March 15, 2018

Oh, The Places You'll Go: A Research Request Journey

by Barbara Pepper-Rotness, Library Technician

The Montana Historical Society’s Research Center receives an average of twenty paid requests* per month for information on various subjects. No matter the topic, each request provides us with a question we must answer and forces us to look more in-depth at materials we may not have previously. Once the search begins, we embark on a journey that hopefully leads to an answer; or, at minimum, provides the patron with one or two pieces of the puzzle he/she is trying to solve. Whatever the question, we are always fascinated by what we learn.

A request for information about a building in Helena arrived recently. The patron was interested in knowing when this structure was first built and who resided there, both of which are typically easy to ascertain.

After verifying that the building is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, we can use the Helena Polk City Directories to determine who currently resides at the address. We can also see who lived there when it was first built by searching under the street address (only in the Polk’s from 1929 to the present).

1954 Polk City Directory

When was it built, though? We used the current resident’s name found in the Polk City Directory to search for the property in the online Montana Cadastral database. Nothing came up, though.  Since this database is for valuation of property owned, the most likely explanation is that the person who resides or does business there is not the owner. If you don’t have a name to search, you can zoom in on the associated map. Once you select the correct plat, the corresponding data will display. The cadastral data indicates that this cabin was built in 1953 and we can verify that against the Polk Directory to see if the address is listed before 1953. It wasn’t. In addition, we can check our Helena Sanborn maps for surveys of that area. In the collection of 1930-revised-to-1953 maps, there was nothing surveyed above the 1500 block of 11th Avenue.

Because our patron also wanted information about the people who resided at that location, we must go back to the Polk City Directories and determine who lived there when. We tracked that ownership from the first resident to the present, noting each year the ownership changed.

From the Spokesman Review, November 11, 1951, p.2
The gem of this search, however, was learning about the first owner, Jean Barnes Allen, who resided and did business at 1807 11th Avenue. We were pleasantly surprised to find a vertical file for her and it held surprises of its own. Jean sold, from her home business, antler and horn carvings that she fashioned into buttons, belts, and jewelry.

From the Great Falls Tribune, November  18, 1962, p.2

The highlight of Jean’s life, though, was when she rode an eleven-year-old Morgan horse called Black Beauty 1500 miles from Deer Lodge, Montana to Chicago, by herself, for the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933, a trip that took sixty-eight days. Although on her own for the ride itself, and with only $10.00 in her pocket, she was greeted by fans and was welcomed into homes along the way. Of her experience in Chicago, she commented, “I had been told to watch out for gangsters in Chicago, but the only person I saw who looked like a gangster turned out to be an evangelist.”

From the Great Falls Tribune, November 18, 1962, p.2

We never know what we will learn, and will want to continue learning about, in our quest to help our patrons!

*Mention this code [MTHISTResearch] on a paid research request by April 1. 2018 to be entered in a drawing for a free research request in the future.

Mac, ‘Tana. “Helena Woman recalls 1,500-Mile Ride on Horse.” Great Falls Tribune, November 18, 1962.
Friesen, Phyllis L. “When Extra Money Needed…Hobby Became Career.” Great Falls Tribune, March 29, 1970.
Helton, Dorothy. “Montana Headline Girl Runs Side-of-the-road Shop” Spokesman Review, November 11, 1951.

March 2, 2018

Montana Madness: The Other Big Tournament This March

This March, sixteen objects from the Montana Historical Society’s vast collections are competing in “Montana Madness” for the title of Montana’s Most Awesome Object.

The competition, modeled on the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament, will pit object against object from the Montana Historical Society’s museum, archives, and library collections.
Throughout the month, objects will face-off in online polls that will be promoted on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #MontanaMadness. But the game isn’t limited to Facebook and Twitter. Anyone can download a Sweet Sixteen bracket from the Montana Historical Society website home page, where they can also vote on the objects they think should advance in the tournament.

Those voting through the website can enter a sweepstakes to win a one-year family membership to the Montana Historical Society, a signed copy of Montana's Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society, by Jennifer Bottomly-O'looney and Kirby Lambert, or a 7 ½” x 9 ½” print of Night Storm, by Blackfeet artist Gale Running Wolf, Sr.

According to MHS Historical Specialist Martha Kohl, “The Montana Madness competition is our way of having a little fun while looking to expand the audience for Montana history.”
History enthusiasts chose the Sweet Sixteen competitors from 65 objects displayed in the Society’s new online exhibit, “Appropriate, Curious, & Rare: Montana History Object by Object.”

Let's meet the Sweet 16 objects and view the matchups. For the story behind the object, follow the links in blue below.

Group A - Voting March 5-March 11

The Smith Mine Disaster Board, 1943 (#1 Seed) squares off against the "Square & Compass" Branding Iron, 1899 (#16 Seed), both from Montanans at Work.

Lewis and Clark Bridge Near Wolf Point, 1930 (#5 Seed) from Montanans in Motion plays the game with the Faro Board and Casekeep, ca. 1920 (#12 Seed) from Montanans at Play.

White Swan's Painted Robe, ca. 1880 (#4 Seed) from Montanans in Conflict faces off against Fort Benton Weather Vane, ca. 1854 (#13 Seed) from Coming to Montana.

Elk Tooth Dress, before 1860 (#7 Seed) from Montana Before Montana versus A’aninin (Gros Ventre) Tipi Liner, 1875-1900 (#10 Seed) from Montanans at Home: in a style battle between fashion and home decor, which one is better?

Group B - Voting March 12-March 18

Montana State Federation of Labor Certificate of Affiliation, 1908 (#2 Seed) tries to organize its way out of the challenge thrown down by Cree Gauntlet Gloves, 1910 (#15 Seed), both from Becoming Montanans.

Shoe Worn by Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, ca. 1914 (#6 Seed) from Montana and the Nation has a crushing competition with Petroglyph, 350-2,000 before present (#11 Seed) from Montana Before Montana.

When the Land Belonged to God by Charles M. Russell, 1914 (#3 Seed) from Montana State of Mind battles Fisherman's Map of Montana by Jolly Lindgren, 1940 (#14 Seed) from Montanans at Play.

Letter Written at Three Forks, Montana, 1810 (#9 Seed) from Coming to Montana tries to (paper)cut the Beaded Cradleboard, ca. 1900 (#8 Seed) from Montanans in Motion out of the competition.

Don't miss your chance to participate.  Download your bracket today!