August 28, 2013

Remembering the Big Burn

The Big Burn
The Daily Missoulian, August 22, 1910
The massive forest fires of 1910 were vividly reported in Montana newspapers. The headlines of late August 1910 tell the devastating story of lives lost and towns ruined across Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Gale force winds whipped the fire into a vicious storm on August 20-21, 1910, but blazes continued to do damage through the end of August. In fact, one source notes that “as late as February 1911, a ranger reported finding still-smoking snags sticking up through five feet of snow in the Clearwater country.”* Known as "The Big Blowup,” this series of deadly fires permanently changed the way people viewed forest fires and began a conversation about how they should be fought. The decisions made in the wake of the fire have influenced forest-management policies to the present day.

To read more about the fires of 1910, visit Chronicling America or view a short video on Beartooth NBC. The story is also told in Timothy Egan’s The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America.

* The Big Burn: The Northwest's Great Forest Fire of 1910, by Don Miller and Stan Cohen, Pictorial Histories Pub. Co. (Missoula, Mont.), 1993.

August 12, 2013

"Tough Trip" gets a Translation

by Christine Kirkham, Coordinator, Montana Digital Newspaper Project

While on a 1993 holiday in Yellowstone National Park, Dutch water engineer Jan Timmer grew curious about the Chief Joseph Highway and its namesake, the Nez Perce leader. Back home in the Netherlands, Timmer’s interest grew. During the intervening twenty years, he read more than two dozen books on the Nez Perce, eventually finding his way to the 1944 classic, Yellow Wolf: His Own Story, by L.  V. McWhorter.

Jan Timmer
Jan Timmer, author of Pittige Trip in
het Paradij
s. Photograph by Tom Ferris.
Following a trail of footnotes, Timmer learned of McWhorter’s correspondence with army scout and frontiersman Andrew Garcia (ca 1855-1943). From there, he embarked on his first reading of Tough Trip Through Paradise, published in 1967 by the historian Bennett H. Stein (1915-2001). Instantly, Timmer recognized that the book was special. Finding the story “very funny,” Jan notes that the wry, deadpan style requires the reader to read between the lines for inferences a lesser author might have made explicit.
Both of their squaws were estimable ladies of a build and grace that showed Joe and Pete were shrewd buyers, out to get all the squaw they could for the money, even if they did waive all rights to slimness and beauty.  (Chapter 23: A Ring for In-who-lise)

It was Tough Trip’s colorful prose that inspired Timmer to attempt his first-ever translation. “It’s a puzzle,” Timmer says about finding a Dutch equivalent for a term like caboodle (boedeltje). “But I like to play with language.”

Andrew Garcia
Andrew Garcia, photographer unidentified,
MHS Photograph Archives 942-341.

Andrew Garcia, a real-life Little Big Man, left the army at 23 and went out with a party of traders to make a living among the Indians in the Montana wilderness. Soon he acquired the name “Squaw Man” and an Indian wife—the first of three. Indians, frontiersmen, traders, trappers and the "Boys in Blue”—all were part of his "paradise" between two worlds and two eras of history in the old West. This is his story, discovered in a dynamite box in the cabin where he died at the age of 88. 
[Inside flap, Tough Trip Through Paradise paperback edition (Comstock Editions: Sausalito, CA), 1979]

With his translation nearly complete, Timmer is visiting the Research Center to examine Stein’s papers, which are held in the Archives [Ben Stein Research Collection 1908-2003]. Timmer hopes to deepen his understanding of Garcia’s life. Describing the archival collection as “amazing,” he is particularly intrigued by a half-inch stack of unpublished notes on the Nez Perce, hand-notated by Garcia himself.
Timmer’s next step is to find a publisher for his book, which he plans to call Pittige Trip in het Paradijs.