandit Arrested,” Livingston Enterprise, 25 May 1915 and “Man 63 Years Old Found Guilty of Sensational Yellowstone Hold-up,” The Kemmerer Republican, 10 December 1915; “Five Years in Pen for Trafton,” Livingston Enterprise, 14 December 1915, pg. 1.

Edwin B. Trafton - Released for Good Behavior

Part 6 of the Edwin Trafton series by Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian


Teton Valley Magazine, 3 November 20015,
accessed May 4, 2017,
Although Edwin Trafton was convicted of the Yellowstone stagecoach robberies during his 1915 trial, he didn't serve his entire five year sentence. Early in October 1919, Edwin wrote to James Melrose, the Department of Justice Special Agent whose investigation led to Edwin's arrest.  The letter explained that due to his good behavior Edwin was being released from prison a bit earlier than planned. He assured Melrose that he had spent his time in prison making plans for his future. [1]

However, this time Edwin couldn't return to his wife. After divorcing Trafton while he was in prison, Minnie added insult to injury by marrying a policeman and left Idaho with their 14 year old son, Edwin Jr.  Additionally by August of 1920, all four of his daughters were married. [2] Instead Edwin made his way to California perhaps in hopes of finding family or of selling his much-exaggerated life story as a movie script.

On a hot day in August of 1922, in need of escaping the Los Angeles heat, he ordered an ice cream soda.  While sipping the cool drink, Edwin B. Trafton died.   An inglorious end to the man who incapable of leading a life without larceny.  But, as the Yellowstone Bandit, he gave 165 Yellowstone stagecoach tourists stories enough to fill a lifetime.

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[1] “Yellowstone Bandit Released by Jail,”  Northern Wyoming Herald, 8 October 1919, pg. 4. 
[2] Wayne Moss, “Friend or Faux?”  Teton Valley Magazine, 3 November 2015, (30 May, 2017) ; Utah & Montana Marriage License Indexes. 

June 15, 2017

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: The Railroad Arrives!

The first rail line into Montana, the Utah & Northern Railroad over Monida Pass to Butte, was completed in 1881. Together with the completion of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1883, it heralded a new day of transportation for both people and goods. The Federal government greatly aided the railroads by awarding them tracts of land along the expected routes. The railways connected Montana towns with each other and with the rest of the nation, and they facilitated the expansion of mining and manufacturing.

Key dates

1864—The Pacific Railroad Act of 1864 charters construction of a Northern Pacific link from Lake Superior to the Pacific Coast.
1881—The Utah & Northern Railroad drives its first train into Butte, successfully linking Montana with the transcontinental line in northern Utah.
1883—A ceremony at Gold Creek, Montana Territory, commemorates the completion of the Northern Pacific Railway. Former President Ulysses S. Grant attends.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: northern pacific railroad, utah & northern railroad, great northern railway

June 8, 2017

Ratifying the 1972 Constitution

by Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Services Technician

This post is in honor of the 45th anniversary of the election to ratify the 1972 Montana Constitution.  All images of Con Con Monty come from The Proposed 1972 Constitution for the State of Montana published as a 12-page supplement in 13 daily newspapers across the state.[1]

Pundits have lauded the 1972 constitution as a progressive model for government covering issues as broad as privacy and environmental protections. In addition, the range of delegates at the Constitutional Convention has also been the topic of much discussion.  However, those of you who remember the election to ratify it in June 1972 may recall a different story…

During the Con Con, the Public Information Committee worked with the media to ensure that the public stayed informed on the development of the new constitution.  As part of this work, they set aside part of the Con Con budget to be used after the convention to educate the public about the new constitution in the run up to the vote on ratification.[2] Prior to adjournment, delegates adopted Resolution 14 that create a committee with the authority to complete the administrative and public education duties of the Con Con using the previously appropriated funds.  However, as soon as the Con Con adjourned opponents of Resolution 14 challenged the right of the committee’s use of the money before the Supreme Court, arguing that access to the money ended upon the conclusion of the constitutional convention. The supporters of Resolution 14 pointed out that the Con Con had an obligation to inform the public about the proposed constitution. The Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs since voters had already received the proposed constitution along with explanations of what changed fulfilling the public education requirement.[3]

Instead delegates raised independent funds to support education efforts and donated their own time to travel around the state boosting for the new constitution at town hall meetings, panel discussions, and organization meetings. Not all delegates supported ratification however.  Even though all 100 delegates signed the final document, after the Con Con several campaigned against ratification [4] and they weren’t alone in their opposition.  Across the state citizens wrote letters to their local newspapers expressing concern about the proposed constitution. Whether individuals focused on the lack of a maximum property tax levy, the possibility of a gun registration law, ability of the legislature to pass a sales tax, or any other specific issue, Walter A. Stamm in a letter to the Daily Tribune-Examiner of Dillon published June 1, 1972 sums up the main concern.  “Some advocates say that the old constitution had too many restrictions; I would say that the new constitution 
has too few limitations.” 

On June 6, Montanans went to the polls for two separate elections: the constitution and the primary. The constitution vote was close. The returns showed 116, 415 (50.55%) in favor and 113,873 (49.44%) against the new constitution. A difference of only 2542 votes.  Of the 56 counties, only 12 returned a majority in favor of the new constitution.  Opponents of the new constitution argued that since the 1889 Constitution required “a majority of the electors voting at the election” for ratification and given that 6,756 ballots went unvoted, the vote failed to pass.  Governor Forest H. Anderson declared the election valid, the Montana Supreme Court ended up validating the election results in a 3-2 decision on August 18, 1972.[5]

[1] These images come specifically from the May 19, 1972 issue of Daily Tribune-Examiner from Dillon.  Images provided by MONTANA NEWSPAPERS, Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana.  Other newspapers which included this supplement are The Billings Gazette, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Montana Standard, Great Falls Tribune, Daily Ravalli Republican, Havre Daily News, Helena Independent, Kalispell Inter Lake, Lewistown Daily News, Livingston Enterprise, Miles City Star, and the Missoulian.
[2] Montana Centennial Commission – 1989.  100 Delegates Montana Constitutional Convention of 1972. Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1989.
[3] Supreme Court Case No. 12260. State Ex Rel. Kvallen vs. Graybill. 1972. Accessed in the Montana Supreme Court Cases database, Available through the State Law Library of Montana.
[4] “More Delegates Say No to Document.” Daily Tribune-Examiner (Dillon, Mont.), 01 June 1972, located at <>, image provided by MONTANA NEWSPAPERS, Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana.
[5] Supreme Court Case No. 12309. State ex rel. Casmore v. Anderson. 1972. Accessed in the Montana Supreme Court Cases database, Available through the State Law Library of Montana.

May 18, 2017

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: Statehood

By the 1880s, residents of the Montana Territory were ready to embrace statehood and enjoy benefits like full representation in Congress, the power to tax local corporations, and federal land grants to support education. Although there had been previous attempts locally and nationally to create the new state, it took 25 years for Montana Territory to become a state.

Key dates

February 22, 1889—President Cleveland signs the Omnibus Bill, an "enabling act" notifying North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, and Montana that if they drew up proper constitutions, they would be granted statehood.
July 4, 1889—Representatives elected from across Montana open a constitutional convention in Helena.
October 1, 1889—In a general election, Montanans approve the new state constitution and elect Joseph K. Toole governor.
November 8, 1889—President Harrison proclaims Montana the 41st state.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for these terms: constitutional convention, statehood

Written by Catherine W. Ockey

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May 11, 2017

A Continuing Journey: The Conservation of Published Accounts of the Journals of the Corps of Discovery

Molly Kruckenberg
Research Center Director

William Clark, Meriwether Lewis and the Corps of Discovery’s successful return to St. Louis on September 23, 1806, was far from the end of the story of the Corps.  Tasked with keeping a written record of their journey, Lewis and Clark as well as several other members of the expedition kept daily journals of their activities.  Sergeants John Ordway and Patrick Gass as well as Private Robert Frazer were among those that also kept a record of the journey. [i] After the return of the Corps there began a brief battle over who would publish the first account of the expedition.

Although rumors of a publication of Private Frazer’s journal surfaced and Lewis did his best to discredit publications not by he and Clark[ii], Patrick Gass’ journal was the first one published.  Shortly after returning from the Expedition, Gass had sold his journal and publication rights to David McKeehan, a Pittsburgh, PA, bookseller.  After much editing and transcription, McKeehan published the journal in 1807, under the title Journal of the Voyages and Travels of a Corp of Discovery and followed with an additional printing in 1808.  Two years later, Mathew Carey of Philadelphia, acquired the copyright to Gass’ journal and published more editions in 1810, 1811, and 1812.

It wasn’t until 1814, five years after Lewis’ death, and through the work of Philadelphian Nicholas Biddle, that Clark was able to see an edition of the official journals published.  Clark had worked closely with Private George Shannon to assist Biddle in the production of History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark.[iii]  Published by Bradford and Inskeep, also of Philadelphia, the two-volume set was primarily a narrative account of the expedition and did not include any details of the scientific discoveries recorded by Lewis and Clark.[iv]

The MHS Research Center is fortunate to hold several early publications of the journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, including an 1810 edition of the Gass journal and the 1814 Biddle edition of Lewis and Clark’s journals.  While the Gass journal is a recent donation, the Biddle edition has been in the care of the Research Center for more than a century. 

Kept in our secure and environmentally-controlled storage facilities, these volumes are a significant part of our rare book collection.  Given their age of more than two centuries, though, the books were beginning to show some gentle wear and tear.  Last year the Research Center undertook a project to see that these volumes were properly conserved so that they would be available for use and study for the next two hundred years.

The professional conservators at the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Massachusetts received the books in the fall of 2016 and conducted an initial review of their condition.  Each of the three volumes contained several issues, from patches and scuffs on the leather covers, to dirt, discoloration and water stains.  Conservators cleaned the pages, repaired bindings, reinforced sewing, mended tears and created custom storage boxes for each volume.  The images here illustrate the before and after condition of the title pages for two of the volumes.  The completion of this work stabilizes the volumes making them ready for study by the next generation of Montana history scholars.

The Research Center works continually to balance our joint missions of conservation and preservation of collections with public access to the materials that tell Montana’s history.  Through the conservation of the 1810 edition of Patrick Gass’ journal and the 1814 Biddle edition of Lewis and Clark’s journals, we are continuing our work to ensure Montana’s history is available for research far into the future.

[i] Private Joseph Whitehouse also kept a journal and Sergeant Charles Floyd kept a journal until his untimely death August 20, 1803.
[ii] Meriwether Lewis published a notice in the National Intelligencer (Washington D.C.) on March 18, 1807 warning the public not to purchase any publication about the Expedition not authored by himself.
[iii] The complete title is History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, to the Sources of the Missouri, Thence across the Rocky Mountains and down the River Columbia to the Pacific Ocean.
[iv] Aarstad, Rich and Jennie Stapp. “Travel and Exploration Narratives in the Montana Historical Society Collection.”  Montana the Magazine of Western History (Vol. 55 No. 3), p63-65.