September 12, 2019

Olga Ross Hannon, artist

by Kirby Lambert, Outreach and Interpretation Manager

Olga Ross Hannon

Olga Ross Hannon was born in Moline, Illinois, and educated at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, the Art Student’s League in New York City, and The School of Fine and Applied Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  An extensive traveler, Hannon also studied widely in Europe where she focused her study on traditional arts and crafts.

Life In The Open – Crow Fair
Olga Ross Hannon
Watercolor, 1941
Montana Historical Society Collection, 1977.39.236
Gift of Jack and Isabel Haynes
Hannon worked as a teacher and administrator at various institutions before moving to Montana in 1921 to head the art department at Montana State College (MSC) in Bozeman.  In her capacity as department chair, a position she held until her death, Hannon worked tirelessly to strengthen the school’s art program, especially in the field of painting.  In addition to hands on instruction in the classroom, she augmented students’ development by organizing a chapter of Delta Phi Delta, an art honorary fraternity, on the MSC campus, and serving as the national president of that organization for eight years. She was sponsor of the college art club and the Spurs, a sophomore women’s service organization.

Hannon’s contributions to the development of the arts in Montana were not limited to her work on campus.  She organized the Bozeman Chapter of the American Federation of the Arts and maintained a membership in the Western Association of Museum Directors.  She held various offices in the Montana Education Association, chaired the selection committee for Montana paintings and sculptures to be exhibited at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, and served as the Montana representative for the American Artists Professional League.  In addition, she was a regular contributor to various professional and education publications.

During summers away from Bozeman, Hannon traveled and studied around the globe, or taught art courses at universities and institutes ranging from Maine to Colorado.  While traveling, she collected artworks created by the indigenous peoples of the countries she visited, and gathered Plains Indian art from Montana and the surrounding region to strengthen the college’s art collection.  In the early 1940’s she began a project to record traditional Blackfeet tipi designs that was completed by Jessie Wilber after Hannon’s death.

Throughout her career as an educator Hannon remained active as an artist.  Oils and watercolors were her favored media but she was also quite proficient at lithography, etching and wood block printing.  Subjects commonly depicted in Hannon’s paintings included Montana’s historic mining camps and other early settlements as well as the arts and customs of the Big Sky’s Native American residents.  


August 22, 2019

First Gold in Montana

Ellen Vogelsang, MHS Volunteer

Most Montanans are familiar with the Grasshopper Creek Gold Discovery in 1862, which began the gold rush to Bannack and the Montana Territory. However, Granville Stuart “found” gold four years earlier, near what is now Gold Creek. Stuart had been delayed by illness at Malad Creek (Utah) in 1857, on his journey from the gold rush of California back to the 'States'. He heard, from other mountaineers, of gold found on a branch of the Hell Gate River (present-day Clark Fork River) and detoured to the north. He found gold, but lacked sufficient tools to excavate and did not return until 1862.
Granville Stuart, 1883 [MHS Photo Archives 981-260]
Earlier in Utah, Granville Stuart had learned of Metis trapper named Francois Finlay, known as “Benetsee”, who had found light float gold on what he called Benetsee Creek (now named Gold Creek) in 1852. This prompted the detour north by Stuart and associates. Benetsee traded the gold to Angus MacDonald at Fort Connah, which ultimately led to MacDonald finding gold in British Columbia. Both Benetsee and MacDonald were employed by the Hudson Bay Company and were told to keep the gold discovery quiet to protect HBC’s interests. The company had seen what the California gold rush had done to their trapping grounds and business.   

Stuart returned to Gold Creek in the spring of 1862 with the proper equipment to viably mine gold. The Pike’s Peakers got wind of gold in Montana, which led to John White coming north from Colorado and finding gold in Grasshopper Creek on July 28, 1862.
View of Bannack in 1891 with Grasshopper Creek in the background
[MHS Photo Archives 940-699]
Benetsee can be credited with finding the first recorded gold in Montana, 10 years prior to the Grasshopper Creek/Bannack discovery.  Granville Stuart had the means to make his discovery profitable several months before John White. 

Angus MacDonald (1816-1889) - MHS Archives Papers/SC 47: Box 3/Folder 3
Granville Stuart “Forty Years on the Frontier”
Wikipedia: Gold Creek, Hell Gate

August 2, 2019

Montana and the Nineteenth Amendment

by Martha Kohl, MHS Outreach and Interpretation Historian

When Governor Samuel Stuart summoned legislators back to Helena on July 29, 1919, for an extraordinary legislative session, providing aid to Montana’s drought stricken farmers was his primary concern. Ratifying the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution—the women’s suffrage amendment—was almost an afterthought.
Hazel Hunkins, Billings Suffragist, as a young student [from]
Montana women had won the right to vote in 1914 and Montana had elected Jeannette Rankinthe first woman U.S. Representative—to Congress in 1916.  As Governor Stuart explained in his call for a special session, “Montana already has woman suffrage; her women vote upon every important issue presented to our people.” The amendment’s ratification would not change Montana women’s lives or rights at all; “nevertheless our women feel that the women of other states should have their aid and support in this important matter.”

Both parties supported the ratification, which passed the very first day of the special session. Governor Stuart certified the ratification on August 2, 1919, making Montana the thirteenth state to ratify (tying with Nebraska). The biggest controversy was over which party would get the credit. The Republican majority insisted that  Emma Ingalls, Republican representative from the Flathead, introduce HJR #1, much to the dismay of Representative Maggie Smith Hathaway, a longtime suffrage advocate and Democrat from Ravalli County.

Emma Ingalls [from]
The vote, though inevitable, came about only after years of struggle, within Montana and nationally. Jeannette Rankin is, of course, the most famous Montanan involved in the fight for women’s suffrage, but my favorite suffrage activist is Hazel Hunkins from Billings, who moved to Washington, D.C. at age twenty-six to work as the National Woman’s Party’s organizing secretary. She also engaged in direct action, spending many hours on the picket line in front of the White House as a “Silent Sentinel,” and was arrested three times. Her intimate letters home to her mother reveal that she hated picketing, persevering only because she believed it was “a wonderful piece of publicity. …. It would be like base desertion to quit at a time when they need me worse than they ever have before. But oh how I hate it.”
Women Voters Day on the Picket Line, February 14, 1917
The lead woman carrying the American flag and wearing a sash that reads “Voter” is Hazel Hunkins.
Hunkins’ letters and telegrams—preserved at the Schlessinger Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts—bring the suffrage story to life. Reading them, I can imagine her mother, worried in Billings—especially after receiving a telegram declaring, “TWENTY SIX OF AMERICAS FINEST WOMEN ARE ACCOMPANYING ME TO JAIL ITS SPLENDID DONT WORRY.”

In 2014, as part of the Montana suffrage centennial, the Montana Historical Society Outreach and Education Program worked with Billings school librarian Ruth Ferris to publish Hazel Hunkins, Billings Suffragist. The primary source investigation makes the fight over the Nineteenth Amendment real and personal, reminding students that the unfolding of history is not preordained and that women gained the right to vote only after seventy-two years of struggle. Hazel Hunkins’ letters are also just fun reading. Feel free to download the curriculum from the MHS website as you remember August 2, 1919, when Montana formally ratified the Nineteenth Amendment.

July 18, 2019

Flashback Montana 1969

Christine Brown
Historical Specialist

The world watched in awe in July 1969 as scientists and astronauts successfully launched the Apollo 11 spacecraft, explored the moon’s surface, and safely returned to Earth. The momentous occasion was ever-present in the media and for good reason. Nine years and billions of dollars brought unprecedented advances in engineering and technology, spawned whole new industries, and gave the world technological innovations we still benefit from (and can barely live without) today.

The Eagle has landed.  Apollo 11, July 22, 1969.  U.S. National Archives

While the nation focused on the space race, in Montana advances in aerospace engineering and space exploration took a back seat and local matters dominated the state’s newspaper headlines.

Governor Forrest Anderson took office in January 1969. Back then legislators had just sixty days to decide on a lengthy docket of proposed legislation. The state desperately needed money for infrastructure and programming, and the legislature passed a 15 to 18 percent increase in the individual income tax, along with increases in property tax, corporate income taxes and fees, gas and cigarette taxes, and a doubled beer tax.

Other historic legislation lowered the voting age to nineteen, created a Constitutional Revision Commission, funded the state’s five vocational-technical colleges, and condensed 100-plus agencies into 29 departments. Legislators failed to fund public kindergarten and a prison pre-release program, and voted down the minimum wage and collective bargaining for state employees.

The year 1969 saw low unemployment in Montana, but an increasing demand for federal welfare funds as county governments tried to help the working poor and correct social and economic inequalities. Federal funds transformed Montana’s physical landscape too, as Montana cities applied for urban renewal grants to clear deteriorated buildings in their historic commercial downtowns. At the same time, developers built new shopping centers at the outskirts of town.

Teens, college students, and drugs were of rising concern. Both Helena and Missoula reported multiple teen arrests and sentencing for marijuana crimes. The University of Montana addressed the issue by inviting noted professor and LSD user Timothy Leary to the campus for a debate on drug use.

The war in Vietnam also preoccupied Montana campuses. Thirty-four students and instructors at the University of Montana turned in their draft registration cards in April, refusing to serve in the war. On October 15, thousands of Montana students participated in a national day of protest against the war. By the end of 1969, Montana had lost 204 men to the conflict in Vietnam.
Peace march in Helena
Montana’s Jeanette Rankin, at age 89, participated in the October 15 Moratorium Day activities from her adopted home in Georgia and continued to campaign for women’s rights. Almost exactly fifty years after women won the vote, 30 percent of Montana women were full-time workers. While a few more women each year rose to prominent posts, female pay in 1969 was about 40 percent less than a male’s pay for doing the same work.

In many ways Montana in 1969 was in a parallel race alongside the U.S. and Russia. Instead of rocketing to the moon, Montana was racing to keep pace with neighboring states in the never-ending quest to fund, maintain, and modernize. Just prior to July 20, U.S. President Richard Nixon declared the impending moon landing a national holiday, a day to watch and reflect on the U.S.’s scientific achievements. While many Montanans stayed home, watched television, and toasted the moon landing with glasses of champagne, Montana state offices remained open and Governor Anderson was at work. He declined NASA’s invitation to watch the moon landing from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and instead traveled to Sun River with fish and game officials to survey problem elk range areas and help set antelope quotas.
The Independent Record (Helena, Montana) 22 July 1969

July 9, 2019

"The Whole Country was...One Robe"

by Barbara Pepper Rotness, MHS Research Center

We just received the book back from the conservator, nicely bound and protected from further wear and tear, it had been so well-used and perused. “The Whole Country was…’One Robe’”, the definitive history of the Little Shell tribe of Métis in Montana. And, the life work of Nicholas Vrooman, folklorist, historian and defender of Métis rights. With this one book, Nicholas made their complex history accessible to the rest of us. And, he continued making it accessible through presentations and interviews. And, through his genuine passion for and love of a culture not his own.

We were honored to hear Dr. Vrooman share a bit of his vast knowledge during a panel discussion this past April. Not nearly enough time to even scratch the surface, attendees stayed an hour after the discussion to talk with the panelists. Between the extensive experience and knowledge of both Nicholas and his partner on the panel, Al Wiseman, a Métis and Montana Heritage Keeper, the audience was mesmerized from beginning to long after the end.

[Image from the Humanities Montana website]
You can watch the video of the panel discussion here, and, you’ll see for yourself the passion and intelligence of a man who is no longer here to share his knowledge with us. Nicholas Vrooman died June 26, 2019, and there is now a void in this ‘whole country’.

The ‘under one robe’ part of the book's title refers to the fur trade days when vast buffalo herds roamed the plains and resources were plentiful; when the peoples sharing a space and time could learn from one another. The Métis, or, ‘mixed blood’, are the result of that coming together from two very different worlds: that of French, Scottish, and Irish, and, that of predominantly Chippewa, Cree, and Assiniboine. In addition to the intermarriages, the exchange of ideas and resources led to cross-cultural innovations like the red river cart. An ingenious combination of Native travois and Celtic cart, red river carts had no metal parts. They could be easily built and maintained and, at the height of their use, there were thousands of them on the plains. Now, there are, at the most, one or two original carts remaining.
[Red River Camp and Carts, c.1890, MHS Photo Archives 950-581]
The most innovative and beautiful combination of the two peoples that has survived is their language, Michif. It's not a babel of a language. The melding of a rural type of French with the Cree language created a lilting, rhythmic language that has a tidy simplicity of structure – all verbs are Native, all nouns are French.

Even their music is a blend of cultures. Heavily influenced by the Celtic side of their heritage, they took Irish fiddle music and added a syncopated beat. This film explains and demonstrates what that means.

And, of course, food became an amalgamation of two cultures. Bannack bread (or, Li Galette) is a type of Irish soda bread that is quick and inexpensive to make. And, it was portable and filling, something they could take with them on the red river carts. 
[Galette recipe courtesy of Reno Charette, MSU-Billings]

Instead of the buffalo robes of their earlier days and ways, the Métis now carry sashes woven with colorful threads. Al Wiseman pointed out what most people don’t know, that even Charlie Russell incorporated one into his own wardrobe. “Russell also used his sash to store his art supplies when he was traveling horseback. “All the breeds wear them,” he said.”* Black, red, white, green all have significance. Red is the blood of their ancestors, green the grass, black symbolizes loss and death, blue the sky, and white represents the clouds.
[‘Would you know me Bill?’ Charlie Russell watercolor, 1901, MHS 1986.06.07b]
As Nicholas commented, the story of the Métis is a difficult but beautiful one.

Currently, the Little Shells' tribal status is being reviewed in the U.S. Senate as part of a decades-long effort to become federally-recognized as a unique people and culture to be honored and protected. Vrooman, who dedicated years of his life to this fight, won't see the fruits of his labor, but his work and his impact will live on. So, too, will the Métis people, whose flag, with its infinity symbol, represents lasting life and hope. Today, we raise it high!

July 1, 2019


Kelly Burton
MHS Film Archivist

One of the more frequent visitors to the Montana Historical Society’s moving image archives is Helena advertising entrepreneur and filmmaker Robert Henkel. After selling ads for the Billings Gazette for seven years, Henkel started his own company in 1959 under the name of Sage Advertising. While Henkel worked (and continues to work) from Sage’s headquarters in Helena, partner Jim Graff handled the Billings office. Sage had immediate success with the creation of promotional materials for Yellowstone National Park, a fact that is detailed in a July 5, 1987 issue of the Helena Independent Record: “The account with the private concessionaire at Yellowstone National Park has been Sage’s major success, a national ad account that ‘made’ Sage in the late 1950s and has stayed with them over the decades. In 1971, Sage noticed that Yellowstone was peopled with tourists who ‘weren’t spending any money there,’ who treated Yellowstone as a stopping-off point ‘to the rodeo and the South Dakota snake pit.’ Sage convinced the park to increase its ad budget by a third, reach visitors before they hit the park, and target their ads to a more upscale tourist. Ads began to appear in ‘Sunset’ and ‘Better Homes & Gardens’; the next year was a record-breaker.” Sage Advertising estimated that Yellowstone visitation went up 20 percent the following year, and the “average stay went from 1.7 to 2.4 days.”

from the Helena Independent Record, 5 July 1987

In addition to creating a wide range of print materials for Yellowstone National Park, Sage Advertising also made promotional films which served to highlight the various features and amenities of the park. Sage Films soon became a prolific arm of the company in its own right, with various employees – including Henkel and Graff – often handling the production, direction, writing and photography of the films themselves. The printed promotional materials for ”Yellowstone: A World Apart” describe the 1963 film as “a wondrous tour through nature’s unspoiled domain” with highlights that include “the great basins, bubbling mud pots, miniature volcanoes, geysers (starring Old Faithful), begging bears with cuddly cubs, and the many sports activities available.” Celebrated outdoor magazine ‘Field & Stream’ made note of the 1967 Sage Films production “The White Face of Yellowstone”, calling it “a pictorial winter tour into Yellowstone Park via snowmobile” that “captures the smoky eruptions of Old Faithful, focuses in on the park’s majestic wildlife, and its fantastic bubbling hot springs.” Sage also created “Four Seasons of Yellowstone” for the park in 1970, which sought to “explore the 4 delightful seasons of Yellowstone’s 2 million-acre sanctuary” and promote year-round visitation to the park.

(collection MOV 0099)
(collection MOV 0099)
In addition to Yellowstone, Sage Films worked with other customers throughout the region to create effective travelogues and promotional films. The company was very prolific through the 1970s, and some of the tiles from the Sage Advertising moving image collection (MOV 0099) include: “Montana: Land of the Big Sky” (1971); “Escape to Montana’s Glacier Park” (1972); “Montana: A Little Farther North” (1973); “Explore the Old West Trail Country” (1973); ”Red Sunday: The Story of the Battle of Little Big Horn” (1975); “Montana Grain Helps Feed a Hungry World” (1976); and “Old West Trail Country: Your Land and Mine” (1977). Customers for these films included the Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming Travel Divisions, the Montana Bicentennial Administration, the North Dakota Bicentennial Commission, the Montana State Advertising Department, Glacier Park, Inc., Montana Dakota Utilities Co., United States Travel Service, Old West Trail Foundation, Northwest Airlines, and the Montana Power Company, to name a few.

Sage Films promotional materials (MOV 0099 accession file)
Sage Films promotional materials (MOV 0099 accession file)

The 1987 article from the Helena Independent Record also discusses the political work of Sage Advertising, stating that “a large chunk of Sage’s reputation stems from its political track record – only two general election losses since 1968 – the 1982 gambling initiative and Don Allen’s unsuccessful bid to unseat U.S. Congressman Pat Williams in 1986.” Noting that “every Montana governor for two decades has used Sage,” Helena’s newspaper quotes Henkel as he describes Sage’s approach to the regional political landscape: ‘We like to win, so we try not to pick candidates we can’t work with. We can’t stop our compulsion to win. We’ve had clients who were egotistical, aggressive, hard-to-work with, nearly impossible. But even then we couldn’t stop ourselves from wanting them to win. We’re a success story because our clients are a success.” Sage often created motion picture films for their political clients, an excellent example of which are the ten “Forrest Anderson: Democrat for Governor” commercials currently housed at the Historical Society. These commercials were created for the Anderson campaign in 1968 by Sage Films, and their airing on Montana television was followed by a victory for the candidate later that year.

(MOV 0099)

(MOV 0099)

The Sage Advertising moving image collection at the Montana Historical Society consists of 73 films and videos, in addition to ephemera such as promotional materials and production documentation. Seven films from this collection are available for viewing via the MHS Moving Image Archive playlist on the Historical Society’s YouTube channel.

Sage Films production documentation (MOV 0099 accession file)

June 13, 2019

Montana and the Nation's Flag

by Kirby Lambert, Outreach and Interpretation Program Manager

While July 4th is celebrated as America’s birthday, since 1949 citizens of the United States have also celebrated June 14 as National Flag Day. The Treasure State is, of course, represented by the 41st white star on the field of blue in the upper left-hand corner of the “stars and bars” (that’s us—the second-from-the-left star on the second-from-the-bottom row). But what did Old Glory look like when it only had 41 stars? Or did it, in fact, ever have exactly 41 stars? That’s a more complicated question than you might think.

In January 1889 there were 38 states, and 38 stars on the flag.

On February 22, 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed an omnibus bill that paved the way for the entrance of Montana, Washington, and North and South Dakota into the Union.  By July 4, 1889, however, none of those territories had yet become states, so the U.S. still had a 38-star flag.

This mural depicts President Grover Cleveland (right), Secretary of State Thomas F. Bayard (left),
and Joseph K. Toole (standing), congressional delegate from Montana Territory at the signing of the
 “Omnibus Bill” on February 22, 1889,
 an enabling act which ultimately led to the creation of four new western states:
Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington.

 In November of 1889, the four territories did become states:  North and South Dakota on the 2nd; Montana on the 8th; and Washington on the 11th.  Although the states were admitted to the Union on those dates, the flag—as is always the case—would not officially be changed until the following July 4th.  Manufacturers began making 42-star flags in anticipation.  

On July 3, 1890, however, Idaho became the 43rd state. Therefore, when Montana’s star was added to Old Glory on July 4, 1890, it was officially a 43-star constellation. In reality, however, no one had had time to manufacture 43-star flags. Most of the flags actually used that day were 42-star flags.

On July 10th, 1890, Wyoming became the 44th state, so many manufacturers went straight to making 44-star flags, knowing that 43-star flags would soon be obsolete. This 44-star constellation remained official until Utah was admitted to the Union in 1896.

A relatively small number of 41-star flags were manufactured in spite of the fact
such  a configuration was never the official design of the U.S. flag.

 Obviously, the early 1890s were a confusing time for flag makers and the result was a wide variety of unofficial and inaccurate flags. Although the U.S. flag never formally had 41 stars, some 41-star flags were nevertheless manufactured. The Montana Historical Society has two in its permanent collection.

For more information refer to: The Stars and the Stripes: The American Flag as Art and as History from the Birth of the Republic to the Present, by Boleslaw and Marie-Louise D’Otrange Mastai (New York: Alfred A. Knopf), 1973 (reprinted 2002).

May 23, 2019

The Poindexter Collection of Abstract Expressionism

by Jennifer Bottomly-O'Looney, MHS Museum Senior Curator 

Forest No 1, 1959, Robert Goodnough, MHS Museum X1962.03.04
The Poindexter Collection is an assemblage of 99 works of art (98 paintings and one photograph) representing the New York School of Abstract Expressionism—a defining art movement of the mid-20th century which had world-wide impact.  The Collection contains representative works by such leading artists as Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Richard Diebenkorn, and Robert DeNiro (the father of the actor), as well as significant holdings of works by lesser-known artists like Earl Kerkam and Robert Goodnough.  

Untitled, 1947, Willem de Kooning, MHS Museum X1974.04.05
 It was given to the people of Montana by Everton Gentry “George” Poindexter and his wife, Elinor (the Poindexters also donated a similar collection to the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings).  George was a third-generation Montanan who grew up in Dillon. His family was associated with the Poindexter & Orr Ranch in Beaverhead County, and his father was a judge and Attorney General of Montana.  George moved to New York City where he was a highly successful businessman. He fell in love with and began collecting abstract art, and he and Elinor eventually owned and operated an influential art gallery in New York. The Poindexters were friends with and supporters of the artists represented in the collection long before these artists became famous.

Untitled, 1943, Jackson Pollock, MHS Museum X1973.05.01
The collection was donated to the Society in increments beginning in 1960 (most of the collection was here on loan before it was officially donated). The last piece was given in 1987. The Poindexters’ motive in donating the collection was to give Montanans the opportunity to experience first-hand this type of art and, as George wrote, in “hope that the pleasure they [these paintings] have given me will be shared by the people of my native state.” Both George and Elinor are now deceased.

Flowers, 1955, Robert DeNiro, MHS Museum X1967.04.01

April 25, 2019

Family Life and the Fort Peck Dam

by Kelly Burton
MHS Film Archivist

In keeping with the reputation of its home state, Montana’s Fort Peck Dam is outsized in stature. At 21,026 feet in length and over 250 feet in height, Fort Peck Dam is the largest hydraulically filled dam in the United States. The reservoir created by this dam, Fort Peck Lake, is 134 miles long, has a 1520-mile shoreline (longer than the California coast), and is the fifth largest man-made lake in the U.S. Ownership of the dam and lake are held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and it was this federal agency that began construction of the structure in 1933 as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. At its peak in 1936, the Fort Peck Dam project employed over 10,000 workers and created dozens of boomtowns that would eventually disappear after completion of the structure in 1940.

Construction of Fort Peck Dam (MOV 0052)

Construction of Fort Peck Dam (MOV 0052)

Some of the Montana Historical Society’s more detailed and memorable images of Fort Peck Dam and its construction come from the Van Faasen family home movie collection. Jerold was born in Holland, Michigan in 1913, and Ruth was born that same year, in Libby, Montana. Jerold describes the couple’s meeting in the donation paperwork for the collection: “Ruth Shanahan and Jerold B. Van Faasen both arrived at the Fort Peck Dam Project on the Missouri River in Northeastern Montana in October 1935. Ruth was assigned duties in the Finance Section and Jerold was assigned duties in the Engineering Field Office for the Diversion Tunnel Construction. Ruth and Jerold met for the first time about a year later through a mutual friend. After a two-year courtship, they were married in the Glasgow Methodist Church Parsonage on September 24, 1938.” Jerold’s engineering work led to several relocations between Montana and Washington State over the years, and during this time, the couple raised three daughters. Many of the Van Faasens’ work and life events were captured on 8mm film, and these reels provide us with a rich portrait of life in the American West during the 1930s – 1960s.

Construction of Fort Peck Dam (MOV 0052) 

Jerold Van Faasen in the Fort Peck Dam offices (MOV 0052)

In May of 1994, Jerold and Ruth donated thirty-eight 8mm film reels to the Montana Historical Society’s Photo Archives (MOV 0052). In the donation paperwork for the Van Faasen family moving image collection, the origin of this cinematographic hobby is described thusly: “The amateur movie activity started when Ruth gave Jerold an 8mm Bell and Howell ‘filmo’ movie camera for Christmas in 1938. This led to 30 years of the filming of construction of civil and military projects, family events and vacations, friends and relatives and special events. Many of our vacations included the families of our siblings.” An amazingly thorough sixty-one-page document accompanies the Van Faasen donation, with a detailed description of every shot contained on every numbered reel. Many of these films pertain to Jerold’s work as an engineer on the Fort Peck Dam and Glasgow Air Force Base in Montana, along with other infrastructure projects such as the Hungry Horse Dam in Montana and the Bonneville Dam on the Washington/Oregon border. A notable face in the Fort Peck Dam footage is that of President Harry Truman, whose visit to the facility on May 13, 1950 was filmed by Jerold. Family trips were also frequent, with Waterton-Glacier, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Bryce Canyon, Sequoia, King’s Canyon, and Yosemite among the leisure destinations chosen by the Van Faasens. Complementary home movies pertaining to the family’s time in western Washington were donated by Jerold and Ruth to Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry in 1994.

Recreation at Fort Peck Dam (MOV 0052)

Recreation at Fort Peck Dam (MOV 0052)

In addition to the donation of family films to the Photo Archives, the Van Faasens also gifted their Bell & Howard 8mm FILMO Sportster film camera and various other pieces of filmmaking equipment to the Montana Historical Society’s museum (1994.28) in 1994. An autographed memoir by Jerold Van Faasen, “Making it Happen: A Sixty-Year Engineering Odyssey in the Northwest,” was acquired in 1998 by the MHS library (620.00973 V26M), and this 264-page personal history serves as an insightful companion to the home movies. Finally, Ruth and Jerold contributed individual accounts to the New Deal in Montana/Fort Peck Dam Oral History Project housed in the MHS archives (OH 1071 and OH 1087), with interviews being conducted by Rick Duncan in the town of Fort Peck on August 3, 1987. Ruth’s account states that the couple’s years at Ft. Peck were “a wonderful part of our lives. A cosmopolitan group of people, opportunities that you don’t find everywhere, everybody cared about everybody it seemed and we really enjoyed living in Fort Peck.” (OH 1071)

Harry Truman at Fort Peck Dam, May 13, 1950 (MOV 0052)

Al Van Faasen feeding chipmunks at Glacier National Park (MOV 0052)

With the help its first Federal Grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation in 2009, the Montana Historical Society was able to create new, enlarged 16mm preservation prints and negatives of three Fort Peck-related films from the Van Faasen family moving image collection. These three reels can now be viewed as one continuous 43-minute silent film on the Historical Society’s Moving Image Archive YouTube playlist:

April 11, 2019

"My hats off to you and your boot builders" C.M. Russell

by Barbara Pepper-Rotness, Reference Librarian

Catalogues are an excellent source of information when researching items commonly used during a particular time period. We can learn about washing 'machines' that are no more than a scrubbing board; or, about houses sold as a kit like the Sears Mail-Order Homes (check out this Sears Homes Archives - it includes images and prices of their home kits from 1908 to 1940!).

H. J. Justin & Sons, Inc. 1940 cowboy boot
 catalog dedicated to C.M. Russell
  Some catalogues are more
   interesting than others,
   though, such as this one
   in the Montana Historical
   Society’s Library 
  collections. Created by 
  the H. J. Justin & Sons, 
  Inc. boot company in 
  1940, the catalogue
  is unique in that 
  it ties cowboy boots
  to a well-known 
  personality in U.S. 
 Western history, that of 
 C.M. Russell, 
 the cowboy artist. 
 Throughout this beautiful 
 little booklet are pictures 
 of cowboy boots that
 were popular during the 
 early 1940s, interspersed 
 with illustrations by 
 C.M. Russell. 

The entire booklet is dedicated to the artist and includes “A Tribute to Charles M. Russell, written as an introduction to the artist’s book by the beloved cowboy humorist and actor Will Rogers”. On the second page of his tribute, Will Rogers quotes "a lot of them old reprobates, they said," speaking of Charlie:

“We may have Painters in time to come, that will be just as good as old Charley. We may have Cowboys just as good, and we may occasionally round up a pretty good man. But us, and the manicured tribe that is following us, will never have the Real Cowboy, Painter, and Man, combined that old Charley was, For we aint go not more real cowboys, and we aint got no more Cows to paint, and we just dont raise no more of his kind of men, and if by a Miracle we did get all that combination why it just wouldent be Charley.”

Charlie himself was fond of the Justin Boys and their boots and demonstrated that by purchasing his own boots from them. He even wrote letters to them, such as the one below copied in the catalog, praising their products:
Letter, dated December 28, 1921, from CM Russell to H.J. Justin and Sons
The Justin Boys were so dedicated to keeping C.M.Russell's name and art alive that on the credit page of this 1940 catalogue, it says that each booklet costs 50 cents to purchase and half of each purchase will be 'presented to the Montana Cowboy's Association for its Memorial to Charlie Russell.'

The cost of the boots themselves, though, depended on the style and whether the boot was customized. or, 'Made to Measure'; or if it was from their stock, as we can see below on the inserted price list effective June 1, 1940:
Retail Price List Effective June 1, 1940, from
H. J. Justin & Sons, Inc. catalogue

Let's look at some of the boots you could choose from:

'For the ladies', there was a nice selection of boots that the "dudines* really go for":

"No. L1514 – The Dudines really go for this trim streamlined Western Gypsy boot with its Narrow Square toe, classically simple stitching pattern and dainty row of white stars inlaid around the tops. The whole boot is made of soft pliable Brown Kid and lined with Justin’s smooth tough baseball leather."

And, in reference to their description above concerning the 'smooth tough baseball leather', they included a full page description of the baseball leather they used:

The Justin and Sons Boot, Inc. company was even able to import 'exotic' leathers like kangaroo from Australia.
Genuine Australian Kangaroo Leather selections,
from 1940 Justin Boot catalogue

And, even though round-toed boots were slowly going out of fashion by this time (see below), 

This early 'infographic' describes the evolution of the cowboy boot
[From: The Old West - The Cowboys, by Time-Life Books, 1973]

the H.J. Justin and Sons, Inc. company was still selling them in this 1940 catalog, along with medium-square and narrow-square-toed boots.

Begun in 1879 in Spanish Fort, Texas, a frontier settlement on the later-named Chisholm Trail, Justin Boots is located in Fort Worth, Texas and continues its tradition of creating boots 'crafted by skilled boot-makers using only the finest leathers and quality materials.'


*'Dudine' (and 'dudess'), were early forms of 'dudette':

From A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles, University of Chicago Press, 1951