August 24, 2017

L.A. Huffman: Photography in Motion

by Barbara Pepper-Rotness, Reference Librarian

L.A. Huffman on Horseback, [1879-1930]
MHS Photo Archives # 981-929

Much has been written about frontier photographer, Laton Alton Huffman, and those writings provide an indispensable view of this prolific man, who saw “an opportunity to record a disappearing era [and] made both beautiful and historic photographs.” [1] He could capture the harsh beauty and expansiveness of the plains in a way that was expressive and seemingly three-dimensional. Additionally, he recorded, through his pen and his camera, meticulous details about life in eastern Montana during the late 1800s-early 1900s, some of his best being those of early frontier cowboys and their ways. And, he was rather poetic in the telling, as in this statement - printed on many catalog brochures - of his own work.

“Kind fate had it I should be Post Photographer with the Army during the Indian Campaigns, following annihilation of Custer’s command. Round-about us in this Yellowstone Big Horn land, unpenned of wire, unspoiled by railway, dam or ditch, un-kodaked, hunters, Red and White, exterminated, for robes and tongues, the last great herds of Buffalo on this continent. With crude home-made Cameras, from saddle and in log shack, I saved something – built better than I knew.” [2]

Killing Cows and Spikes on the Snow, near Cohagen, 1880.
MHS Photo Archives Catalog # 981-699 

When he arrived at Fort Keogh for work in the winter of 1879/1880, L.A. Huffman set up shop in the log cabin provided to him in lieu of a paycheck and quickly established himself as a participant, not just an observer, of life on the short-grass plains. And by doing so, he understood the beauty, along with the hardships, of living in this vast, remote land.

Corner of my old log studio at Fort Keogh, 1879.
MHS Photo Archives Catalog # 981-139.

“From where I lay, through the wide-open door, I looked long at those eternal, turreted, cold, moonlit Western hills; outlined against them stood, saddled and picketed, sentinel like, the wrangler's gray night horse, listening too to the myriad voices of the night that unfailingly come to the senses once a camp is stilled. I wondered, as I had a thousand times in years that are gone, when, by some dying campfire I drowsed, up-gazing into the always new, yet changeless star-studded, glittering vastness, what the indescribable charm of this life was, that one failed always to put into speech.” [3]

But, he didn’t need to speak his observations, he had a camera to record those. In addition to his great skill in doing so, though, he was a prolific writer, corresponding frequently with his father; taking copious notes to go along with his photographic output; and publishing articles, such as this one for Scribner's Magazine.

When he wrote to his father, who was a photographer himself, Huffman often included samples of his work. “Please notice when you get the specimens that they were made with the lens wide open and many of the best exposed when my horse was in motion.” [4]

Roping a wild horse, 1904.
MHS Photo Archives Catalog # 981-505.
Bucked Off, [1879-1903].
MHS Photo Archives Catalog # 981-583

Not only was he in the saddle of a horse juggling heavy photographic equipment, he was able to capture cowboys in the midst of their fast-moving physical feats: at the moment a rope swirls just over the head of a horse before dropping around it; or, just as a bronco in mid-buck releases its rider. Even in those situations that appear staid, there is a sense of movement, of something more about to happen. It’s ironic that he signed letters to his father, Late (short for Laton) as he seemed to have perfect timing when it came to his photography. He was patient enough to capture and document those activities which required good timing themselves. He wasn’t often late.

“I am as ever Late” from MHS Archives Small Collection 1702, Box 1

You can browse the Montana Historical Society Photo Archives’ L.A. Huffman images on the Montana Memory Project.

[1] L.A. Huffman: Pioneer Photographer. intro. by Donna M. Forbes, essay by Terry Karson. (Billings, MT: Yellowstone Art Museum, 1990), 3. 
[2] Copy of catalog brochure. L.A. Huffman MHS vertical file. 
[3] L. A. Huffman. “The Last Busting at the Bow-Gun.” Scribner’s Magazine 42 (1907): 78.
[4] L.A. Huffman to P.C. Huffman. 7 June 1885. Small Collection 1702, Folder 1. L.A. Huffman Papers. Montana Historical Society Archives. 

Allen, Gene and Bev. The Collotypes of L.A. Huffman: Montana Frontier Photographer. Helena, MT: Gene and Bev Allen, 2014. 
Brown, Mark H. and W. R. Felton. Before Barbed Wire: L. A. Huffman, Photographer on Horseback. 1st ed. New York: Holt, 1956. 
Brown, Mark H. and W. R. Felton. The Frontier Years: L. A. Huffman, Photographer of the Plains. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995. 
Huffman, L.A. “The Last Busting at the Bow-Gun.” Scribner’s Magazine 42 (1907): 75-87. 
L. A. Huffman: Pioneer Photographer. Intro. By Donna M. Forbes. Essay by Terry Karson. Billings, MT: Yellowstone Art Museum, 1990.
Peterson, Larry Len. L.A. Huffman: Photographer of the American West. 2nd ed. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2013.

August 17, 2017

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: The Capitol Building

After Helena won the popular vote to be the capital city of the new state of Montana, lawmakers immediately created a capital commission to oversee the construction of a building to house state government. Amid scandal, the original commission and the architect were dismissed, but a new commission soon contracted with different architects, and the completed building was dedicated on July 4, 1902. Two additional wings, to the east and the west, were completed ten years later.

Key dates

1895—Capitol Commission is appointed.
1897—Contract for building the capitol is awarded to Charles E. Bell and John H. Kent.
1902—Montana State Capitol dedicated.
1909—Legislature authorizes addition of east and west wings.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: montana capitol building, capitol commission, george r mann, bell and kent, capitol wings

Written by Catherine W. Ockey

August 11, 2017

Trials of a Prairie Photographer

By Christopher Gray, Digital Projects Intern

Evelyn Cameron’s photography was born from necessity and love for the art. The Camerons were frequently out of cash, so Evelyn sold vegetables, hosted boarders, and took up photography to supplement what little income they had.

Living on a ranch, Evelyn was no stranger to hard work. Photography in the 1890s and early 20th century was a demanding and tricky endeavor, so adding the business of making photographs to her daily routine would have taken a great deal of energy and motivation.

Though photography was rapidly becoming more accessible to the public, it had not reached the level of efficiency it has today. Evelyn had only what was technologically available in Montana at the turn of the last century. Living on the prairie, her options were further limited to whatever mail-order equipment she could afford. Despite these limitations, Evelyn managed to excel at her work.

Some of the other difficulties she faced included a camera with slow shutter speeds [1] and photographic plates that weren’t very light-sensitive.

Catalog # PAc 90-87.G002-016
“Mary Phillips, May 4th, 1905.”
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron

For example, this picture, taken with a 5x7 Kodak in 1905, illustrates how Evelyn worked within those technical limits. She wrote her camera settings for this picture in her diary, noting a shutter speed of 1/5 of a second and an aperture of f32—slow shutter, small aperture [2]. These settings were necessitated by the slowness of the plate (about ISO 5 or 10) and Evelyn’s aesthetic preference [3]. She preferred well-defined backgrounds for her pictures, and a small aperture allowed that. 

Slow shutter speeds are no nuisance if the subject is stationary, the camera is mounted on a tripod, and the wind is calm. However, Evelyn’s subjects and the prairie wind were seldom still. 

Catalog #PAc 90-87.G003-002
“Cat sitting in hole in rock. 1900”
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron

Cats especially fall into the “seldom still” category. Pet photography is best done with a fast shutter speed, but here Evelyn used a slow shutter speed and a small aperture (perhaps out of habit). That the cat, Patchy, stayed still for this picture seems like a miracle. However, that Patchy appears unblurred in a handful of other photos suggests the cat was a more agreeable model than most. 

Catalog #PAc 90-87.G059-011
“[[Railroad crew on handcar]. 
[Five railroad workers standing on handcar.] [ca. 1910]”
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron

This photo of Northern Pacific workmen on a handcar may look ordinary for a moment, but its odd nature soon becomes apparent. Evelyn took two images on the same plate, most likely by accident. Looking closely, it seems she took one picture without the workmen and one with them. Note how the man on the far right looks translucent!

Catalog # PAc 90-87.NB067K
“[Family on parsonage porch, Marsh, Montana]. 
At the Lutheran Church parsonage. July 25, 1920”
Photograph by Evelyn Cameron

Finally, some unintentional elements in a photo can actually improve it. This would be a normal, staid family photo were it not for the mischievous young’un peering from behind the screen door. This may have gone unnoticed by Evelyn as she took the picture, but given her sense of humor she probably knew the girl was there and proceeded anyway.

[1] Only until late 1905, when she received a more advanced camera.
[2] Cameron diary, 7 May 1905
[3] Cameron diary, 27 June 1904

August 1, 2017

Remembering Frank Little

by Rich Aarstad, Senior Archivist, and Martha Kohl, Historical Specialist

Slain by capitalist interests for organizing his fellow men
This epithet appears on Frank Little’s headstone in the Mountain View Cemetery of Butte, MT. 

Portrait, Frank Little, 1910s
Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

A top field organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW, or the Wobblies), Frank Little stepped gingerly from the train in Butte on July 20, 1917, still bearing marks of a beating he took while agitating on behalf of striking copper miners in Bisbee, AZ. Life as the Wobblies top field organizer had few perks and more than a bit of personal risk.  Like a prophet from the Old Testament, Frank wandered the West from one labor hotspot to another, preaching the gospel of the One Big Union.  His mission was simple: affiliate the Metal Mine Workers’ Union with the IWW and force the company officials running the Anaconda Company from the sixth floor of the Hennessy Building “’down below with a muckstick.’”

When Little arrived in Butte, the mining city was in the midst of a general strike. Three months earlier, the U.S. had entered World War I. A month earlier, on June 5, miners rioted, protesting the implementation of a compulsory draft. Then, on June 8, a fire in the Granite Mountain/Speculator mine claimed the lives of 165 miners. Workers were demanding safer working conditions and higher wages. The state had responded by sending in troops. Butte was under martial law.

MHS Ephemera File
Neither the Anaconda Company nor the leaders of Metal Mine Workers Union (MMWU) were happy to see Little. The Anaconda Company’s unhappiness was self-explanatory. But Butte’s labor leaders also rejected his radical rhetoric, objecting both to the IWW’s hardline stance against the war and its commitment to overthrowing of the capitalist system.

These inflammatory positions were particularly dangerous since the start of the war. Even IWW president William “Big Bill” Haywood was cautioning his field organizers to lighten up on the rhetoric lest they incur the federal government’s wrath and feel the full weight of its opposition.  But if Frank Little got the message, he chose to ignore it.

Instead, Little passionately preached the IWW message. During a speech at Finlander Hall, Little referred to U.S. soldiers as “uniformed thugs” and stressed his opposition to the draft and the war.  Why, he asked, would workers choose to fight for their capitalist masters, when instead they could end the war by turning on their masters and overthrowing the capitalist system?

The Anaconda Company—delighted to tar labor as treasonous—had its papers report Little’s speeches. It also joined local political leaders in asking U.S. Attorney B. K. Wheeler to arrest Little, claiming that his “treasonous utterances” violated the Espionage Act of 1917. Wheeler refused: according to the attorney, Little had not violated the Espionage Act but had only exercised his right to free speech.

Nevertheless, Little was soon silenced. In the early morning hours of August 1, six men entered the boarding house where Frank Little was staying and physically removed him from his room.  They tied him to the bumper of a waiting car and dragged him to the edge of town where they beat then lynched him from a railroad trestle with a warning pinned to his chest.

Frank Little, Death, Missoula, Montana Free Speech Fight, 1917
Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

In the wake of the brutal murder, Governor Stewart received a flood of messages from across the nation from labor organizations and concerned citizens. The message left on Little’s body harkened back to the vigilante days of early Montana and the initials at the bottom corresponded with the last names of the leaders of the MMWU strike: Frank Little (with the “L” circled), Bill Dunne, Tom Campbell, Daniel Shovlin, Joe Shannon, Jim Williams, and John Tomich.  The use of 3-7-77 legitimized the action in the eyes of some, who believed that if authorities would have arrested Little under the charge of treason reasonable men would not have felt the need to act.  It would also help justify, less than a year, later the passage of the Montana Sedition Act and Criminal Syndicalism Act during a special session of the legislature.

Frank Little, Funeral, Montana Free Speech Fight, 1917
Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

The murder of Frank Little remains unsolved even though most agree the Anaconda Company played some role in his death.  While his message for the most part fell on deaf ears, his murder gave rise to an impassioned citizenry who four days later gave Frank Little an epic send off with the largest funeral in the history of Butte.  They laid Frank Little to rest in the pauper section of the Mountain View Cemetery.

Photo courtesy of the author

Today, his headstone faces “the Hill” and standing at the foot of his grave one can see the memorial the North Butte Mining Company erected to the memory of those unidentified miners who died in the Granite Mountain/Speculator Mine fire.  I think Frank would appreciate that.