June 23, 2016

And the award goes to…

by Randall Williams, Associate Editor, MHS Publications

Over its 65 years of publication, the Montana Historical Society’s quarterly periodical, Montana The Magazine of Western History, has amassed a considerable number of awards from a variety of organizations. These honors have solidified the magazine’s esteemed reputation in the field of western history, and also highlight an impressive track-record of individual and collaborative effort between MHS staff and outside scholars.

Montana's collection of "Wrangler Awards" from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

The magazine has a particularly noteworthy tradition of success with two of the most prestigious awards in the fields of western history and literature. Each year, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, selects recipients for its Western Heritage Awards in a variety of categories for literature, music, film, and television. Since 1991, Montana has won seven such awards, known as “Wranglers” for the iconic bronze statuette presented to winners, in the category of Literary: Magazine Article. The magazine’s winning articles include John H. Monnett, “A Northern Cheyenne Woman and Her Family Remember the Long Journey Home,” (Summer 2009); Dan Flores, “Bringing Home all the Pretty Horses: The Horse Trade and the Early American West, 1775-1825,” (Summer 2008); Jeffrey V. Pearson, “Tragedy at Red Cloud Agency: The Surrender, Confinement, and Death of Crazy Horse,” (Summer 2005); Paul Andrew Hutton, “Showdown at the Hollywood Corral: Wyatt Earp and the Movies,” (Summer 1995); Raphael Christy, “Charlie’s Hidden Agenda: Realism and Nostalgia in C.M. Russell’s Stories About Indians,” (Summer 1993); Peter H. Hassrick, “Western Art Museums: A Question of Style or Content,” (Summer 1992); and Jerry Keenan, “Yellowstone Kelly: From New York to Paradise,” (Summer 1990).

Likewise, since 1990, the Western Writers of America have selected or recognized with finalist status eleven Montana articles for their annual Spur Award in the category of Best Western Short Nonfiction. The Spur Awards, established in 1953, celebrate excellence in Western fiction, nonfiction, song, poetry, and script writing. Among the recent winners are Michael M. Miller, “Cowboys and Capitalists: The XIT Ranch in Texas and Montana, 1885-1912,” (Winter 2015); Lee I. Neidringhaus, “The N Bar N Ranch: A Legend of the Open Range Cattle Industry, 1885-99,” (Spring 2010); Paul Hedren, “The Contradictory Legacies of Buffalo Bill Cody’s First Scalp for Custer,” (Spring 2005); Judy Daubenmier, “Empty Saddles: Desertion from the Dashing U.S. Cavalry,” (Autumn 2004); Kerry R. Oman, “Winter in the Rockies: Winter Quarters of the Mountain Men,” Spring 2002); and Elliot West, “Golden Dreams: Colorado, California, and the Reimagining of America,” (Fall 1999); and Valerie Mathes, “Helen Hunt Jackson and the Ponca Controversy,” (Winter 1989).

A variety of other organizations have recognized recent articles in Montana. These include the Forest History Society (Sara Dant Ewert, “Evolution of an Environmentalist: Senator Frank Church and the Hells Canyon Controversy,” Spring 2001, and Alice Wondrak, “Wrestling with Horace Albright: Edmund Rogers, Visitors, and Bears in Yellowstone National Park,” (Autumn-Winter 2002), the Wild West History Association (Tiffany Clay, “A Call to Order: Law, Violence, and the Development of Montana’s Early Stockmen’s Organizations,” Autumn 2008), Westerner’s International (Monnett, “A Northern Cheyenne Woman”), the Wyoming Historical Society (Michael A. Amundson, “These Men Play Real Polo: An Elite Sport in the Cowboy State, 1890-1930,” Spring 2009), the Army Historical Foundation (James E. Potter, “Hunting in the Frontier Army: ‘The Great Source of Amusement’,” Autumn 2005), the Mormon History Association (Brian Q. Cannon, “Mormonism in Montana,” Spring 2006) and the Western History Association (Becky Matthews, “Changing Lives: Baptist Women, Benevolence, and Community on the Crow Reservation, 1904-1980,” Summer 2011).

Montana articles are also eligible for two annual “in-house” awards. Since 1978, the Vivian A. Paladin Award, so-named to honor the accomplishments and service of the magazine’s legendary former editor, has been conferred by the magazine’s editorial board, a panel of distinguished western historians from institutions throughout the United States and Canada. The Friends’ Choice Award, established in 2004, is conferred by the Friends of the Montana Historical Society, an organization composed of MHS’s dedicated volunteers. In many ways, these two prizes embody the magazine’s mission to bring high-quality scholarship to a wider readership with diverse interests.

All told, this record of accomplishment not only stands as testament to the talents of individual contributors and merits of particular articles, but it reflects the work of the Montana Historical Society as a whole. MHS employees stand among the ranks of Montana’s award-winning authors and assist outside scholars in their research efforts, while illustrations from the society’s carefully curated photographic holdings remain a hallmark of each issue and feature prominently in the magazine’s award-winning design. Montana’s legacy of recognized excellence is a point of pride for the society, representing  as it does one of the many ways in which MHS brings the history of Montana and the American West to the public in compelling and meaningful ways.

If you don't already get Montana, you can order a subscription or individual back issues either through the website (http://mhs.mt.gov/pubs/magazine) or by calling toll-free  (800) 243-9900. A full list of the magazine's awards can be found via the following link: http://mhs.mt.gov/pubs/magazine/Awards

June 16, 2016

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: Jeannette Rankin

An early champion of women’s rights, Jeannette Rankin was instrumental in the passage of women’s suffrage in Montana in 1914 and later, at the national level. An avowed pacifist, she is noted for voting against U.S. entry into both World War I and World War II. A statue of Rankin, inscribed "I Cannot Vote For War," stands in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, and a copy stands in the Montana State Capitol in Helena, Montana.

Key dates

June 11, 1880—Born near Missoula, Montana.
1902—Graduates from the University of Montana.
November 1914—Full suffrage granted to women in Montana.
November 1916—Elected to U.S. House of Representatives.
November 1940—At age 60, again wins a seat in U.S. House of Representatives.
December 8, 1941—Casts the only vote against declaring war on Japan.
January 1968—Leads the Jeannette Rankin Brigade, a coalition of women’s peace groups, on a march in Washington, D.C.
May 18, 1973—Dies in Carmel, California.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: jeannette (or jeanette) rankin, suffrage

Written by Catherine W. Ockey

June 14, 2016

Early development of the Cat Creek Oil Fields

by Barbara Pepper Rotness, MHS Reference Assistant

It is generally accepted that the first discovery of oil in Montana was made on August 10, 1864, twelve and a half miles from where the Bozeman Trail crosses the Big Horn River.[1] Although not sufficiently documented to earn its place as the first, an earlier sighting was mentioned by William Aldridge. In 1855, he and his party of emigrants, heading northward, spotted oil seepages - one at Soap Creek and one at the Musselshell crossing.[2] And in May 1880, Granville Stuart was scouting out a new cattle range in the Musselshell River area and proclaimed "there are petroleum indications all through here and someday Montana will produce oil but it is worthless now."[3] There had been various areas throughout Montana considered to have oil producing potential and when drilling first began in 1901, many of those areas were tapped. None of these sites proved lucrative, and it took two more decades before that potential was realized.

Photo of oil pond at Cat Creek Field [5]
In late 1919, near Winnett, Montana, the Frantz Corporation began oil exploration on a creek flowing into the Musselshell River, and on February 19, 1920, the company drilled the well that established Cat Creek as Montana's first commercially productive oil field.[4] Curley Meek, one of the first drillers in the Cat Creek area, was later quoted in a February 24, 1964, Great Falls Tribune article, "there was no place to store the oil, so it was dammed up in a coulee and given away to ranchers and farmers as sheep and cow dip until they began using it in their cars."

The situation of the initial drilling at Cat Creek was further described in Pages of Time: A History of Petroleum County, Montana. "With no storage facilities available, oil flowed into a coulee where people from all over the countryside came to look at it...The oil was of such high gravity it could be used directly in tractors and even Model T's, and it was free to all comers. Tanks were immediately constructed, and during the summer Frantz Corporation laid a two-inch pipeline to Winnett."

Over the next few years, continued development of the Cat Creek oil fields resulted in an increase in the area's population and the legislature voted to form a new county. Sectioned off from eastern Fergus County and named for its successful oil production, Petroleum County officially became Montana's 56th and final county in February 1925.

[1] The Butte (Mont.) Miner, April 22, 1923.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Granville Stuart, Forty Years on the Frontier (Cleveland, 1925), Vol. II, p. 124
[4] Petroleum County Public Library, Pages of Time: A History of Petroleum County, Montana   (Lewistown, Mont., 1990), 140.
[5] Ibid, p. 143

Other sources:
Oral History 182, an interview with Curley Meek, has been digitized and is available online at Curley Meek Narrative, [1900--]

June 1, 2016

5 Stories from the Montana State Prison Records

by Caitlin Patterson, Electronic Records Archivist

In 2008 the Research Center embarked on a long-term digitization project to post scanned images from the Montana State Prison records and make them available on the Montana Memory Project. Since scanning began, staff members, interns, contract workers and volunteers have scanned, collected metadata and posted the prisoner description sheets of over 10,000 prisoners who served time at the Montana State Prison. In addition to the crime and sentence, the description sheets provide information about convicts’ education, work history, appearance and closest living relatives, as well as a photo, making them a valuable resource for genealogists. And thanks to countless hours of metadata entry, done mostly by our intrepid volunteers, those who visit the Montana Memory Project can search for prisoners not only by the name under which they were incarcerated, but also by any aliases, their prisoner number, the crime they committed, the year they were incarcerated, their gender, descent, religion, and occupation.

In the years that we have spent working with these records there have been a few that have stood out, some for the daring or inventiveness of their crimes, some for their tragic or shocking nature, and some for the apparent quirks of the convicts themselves. Included below are a few, though certainly not all, of the high (or low) lights, with the backstory gleaned from newspaper reports at the time.

Pat Hollingsworth
Prison Record

On December 8, 1936, Pat Hollingsworth was received at the State Prison. His description sheet states that he was convicted of grand larceny for stealing “a Lafayette Coach from the police dept., at Missoula” and malicious destruction of property after he “burned up” the Lafayette Coach. The Daily Missoulian reported the theft of the police car from in front of the police station Monday morning, November 30, 1936. Over the next eight days the paper reported on the search for the police car and its discovery in a ditch, badly charred; the arrests of Hollingsworth and another man, Albert Boyle; Hollingsworth’s changing story of the crime; and both men’s arraignment. When first apprehended, Hollingsworth claimed that he had ridden in the car but that it had been in the possession of another man, who he knew only as John. Eventually, Hollingsworth confessed to stealing the car on his own, explaining that he hadn’t realized it was a police car until he accidentally turned on the siren as he was driving out of town, calling it his “most embarrassing moment.” Albert Boyle was convicted of malicious destruction of property for his part in the burning of the car, but not of any involvement in its theft.

Quoted Article
[1] “Details of Car Theft Disclosed by CCC Worker” The Daily Missoulian, December 4, 1936, page 3.

“Patrol Car is Purloined from Police Station” The Daily Missoulian, November 30, 1936, page 1.
“Man is Jailed in Connection with Car Theft” The Daily Missoulian, December 1, 1936, Page 12.
“Police Continue Work in Case of Stolen Prowler” The Daily Missoulian, December 3, 1936, page 5.
“Police Thanked for Capturing Fugitives” The Montana Standard, December 3, 1936, page 3.
“Pleas of Guilt Are Entered on Car Theft Count” The Daily Missoulian, December 8, 1936, page 10.


Don Williams
Prison Record
George Blend
Prison Record

Don Williams and George Blend were convicted of an even more daring vehicle theft after they stole and attempted to fly away an airplane. The wrecked plane was discovered 300 yards from the hanger at the Harlowton Air Port,  while Williams and Blend were arrested the next day in Lennep. According to the reporting of their confessions in The Harlowton Times, Williams and Blend had both lined up jobs in Alaska and decided to steal the plane and fly it as far as Spokane. They arrived prepared with five gallons of gasoline and a can of paint to hide the numbers on the plane. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the necessary skill as pilots and crashed the plane as they tried to take off. After the crash the two walked twelve miles to Two Dot, Williams suffering from a broken nose and other injuries sustained in the crash. From there they managed to stow away on a train as far as Lennep before they were discovered and kicked off by the crew, who then notified authorities.
“Airplane Bandits Captured Near Lennep Thursday Morning” The Harlowton Times, January 29, 1931, page 1.
“Airplane Bandit is Given Sentence of One Year in State Penitentiary at Deer Lodge” The Harlowton Times, February 12, 1931, page 1.
“Blend Given Four Year Jolt for Stealing Cavill Plane” The Harlowton Times, February 19, 1931, page 1.


James Brown
Prison Record
In the fall of 1939, there were a string of robberies in Butte. In under a week someone robbed the Parkway Bar, the YMCA, and the Currie Service Station. Joe Stewart was arrested for the first two robberies, but was already in custody when the Currie Service Station was robbed. He was still awaiting trial when James Brown, also known as James Spence, was arrested after being caught skulking near a warehouse as he was preparing to hold up the P. H. Fallon Service Station. When he was arrested, Brown was carrying a white handkerchief which he planned to use as a mask, a paper bag, and a toy pistol, his apparent weapon of choice. Brown was identified as the robber of the YMCA and admitted robbing the Currie Service Station, but did not confess to robbing the Parkway Bar until his trial, leaving Stewart to idle in the county jail for several more days before being cleared of any involvement. As a motive, Brown claimed that he intended to send the money to his ailing sister-in-law.

“Suspect Held in Probe of Two Robberies” The Montana Standard, November 17, 1939, Page 8.
“County Will File Charges in Robbery” The Montana Standard, November 18, 1939, page 1 (continued page 2)
“Service Station Robbery Probed” The Montana Standard, November 21, 1939, page 2.
“Butte Robber is Wounded by Police” The Montana Standard, November 23, 1939, page 1 (continued page 2)
“Victim in Robbery Identifies Suspect” The Montana Standard, November 29, 1939, page 6.
“Stewart Not to be Tried for Robbery” The Montana Standard, November 28, 1939, page 1 (continued page 2)
“Court Dismisses Robbery Charge Against Stewart” The Montana Standard, November 29, 1939, page 5.

Evelyn Donges
Prison Record
Tom LaFave
Prison Record
Another notable spree began with a robbery that turned fatal and ended with a life sentence for one of the youngest women ever incarcerated at Deer Lodge. On September 11, 1951, Evelyn Donges, then age sixteen, lured John Hoffman into an alley where he was beaten and robbed by two other teenagers. Hoffman died four days after the attack. After the robbery, the three teens picked up another friend and left town in a stolen car, initiating a manhunt that stretched as far as Texas. One of the four left the others in Smithfield, Utah, and hitchhiked back to his home in Laurel. The other three were arrested September 23 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Donges and another of the attackers,
Tom LaFave, were charged with first degree murder. The third teenager involved in the attack was too young to charge. Both Donges and LaFave were eventually paroled.

 “Miles City Death Probed by Jury” The Montana Standard, September 16, 1951, page 10.
Miles City Daily Star. September 14-30 (multiple articles, page 1), October (articles on the 1, 2, 7, 12, and 26, page 1), November 26, and December 3-12 (multiple articles).


Another record that stood out for its grievous nature was that of Martin Bray. Bray’s record states that he was sentenced to life imprisonment, but also notes that he was “an ex-Deputy Sheriff, who is crippled for life thru’ a self inflicted shot.”  On May 16, 1918, on a crowded street in Butte, Bray opened fire on his ex-wife and K. S. Showers as they walked to a theater with her three children, then turned the gun on himself. Both K. S. Showers and Gladys Bray died, but Martin survived to stand trial. Bray’s lawyers, who included a young Wellington Rankin, tried to prove insanity. They could not argue that Bray was innocent, since there were numerous witnesses to the shooting, or that he was even an amiable person, as he was described as “brutal, a heavy drinker, irresponsible and wicked.” The jury was not convinced and convicted Bray. There was no mention in the papers of Bray being a deputy sheriff, though the Butte Daily Bulletin suggested that his apparent penchant for violence would have made him a better hired deputy for the Anaconda Copper Company than a miner. Bray was paroled in 1933. In 1937 the Helena Salvation Army hosted a talk by a Martin H. Bray, a reformed convict, but there is not enough information to prove definitively that he was the same Martin Bray.
The Helena Independent
June 6, 1937, pg. 2

Martin Bray
Prison Record

Tell us what you think.  Are these two pictures of the same man?

Quoted Article
[1] “Bray Trial Put over Till Monday” The Butte Daily Bulletin, April 19, 1919, page 6.

“State Topics” The Glasgow Courier, May 31, 1918, page 2. (ChronAM)
“Martin Bray Too Ill to Stand Trial” The Butte Daily Bulletin, April 1, 1919, page 6. (ChronAM)
“‘Impulsive Insanity’ Says Attorney Sulgrove” The Butte Daily Bulletin, April 16, 1919, page 1. (ChronAM)
“Bray Insane Doctors Say” The Butte Daily Bulletin, April 17, 1919, page 1. (ChronAM)
“Would Say Nothing to Prevent Hanging of Former Husband” Great Falls Daily Tribune, April 19, 1919, page 3. (ChronAM)
“Bray Trial Put over Till Monday” The Butte Daily Bulletin, April 19, 1919, page 6. (ChronAM)
“All Testimony Is Now in Case in Hands of Jury” The Butte Daily Bulletin, April 22, 1919, page 1. (ChronAM)
“Bray Convicted of First Degree Murder” The Butte Daily Bulletin, April 23, 1919, page 1. (ChronAM)
“Martin Bray Seeks New Trial to Ward off Life Sentence” Great Falls Daily Tribune, May 1, 1919, page 8. (ChronAM)
“Martin Bray Gets Life Sentence in Pen” The Butte Daily Bulletin, May 31, 1919, page 1. (ChronAM)
“Bray Appeals to Supreme Court” The Butte Daily Bulletin, June 2, 1919. (ChronAM)
“Many in Butte Jail Await the Penalty for Their Offenses” Great Falls Daily Tribune, November 24, 1920. (ChronAM)
“Bray to Begin Life Sentence Again Today” The Anaconda Standard, March 23, 1921, page 5.
“Salvation Army to Hold Union Services” The Helena Independent, June 6, 1937, page 2.

These are the stories behind just a few of the records that caught our attention. Others that might warrant further research include George Ratigan, who assaulted a police officer with a cuspidor; William Wallace and Clair Traver, who held up their own pool hall; Frank Maki, arrested for malicious injury to a building by explosives in an attempted murder; Nelo Haro, sent to Deer Lodge for destroying a toilet in the Red Lodge jail; and Fine Bow and Mike Snake, both of whom, separately, tried to collect a coyote bounty on gopher pelts.

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