September 13, 2018

A Family Tradition of Writing

by Karly Watts, Summer Archives Intern

There is a tradition in every family: a holiday meal, a pearl necklace on a 16th birthday.
 In this family collection, that tradition was writing.

A love letter Alexander wrote to his wife, Mildred, five years after their marriage.
Some of it was natural; letters between family during wartime deployment was the norm. 
Others were carefully cultivated and encouraged by surroundings and education: 
a childhood diary, college degrees in English and Journalism, poetry, 
glee clubs, literary magazines, and family histories.

Soldier's letter from home, 1898
The Swaney Family Papers are filled with the works of three generations of Montanans, 
stretching from the pioneer and homesteading days of the 1880s to the very recent 2015. 
From Andrew’s letters home while stationed in Manila, Philippines 
during the Spanish-American War; to Alexander's letters home 
from the consulate in Chefoo, China; to the letters written 
in sympathy of Alexandra’s wife’s passing.

Flyer for Mildred Swaney née Buckneberg’s Glee Club
The Swaney Family Papers, more than letters, 
is a collection of the ups and downs of life: 
war, growing up, marriage, death, travel, and love.

Within this collection you will find letters
 –  between friends, lovers, mothers, daughters, fathers, and sons – 
poetry, diaries, Blackfoot oral histories, published articles, and many manuscripts. 
There are also newspaper clippings of their exploits, land deeds, certificates, 
membership ephemera, and military miscellany. 

The Swaney Family Papers detail pioneer life, worries, 
turn of the century commitment to Country, 
the adaptability to changing culture and technology, 
and a great fondness for Montana life and culture.

                                     ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the friends, family - and friends that may as well be family - to the late Alexandra Swaney. As I have poured over the richness of the lives of Andrew, Alexander, and Alexandra, I have come to realize how special they were, and how special a place their beloved home, Montana, was and continues to be. As I poured over their personal papers, I grew rather attached to the people that have long left this world before I even entered it. More than once I laughed as I read Alexander’s sharp opinions on modern media and cried over his letters to a young Alexandra after the passing of her mother. Never before have I had such fear of the unknown as I read the letters and musings of Alexander in his twilight years, when he felt himself slipping away.

But, they are gone now, and it is thanks to you, dear friends, that some small piece of them remains so that the rest of us can get to know, even a little, the bright, gentle souls that have gone on before us.

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