February 8, 2018

Racial Legislation in Montana that Particularly Affected African Americans

by Kate Hampton, Community Preservation Coordinator

Montana has a long history of racial injustice.  For example, school segregation, bans on interracial marriage, infringements to civil liberties, and inequitable participation in the legal system were all codified in Montana law for significant periods of time.  As part of the Identifying Montana’s African American Heritage Resources project, the Montana Historical Society worked to identify and digitize copies of the laws enacted by Montana Territory and the State of Montana that discriminated against, as well as those designed to protect, the black community.  Based on Glenda Rose Spearman Eruteya’s “Racial Legislation in Montana:  1864 – 1955,” we compiled a list of Montana state legislation passed between 1864 and 2003 that had a particular impact on African Americans.  This annotated list, with links to legislative documents, can be found here. [1]

After Congress declared Montana a territory in 1864, the First Territorial Legislature convened in Bannack to establish its legal framework.  The Legislators used Idaho’s Territorial laws as a template for creating those for Montana, and in doing so, adopted discriminatory practices, including limiting suffrage to white men.  Statutes also restricted a person’s ability, based on race, to serve as a witness in legal proceedings, and allowed only voters (white males) to serve as jurors.  Idaho Territory banned marriages between races, but several Montana Legislators had Indian wives, and that measure failed to pass.[2]

In 1872, the Montana Territorial Legislature came into compliance with the 15th Amendment by expanding suffrage to black men.  It also lifted the witness restriction.  Limitations on jury service, however, remained in place in Montana until outlawed at the national level by the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and Strauder v. West Virginia (1880). [3]  Also in 1872, a new law required segregated schools, stating that
the education of children of African descent shall be provided for in separate schools.  Upon the written application of the parents or guardians of at least ten such children to any board of trustees, a separate school shall be established for the education of such children, and the education of a less number may be provided for by the trustees, in separate schools, in any other manner…. [4]
The law proved unpopular, mainly because of the extra cost incurred by school districts to maintain separate facilities, and was repealed in 1883. [5]

“William M Holland,” The Montana Plaindealer, July 30, 1909,p. 4
In May1908, William Holland, a Helena pianist and vocalist, wore his Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World (IBPOEW) insignia pin in public, in violation of a 1907 Montana law banning such public displays.  He was arrested and fined $100.00.  Holland appealed his case, and the Montana Supreme Court ruled in his favor, declaring the law a violation of the 14th Amendment.  

As post-Reconstruction discriminatory laws and practices flourished across the country in the late 19th and early 20th century, some Montana citizens engaged in racist, sometimes violent practices.  Voter intimidation, tar-and-feathering, and hangings were reported in local newspapers.  The rise of the Ku Klux Klan and other anti-black organizations, as well as the implementation of local and statewide laws furthered inequity between the races.  For example, a briefly-enforced 1907 state law prohibited African American members of the Improved and Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World from wearing the fraternal order’s insignia. [6] The Anti-Miscegenation Act of 1909 made it illegal for whites to marry people of Chinese, Japanese, and/or African descent, and penalized those who performed such marriages.  The Montana Supreme Court upheld the law in 1942.  The legislature finally repealed it in 1953. [7]

While Montana law did not codify discrimination in regard to accommodations, it’s practice was not banned until 1955.  In 1951, the Legislature considered a bill “to guarantee full and equal enjoyment of all places of public accommodation.” [8]  It did not pass.  Four years later, an anti-discrimination in accommodations law (very similar to 1951’s) did pass, though virtually all of the original language and penalties for non-compliance were stripped from the final version. [9] While the law ordered that owners of public places of accommodation or amusement could not discriminate on the grounds of race or religion, enforcement was not uniform.  Several Montana hostelries advertised in The Green Book to indicate that African American travelers were welcome at their establishments.

When Montana’s first equal accommodations bill was introduced in 1951, it included a provision that allowed for violators to be fined up to $500 or jailed for up to 30 days.  That bill failed to become law.  In 1955, House Bill 52 called for equal accommodations, but decreased the proposed maximum penalty to a $50 fine.  The version of the law that passed that year contained no penalty provisions.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act not only provided for the end of segregation in public places, but also outlawed racism in employment, and Montana’s 1972 Constitution established anti-discrimination rights for all in Montana.  Montana lawmakers reaffirmed their commitment against prejudicial practices and codified the state constitution’s directives with the Human Rights Act of 1974, which addressed discrimination in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, and banking. [10] Through the last third of the 20th century, more state legislation passed aimed at protecting the rights of people regardless of race.  In 1989, Montana outlawed malicious intimidation and harassment based on race and allowed for sentencing enhancement for hate crimes. The state also prohibited taking race into consideration when sentencing, and in 2003, enacted a ban on racial profiling. [11]

Montana law has evolved and changed since the first Territorial Legislature convened in December 1864.  Racial legislation affected not only the African American community, but also American Indians, Chinese, and Japanese residents.  While discrimination based on race is no longer legal, prejudice and injustice often remain in practice across Montana and the nation.


[1] Glenda Rose Spearman Eruteya, “Racial Legislation in Montana:  1864 – 1955,” Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, Paper 8625. Political Science Department, University of Montana, Missoula, 1981.  Available online: http://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=9660&context=etd.

[2] Suffrage:  1864 Idaho Territorial Laws (Idaho T.L.) 560; 1864 Montana Territorial Laws (T. Laws) 375; Reaffirmed 1867 T. Laws 96.

[3] Voting rights extended to all male citizens: 1871-2 T. Laws 460; racial restrictions for witnesses no longer law: 1871-2 T. Laws 125; limits on jury service retained:  1871-2 T. Laws 506 (Section 8). U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1875, 18 Stat 335-337, 43rd Congress, Session II, Chapter 114Strauder v. West Virginia 100 U.S. 303 (1880).  

[4] 1871-2 T. Laws 627-628 (§ 34).

[5] 1883 T. Laws 56-57.  While repealed in 1883, school segregation was retained in recodification of Territorial Statutes 1887 Revised Statutes 1185(§1892 of the School Law); and repealed finally in 1895 (Senate Bill 39):  1895 S.J. 290; 1895 H.J. 386, 1895 MT Codes 163 (§ 1920; Part III, Title III, Chapter VI, Article XIV).

[6] 1907 Laws 24; The Montana Plaindealer, May 15, 1908, p. 1; State v. Holland, 37 Mont. 393 [aka 96 Pacific Reporter 719 (1908)]. For more information on the national movement to bar African American fraternal organizations’ activities, see Ariane Liazos and Marshall Ganz, “Duty to the Race: African American Fraternal Orders and the Legal Defense of the Right to Organize,” Social Science History, Volume 28, Number 3, Fall 2004, pp. 485-534.  Available online:  http://leadingchangenetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Duty-to-the-RaceAfrican-American-Fraternal-Orders-and-the-Legal.pdf

[7] 1909 Senate Bill (S.B.) 34.  “1909 Senate Bill 34,” MT Governors’ Records, MC 35, Bills Received by Governor, Box 4, Folders 8-9; 1953 H.B. 8; In re Shun Takahashi’s Estate, 113 Mont. 490 [aka 129 Pac 2d 217 (1942)]; “House Bill 8,” MT Legislative Assembly Records, 33rd:  1953, LR 33 Box 1, Folder 14, Box 2.

[8] 1951 H.B. 391. “House Bill 391,” MT Legislative Assembly Records (32nd:  1951), LR 32, Box 1, Folder 8 (HB 391)

[9] 1955 House Bill 52; Statute: 1955 Session Laws 525 and 526 (Chapter 240).

[10] Civil Rights Act of 1964, Public Law 88-352, 78 Stat. 241; Constitution of Montana, Article II, Declaration of Rights, Section 4; Montana Human Rights Act (Title 49, Chapter 2 of Montana Codes Annotated).

[11] Hate crimes:  intimidation/harassment – MCA 45-5-221, sentence enhancement -  MCA 45-5-222; Criminal sentencing - MCA 46-18-101.  In 2003, the State of Montana outlawed racial profiling:  MCA 44-2-117.

February 1, 2018

Hooverizing to Victory OR Food: A Weapon of War

by April Sparks, Government Records Archivist

By 1917 after three years of war, Europe faced severe food shortages with some populations on verge of starvation. Throughout the continent, farms had either been left vacant or become battlefields as farm workers either joined armies or fled from them. In addition, the war caused disruptions in the transportation and distribution of imported food. The United States government, on entering the war, saw an opportunity to use their status as the largest producer of food as a weapon. To manage the United States’ food supply, its conservation, and distribution, President Woodrow Wilson created the United States Food Administration and named Herbert Hoover its head.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, WWI Posters
LC-USZC4-9739

As administrator, Hoover chose not to implement any mandatory food conservation measures, instead he relied on the volunteerism of the American people. Hoover believed that the American people would gladly join in the effort to conserve food on the home front so that the American soldiers and their allies overseas would have enough food to win the war. Conservation efforts focused on wheat, meat, fat, and sugar, as all were considered vital for the success of the Allied forces. The program developed a pledge card to muster support and pledge drives were held across the country in the fall of 1917.

The food conservation effort was quickly nicknamed “Hooverizing”, and women led the charge. Newspapers often had weekly menus filled with recipes that followed the guidelines. Local women’s organizations and church groups produced cookbooks centered around the patriotic act of food conservation. Many of the recipes included leftover meats, foods not normally consumed prior to the war, and reduced, omitted, or substituted wheat, sugar, and fats. Not many of these cookbooks have survived through the years, but the MHS Research Center has three cookbooks from this era in its collection.

“War-Winning” Recipes, Young Ladies Sodality St. Francis Xavier’s Church, 1918
MHS Research Center Collection: CKB 641.5 ST109W 1918

The Red Cross Cook Book from the Hot Springs Red Cross Society, one of the three cookbooks held by MHS, has a dedication, which reads in part:

"…, TO OUR BOYS ON LAND AND SEA.
Save the waste, control the taste;
Eat corn bread and ryye,
Meatless days, wheatless days,
Eat less cream and pie.
For our Allies’ sake, cut out the cake,
Save food, and win – or die;
Keep fighters fit, this is our bit,
And that is the reason why –
the ladies of Hot Springs Montana, Red Cross have gathered these recipes and had them bound, so that we can all do our bit toward doing our best; we can help win this war by eating. For we must eat to win, but so must Our Boys and Our Allies.” 

The Daily Missoulian, July 15, 1917 page 3.

Emphasis was put on home food production to leave most commercial crops available for the war effort. Children were encouraged to pitch in by planting and tending to vegetable gardens. These gardens provided food for the child’s family, but also perhaps for a neighbor as well. Women were urged to think beyond fresh food and utilize both canning and drying to extend the use of their garden products. Food really was one of the ultimate weapons in the fight to win World War I, which is perhaps why this focus on food would be seen again during World War II in food conservation pledges and the planting of victory gardens.

For more, join us on Facebook every Sunday in 2018 where we will be exploring different aspects of WWI Hooverizing.

January 25, 2018

Knute W. Bergan and The Piegan Medicine Lodge

by Kelly Burton, Film Archivist

Opening credits of The Piegan Medicine Lodge (PAc 2018-06)

On May 9, 1968, Montana Historical Society Director Sam Gilluly (1967-1974) conducted a short oral history interview he simply labeled, “FROM TAPE BY RUSS STEEN ON BLACKFEET DANCE.” The five-page transcript (OH 37) details the filmed documentation of a Piegan ceremony held in Heart Butte, Montana during the summer of 1956, the title of which was never stated. Interviewee Russ Steen was the Director of Audio-Visual Education at the Montana’s Department of Public Instruction in the mid-1950s, and he served as both a technician and a consultant on the unnamed documentary. Fish and Game Department photographer Kenneth Thompson acted as the cameraman in Heart Butte, and Alfred Humphreys, Supervisor of Music for the Department of Public Instruction, provided the narration and soundtrack for the film. Knute W. Bergan, another consultant on the film, was the Director of Indian Education at the Department of Public Instruction, and it was his relationship with the various tribes in Montana which ultimately allowed the crew to document what would have been a ceremony closed to photographers.

Chief Iron Pipe recounts the legend of Scarface (PAc 2018-06)

Comparing the details of Steen’s reminiscences with various Piegan-related materials in the Historical Society’s moving image collections, it becomes clear that film under discussion is a documentary entitled The Piegan Medicine Lodge. The 23-minute film begins with Chief Iron Pipe explaining a Piegan ceremony through gestures and in the Blackfoot language, which is then overdubbed by Humphreys in English. According to the legend, “Scarface, a young brave, traveled to the home of the great Sun God to get permission to marry a beautiful maiden. The Sun God gave his permission for the marriage, removed the ugly scar from the young brave’s face, and revealed to him the medicine lodge ceremony which Scarface brought back to his people.” The narrator then explains the occasion for performing the ritual in 1956: “The medicine lodge ceremony portrayed in this picture was promised by Maggie Swims Under to the Great Spirit, the Sun, when she prayed for the recovery of her grandson, Joseph, who was ill at the time with polio. Joseph recovered, and true to her promise, Maggie Swims Under held this medicine lodge, thanking the Great Spirit of the Sun for sparing her grandchild.” As the narrator describes various aspects of the proceedings, images of Maggie Swims Under performing ceremonials in the medicine woman’s sacred tipi are intercut with the construction of the medicine lodge by male members of the tribe. The ceremonial four-day fast by Maggie Swims Under is broken by the eating of thinly-sliced, boiled bison tongue, and the following day is then given over to feasting and entertainment. Events documented in the film include a parade celebrating tribe members in the armed forces, the performance of traditional songs and dances, and the playing of the Stick Game by a gathered group.

Cutting the center pole for the medicine lodge (PAc 2018-06)

The interview with Russ Steen provides the historian with several anecdotes not included in the narration of the film. Specific time frames and working conditions are initially discussed by the interviewee: “This took place just after the Fourth of July. During the period that followed there we had rain, and many conditions came up that extended this period of taking this over seventeen days. We lived there, in Heart Butte School, but visited back and forth with the Indians.” Steen then speaks of the ceremony itself, particularly the hardships undertaken by the medicine woman, Maggie Swims Under: “She was supposed to remain in there for four days with her sister, but after she was in there three days she found out there was going to be a funeral for an old friend, and so she broke fast and went to town and needed to come back and start this fast over. She just drank a little bit of water and had a little amount, a very little amount, of food, and it was quite an endurance test as far as I could see.” Some of the more illuminating aspects of the conversation pertain to Bergan’s relationship with the tribe, and the permissions this friendship affords his project. Steen describes another visitor who was denied the right to film the ceremony, despite the offer of money: “That day there was $500 that he had offered to take pictures of Mrs. Swims Under and it was refused, and yet here we were his friends and were able to do this. And this was a great tribute to Mr. Bergan, I think, because he did have deep friendship with the Indians.”

Maggie Swims Under breaks the four-day fast (PAc 2018-06)

The Montana Historical Society digitized Bergan’s 16mm print of The Piegan Medicine Lodge in 2017, in cooperation with the Siksika Board of Education. This film is now available for viewing in our Research Center, and can also be seen here on the Historical Society’s YouTube channel.

January 19, 2018

Bradley Fellow Hard at Work

by Jill Falcon Mackin, 2017 Bradley Fellow


Jill Mackin at the
Montana Historical Society Research Center
Photo by Tom Ferris
The opportunity to spend an extended and supported time in the Montana Historical Society archives as a James H. Bradley Fellow, has built a solid foundation for my doctoral research. Under the working title, “Miinigoowiziwin (That Which is Given to US): Changing Anishinaabe Food Systems, 1780-1920,” my dissertation research focuses on the Old North Trail Corridor and human relationships to this bioregion. Given the infrequency in which native foods were discussed in historical source documents, my research in the MHS archives threw a broad net at the sources for this period including fur trade journals, military post journals, oral histories and reminiscences, newspapers, maps, and State Historic Preservation Office site reports.

Working in this diversified group of records has nuanced my understanding of how, within the context of colonization, the lifeways and foodways of my own ancestors--Ojibwe, Cree, and Métis people--changed. My overarching observation from my research at MHS is the emergence of two highly interwoven economies during this timeframe—the gift or subsistence economy and the capitalist economy. Both are concerned with resources. In Anishinaabe culture, food is not merely subsistence but gift. The pull of food resources drew native people out of the Red River to the West, while they themselves were drawn deeper into the evolving capitalist economy of the fur trade and westward nation building. The capitalist economy expands to the West in search of furs, gold, and land.

A few specific examples from the records illustrate my emerging conclusions on the interface of these two economies. The Journal of Larocque from the Assiniboine to the Yellowstone, 1805, shows the dependency the traders had on indigenous geographic knowledge, as well as how native communities functioned as weigh stations for traders where they procured food and clothing. The journals of Fort Benton, Fort Belknap, and Fort Shaw shed light on evolving trade relationships between Indians and settler colonists, in which native peoples delivered furs and robes in exchange for food. The U.S. Interior Department: Montana Superintendency of Indian Affairs Records, (1861-1871) report government initiatives to deliver food annuities and press native people into Euro-American style farming.

While, there is a clear shift in agency and dependency for both settler-colonists and native peoples, there is also a growing ambiguity in the identity of some fur traders of mixed native-Euro-American descent. These individuals are identified with native bands and living an indigenous lifestyle, but are also caught up in congealing racial boundaries. Racial identity, socio-economic roles, and settlement patterns, impacted the evolution of Anishinaabe food systems as the people moved from the Red River Valley to the Rocky Mountains. Reminiscences, such as that of Ben Kline and Eli Guardipee, and oral histories, such as those of the Métis Cultural Recovery Trust, are especially valuable for the light they shed on the persistence or “survivance” of Anishinaabe foodways into the early 20th century.

Additionally, during my research time I have gathered essential information on settlement sites of Ojibwe-Cree-Métis along the Old North Trail Corridor; significant place names longer in use; the relative abundance and scarcity of game; the influence of the Whoop-up Trail and whiskey trade on well-being and access to food; locations of bison herds and native camps throughout the Corridor; a view of the rapid rise of the cattle industry; and, the infrastructure issues involved in the delivery of food annuities to native peoples on the Missouri by steamboat.  These insights are part of the patchwork quilt of changing indigenous foodways through the 19th century and, thus lend a foundation going forth with my dissertation research. My research follows with these questions: How do these two economies affect the food systems? How do the competing food systems and economies interact in native life?

I am deeply grateful for my time spent at MHS, for the hospitality, collegiality, and resourcefulness of the staff. Thank you for this great opportunity to study history together.

If you are a graduate student, faculty, or independent scholar looking to do research in the collections of the Montana Historical, please consider applying for a James H. Bradley Fellowship.  The deadline is March 1.