February 4, 2021

Montana Hi-Line and the Syverud brothers, Now Digitized in On-going Project

By Micah Chang, PhD. candidate, Montana State University

Many Montanans perceive the Hi-Line as “drive-through country,” destitute of people and places. However, one glance at Henry and Edgar Syverud’s photo collection challenges that modern cultural stereotype. The Syveruds’ photo collection tells the story of hope and hard times on the Montana Hi-Line through a series of four volumes of scrapbooks, encompassing some 1,500 photographic prints, that track the two brothers awash in the tides of local, regional, and national history.

Portraits of Henry and Edgar Syverud in their mid-30sPortraits of Henry and Edgar Syverud in their mid-30s
Lot 045 v1p11.Stamp 1 and Lot 045 v1p11.Stamp 2, Portraits of Henry and Edgar Syverud in their mid-30s

Henry and Edgar Syverud were born in Osnabrock, North Dakota, in the mid-1880s to Knute and Anne Syverud. Both brothers’ lives show their strong connection to Norwegian and Scandinavian ancestry through their immediate communities and worldviews evident in their photo collection. The two brothers were nearly inseparable from the start, both attending the University of North Dakota and then proceeding to homestead in northeastern and eastern Montana.

Lot 045 v1p07.19, View of Henry Syverud (left) while at the University of North Dakota
Lot 045 v1p07.19, View of Henry Syverud (left) while at the University of North Dakota
Henry initially homesteaded in the early 20th century in the area between Coalridge and Dagmar, Montana, in what was then Valley County, though soon to become Sheridan County. While Edgar started farther south in Dawson County, opting to move north into Sheridan County with his brother around 1916. From 1916 until their deaths in 1965 and 1966, Henry and Edgar Syverud lived together on Henry’s homestead, farming and participating in all forms of community activities.

Lot 045 v1p17.1, View of Edgar Syverud with his bicycle and a camera in hand
Lot 045 v1p17.1, View of Edgar Syverud with his bicycle and a camera in hand

Both Syverud brothers cataloged their life’s journey through photography and scrapbooks. Edgar was the primary photographer for years, seemingly bringing his camera to every social event in the area. Henry made the scrapbooks, selecting photos and writing the captions and narrative history sections. They were heavily involved with their neighbors in what started out as the East Coalridge Community Club but eventually morphed into the local chapter of the Farmers’ Union. They were also a part of the development of a local Lutheran congregation. Lastly, the brother’s interest in and fascination with petroglyph rocks, which they called “The Writing Rocks.” led to the creation of Writing Rock State Park, which still exists today.

Lot 045 v3p47.3-286, View of the Syveruds’ automobile at the Writing Rock State Park in Divide County, North Dakota. Writing Rock No. 1 is in the foreground
Lot 045 v3p47.3-286, View of the Syveruds’ automobile at the Writing Rock State Park in Divide County, North Dakota. Writing Rock No. 1 is in the foreground
The brothers’ social and work lives, and those of their neighbors, is well documented in the photographs taken mostly from about 1910-1960.

The brothers’ story reflects the larger history of the region. By the time both brothers were in their late teenage years, the Montana Hi-Line flooded with hopefuls—often immigrants, single males, and younger people—searching for a future by proving up a quarter-section of unbroken land. After the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 both brothers ended up in eastern Montana trying their hand at farming. However, after several years of successive drought and financial hardship, the brothers often found themselves deeply engaged in community activities and eclectic hobbies and side jobs. Through their photographs and scrapbooks the Syveruds created a narrative that shows how people persevered through drought, natural disasters, and failure by relying on their families and friends.

[Lot 045 v1p29.2, View of Edgar Syverud with the East Coalridge Community Club at the Haaven Schoolhouse eating pie
[Lot 045 v1p29.2, View of Edgar Syverud with the East Coalridge Community Club at the Haaven Schoolhouse eating pie

Aside from local history, the Syverud’s unintentionally created a photo archive that sheds light on important facets of regional and national history. The scrapbooks’ heavy focus on agriculture reveals the multiplicity of crops that the Syveruds and other homesteaders in northeastern Montana had to grow in order to achieve any semblance of profit. For example, the use of flax—one of the shortest-lived agronomic crops in Montana—dominates many of Edgar’s early photos of planting, harvesting, and threshing.

Lot 045 v1p15.7, View of Henry Syverud standing in a field of flax in full bloom
Lot 045 v1p15.7, View of Henry Syverud standing in a field of flax in full bloom
Also, the Syverud collection elucidates the history of the United States northern border in a time when the drawing of the 49th parallel was a recent event. Henry and Edgar Syverud recorded the history of their lives; however, upon closer inspection, their photo archive tells the story of many immigrants, Montanans, and Americans.

Photos from the first and second scrapbook volumes. and most of the third, are now digitized and available to those interested in the Syveruds’ story, and the history of homesteading in Sheridan County, Montana. Photos can be browsed and searched on the Montana Memory Project, specifically the MHS Photo Archives’ “Photographs from the Montana Historical Society.” Hundreds more Syverud photos will be added over the next couple months thanks to the continuing financial support of the Sheridan County Historical Association and the Montana History Foundation, in partnership with MHS.

October 7, 2020

Montana Legislative Women and Male Chauvinist Pigs

By Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian

Montana Historical Society resources—from newspapers to diaries and letters to blogs—not only document the many milestones achieved by Montana’s women legislators, they also promote a deeper understanding of the inherent sexism faced by Montana’s pioneer female elected officials.

Portrait of Maggie Hathaway
Maggie Smith Hathaway outlined her positions on Prohibition, Child Welfare, and a “Workable Farm Loan Law” in this 1916 campaign flier. Maggie Smith Hathaway Collection, Mss 224, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, University of Montana.

Montana Legislative Women (MLW) have been making history since rancher Maggie Hathaway and journalist Emma Ingalls walked into the House Chambers in 1917–Hathaway was a Stevensville Democrat; Ingalls was a Republican from Kalispell. Both women left important legacies. Ingalls chaired the House committee on Morals, Charities, and Reform while sponsoring HB 374, which created a separate vocational school for women. Hathaway introduced HB 63, which required local institutions to hire female attendants for female prisoners; HB 258, which detailed procedures for committing students to the School for the Deaf and Blind in Boulder as well as purchasing of a farm for the School; and HB 383, which required fire escapes for all multi-floored Montana schools. Hathaway’s Democratic colleagues elected her minority floor leader, the first woman in the country to hold such a distinction. She later acted as the Director of the Montana Bureau of Welfare. Both women participated in the ratification of Suffrage Amendment during the 1919 Extraordinary Session.

During the period between 1917-1939, twelve women joined the MLW. That number doubled from 1941-1971, when twenty-four women served in Montana’s Legislature. MLW members continued to make history. Elected in 1932, Wolf Point’s Dolly Cusker Akers was the first Native American to serve in the Montana House of Representatives. Mabel Cruickshank became the first women elected to the legislature from Gallatin County in 1936. An education advocate, she sponsored a bill creating adult education classes and schools throughout the state. Ellenore Bridenstine entered the state senate chamber in 1945, the first woman to serve in Montana’s upper chamber.

Participation in the Montana Women’s Caucus, the League of Women Voters, and the 1972 Constitutional Convention, prepared a new generation of women to tackle the male dominated state legislature. In 1973, nine women served. The 1975, 1977, and 1979 sessions each had fourteen women. Their names are familiar to many—Betty Babcock, Pat Regan, Dorothy Bradley, Ora Polly Holmes, and Aubyn Curtis, to name a few. Air Force wife Geraldine Travis from Great Falls was Montana’s first African American legislator. When asked about her priorities, she explained, “I believe in Black rights, women’s rights, children’s rights—human rights and dignity.”

Portrait of Emma Ingalls
Republican, journalist and suffragist Emma Ingalls sponsored the bill that created Mountain View Vocational School for Girls and introduced the national suffrage amendment when it came before the Montana House for ratification. MHS Photo Archives Legislative Collection, Montana House of Representatives, 15th Legislative Assembly, 1917

1970s MLW members played integral roles in bringing Montana laws in line with the new constitution. Victories included the addition of the clause “irreconcilable differences” as reason for a divorce, acts to prevent sexual discrimination in the work place, creation of laws preventing the discharge of a female employee due to pregnancy, and use of more inclusive language in lawmaking. Results of the latter included allowing women to be legal head of households, forbidding institutions to deny credit to a person based on gender, and redefining rape as assault on one person by another, rather than the narrow belief that rape was a man assaulting a woman.

MLW members discovered that as they battled discriminatory legislation, they also battled decades of poor behavior. For example, not until 1978 did Montana’s legislative women get a private restroom. From 1917 to 1979, MLW members watched their male counterparts take advantage of a private lavatory, often using the facility to avoid lobbyist. During this time, female legislators faced a gauntlet of lobbyists and press as they made their way to public restrooms. It was not until 1979 that they received a modicum of privacy with the installation of partitions; their bathroom situation further improved with the appropriation of monies for permanent facilities to accommodate their needs.

Snippet from the 28 April 1985 Helena Independent Record showing an image of Senator James Shaw with MCP
The Independent Record, 28 April 1985, pg. 1D

On the other hand, in 1985, Billing’s Senator Pat Regan took a humorous approach to bring attention to uncensored sexist remarks made by her fellow state senators. She kept a pink pig, labeled “MCP”—Male Chauvinist Pig—on her desk. When colleagues made sexist remarks, such as referring to staff as “gals” or “girls,” she had one of the pages deliver the MCP to their desk. One beneficiary earned the MCP by remarking that a woman murdered by her husband may have deserved it.

While the 2019 numbers did not break the record held by the 2015 legislature with forty-seven women, the percentage of Montana Legislative Women grows consistently. Each woman brings her own passions and style. They must be successful, because I have not heard the term “Male Chauvinist Pig” in quite some time.

For more information see:

July 13, 2020

Pictures Needed in the Telling

By Kirby Lambert, Outreach and Interpretation Program Manager

K. D. Swan at work, ca. 1936
Photographer: H. T. Gisborne, Courtesy of Elizabeth Starks

As you head out to enjoy Montana’s national forests this summer, take a minute to thank photographer K. D. Swan (1887—1970) for the role he played in preserving this incredible legacy. At a critical time in Forest Service history, Swan documented the public value of these natural reserves and widely promoted their use and protection.

For more than three decades, Swan photographed the Northern Region of the U.S. Forest Service, an area that encompasses all of Montana as well as portions of Idaho and North and South Dakota. A native of Massachusetts and graduate of Harvard’s forestry school, Swan arrived in the Treasure State in 1911, six years after the Forest Service was formed. Initially, he surveyed homestead sites, planted trees, “cruised” timber to determine average tree sizes, volume, and quality, and worked as a topographic draftsman.

In the 1920s—recognizing the need for the agency to win further public support for its various programs and goals—the Forest Service established the Information and Education Branch. An accomplished photographer, Swan was soon transferred to the new division. As one chief later summarized Swan's charge: "There's a story there to be told, and pictures will be needed in the telling."

Hoodoo Lake Moose, #331160

Thereafter, Swan worked tirelessly, crafting exceptional photographs that dramatically illustrated the value that national forests held for the American people and vividly documented the myriad tasks involved in managing forest lands.

His images were used to illustrate numerous Forest Service publications—many of which he also authored—as well as non-agency publications ranging from National Geographic to the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor. In addition, Swan regularly toured the region, spreading the "gospel of forest conservation" through educational and entertaining programs that he illustrated with still and moving images that he had taken.

Swan retired from the Forest Service in 1947, but he continued writing and taking pictures of the forest, devoting his efforts to the cause he loved. In 1968 he published his memoir, Splendid Was the Trail. This highly readable narrative still offers a detailed look at life and work in a remote, sparsely populated region during the formative years of the forest service. Copies are available through your library or the MHS Museum Store.

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of the USDA Forest Service, Region 1

USFS promotional pamphlet, MHS 634.9/SW34
Big Salmon Lake, #300292
Swan River near Salmon Prairie, #366216
Eagle Creek, #365158
Trail Riders Skirting the Chinese Wall, #346819

June 17, 2020

Lizzie Strohl Sketchbook

By Kirby Lambert, Outreach and Interpretation Program Manager

Sketchbook cover: Drawed by Elizabeth Strohl, Victor, Mont, 91 Years Old, Now Deceased.

Museums love to have the complete provenance, or history, of the artifacts in their collections. By knowing the “who, what, when, where, and why” associated with each item, we are able to gain a deeper understanding of the lessons that objects can teach us about our past. In spite of our best research efforts, however, sometimes it is simply not possible to uncover the untold stories about the materials we hold. Even so, items with little or no known story, can still educate and entertain us, while connecting us to the past in meaningful ways.

One example is the Lizzie Strohl sketchbook housed in our museum collection. This is what we know about the artist: Lizzie Buchanan was born in the community of New Chicago in Granite County, Montana Territory, on September 19, 1873. Her parents were Thomas and Luella Hatfield Buchanan. She married John Strohl in Deer Lodge on July 19, 1892. As reported in the New Northwest, the ceremony was held at the “Scott house” and was officiated by Judge Hartwell. The Strohls were farmers and had at least two sons—John, Jr., and George. Lizzie died on July 31, 1964, in Victor.

Dad Likes Jim; Susie Jane Likes Phillip So There is a Misunderstanding

These facts aren’t much to summarize a life of ninety-one years. No doubt Lizzie celebrated triumphs, suffered losses, loved her family, and endured the drudgery of hard work. For the most part, the sketches in her notebook document the quiet moments of daily life, with the chasing of a cattle rustler thrown in for a little excitement.

Clearly, Lizzie had no training in art and, most likely, only limited access to art supplies. So why did she choose to record her memories in this manner? And when did she create the drawings? At first glance, we might assume that this is the work of a child, but based on the presence of a car and the styles of some of the clothing depicted, we know that at least some of the images were not drawn before the 1920s when she was in her fifties. Or, maybe none of the scenes were executed until Lizzie neared the end of her life and she sought to record her fondest memories. We just don’t know.

These primitive drawings may always raise more questions than they answer but—for some of us at least—they still provide a heart-felt connection to the past and the lives of ordinary Montanans from long ago.

Noon Hour
Just a Pick Nick
Farmers Having a Chat Out in the West
In the Rockies, at a Prospectors Camp in Montana
After Cattle Thieves in the Rockies
Elk in Montana, Near the Black [sic] River
Cattle on the Range Near Drummond, Mont
Just Sweet Hearts at their Meeting Place
Out on the Home Stead
A Hereford Cow from One of the Herds from Dinwall Ranch in the Flint Creek Vallie, Mont

April 21, 2020

Spring Cleaning adds to depth and breadth of MHS archives collections

by Rich Aarstad, Senior Archivist

The first quarter of calendar year 2020 started with a crush.  In just three months, the Montana Historical Society Research Center added 425 linear feet of records to our archival holdings, greatly enhancing our labor history and corporate history collections. Now if you are wondering how much 425 feet is...think one football field plus four first downs and you get an idea of the size!  Below are some of the highlights of these new materials now in our permanent collections.

Montana Public Employees' Association—80 linear feet dating between 1945 and 2017. While this is a stand-alone collection, it has intellectual ties to the Montana Education Association, Montana Federation of Teachers, and MEA-MFT records already held at by MHS.

Established in 1945 to promote a retirement system for public employees (state, county, and municipal), MPEA merged with MEA-MFT in 2018 creating the Montana Federation of Public Employees.
The MPEA Master Contract has withstood the test of time as it commemorates its 44th year.
MFPE-MDT Local 3511
Courtesy Local President David Krause

Montana AFL-CIO—285 linear feet dating between 1923 and 2016. This new donation fills in the Montana AFL-CIO collection already held by MHS: MC 341 Montana State AFL-CIO records 1896-2000.

Onsite storage of MT AFL-CIO records
Tailgate preliminary processing
Jeff Malcomson, Photograph Archives Manager, and Roberta Gebhardt, Library Manager, lend a much needed hand.
Senior Photograph Archivist, Kellyn Younggren packing up historic photos.
Archivist's Toolkit

Montana Power Company—60 linear feet  dating between 1896 and 1999. This transfer from the Butte Silver Bow Public Archives is the missing link that pulls together UPMC 6 Montana Power Company records 1885-1979 and MC 268 Montana Power Company Predecessor Company records 1880-1947.

How many feet of archival records can you fit in a 1/2 ton four-door pickup with canopy. Turns out 60 linear feet!
Ingesting the collection.
Archivist's best friend—the 3 shelf cart