December 18, 2013

Christmas with Charlie

by Jennifer Bottomly-O'Looney, Senior Curator, Montana's Museum

Charles M. Russell (1864-1926), Montana’s famed Cowboy Artist, loved Christmas with a childlike abandon. Every year he transformed his studio into a Santa’s workshop, where he worked feverishly to fashion models out of wax, clay, and plaster as Christmas gifts for friends and loved-ones, and as fanciful table settings.

Caravan Man, Wax, modeled before 1900, 4¼” H x 5½” W x 2” D, Gift of Spencer R.
McCulloch, X1954.04.02
Montana Historical Society curator emeritus, Robert F. Morgan, noted that “Russell delighted his table guests with personal place settings around the table—with his favorite Holidays being Christmas and Thanksgiving. [With] his creative mind and nimble fingers, wondrous small models decorated each place setting.”

Best Wishes for Your Christmas, Watercolor, gouache
and ink, 1914, 12½” H x 9” W, Mackay Collection,

In addition to these small treasures he also created delightful Christmas cards. He loved to portray magical encounters between astonished cowboys and Santa Claus on the wintry Montana plains. He also painted a number of humorous and nostalgic cowboy-themed cards such as the one shown at right.

In 1914, Russell sent this original, hand-painted greeting to kindred spirit Malcolm Mackay and his family. While the verse is the artist’s own, the calligraphy is not. Knowing that his own penmanship was somewhat lacking, Charlie relied on close friend and neighbor Josephine Trigg to do the calligraphy.

Nancy summed up her husband’s love for the Holiday when she recalled their first Christmas together in Cascade as a married couple “trotting in a double harness” when they had nothing. Nancy wrote, “We were happy over that Christmas…because the happiness came from within. Charlie was as pleased as if he had received a million dollar gift. The simple things in life always did thrill him; no one could live near him without taking on some of the child-like joy from the little things.”

It’s No Lady’s Job, Plaster, 1926, 9” H x 9” W x 29” D, Gift of Charles S. Jones, X1954.07.01
Charlie’s love for Christmas continued throughout his lifetime. In fact, he was working on the plaster model of It’s No Lady’s Job, above, in his Great Falls studio as a Christmas present for Nancy, the day before he died. It is crafted in plaster, wax, cloth, leather, string, and metal, and is painted. The model was never completed.

Russell’s images of Christmas continue to delight viewers to this day. His Christmas greetings are enjoyed by many and remain a popular commodity in our Museum Store. We at the Society join with Charlie Russell in saying to you and yours “Best Wishes for Your Christmas!"

The Mackay Gallery of Russell Art is a 2,000 square foot exhibit featuring approximately 80 art pieces, including major oils, watercolors, pen and inks, pencil sketches, bronzes, sculptures, and illustrated letters. To learn more, download the Family Guide to the Mackay Gallery (PDF). Join us on March 19, 2014 for a celebration of Charlie Russell’s 150th Birthday. And watch for our full-color catalog, Montana's Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society, to be published in Fall 2014.

December 11, 2013

The Real Thing

by Vic Reiman, Museum Technician, Montana’s Museum

Teddy Blue Abbott at 18. "I had a new white Stetson hat that I paid
ten dollars for and new pants that cost twelve dollars, and a good shirt
and fancy boots. They had colored tops, red and blue, with a half-moon
and star on them. Lord, I was proud of these clothes! They were the
kind of clothes top hands wore, and I thought I was dressed right
for the first time in my life." [We Pointed Them North]
A small, black comb. A clothes brush. A shaving cup. These mundane objects were recently cataloged in Montana's Museum, but they do little to reflect the rollicking life of their owner, E. C. Abbott. In 1883, “Teddy Blue,” as he was known, rode into Montana as a 22-year-old, driving cattle from Texas. Fifty years later, he authored a memoir, We Pointed Them North—the only book-length remembrance by an eye witness to Montana’s open-range period. In the book, Abbott describes the art of herding cattle. But he goes on to reveal what went on in the “parlor houses” of Miles City, detailing the cowboys’ longing for women and love of liquor.

We Pointed Them North significantly informs today’s understanding of 19th-century Western life. Author Larry McMurtry studied it as background for Lonesome Dove, his 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. The scene of naked cowboys swimming their horses across a river is taken directly from the memoir. Abbott is also quoted extensively in the PBS series, “The West.”

To grasp the book's singular impact on our culture, one has only to compare the sanitized Westerns of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s (for example, “Bonanza”) with a more recent portrayal, like “Lonesome Dove” or “Deadwood.” The profanity and sex in the latter works clearly show the influence of authentic cowpuncher “Teddy Blue.” Abbott was born in England 153 years ago next week. He died in Gilt Edge, Montana, in 1939.

The Research Center owns a first edition of We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a Cowpuncher, by E. C. Abbott and Helena Huntington Smith (New York, Toronto: Farrar, Rinehart, Inc.) 1939, as well as the paperback editions published by the University of Oklahoma Press (1976, 1982).

November 25, 2013

Bicycles and Beer

by Ashley Fejeran, Project Assistant, Montana Digital Newspaper Project
Anaconda Standard,
August 9, 1897, p6
It appears that Montanans have long understood the harmonious connection between bicycle riding and a delicious local brew. This article on a lively bicycle race from the Centennial Brewery in Butte to Gregson Hot Springs in Anaconda appeared in the Anaconda Standard in 1897. Now known as Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, Gregson was a little over 12 miles southwest of the Centennial brewery.

Pedaling furiously, at a pace only a fierce rivalry between local brewers can produce, the cyclists raced alongside a portion of the Montana Union Railway tracks that ran between Butte and Garrison.

The racers’ efforts were so great they prompted the author to comment that the perspiration they generated "threatened to wash out the Montana Union tracks." A descriptive, if slightly disgusting, way to put it! In the end, only one brewer could triumph, but I’m sure any hurt feelings were soon mended over a nice cold one.

Advertising poster for the
Centennial Brewing Company, Butte, Montana

November 10, 2013

Honoring Those Who Served

By Maegen Cook, Digital Collections Assistant

On November 10, 1918, Paul F. Craig of Hilger, Montana, died in France. A private in the U.S. Army, the 25-year-old was killed in action that day—one day before the armistice on November 11. A record of his service to the country is available on his military enlistment card, part of the Montana Adjutant General's Office Records 1889-1959 (RS 223). The Historical Society is pleased to announce that all Montana military enlistment cards are being digitized and added to the Montana Memory Project website. Cards for the Spanish-American War and World War I are online now. Cards for World War II are currently being added. Along with Montana men, women who served as nurses in WWI and in any capacity in WWII are included.
World War I enlistment card for Paul Craig of Hilger. All Montana enlistment cards
are being digitized and added to the Montana Memory Project.

The great advantage of digitizing the cards is that they are now keyword-searchable. Enter a person's name or hometown and retrieve every card on which that term appears.

On Veterans Day, people around the country will pause to remember those who have served, both past and present. Some may be persuaded to revisit their family history, curious to see if they have a veteran in the family. In that way, from these seemingly dry, fact-filled records, whole stories unfold.

* A note about the "detention camp" to which Pvt. Craig was temporarily assigned. Craig was not in any trouble. The camp's location simply made it a convenient embarkation point for American troops headed to Europe. Thousands of soldiers passed through it.

November 5, 2013

A Rare Find

by Molly Kruckenberg, Research Center Director

Our library recently acquired a rare 1891 volume of images of Yellowstone. This valuable work contains 25 images by the firm of renowned photographer Frank Jay Haynes and features popular views like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Mammoth Paint Pots, and Old Faithful. What makes the work so unique? The extraordinary detail and continuous tones produced by the photogravure process.

"Hotel Valley, From the Hot Springs" in Yellowstone National Park in Photo-Gravure
"Hotel Valley, From the Hot Springs" in Yellowstone National Park in Photo-Gravure
"Because of its high quality and richness, photogravure was used for both original fine art prints and for photo-reproduction of works from other media such as paintings,” states Wikipedia. The engraving process, by Chicago Photo-Gravure Co., was expensive, so not many volumes of Yellowstone National Park in Photo-Gravure were produced. 
Detail from "Hotel Valley, From the Hot Springs"
Detail from "Hotel Valley, From the Hot Springs"
This item is available for public viewing in the Montana Historical Society Research Center, along with 100% of our historical photographs, books, periodicals, maps, newspapers, vital records on microfilm, oral histories on audiotape, livestock brand records, city directories, topical vertical files, state documents, published laws, and the Montana Code Annotated. The Research Center is open Tuesday through Friday, 9:00-5:00, and Saturday, 9:00-1:00.

Meanwhile, our installation of more and better shelving in our archives is well underway. Archival collections will re-open to the public in Spring 2014.

Yellowstone National Park in Photo-Gravure (St. Paul, Minn.: F. Jay Haynes & Bros.), 1891.

October 29, 2013

Polishing Mother's silver—and Mother, too?

by Christine Kirkham, Coordinator, Montana Digital Newspaper Project

The Montana Digital Newspaper Project offers glimpses into once-popular ideas that today may strike us as odd or even horrifying. This 1890 article from The Anaconda Standard describes a new process for preserving the bodies of the dead. 

Anaconda Standard, Dec. 7, 1890, p. 11
Anaconda Standard, Dec. 7, 1890, p. 11
Instead of embalming, families were advised to have their loved ones electroplated. "In from eight to 10 days, at a price varying from 300 to 3,000 francs ($60 to $600), you can have the life-size statue of your mother-in-law, should she happen to luckily (sic) die, as an ornament for your parlor."
The process was developed by a Paris physician, who promised that “modern Cleopatras may now smile in their last moments, knowing full well that their beauty will be handed down to future generations."


This modern mortuary practice promised to benefit public parks, as well, because "the finely formed bodies of dead women" could serve as statues and fountains. Electroplating bodies appeared occasionally in the news until the early 1900s. Why the practice did not catch on is unknown.

Eerily, the Anaconda Standard story abuts a large advertisement for Leyson's jewelry store, headlined as follows:

 Leyson's ad

You'll find the same news story, word for word, in the Cape Girardeau Democrat (May 30, 1891) and the Roanoke Times (June 28, 1891). All three papers were reprinting an item that originally appeared in The New York Journal. Reprinting texts (not always with attribution) was commonplace in nineteenth-century newspapers.

* The practice was profiled in Scientific American: "Electroplating the Dead," vol. 31, no. 797, April 11, 1891, p. 227.

October 22, 2013

Hollywood Invades the Prairie

by Kate Hampton, State Historic Preservation Office

“It creeps….It crawls…It strikes without warning!” It is…The Thing from Another World!
Montana has had its fair share of UFO sightings and cryptid tales, some told around a campfire and others played out on film.  Who could forget James Arness’ first feature filmthe science fiction classic, The Thing from Another World?  Arness is barely recognizable as “the Thing” itself, and Montana’s wintry landscape around the Cut Bank and Lewistown airports double for the North Pole.
Released in 1951 and based on John Campbell’s short story, “Who Goes There?” the movie chronicles the experiences of a scientific team that unwittingly releases an alien being from deep layers of Arctic ice. 
The Great Falls Tribune, Cut Bank Pioneer Press, and Lewistown Argus-Farmer covered the filming in December 1950 and January 1951.  Kenneth Tobey, pictured below in the dark topcoat at center, played Captain Patrick Henry.  Dewey Martin played Crew Chief Bob – and appears in the photo just left of Tobey, in the tweed overcoat. 

Clipping courtesy of the Glacier County Historical Museum
Location scouts chose Cut Bank’s World War IIera Army Air Force training facility and airport to substitute for the windswept, icy polar research station, and nearby Mission Lake served as the alien spaceship crash site.  Many locals recall the filming, and consistently tell the story of how frustrated the filmmakers became after they arrived. 
They picked Cut Bank for its wintry locale and landscape, but the team had to be creative when chinooks blew snow from the runways and prairie.  To create a blizzard and film the exterior of the “research station,” the crew trucked in snow from Many Glacier, mimicking a storm by blowing the snow with airplane propellers.  The crew also hired local crop dusters to whitewash the runways and surrounding land.  Severson Air provided several planes some used for aerial shots.  
 Clipping courtesy of the Glacier County Historical Museum

When the crew travelled to snowier Lewistown in January 1951, they employed local “actors” to use a sled dog team to search for “The Thing” across the hills east of town.  Missoula's Johnson Flying Service provided DC-3 planes used in the movie, and the crew modified them to look like military C-47's. 

Great Falls Tribune, Parade
section, January 15, 1951.
One Lewistown poet relayed the events in verse: 
…The kingpins flew ‘til their faces were blue, in search for an ideal place,
And the hit a “bonanza’ in Cut Bank Montana, My! The world seemed dressed in lace.
There was snow galore, and of cold - - much more; it was a “garden spot” for “The Thing,”
Even mittened shmoos and frosty igloos would look at home in that ring.
But the warm chinooks fooled the movie “cooks” and melted away the snow;
The directors moaned and the actors groaned. (Gad! That was a low blow.)
Though their loud cry, they wouldn’t say die and their tone bore a resolute ring;
So the men came down to Lewistown to film the gol ‘durned “Thing.”
They wore grins ‘cuz the airport’s rims were blanketed in virgin snow:
The weather was mild and the big boss smiled, and he ordered “On with the show!”…
 - “The Thing,” by Tom Kelley, printed in the Lewistown Argus-Farmer, January 14, 1951
Despite their trouble filming in Montana, the actors and crew enjoyed the beauty, people, and Montana cuisine – especially the steaks.  In the end, the film received mixed reviews when it was released in April 1951.  Over the past decade, however, critics have recognized it as one of the best science fiction movies ever.  The film and the original short story inspired John Carpenter’s remake, The Thing, in 1982, and a prequel to the story appeared in theaters in 2011.  Still, the original is dark and delightful – especially when you know the backstory.  Remember the movie’s ominous warning: 
Tell the world. Tell this to everyone, wherever they are.
Watch the skies everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies.”

October 1, 2013

Ice Cream from Two Eras

by Kendra Newhall, Assistant Registrar, Montana Historical Society

On Friday, September 20, Curator of History Sarah Nucci and I presented at The Association of Living History, Farms and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM) conference in Virginia City, Montana. ALHFAM is an international organization focused on farming and agriculture. ALHFAM has greatly impacted the museum field through its advocacy of using reproductions rather than originals in museum programming; of systematically collecting and preserving living collections (stock and crops); and of sharing findings broadly. Our workshop focused on historic foodways through making ice cream.

Our first demonstration used Thomas Jefferson’s vanilla ice cream recipe and a reproduction sabottiere. 

Thomas Jefferson's Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe. The original is held at the
Library of Congress and a digitized copy published on its web site.

Montana Cook Book, 1881, page 141
Next, we used a reproduction hand-crank ice cream maker and a recipe from 1881. Montana Cook Book, by the "Ladies of Butte City," is the earliest cookbook in the Montana Historical Society collections.

September 23, 2013

Storage Wars... at MHS!

by Molly Kruckenberg, Director, Montana Historical Society Research Center

A big part of our work here at the Montana Historical Society is to collect and preserve the books, documents, artwork and artifacts that tell the story of our State’s history. Proper storage of these items includes ensuring they are kept in an environmentally controlled area, where temperature, humidity and light levels are monitored. But proper storage also includes adequate space to accommodate collections without overcrowding.

BEFORE: Overcrowding in the archives makes it difficult
to care properly for collections.
(Photo by Jeff Malcomson)
The Research Center has been fortunate to receive funding from the Montana State Legislature to improve storage conditions for our archival collections. Over the next several months, a transformation will occur in our archives—from over-crowded, inadequate shelving to a state-of-the-art, high-density storage system. Not only will we increase the number of collections we can house in our current facility, but we will provide improved storage for those collections.

In order to complete this work, it is necessary to close access to our archival collections from October 15, 2013, through April 15, 2014. Other Research Center collections, such as books, newspapers, photographs, and maps, will remain open and accessible to the public during this time.

AFTER: The installation of high-density shelving, shown here,
will expand storage space and better protect collections.
Join us next summer for the grand re-opening of your Montana Historical Society Archives! And stay tuned here for periodic updates on our project.

September 16, 2013

Ask a Curator

Do you have a burning curiosity about history? Nagging questions you’ve always wanted to find an answer for? This is your chance. On Wednesday, September 18, curators around the globe will log on to Twitter for #AskACurator Day. Here at the Montana Historical Society, we’re lucky enough to have two curators participating.

Sarah Nucci is our curator of history. She’s also a costume historian and tailor. Her passion is recreating bygone styles, down to historically accurate undergarments. So how exactly did ladies and gentlemen (and children and workers and homesteaders) dress in the early days of Montana? Sarah will be standing by to answer your questions about historic fashion from 9:00 to 10:00 A.M. on #AskACurator Day.

Kendra Derrer is currently working on an exhibit in honor of Montana’s 150th territorial anniversary. In her time at the Montana Historical Society, she’s cataloged thousands of artifacts, and she’s an expert on their care. How do we keep hundred-year-old tools from rusting and papers from crumbling? Kendra will be waiting to answer your questions about collection care from 1:00 to 2:00 P.M. on #AskACuratorDay.

To ask Sarah or Kendra a question, simply log in to Twitter and tweet to @MThist using #AskACurator.

September 5, 2013

Great Expectations

by Kendra Newhall, Assistant Registrar

In many ways, maternity clothes have not changed much over the years. Styled the same as everyone else’s clothing, they added fullness in the front for an expanding tummy, a slightly raised waistband, and additional room for growth in the bust.

AimeĆ© Fisher shows off the maternity dress of her
great-great-grandmother, Regina Davis.  

Often these garments are altered and remade into clothing for children, their trims are taken for other dresses, or they are passed on to other community members who are pregnant. This maternity dress was worn by Regina Parker Davis in 1905, when she was pregnant with her daughter Esther. Regina was married to Mr. Allison Davis, a sheep rancher in Wibaux, Montana. A photo of Al, along with an account of his life with Regina, can be found in the digitized book Trails Along Beaver Creek.

The dress can be seen in the exhibit Domestic Economy: Managing the Home, 1890-1920 through the end of December 2013.

Rear view of the dress.
Photos by Joe Fisher.

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.

July 30, 2013

Livestock Brands in Historical Montana Newspapers

Many early Montana newspapers included pages of livestock brands. We speculate that the brands were published in the newspaper by the Brands Enforcement Office because registering brands was part of government business. However they were published, these pages are rich in historical information about who owned the brand, where their ranch was located, and where on each type of stock the brand appeared. The pages also included “Estray” notices that reported lost, found, or stolen livestock. 

livestock brands
Yellowstone Monitor, September 10, 1908

To see more Montana livestock brands, check out our 43,000-page collection of historical livestock brands or browse more pages of historical Montana newspapers at Chronicling America.

Curious about how to read these mysterious and varied symbols? Read a short article about  livestock brands here.

July 18, 2013

The Spirit of Sam Bond

By Maegen Cook, Digital Collections Assistant
We see it today—people gathered together, telling stories around a campfire on a warm summer night. Exciting stories. Funny stories. Ghost stories. While working on the Montana Digital Newspaper Project, I came across the following piece in an 1893 issue of The Anaconda Standard.

Saw a Specter Stalk
Anaconda Standard, November 27, 1893, page 4.
Six men gathered in a saloon, trading stories from the old days of mining. The last one to speak, Bill, shared a tale dating back to 1883, when he encountered a "ghost." Some years earlier, a man named Sam Bond had been blown up in Butte's Magna Charta silver mine. Ever since, the dead man's spirit was said to haunt the drifts, but Bill paid no attention to these silly superstitions.
One day, Bill’s boss sent him to work in "the Mag.” Inside, he found himself alone in the area where Bond had died. He worked steadily until the afternoon, when his candle went out. Heading into the drift to relight the candle, he paused. Were those footsteps ahead of him? Hearing nothing more, he moved on. Suddenly he was assaulted by “the most awful cry that it had ever been [his] misfortune to listen to.” After composing himself, Bill gathered his courage and decided to investigate. Cautiously, he stepped further into the tunnel. As he looked up, he saw a sight that made his blood run cold. With his hat "raised fully two inches by [his] hair,” he spotted a pair of green eyes floating in the blackness. Terrified, Bill turned and ran. Approaching the mouth of the tunnel, he was sure he heard footsteps behind him. Then he felt the ghost touch his legs! In his panic, Bill grabbed a rock and threw it hard. The ghostly eyes disappeared, and Bill was able to return to work.

Back in the saloon, Bill's pals gawked and demanded to know what the ghost looked like. Bill gazed at them casually, winked, and said, “Well, it looked like a”

Hundreds of stories like these can be found on the Library of Congress web site Chronicling America, where over 75,000 pages of historical Montana newspapers are available for searching and viewing.


May 24, 2013

How Charlie Russell Took Over Washington D.C.

by Matthew M. Peek
Photograph archivist Matthew Peek works on the Lee Metcalf Photograph and Film Collection, a project funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources.
On a cold St. Patrick’s Day in 1959, a “cowboy caravan” paraded through Washington D.C. The occasion was the permanent relocation of John B. Weaver's statue of Charlie Russell from the Smithsonian Institution to the U.S. Capitol Building. To commemorate the move, the Montana congressional delegation arranged an elaborate parade through the capital.
Mansfield, Murray and Metcalf watch "cowboy caravan."
Mike Mansfield, James Murray, Lee Metcalf, and an unidentified belle oversee
the "cowboy caravan" through Washington, D.C. [PAc 2008-27]
"A stagecoach, carrying shotgun guards and girls in Gay Nineties costumes” towed the truck hauling the upright Russell statue, accompanied by a contingent of Blackfeet Indians in native dress. The 456th Army band followed the parade playing western tunes.

On the steps of the Senate Office Building, Senators Mike Mansfield and James Murray, along with Representative Lee Metcalf, stood watching as the coach passed by. It was driven by fellow representative Leroy Anderson, decked out in full Western attire. 

Charlie Russell in his place in Statuary Hall.
Charlie Russell in his place in Statuary Hall.
Metcalf had planned to accompany Anderson on the horsedrawn coach (hence, his cowboy duds), however, at the last minute, the vehicle's insurers refused. Evidently the risk to such a highly visible Congressman was too high. Metcalf retreated to the viewing stand instead.

As the parade concluded, a D.C. police officer was heard to remark:

“It says here that after we get to this point, the riders will 'turn and gallop off into the sunset...' It’s now 10:30 a.m. How we gonna arrange it?”



“Russell Statue Paraded in D.C.,” The Montana Standard (Butte, Montana), Vol. 83, No. 230, Wednesday (March 18, 1959): pp. 1.
“Tribute to Cowboy Artist Makes It a 21-Horse Town,” Greenberg Daily News (Greenberg, Indiana), Wednesday (March 18, 1959): pp. 4.

April 24, 2013

Poetry on the Prairie

By Christy Goll
Assistant Editor, Montana The Magazine of Western History

Mary Frances Benton Connor.
Photo courtesy of Mavis Kvernvik
April is National Poetry Month, a perfect time to share this amazing diary from our collection. It was written in 1921 by Mary Frances Benton Connor, or Fannie, as her friends called her.
In 1920, Fannie claimed a homestead north of Rudyard and taught school to pay the bills. But unlike most other homesteaders, she moved to Montana at the relatively old age of 54, and while most women homesteaders and teachers were single, Fannie was married. Like many other homestead women, she documented her experience in a diary that she kept during the year 1921—writing entirely in verse.

Two pages from the Mary Frances Benton Connor diary
Two pages from Fannie Connor's diary
Fannie’s poems tell the joys and trials of teaching in a rural school and the struggles of homesteading
on the Montana prairie. In perhaps her most poignant poem, Fannie wrote:

  Childhood was never, never meant
  In such a land as this to be spent
  Of grownups too I have my doubts
  If they were meant to settle hereabouts
  Since grass has value dry or green
  Naught but herds of cattle should be seen
  Twas a mistake it now appears
  For people to make this a home of theirs.

What do you think? Was it a mistake for homesteaders to settle on Montana’s arid northern plains?

March 22, 2013

Guiding Lights

Montana’s Lighted Airway System

by Kate Hampton
Community Preservation Coordinator, Montana State Historic Preservation Office

The Montana Historical Society Research Center houses a fascinating study that illuminates the history of one of Montana’s most unique treasures.  Brenda Spivey’s “Airway Beacons:  An Integral Part of Montana’s Night VFR Navigational System, Past History, Present Service, and Present Value” may appear to be a dry government report, but it tells an important story.  I first learned of it while giving a talk at the Montana Pilots Association.  Several people came up to me and asked, “Do you know about the beacons?”  They offered all kinds of great information, got me in contact with Mike Rogan who maintains the historic beacon system for the Montana Aeronautics Division, and led me to a lot of resources, including Spivey’s report.  Here’s what I learned:
By 1911, though still in its infancy, aviation promised to revolutionize transportation and commerce around the world.  One idea for its use stood out to the U.S. government – its promise to enable more rapid and reliable mail service.  To that end, the U.S. Postal Service introduced the concept of “airmail.”
The first regularly scheduled airmail service began in May 1918, when a fresh-faced young pilot named George Boyle attempted a route from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia, with President Woodrow Wilson looking on.  He flew north, then “inexplicably” turned south, and by then hopelessly lost, landed in Waldorf, Maryland, just 25 miles from his starting point.  Despite this inauspicious beginning, the experiment continued, and by 1921 more reliable compasses, altimeters, and turn and bank indicators helped pilots navigate better.
Still, pilots depended on visual aids like landforms, waterways, and railroads to fly accurately and safely – and therefore they limited flights to the daylight hours.  Airplanes that carried mail had to land and transfer their cargo to trains by nightfall.  This process proved inconvenient, laborious, and expensive, so administrators looked for a more efficient alternative.
Determined that airmail succeed, the U.S. Postal Service Office director found private funding to continue the experiment.  By 1923, electric or acetylene beacons lit routes between Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Chicago.  Just three years later, the Federal Airways Division installed its first beacon in Moline, Illinois.  By 1933, the national lighted airways system covered 18,000 miles and included 1,500 beacons, including at least 39 in Montana.
McDonald Pass Beacon, photo by Jason Savage, used with permission.
The beacons guided pilots successfully for more than three decades, but by 1965 advances in navigational equipment and the ongoing maintenance expenses spurred the Federal Airways Division to consider which beacons to extinguish.  Of the 39 Montana beacons, they determined that 19 could be decommissioned or moved.  The remaining 20, however, were important to navigating the mountainous terrain of western Montana–so important, that the state’s Aeronautics Division advocated they stay in place.  The FAA and Montana Aeronautics Division shared responsibility for them until 1971, when the FAA began to bow out.  Over the next several years, the State took charge of them.  Montana is now the only state that maintains these historic nighttime lighted airways.
Since the 1970s, the idea of turning off the beacons has come up several times, and a couple have been decommissioned – at Boulder Hill and Bozeman Pass.   The Montana Aeronautics Division maintains 17 beacons.  Three mark high terrain:  Stoney Point north of Helena, Monida at the Idaho border, and Silverbow near Butte.  The other fourteen mark the airways between Lookout Pass, Missoula, Helena, Great Falls, Bozeman, and Butte– and I’ll bet you’ve seen them without realizing what they were.  Look for the towers with their distinguishing orange and white paint and two-foot dome lights.  Each rotating beacon emits 2 million candlepower flashing in regular sequences and red course lights to guide planes through the steep terrain.  Try it!  It’s a fun road-trip game.
Airway beacons currently maintained by the Montana Aeronautics Division
Idaho Border to Missoula then to Helena

Lookout Pass
St. Regis
MacDonald Pass

Idaho Border to Helena then to Great Falls

Monida Pass
Canyon Resort
White Tail
Stoney (Rehberg)
Wolf Creek

Helena to Bozeman then to Minneapolis

Spivey, Brenda.  Airway Beacons, an Integral Part of Montana's Night VFR Navigational System: Past History, Present Service and Present Value.” Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, 1995.

Wolff, Stephen J.  “The Federal Airway System, The Early Years,”  Accessed March 8, 2013.

Associated Press. “Aviation Beacons Unique to Montana.” Billings Gazette.  March 25, 2006.

Rogan, Mike.  E-mail, telephone conversation, and presentation notes.  March 12, 2013.

March 14, 2013

Pi Day and Historic Pie Recipes

Happy Pi Day! Here at the Historical Society, we celebrated with a pie baking contest using historic recipes.

Judges hard at work sampling pies
Librarian Zoe Ann Stoltz won the contest with a rhubarb pie that struck the perfect balance between sweet and tart wrapped in a flaky crust. We interviewed her to find out her secret.

Contest winner Zoe Ann Stoltz (center) and runners-up Molly Krukenberg (left) and Sarah Nucci (right) hold up the historic cookbooks they used to bake their winning pies.
Why did you choose the recipe you did?
Zoe Ann: Because rhubarb evokes spring in Montana. I looked for the simplest rhubarb pie recipe I could find.

What do you look for when you choose a historic recipe?
Zoe Ann: I look for something I like to eat!

How do historic recipes differ from modern ones?
Zoe Ann: That depends on how old the recipe is. The earliest recipes in our collection were published in newspapers dating back to the 1870s. Our oldest cookbook was published in 1881. These recipes assume that the reader already knows how to cook and offer only general guidelines—for example, instructing the reader to use a hot oven or a medium hot oven. They also use different measurements—a teacupful meant 6 oz, not the 8 oz of our standard cupful today.

What can historic recipes teach us?
Zoe Ann: There are few historical topics that we can say everyone has participated in, but eating is one. Recipes teach us about cultural, ethnic, social, and community history—I could go on for hours!

Zoe Ann’s winning recipe came from Cookery of the Prairie Homesteader by Louise K. Nickey, who grew up on a homestead in eastern Montana. You can find that recipe book and many more in our research library.