December 28, 2017

Court DuRand’s “Wild Game Water Rodeo”

by Kelly Burton, Film Archivist

While Montana’s guest ranches have long explored ways to distinguish themselves from the competition, it would be difficult for anyone to best the Big Elk Ranch, circa 1930, when it comes to sheer outrageousness and hucksterism. The proprietor of the Big Elk, Courtland Eugene DuRand, was born in Minneapolis in 1877. His parents filed a claim on Trail Creek in 1892, and the DuRands soon moved their six children to the foothills of the Little Belt Mountains north of present-day Checkerboard, Montana. Young Court helped to build the family cattle ranch, the N Lazy I, before going off to study engineering at Princeton University. After graduation, DuRand returned to the 2100-acre ranch to assist neighbors with irrigation systems and stock management, and then traveled the world as a supervisor of overseas prospects for a mining conglomerate. He increasingly visited Montana after the death of his father in 1910, and permanently settled on the family property in the early 1920s.

Letter from Roosevelt to DuRand, 1927. 
(MHS vertical file, Courtland DuRand)
Promotional materials for the Wild Elk Range of Montana. 
(MHS vertical file, Courtland DuRand)

The DuRand Ranch Company was incorporated in 1921, but the falling beef prices of the mid-1920s led Court to consider two business options: opening a dude ranch, and domesticating wild animals for breeding and commercial sale as meat. In late 1927, the Bureau of Biological Survey sold him seventy-four cow and calf elk, twelve bull elk, fourteen bison, two mountain goats, several sheep, some black-tail deer, and one dozen antelope. Originally started as a common-law trust bearing the name “Wild Elk Range of Montana,” the moniker was soon changed to Big Elk Ranch in 1929. The premier attraction of the ranch soon became the “Wild Game Water Rodeo,” which featured domesticated elk and bison plummeting from a 40-foot platform into an artificial pool below. The dude ranch ran to near-capacity from June to November for several years, but the 1930s economic depression eventually decreased the market for exotic meats and leisure activities. DuRand kept his trained animals in the spotlight, however, and they continued to appear in various Montana parades, sports shows in Cleveland and Chicago, the New York World’s Fair, and even a bison diving show on New Jersey’s Steel Pier.

The Wild Game Water Rodeo. 
(MHS Photo Archives, PAc 83-48)
The Wild Game Water Rodeo. 
(MHS Photo Archives, PAc 83-48)

With the Wild Elk Range of Montana, Court maintained that what he was creating was: “an experiment station for the study of elk and other animals…the first venture of its kind in the United States. I am a firm believer that domesticated elk will someday find a place on the American menu. These animals can be raised to provide more meat than any other animal, for the comparable amount of food.” [1] Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s name graces the promotional materials for the Wild Elk Range as a member of the organization’s Advisory Committee, and a letter of support from the former president speaks to the enthusiasm that DuRand was able to generate for his unique Montana endeavor. The naturalist slant presented by the Wild Elk Range soon becomes sensationalized with the introduction of the Big Elk Ranch theatrics, however: “A diving platform, water corrals, and fish-hook chutes have been constructed, from which buffalo, elk, and horses dove into 15 feet of water. Dudes were able to catch the buffalo and elk and ride on their backs across the lake. One elk was lassoed, and it pulled a row boat with two passengers. Fox Movietone men have taken moving pictures of the aquatic rodeo for international distribution.” [2]

The Wild Game Water Rodeo. 
(MHS Photo Archives, PAc 83-48)
The Wild Game Water Rodeo. 
(MHS Photo Archives, PAc 83-48)

A print of this Movietone newsreel was loaned to the Montana Historical Society in 1983, and new 16mm positive and negative prints were struck at that time. The newsreel inevitably emphasizes the sensational elements of DuRand’s endeavor, and the first images are of both elk and bison tumbling from the top of a 40-foot-high chute into the water below. A boy in a small rowboat is then pulled around the diving pool by an elk on a lead. Bison and elk herds are seen running around enclosures and jumping fences at high speeds, driven by two Big Elk Ranch hands on horseback. Returning to the pool, we see herds of elk and bison swimming through the water in a somewhat synchronized fashion. Next, a woman stands at the bow of a small boat, holding a rope that is tied to a swimming elk. The elk has balloons tied to its antlers and is, of course, towing the small boat and its passengers in circles around the pool. Diving elk and bison are the focus of the remainder of the film, though now we see young ranch guests diving in after the animals to catch a ride to shore. A row of boards has been set up near the water’s edge for human divers, and we witness a group of young boys plunging into the water to ride atop the swimming bison herd.

The Wild Game Water Rodeo. 
(MHS Photo Archives, PAc 83-48)
The Wild Game Water Rodeo. 
(MHS Photo Archives, PAc 83-48)

World War II and a 1943 fire at the central lodge finally put an end to Court’s dude ranch enterprise, and the DuRands soon returned to cultivating cattle and crops on the family land. In 1951, Court was gored in the stomach by a bull elk he had raised from birth (an injury from which he never fully recovered), and subsequently suffered a stroke and lost his sight. The family auctioned off the livestock herds at Lewistown’s Central Montana Stock Yards, and eventually sold the Trail Creek property in 1952. At the time of his death in 1955, Courtland DuRand was lovingly eulogized as “one of Montana’s most colorful and progressive citizens.” [3]

[1] Meagher Republican, February 3, 1928.
[2] Meagher County News, August 26, 1936.
[3] Biographical information has been largely summarized from “Courtland DuRand Wrangles the Dudes…and the Elk…and the Bison...and the Antelope…and the Deer,” Montana Magazine, July/August 1999, 88-95.

December 14, 2017

Montana’s Museum and the Great War: A Story of an Exhibition, Part Two of Two

by Maggie Ordon, Curator of History

This post is the second part of two that goes behind-the-scenes of the Museum’s newest exhibition. Times of Trouble, Times of Change: Montana and the Great War opens with a free reception on Thursday, December 14, from 5 to 7 p.m. The reception will have refreshments inspired by historic recipes, hands-on activities for all ages, and WWI-era music from the Continental Divide Tuba Society.

In the last post, we shared a little about the process of moving from abstract ideas and collections of stuff to an exhibit idea with text, stories, and interactives. The final stages bring all these items together.

Todd Saarinen, exhibit prepator, building an interactive device. Photo by author.

Roberta Jones-Wallace, exhibit designer,
trimming posters for display.
Photo by author.
Before and throughout the installation, the team produced text panels, labels, photographs, and other signs, and built cases and other components for the exhibit. Every phogotraph, diagram, poster, text panel, or identification label in the exhibition needed to be researched, written, designed, proofed, and finally printed and matted. For some exhibition components, such as the interactive wall for the “Follow a Montanan” experience, that included several production stages—from designing and building an interactive wall panel that features 18 Montanans impacted by the war to gluing and sealing panels on it. While we try to do as much of this work before installation begins, there’s always a few changes and last minute tweaks to make sure we have things just right.
Amanda Street Trum, curator of collections,
prepping an interactive. Photo by author.

Vic Reiman, exhibit technician, painting walls in the gallery.
Photo by author.

Before the museum team can begin installing the new exhibit, we had to take down the existing one. Museum staff unloaded cases and returned objects to our processing room, where staff check to make sure they are in still good shape. Staff then return the objects to their home in storage, where they rest until we pull them for researchers, tours, or another exhibit. Once the artifacts are safely removed from the gallery, staff started tearing down walls. They built and painted new walls, creating new spaces and pathways in the now transformed gallery.
Todd Saarinen, exhibit prepator, building back wall for interactive trench.
Photo by author.
Roberta Jones-Wallace, exhibit designer,
working on custom figurines
Photo by author.
Roberta Jones-Wallace, exhibit designer,
working on custom figurines
Photo by author.

Roberta Jones Wallace, exhibit designer, providing
artistic direction to Karen Rouns, museum
administrative assistant. Photo by author.
Each exhibit requires its own look and feel to bring the stories to life. For Times of Trouble, Times of Change, we juxtaposed stories of hope and pride with stories of fear and sorrow. We used a number of devices—from color, photographs, artifacts, and reproduction items to capture those feelings. For example, we hung bunting over a large photograph of a patriotic parade. Exhibit prepator Todd Saarinen built a trench scene to show a Montana soldier with his gear, while photos of no man’s land loom overhead. Exhibit designer Roberta Jones-Wallace designed, carved, and painted three figures that mark the “times of trouble and times of change” that the exhibition explores.
Roberta Jones-Wallace, exhibit designer, and Todd Saarinen,
exhibit prepator, installing custom-built trench.
Photo by author.

Roberta Jones-Wallace, exhibit designer, and Todd Saarinen,
exhibit prepartor, mounting case to wall.
Photo by author.
Part of the exhibition planning process is making sure artifacts are appropriately displayed. Museum staff assess each artifact and determine the best mount—both to ensure the safety of the object and to showcase the artifact for visitors to enjoy. The custom slant board being hung in the above photograph will support a delicate Hutterite apron. Karen Rouns secured the apron to a padded board with as few stitches as were needed. To display a shaving kit, Roberta Jones-Wallace carefully secured the kit’s flaps with strips of clear polyester film (e.g. Mylar®). Materials used in mounts, such as transparent polyester film, linen fabric, and polyethylene foam, are archivally safe. This means they are nonabrasive, physically durable, and chemically stable (i.e. they do not release anything that could harm artifacts).
Karen Rouns, museum administrative assistant, attaching a
Hutterite apron to a slant board. Photo by author.

Shaving kit mounted and ready to shine. Item on loan from the Hayes and Lia Otoupalik collection.
Photo by author.
Over the past year we’ve enjoyed planning the exhibition, and over the past three weeks, installaing it. We look forward to seeing you at the reception celebrating the exhibition opening on Thursday, December 14, from 5 to 7 p.m. or whenever you are able to stop in and visit.

December 7, 2017

Montana’s Museum and the Great War: A Story of an Exhibition, Part One of Two

by Maggie Ordon, Curator of History

This post is the first part of two going behind-the-scenes of the Museum’s newest exhibition. Times of Trouble, Times of Change: Montana and the Great War will open with a free reception on Thursday, December 14, from 5 to 7 p.m. The reception will have refreshments inspired by historic recipes, hands-on activities for all ages, and WWI-era music from the Continental Divide Tuba Society.

For the past couple years at the Montana Historical Society, we have been wrestling with how to tell Montana’s stories of the Great War. Because the topic was so big, we came up with four projects. Martha Kohl in the Outreach & Interpretation department led a project to tell place-based stories via a website ( Bobi Harris, interpretive tour guide, co-curated an immersive experience, Doing Our Bit, at the Original Governor’s Mansion. Our annual history conference this year focused on Montana, ca. 1917, and we had more proposals than we could accept. And for the past year, folks across the society have come together to tell Montana’s stories in a special exhibition at the museum: Times of Trouble, Times of Change: Montana and the Great War.

Winnowing this tumultuous time period into a single gallery has been a collaborative effort that included brainstorming topics, reading books and articles, discussing topics with colleagues, pulling and reviewing artifacts, searching through databases for photographs and posters, scanning newspapers on microfilm, flipping through old magazines, poring over letters and diaries, writing and revising pages of interpretive text, making models of exhibit components, designing interactive experiences, and consulting with Montana families of Great War veterans.

Notes from a team brainstorming session. Photo by author.
In the beginning of the planning process, the exhibit team met to brainstorm topics. Although this exhibit commemorates the First World War, we found that there were many issues at stake that went beyond the battlefields of France. We came up with ideas that we thought were important to include, but we also had to make difficult decisions of what not to include in the exhibit. For example, sometimes we selected topics to show the changes and troubles Montana was facing during the Great War, such as the labor unrest in Butte and influenza pandemic across the state. Other times, we knew we didn’t have the room to include everything, and had to cut topics out we otherwise would have liked to include, including the role of technology in the war. While making these decisions we thought about the physical space; the artifacts, photographs, and stories available; and the emotional sides of the stories.

Some of the museum objects being considered for inclusion in the exhibit. Photo by author.

Museum artifacts staged for planning exhibit cases. Photo by author.

One of the first things we did in planning this exhibition was to take stock of the artifacts, photographs, and archival materials we had or might borrow. As we figured out what we had space for and what told Montana’s stories best, we put some items away and sorted others into cases (the blue tape lines on the table are the rough outlines of a case). Museum registrars diligently cataloged and described the condition of Museum and loaned objects to make sure they were safe and ready to be on display.

Throughout the exhibition process we also had the pleasure of working with Hayes Otoupalik, an expert on U.S. militaria who was appointed Special Military Historical Advisor to the WW1 Centennial Commission. He generously loaned many artifacts, including a German machine gun and fabric from a German aircraft rudder, Distinguished Service Cross and medal group for Philip Prevost of Geyser, and a variety of field gear and personal items a Montana soldier would have had in the trenches.

Model of gallery space, built by R. Jones-Wallace. Photo by author.

The exhibit’s team—designer, prepator, curator, education specialist, and various advisors—planned what the main content areas would be, how topics would be organized (e.g. Montana before the war, home front, overseas service, and Montana after the war), what artifacts and photographs would be used, and what interactive experiences to develop. As curator, I wrote text for each of these sections and the individual objects. The exhibit designer mapped out new walls, figured out what would fit where (or wouldn’t fit!), and selected colors that captured the mood of the exhibit. One of the planning strategies the museum team used is building models of the gallery and exhibit components. The team was always moving between the model, the artifacts, and text—reworking each as needed to reach a final version. The model helped the team move from a blank slate to a fully-realized, unique space. Transforming that vision into a 3-dimensional reality will be the topic of part two.

November 22, 2017


by Kelly Burton, Film Archivist

Of all the larger-than-life figures to emerge from twentieth century history, few rival the early aviators when it comes to pure panache and romantic allure. This is certainly true in the case of Amelia Earhart, an aviation pioneer and author whose celebrity has remained extremely durable throughout the decades following her disappearance over the central Pacific Ocean in 1937. The brief visit that Ms. Earhart made to Helena, Montana in 1933 stands as a testament to her appeal at the time, and both the enthusiastic civic response and the wide regional press coverage speak to the breadth of her fame. References to Earhart’s historic appearance persist to this day: Helena’s annual history pageant – the Vigilante Parade – honored Earhart’s visit with separate floats in 2013 and 2017, and the appearance was further immortalized in 2010 with a painting which now hangs at the Helena Airport.

telegram from Amelia Earhart, 1933 (PAc 2003-62)
title card from Amelia Earhart, 1933 (PAc 2003-62)

Adding its own unique piece to this historical narrative, the Montana Historical Society has an amateur motion picture film of a portion of Amelia Earhart’s 1933 promotional tour for Northwest Airways.  As part of the airline’s bid for the coveted airmail contract for the Northern Transcontinental Route from Minneapolis to Seattle, general manager John Croil Hunter invited Earhart to fly as a guest aboard a Northwest Airways Ford Trimotor on a portion of the northern route to “assess the desirability of flying the route in mid-winter.” [1]  The aviator landed in Helena around 4:30 pm on January 29, 1933, and this particular trip found her playing the role of passenger, observer, and spokesperson for the value of aeronautics. After addressing a crowd of thousands at the Helena Airport administration building, Earhart was then taken to a banquet in her honor at Helena’s Placer Hotel, where she regaled Montana governor John E. Erickson and the town’s elite with stories of her various transatlantic flights. Staying with the State Commissioner of Aeronautics Fred B. Sheriff and his family at 700 Power Street in Helena that evening, Earhart departed for Spokane and Seattle after a luncheon the following afternoon. [2]

Earhart landing at Helena Airport (PAc 2003-62)  
Earhart disembarking at Helena Airport (PAc 2003-62)

The 70-foot, 5-minute reel of silent, black and white, 8mm film begins with handwritten title cards that read, “these pictures of Amelia Earhart taken in Helena Feb. 1933” and “the flight pictures are from Helena to Seattle.” Following these homemade titles, we find footage of a telegram sent from Earhart to Mrs. Fred B. Sheriff of Helena, Montana: “Mr. Putnam and I are off to Chicago this afternoon where I expect to see Mr. Hunter. Please tell your husband I will write him after the interview. Sincerely yours, Amelia Earhart.” The film then shows the approach, landing and taxiing of a Northwest Airways Ford Trimotor airplane, as photographed from the ground at the Helena Airport. Earhart disembarks the plane, where she is immediately engaged by a closely-gathered crowd. The aviator is soon escorted to the airport’s administration building, where she speaks and gestures from a second-story window, and eventually leaves the airport. On what is presumed to be the following day, we see Earhart board the same Ford plane and depart from the Helena valley.  The final images from the reel are aerial views of various mountain ranges and lakes, culminating in very brief shots of the Seattle area from the air and ground.

Earhart at the Helena Airport (PAc 2003-62)

Earhart speaking from the airport administration building (PAc 2003-62)

While motion pictures of early promotional aviation tours – especially those undertaken by pilots of Earhart’s stature –  often existed as widely-distributed newsreels, there are several details from this Helena film which point to a more unique document. In lieu of professionally printed credits, intertitles and copyright information, the filmmaker used only two homemade title cards to identify the contents of the reel. The presence in the film of a personal telegram from Earhart to Bernice Sheriff points to the family of the aeronautics commissioner as the probable source for the amateur film, and this idea is confirmed by the donation paperwork itself. American historian and Montana rancher Jean Baucus, who brought the film to the Historical Society in 2003, is in fact the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Sheriff. A VHS transfer of this wonderfully distinctive film (collection PAc 2003-62) was provided by the donor, and this copy is available for viewing in the Historical Society’s Research Center.

Earhart leaving the Helena valley (PAc 2003-62)

Earhart departing from Helena Airport (PAc 2003-62)

[1] Ric Gillespie, Finding Amelia: The True Story of the Earhart Electra (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2009), 55-56.
[2] “Greatest Woman Flyer Delights Helena Crowd,” Helena Independent (Helena, MT), January 30, 1933.

November 16, 2017

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: Montana Historical Society's founding

When the territory was only a few months old, Montana's earliest white settlers began planning for a historical society.

Key dates

February 2, 1865—The territorial assembly passes an act to incorporate the Historical Society of Montana.
March 4, 1865—Society President W. F. Sanders advertises for the first public event at the Society, a lecture by a local judge. The event is held in a local church.
March 25, 1865—The Historical Society is officially organized with elected officers.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for these terms: historical society

Written by Catherine W. Ockey

November 9, 2017

"Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry."

"Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry." FDR, 3 February 1943

George Suyama
Photo Courtesy of Carl Williams
Montana native George Washington Suyama was last seen October 22, 1944, as he was shot from a tank by a German shooter.   The tank was one of several on the road to liberate Bruyeres, France from German occupation.  Sergeant Suyama was a member of Company A, 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment.  The 100th Battalion and 442nd were segregated units manned by hundreds of first generation Japanese fighting for the USA  in the European Theater.  They fought for the United States while many of their families were interned in the United States.  A year and a day after his disappearance, the U.S. Government contacted George’s  siblings of his “Missing in Action” status. [1] Sergeant Suyama died a long way from home.

George Suyama was born in Great Falls, MT, 7 October 1918, the second child of Harry and Tamy Suyama.  The family was among a group of Japanese who lived near, and worked for the Great Northern Railway.   By 1930, the Suyama family included five children.  They had moved north of Havre to establish a truck farm.[2]  Mr. and Mrs. Suyama’s produce soon earned a reputation of quality, and the family was active in the local Methodist church. They encouraged their children to attend school and all excelled in their education.  Sadly, both parents passed away while the two younger children were still in school. [3] It appears the older siblinlgs, Marda, George, and Tana, supported the family. By 1940 the Suyama children, all Nisei, or first generation Japanese Americans, were hard at work. Betty, the youngest, lodged with the Green family while finishing Havre High School. Frank and George labored at a mine in Fergus County, while 23-year-old Mary lived and worked in Helena for Montana’s ex-governor John Erickson and his wife Grace. [4]  After graduating from Havre High School with a 4.0 average, Tana headed east.  By 1942 she would meet and marry Dr. George Marumoto in Minneapolis. [5]

George Suyama with coworkers and neighbors at Mill Site near Brooks, MT circa 1940
Photo courtesy of  Carl Williams
In December 1941, George Washington Suyama was once again living near the railroad with other workers of Japanese descent, this time in Helena.  His enlistment card recorded his employer as Ogata Gardens.   He traveled to Missoula to enlist in the Army two weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack. [6] Due to his Japanese ethnicity, he was denied combat duty and stationed in Arkansas. However, with the formation of the 442nd Infantry, Sergeant Suyama saw the opportunity to prove the “lie to the wrong headedness and racism that led to internment.” [7]   By October 1944, he was serving as a replacement for the 100th Battalion Combat Unit as it fearlessly fought its way through France.  For his service and sacrifice, the U.S. Army recognized Sergeant George Washington Suyama for,

 . . . heroic achievement on 22 October 1944. Directed to establish contact with elements of their battalion entrapped in the vicinity of Biffontaine, France, Sergeant Suyama and his comrades started for their objective mounted on five light tanks. Encountering a hail of fire from well dug-in enemy positions on the road, Sergeant Suyama and the rest of the platoon fearlessly resisted with their individual weapons and the machine guns emplaced on the tanks, neutralized a considerable portion of the concentrated fire and enabled the tanks to reach friendly forces. By his heroic disregard for personal safety, Sergeant Suyama contributed immeasurably to the subsequent attainment of the objective and reflects honor on the United States Army.” HEADQUARTERS SIXTH ARMY GROUP, U.S. ARMY, GENERAL ORDERS NUMBER 15, 30 December, 1944. [8]

Sergeant Suyama was ultimately awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart, Distinguished Unit Badge, Combat Infantry Badge, American Campaign Medal, and more.  For its size, the 442nd was the most decorated unit in the history of U.S. warfare. [9]

With the naming of their oldest son George Washington, Harry and Tamy  Suyama professed their appreciation and commitment to this county.  With his actions and sacrifice so far from the fields of central Montana, Sergeant Suyama not only reinforced his parents’ love of the United States, he succeeded in proving that despite the grotesquely unfair treatment that Americans of Japanese descent were subjected, patriotism is not a matter of ethnicity.

[1] Neil Nakadate, Looking After Minidoka: An American Memoir, Indiana University Press, 2013, p. 195
[2] See 1920, 1930 & 1940 U.S. Census for Harry Suyama family. 
[3] “Mrs. Harry Suyama Taken By Death,” The Havre Daily News, 23 August 1938.
[4] 1940 U.S. Census, Suyama, George, Frank, Betty & Mary
[5] Nakadate,  p. 124-126,  194-96
[6] Suyama, George Enlistment card, RS 223, Montana Adjutant General’s Office Records, Polks Helena City Directory 1941-42, p, 204, 1940 U.S. Census for Rinzi Ogata. 
[7] Nakadate, p. 195
[8] Carl Williams, Hill 555 Project, Report to Donors, 31 October, 2017, Biography Sgt. George Washington Suyama,   Russ Pickett, “Sgt. George W. Suymana,” Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial, Lorraine, France, Find a Grave,  Accessed 7 September 2017.
[9] Ibid. 

October 26, 2017

From the Ground Up: Montana Women and Agriculture

Brad Hansen
Federal Grants Manager
State Historic Preservation Office
Montana Historical Society
Thirty-seven ranches along the Missouri River near Townsend, Montana, were drowned when Canyon Ferry Dam was completed in 1954. Dorothy Hahn’s ranch was one of them. Determined not to lose her home, Dorothy and her husband Paul refused the federal government’s low-ball offer of $42,000 for their $200,000 property. They hung on, hoping the project might be cancelled, or at least the location of the dam might be moved upriver to Toston. The project wasn’t cancelled, and the site of the dam did not change. The summer of 1954 they watched as the Missouri swallowed their fields, their fences and their way of life. In an oral history conducted by the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC) Dorothy recalled,

“So, we ended up going to court and they awarded us $82,000 and we had to pay the lawyer $20,000. We ended up with $62,000 for our $200,000 place. We had a set of scales just like the ones they have at the stockyards, and they wouldn't let us take ‘em. They put the water over them. We had wire fences and they wouldn't let us take those, so they are all under the lake, and if anybody gets caught in that wire they will never get out… That was the best land in Broadwater County. Real black soil. There were so many trees that went along the river. All those leaves built up... Paul, he worked up one piece of ground and put it into oats and it made 100 bushel to the acre… It was hard on Paul, real hard on him. He even cried when we had our trial. You know, it just took it all away. We figured we'd raise our kids there on that ideal spot. There was hunting and fishing and we could make a good living for them.”

While Dorothy and Paul did move on to successful ranching careers in Winston, Montana, Dorothy never really got over losing the original ranch. At ninety-one years old (at the time of her interview), you can still hear the emotion in her voice as she recalls what the land and animals meant to her. Her story, now recorded for present and future generations to enjoy, spans decades and reveals how ranch life in Montana evolved. Her life is an excellent example of the important role women played in the growth of Montana’s agriculture and ranching economy.

 And, Dorothy is just one of many exceptional women with a background in ranching and/or agriculture who have volunteered to participate in the Montana DNRC’s From the Ground Up: Women and Agriculture Oral History Project. To date, over 40 women from across the state have shared their stories. Combined, the oral histories form a collection of primary sources that document and explore the history of ranching and farming in Montana from the perspective of women. They are well worth a listen!

Audio files and transcriptions of the interviews are available online at Montana DNRC or by visiting the Montana Historical Society Research Center. To learn more about the oral history project or to volunteer please contact Linda Brander, Program Specialist at Montana DNRC. 406.444.0520.

Photo: 1870s “View of the Missouri River and
Canton Valley Looking South from Avalanche Creek”
Photo courtesy of Helena as She Was:

October 12, 2017

The Green Paradise of William A. Clark III

by Kelly Burton, Film Archivist

cover page of Our Last Frontier, SC 993

title card for Green Paradise, PAc 2017-56

It is always rewarding to piece together a historical narrative that spans various formats and collections within the archives, and such is the case with a 1931 camping trip taken by William A. Clark III into the wilderness of western Montana. As the namesake and entrepreneurial grandson of the famous copper magnate, the 28-year-old Clark not only had the means with which to generously outfit his month-long excursion, but also the materials needed to document the outing in detail. A 60-page manuscript chronicling the trip arrived at the Montana Historical Society in 1949 under the title Our Last Frontier, with eleven still photographs serving to illustrate the outdoor activities of Clark and his camping party. Six unidentified home movie reels were brought to the Historical Society by a separate donor in 1976, and title cards from one of these films have recently allowed us to match them with the Clark writings and photographs from 1931. Named Green Paradise: The Story of a Camping Trip by their creator, the film reels serve as a wonderful complement to the Our Last Frontier materials and provide us with a unique viewpoint concerning the Clark family story.

The Rovero brothers flanking Gene Kelly
"Repacking Supplies at Danaher Camp", PAc 77-17
Gene Kelly, "A Native Trout from the Sun River", PAc 77-17
In the first paragraph of the manuscript, Clark states three reasons for his lengthy trip to the wilderness: “One was the fact that I had become greatly interested in colored motion picture photography, another than I had just planned to pass two years in Arizona, and the third was that I felt the need of a trip into the woods. The last reason, a manifestation of relish for the wilderness, can better be understood by those who have been intimately associated with the mountain trail and the camp fire.” (3) In addition to the companionship of his attorney, friend, and previous camping partner E.J. (Gene) Kelly, Clark also procured the assistance of brothers’ Pete and Dennis Rovero, who would in turn “buy twelve head of pack horses and four saddle horses, as well as the necessaries to establish a base of supplies at White River.” (4) As the cards from the titled motion picture boast, these four men ultimately “covered 300 miles in 31 days, established 15 camps, forded many streams and rivers, and crossed the Continental Divide four times.” The motion picture films, still photographs, and written words all serve to document the following locations within western Montana and what is now known as the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area: Chinese Wall, Kootenai Mountains, Morrell Falls, Cottonwood Lake, South Fork Flathead River, Sun River, Twin Peaks, Big Salmon Lake, McDonald Peak, and Holland Lake.

"Bull Elk with Horns in Velvet", PAc 77-17

fording the Sun River, from Green Paradise, PAc 2017-56
Of the six film reels donated to the Historical Society, we find one edited product with title cards accompanied by five reels of additional footage. Though the manuscript does not always differentiate between the taking of still photographs and moving images, Clark does make direct references to the shooting of motion picture film on a few occasions: “The purpose of the trip would be to photograph in natural colors the scenic beauty of the country we had in the past covered by trail, and the attempt to again photograph the wild game of this section of Montana. Since the film was not to be for commercial exhibition but rather for our own use we decided to use the Eastman sixteen millimeter Kodacolor camera.” (3)

at the Chinese Wall, from Green Paradise, PAc 2017-56
At another point in his writings, Clark describes a failed attempt at capturing moving images of an elk: “The first morning we were honored by a not unwelcome visitor – a bull elk that strolled boldly into camp just at daybreak. He awoke us all with his seemingly annoyed stomping, probably occasioned by the total lack of ceremonial greeting to which so eminent a member of forest nobility is entitled, and remained inquiringly within fifty yards of camp until the sun came over the hill when he reluctantly and with many backward glances at us returned to the brush. We took some excellent still pictures of him but unfortunately were unable, due to the dim light, to ‘feature’ him in any motion pictures.” (37) Rectification of this missed opportunity can be found near the end of the narrative, and Clark states that “to this time we had recorded only about fifty feet of the animals, but Dame Fortune favored me most generously at this last attempt.” (53-54) While this elk footage did not make Clark’s edited version of the home movie, these images can be found on the outtake reels.

the final page of Our Last Frontier, SC 993

The two sentences that comprise the final page of Clark’s memoir speak of the group’s reluctance to leave the Montana wilderness at the end of the trip: “The next morning it was all too apparent that the end of our trail was in sight. We dawdled about camp as long as we dared, changing packs here, splicing ropes there, taking pictures of scenes that we had taken the afternoon before just to procrastinate the longer, but we finally made a most reluctant start and by three o’clock that afternoon we arrived at the Holland Lake Lodge and – well – the trip was over.” (60) The melancholy of this sentiment is punctuated by the fact that William A. Clark III died less than a year after these documents were created, making this perhaps his final trip to the Montana wilderness. An aviator, Clark died in an airplane crash on May 15, 1932 outside of Clarkdale, Arizona – the company smelter town founded in 1912 by his industrious grandfather.

William A. Clark III, from Green Paradise, PAc 2017-56

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: Original Governor's Mansion

The first two governors of the State of Montana, Joseph Toole and Edwin Norris, lived in their own homes while serving. When Samuel Stewart, who was from Virginia City, was elected, the state legislature appropriated funds to purchase and maintain a furnished home in Helena, where the governor and his family would live and host receptions for dignitaries.

Key dates

1888—William A. Chessman builds a residence at 304 N. Ewing for his own use.
1913—The state buys the Chessman home to serve as the executive mansion.
1913-1959—Nine governors and their families reside in the mansion.
1959—Governor Hugo Aaronson moves to the new governor’s mansion at 2 Carson Street.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: governor’s mansion, executive mansion, chessman, helena.

Written by Catherine W. Ockey

September 28, 2017

Montana in the Green Book

by Kate Hampton, Community Preservation Coordinator

Placer Hotel Construction, Helena, Montana, December 9, 1912.
Catalog #953-553
Between 1936 and 1967, Victor H. Green & Company published The Negro Motorist Green Book, which offered listings of lodgings, restaurants, service stations, and recreation opportunities for African American travelers. The first two issues – 1936 and 1937 – limited listings to New York state. By 1939, however, the book aided travelers in places across the country. That year, the only Montana entry was that of Mrs. M. Stitt at 204 South Park in Helena, whose two-story boarding house offered “tourist home” accommodations. Mrs. Stitt died in 1939, but her family continued to advertise under her name in the Green Book through 1951. In 1956 and 1957, through the last issue in mid-1960s, more Montana lodgings advertised in the Green Book, including places in Billings, Butte, Livingston, Missoula, and East Glacier. The 1964 Civil Rights Act, at least in theory, made the Green Book unnecessary, and publication ended shortly thereafter. 

Follow this link 
to a map that includes information about each of the Montana establishments listed in the Green Book

For a spreadsheet of Montana listings in the Green Book, click here.

For more information about the African American experience in Montana, please visit the Montana Historical Society’s Montana’s African American Heritage Resources website.

September 21, 2017

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: University of Montana's founding

As soon as Montana became a state in 1889, the legislature set out to establish a state university. Missoula city leaders gave up a bid to become the state capital in exchange for becoming the site of the university.

Key dates

February 1893—After a debate over whether existing colleges should be consolidated, Missoula was appointed as the location for the University of Montana.
September 1895—Classes begin with an initial enrollment of nearly 100.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for these terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: university, oscar j. craig

September 14, 2017

Home Movies: Both Common and Distinct Documents

by Kelly Burton, Film Archivist

While home movie collections in general have become a ubiquitous feature of the twenty-first century moving image archives, it is important to remember that the individual films which constitute such collections often exist as unique historical documents. Films of this type are most frequently created for personal use rather than broader public exhibition, so there is typically little concern when it comes to reproduction or duplication on the part of their creators. As potentially one-of-a-kind items within the historical record, the value of home movies to an archives – particularly facilities that focus on regional history – cannot be understated. Few names from Montana’s past carry the historical weight of copper magnate Marcus Daly, and the eleven film reels that constitute the Daly Family home movie collection provide us with a fascinating view of European opulence as viewed through the prism of Montana mining culture.

Though the patriarch passed away a full two decades before his family’s home movies were created, Marcus Daly’s legacy of hard-won wealth is evident in the stark contrast between the lavishness of the Daly Mansion and its rugged backdrop. The western Montana town of Hamilton was founded by Marcus Daly himself as a hub of business, and the frequently-remodeled mansion on the Daly property – a homestead purchased in 1886 – served as the most prominent structure in the otherwise rural area. Daly’s widow was largely responsible for incorporating the previous Queen Anne style into the newer Colonial Revival style by 1910, and this is the version of the mansion shown in the family’s films. The home movies themselves contain various family members and guests enjoying the amenities of the grounds, with one film canister label even listing aged Daly rival William A. Clark and his wife among those present.

The Daly Family home movie collection
PAc 97-56

The films in the Daly Family collection date from 1919 to 1921, and the very act of owning a personal motion picture camera at this point in the medium’s evolution displays an affluence that is mirrored in the images themselves. Several guests to the home arrive in automobiles, which would have been an equally rare possession. Lighting would have made the filming of interiors difficult, so all scenes are of recreational activities on the European-style grounds of the Daly Mansion. Activities in the films include: boating, duck hunting, tea parties by the pergola, horseback riding, swimming in the mansion’s pool, driving go-karts, and hitting golf balls off the home’s front drive on the Fourth of July. The camera also turns to the area surrounding Hamilton itself, with special attention given to the mountains that border the town’s west side.

Lele Von Harrenreich Daly teeing off at the Mansion, July 4, 1921

The home movies left by the Daly Family become still more unusual when we consider the materials with which they were created, specifically the gauge of the film itself. Looking for a smaller and less flammable alternative to 35mm nitrate motion picture stock, French company Pathé Frères introduced 28mm diacetate to the upscale home market in France in 1912 and the United States the following year under the name American Pathéscope. Though World War I brought a swift end to 28mm film production in Europe, the stock continued to thrive in the United States until the advent of still smaller gauges such as Pathé’s 9.5mm gauge and Kodak’s 16mm gauge in 1923. Kodak eventually bought American Pathéscope’s film stock factory in 1926, which brought an end to the business in the United States. Just over 100 of the 190,000 film and video assets currently held at the Academy Film Archive are 28mm, which testifies to relative rarity of the gauge itself.

Pre-printed Pathéscope film leader from the Daly Family reels, circa 1920.

The Daly Family home movie collection was donated to the Montana Historical Society by Francis B. Bessenyey, a step-great-grandson of Marcus Daly, in 1997 (collection PAc 97-56). A VHS transfer of excerpts from the films was also donated, and is available for viewing in the Historical Society’s Research Center.