December 27, 2018

Helena's "High School on Wheels"

Kelly Burton, Film Archivist
Montana Historical Society

In the fall of 1935 and winter of 1936, the Helena Valley experienced an earthquake swarm that took the life of four area citizens and caused a great deal of property damage. An October 1936 report on the event by seismologist Franklin P. Ulrich describes a series of quakes that began with two small shocks on October 3, 1935: “There was a quiet spell until October 12, when a hard shock occurred which was followed by 30 smaller ones. Shocks were felt daily until October 18, with two hard ones on the 15th. The shock of October 18 was the first destructive shock. It was followed by a second destructive shock on October 31, which was of nearly the same intensity. Between these two shocks, 506 smaller shocks were felt, and up to the end of March, 1936, 1974 shocks had been felt in the swarm. The personnel of the City Engineer’s office in Helena has made a survey and finds that more than half the buildings in Helena were damaged, and that the total damage would be between $3,000,000 and $4,000,000.” (“Helena Earthquakes” by Franklin P. Ulrich, Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, October 1936, vol. 26 no. 4)

PAc 2003-48 EQ# 261

One of the more notable structures to suffer serious damage was Helena High School, a building which had just been completed in August of 1935. Jean MacNeill Stock, a member of the graduating class of 1937, recalls the upheaval: “Damage to the new $500,000 high school was estimated at $250,000. The north end, which housed the auditorium, chemistry rooms, commercial drawing and auto mechanics departments, showed great gaps in the wall. Cracks in the earth paralleled the west wall. In the center of the building, plaster, books and personal belongings were scattered all over. Outside were piles of bricks. It was decided school could reopen in two weeks by walling off the damaged sections, but on Oct. 31 another large tremor hit and wrote finis to the new high school.” (Great Falls Tribune, June 21, 1964, p. 10)

H.H.S. "Chemistry" (PAc 200348 EQ# 74)
H.H.S. Principal W.W. Wahl (PAc 2003-48 EQ# 71)

Unable to find a suitable structure in which to hold high school classes that fall, the city of Helena ultimately arranged to rehouse students in a series of train cars furnished by two railroad companies. The Helena Daily Independent from December 3, 1935 explains the unorthodox arrangement in detail: “School on wheels will be inaugurated by the Helena high students within the next 10 days, when 18 coaches, furnished free of charge by the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railway companies, will be placed on the tracks to be laid on Lyndale avenue between the 800 and 1000 blocks. Rails and ties for the tracks are to be furnished free of charge by the railway companies, the school board paying only for the labor to lay the tracks. Supervisors for the track-laying will also be furnished by the railway companies. The school board shall be responsible for any damage done to the cars, or any injury done to the students while attending school in them.” (Helena Daily Independent, December 3, 1935)

Helena's "high school on wheels" (PAc 90-50)
Students posing for a photo (PAc 90-50)

Though far from ideal, the 18 railway coaches parked in downtown Helena would ultimately serve as the town’s high school for a full 18 months. Again, Jean MacNeill Stock from the Class of 1937 recalls the experience: “Dec. 12, high school students went to the damaged building to get their books and on Dec. 16 classes opened in the rail cars. Classes were 100 minutes’ duration instead of the usual 60. School was in session Monday through Saturday, from 8:15 a.m. until 5 p.m. High school on wheels was quite a comedown from the beautiful well-equipped building we had been so rudely shaken out of. The cars were of ancient vintage even for those days. We missed our laboratories, drawing tables and convenient desks. Each car was to have had its own heating system but something went wrong and a central system was installed. It proved unsatisfactory. In the winter we kept on our coats and overshoes, and still were cold. Then, when it warmed up in the spring, we nearly suffocated – the windows couldn’t be opened. Nevertheless, the high school on wheels was most welcome to us; we were able to finish the classes we feared might be delayed for a long time. It wasn’t until the fall of 1937 that the high school building was ready for use again.” (Great Falls Tribune, June 21, 1964, p. 10)

Attending class in winter (PAc 98-26)
Icicles between train coaches (PAc 98-26)

In addition to still photographs of the converted train cars taken by professional Helena photographer Les Jorud, the Montana Historical Society also has two 16mm reels shot by Jorud, as well as two 8mm reels from other home movie collections. The Scott Family home movie (PAc 85-58) shows the students and faculty engaged in a snowball fight, the exterior of the coaches themselves, and people gathered in front of the improvised administration building with its hand-painted “Helena High School” sign. Winter plays a central role in the Schafer Family home movie (PAc 98-26) of the school, and we see long icicles hanging from the sides of rail cars, students and faculty coming and going in a snowstorm from steaming coaches, and people socializing outdoors despite the weather. As well as capturing the social life between classes, Jorud also shows students posing on bleachers for a group photo in front of the administration building, and railway men moving both tracks and trains on the day the “high school on wheels” is finally decommissioned. The event is commemorated with signs that run the length of each coach: “High School on Wheels – Helena, Montana. 9 of these coaches were loaned by Great Northern Railway after the earthquakes in 1935 till June 4th, 1937.” Rail cars loaned by Northern Pacific Railway carried a similar sign.

Students outside the administration office (PAc 85-58)
Workers laying new rails to remove train cars (PAc 90-50)

December 13, 2018

Joe Scheuerle and His Remarkable Indian Gallery

by Jennifer Bottomly-O'Looney, MHS Museum Senior Curator

Joe Scheuerle and His Remarkable Indian Gallery—which opened in the Montana Historical Society’s Lobby Gallery on September 6—features the remarkable work of portraitist Joseph G. Scheuerle (1873–1948). Helena’s Magpie Drummers and Dancers provided entertainment for this special opening, which was generously sponsored by the Montana Bankers Association Education Foundation.

Image by Tom Ferris, MHS Photographer
 Born in Austria to German parents, Scheuerle, at ten years of age, moved with his family to Ohio, where he eventually studied at the Cincinnati Art Academy. Beginning in 1909, he made many visits to Indian reservations in Montana and across the West, where he produced exceptional portraits that were, in his own words, “all finished and done honestly and carefully from life and on the spot.” Throughout his career he created more than two hundred portraits, and established close friendships and rapport with his models. 

Image by Tom Ferris, MHS Photographer
In addition to the carefully finished portraits, Scheuerle often provided fascinating, whimsical sketches and commentary on the back of the canvases. Today, these provide invaluable insight into the lives of the people he was painting. Through the master craftsmanship of MHS preparator Todd Saarinen, many of the works in the exhibit are displayed so that both sides can be seen. Joe Scheuerle and His Remarkable Indian Gallery is scheduled to run through December 2019. 

Image by Tom Ferris, MHS Photographer
Joe Scheuerle and His Remarkable Indian Gallery is made possible through generous donations of the artist’s work from Joe Scheuerle’s grandson Bill Grierson and his wife Pat, and from collectors Alfred K. Nippert Jr. and Kathye H. Nippert,, who traveled from Ohio to attend the opening.

Image by Tom Ferris, MHS Photographer

November 22, 2018


For November and #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth, we have compiled, and would like to share with you, some great online resources for researching Native American history, culture, and genealogy.

Much of the following was taken from Martha Kohl’s Educator listserv. If you are interested in joining the listserv, you can find more information about it here:

And, check out the listserv itself to get some awesome resources for teachers

Did you know? Montana  has updated its activities and resources; and is now mobile friendly.

Every year, the University of Montana’s School of Journalism publishes Native News, an annual look at issues facing Montana’s tribes. The 2018 edition addresses the topic of self-governance. One article visits Rocky Boy High School’s Helping Hands Program, while another article visits the Dakota language program at Fort Peck Community College. 

Native Land is a site that maps indigenous territories in the U.S. and Canada. It is, as its creator explains, "a work in progress." There are some things that may not ring true for Montana tribes (for example, the Salish and Kootenai don't have distinct territories on the map.) But, it is a useful tool for sparking discussion and worth checking out. Type in the name of your town and see what comes up.

And, we can always use more online maps: Tribal Nations Maps .

Below are a few new resources for learning and teaching more specifically about the Métis.

The first is 
The Métis of British Columbia: Culture, History, and the Contemporary Community. It's an online version of a DVD project created to help disseminate information on Métis history and culture that includes many short videos. There are two main sections: Culture, History, and Dance, and Music and Dance. Although it is from Canada, the material is relevant to Montana as well. 

Finally, from 
The Gabriel Dumont Institute's "Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture." This site has so much material that it is a bit daunting. But, all of it is excellent information.

Native American Genealogy Online Resources:

·        Access Genealogy - Native American is a great portal to most other websites for Native American Genealogy and includes:
o   Land Patent information for:
§  The Crow Tribe 
§  The Flathead Tribe
§  The Assiniboine Tribe - only one listing.
§  The Blackfeet Tribe - only 22 listings; however, the Blackfeet tribe has their own database of individuals (see below)

o   Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940 for:
§  All tribes 1885-1940, digitized, but not keyword searchable

o   Indian Schools, Seminaries, and Missions – NARA has links to these, also, but this looks easier to navigate and includes the Fort Shaw Indian School 1910 Census.
·         Blackfeet Genealogy – launched in 2006, this is a great source for Blackfeet individual vital data.

 BLM Land Patents – search by state and county and name or legal land description.

·         Family Search - Native American sources – this is a great portal for most of the other links here. Search by record type and by tribe.

·         National Archives - BIA records  – Record Group 75
o   BIA Schools by state includes Fort Shaw Indian Boarding School in Montana and Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania
o    Tribal Leaders Directory  searchable directory for Tribal contact information

November 8, 2018

Helena’s Social Supremacy: A Shot Fired in the Capital Fight

by Sierra Ross, MHS Research Center Library Assistant

The fight between Anaconda and Helena to become state capital is often portrayed as a knockout match between the larger-than-life mining millionaires Marcus Daly and William A. Clark. However, the satirical pamphlet “Helena’s Social Supremacy” shows how the capital fight was historically characterized as a matter of social class and local pride as well. As you can imagine, this led to some highly personal jabs.

The so-called Helena Capital Committee wrote “Helena’s Social Supremacy” as a mock sequel to the legitimately pro-Helena pamphlet “An Address to the People of Montana.” They sought to make Helena look ridiculous through excessive compliment, beginning their sarcastic endorsement with the following quote:
“That Helena is the social as well as the commercial, financial, agricultural, metallurgical, meteorological, geographical, astronomical, geological, theological, apostolical, political, intellectual, literary, educational, musical, theatrical, legal, medical, metaphysical, artistic, hygienic and esoteric center of Montana, is a fact which should admit of no dispute…”
A fashionable hold-up at the Broadwater Bar, Helena, MT. 
Even Helena’s most unsavory sorts were cut from a finer cloth than that of Anaconda. The Committee informs us, “Helena’s criminal classes are uniformly courteous and gentlemanly, never doing more injury to your person or feelings than the necessities of the occasion absolutely demand.” A robbery at the Broadwater Bar provided the bulk of their evidence. 

The Broadwater Bar hold-up, as reported in the Helena Herald, August 18, 1894.
In addition to satirizing Helena’s well-to-do, the authors played on the Anaconda working class’s existing feelings of resentment. An entire chapter of the pamphlet is devoted to snubbing Anaconda miners from their big feet to their dirty coveralls. Another chapter blames Anaconda’s benefactor, Marcus Daly, for everything from forest fires to the assassination of French president Sadi Carnot. The grievances of Helena supporters seemed to have no end: 
  “Anaconda is lamentably lacking in tally-hoes, four-in-hands, drags, waxed floors, dress suits, Browning clubs, theosophical societies, ceramics, art coteries, eight-course dinners, ten-button gloves, skirt dancing and other social facilities.” 
 “It is impossible to walk the streets of Anaconda without seeing workingmen and their wives and children, and when the streets are crowded one cannot escape brushing against them.”.
 “…the thick, nauseous fumes of corned-beef and cabbage settle over the town like a pall…”
 “Anaconda allows no Chinaman within her limits, and all laundry work must be sent to establishments conducted by high-priced American citizens.”
“Neither Marcus Daly nor any other citizen of Anaconda has ever asked Helena’s permission to live.”     
The Committee also provided vital statistics of comparison to convince its most skeptical readers, including the number of closet skeletons, breastfeeding mothers, and ladies who gave high fives. 

Mock statistics comparing Helena and Anaconda.
As much as I’d like to imagine 2,731 ladies high-fiving each other after Helena became the state capital in 1889, the high five in question most likely refers to a card game also known as Cinch. A disappointment for sure, but you can’t win them all.


Helena Capital Committee. “Helena’s Social Supremacy: Montana’s Center of Fashion, Refinement, Gentility, Etiquette, Kettle Drums, High Fives, Progressive Euchre and Mixed Drinks.” Helena, Montana: Helena Capital Committee, 1894.

Newby, Rick. “Helena’s Social Supremacy: Political Sarcasm and the Capital Fight.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 33, no. 4 (Autumn 1987): 68-72.

October 25, 2018

A Unique View of the Yellowstone Valley

Kelly Burton
MHS Film Archivist

A procession featuring members of the Crow Indian Tribe
 and local Catholics, near Pryor, ca. early-1930s.
The Montana Historical Society’s 45th annual conference was recently held in Billings, and the theme for this year’s event was “history from the Yellowstone Valley.” Conversations at the gathering inevitably addressed individuals that had made significant contributions to the history of Billings, and “Snook” was one of the family names that came up repeatedly among attendees. Earl Snook was a painter and decorator from Ohio who moved to the Fort Peck area when it was opened to homesteaders. Earl lived and worked on ranches in the Musselshell area until he was married in California in 1909 to his wife, Eleanor. The couple soon opened a paint and wallpaper shop in downtown Billings, which eventually expanded to include artist supplies, books and model airplanes. In the 1930s, the Snooks began acquiring what would become a sprawling 800-acre ranch along the crown of Sacrifice Cliff on the east side of Billings. Maintaining both the ranch and Snook Art Company in Billings, the family began to collect art and forge acquaintances with artists and writers such as Will James, Ernest Hemingway, Hans Kleiber, Bell Rock, Joseph Henry Sharp, and Joe DeYong.

Man riding a camel in the Shriners parade, downtown Billings, ca. early-1950s.
Virginia Snook, the only child of Eleanor and Earl, was born in Billings on June 6, 1911. After departing for Seattle in 1936 to attend Cornish School of the Arts, Virginia returned to Billings in the late 1930s to work in the family store and continue strong relationships with regional artists. After many decades of collecting artwork and supporting local creativity, Virginia was encouraged by Donna Forbes of the Yellowstone Art Museum to make a gift of the family’s collection. The friendship the family enjoyed with celebrated western artist and writer Will James is evidenced by the museum’s Virginia Snook Collection, which represents the largest collection of James art in the world. Virginia passed away on September 13, 2000 at the age of eighty-nine, and the family business closed in 2001 after serving the Billings area for almost a century.

Virginia Snook on horseback, ca. early-1940s.
In 2014, a collection of motion picture films created by the Snook Family was donated to the Historical Society by Marjorie Brown – Virginia’s longtime friend – on behalf of the Snook Estate. The collection consists of forty-two reels of 16mm motion picture film, and it serves as a dynamic document of life in the Yellowstone Valley from the early 1930s to the early 1950s. Highlights from the Snook Family collection include regional fairs and rodeos, parades, Snook ranch activities, gatherings on the Crow Indian Reservation, horse auctions, equestrian quadrilles, and images of the cliffs and canyons around Billings. The family also documented several trips away from their familiar Billings surroundings, including a pack trip to the newly-established Grand Teton National Park ca. 1931, a visit to California ca. 1932, and the bullfights and architecture of Mexico ca. 1945.

Senator Burton K. Wheeler speaking
at a Billings area fair, ca. mid-1940s.
Earl Snook appears to have enjoyed a unique relationship with members of the Crow Nation, as is evidenced from several important films from this collection. Plenty Coups lived from 1848-1932, and he was the Ashbacheeítche – or “chief of the camp” – of the Mountain Crow Band of the Crow Nation. Plenty Coups began building the log homestead seen in the Snook film on 320 acres of Crow Indian Reservation land near Pryor, Montana in 1884, and in 1928 he and his wife presented 189 acres of his land in trust to Big Horn County for what is now Chief Plenty Coup State Park. Earl filmed a gathering of Crow Indian Tribal members at this homestead in the early 1930s, with several of the chief’s notable log structures serving as backdrops. In addition to this meeting, Earl also filmed a procession near an unidentified Catholic mission in the Pryor area. This procession footage shows members of the Crow Nation and the Catholic church walking together down a rural road and gathering in front of a small area mission. Given the date of the film and the fact that Earl Snook took still photographs of the funeral of Chief Plenty Coups in 1932 (MHS photograph collection Lot 35), these gatherings may have represented tributes to the life of the Crow chief.

Gathering at the home of Chief Plenty Coups on the Crow Indian Reservation, ca. early-1930s.
One of the more novel events to happen on the Snook ranch was the filming of battle scenes for the Paramount Pictures film Warpath. The film was directed by Byron Haskin, and it stars Edmond O’Brien, Dean Jagger, Forrest Tucker, Harry Carey Jr. and Polly Bergen. Based around a Seventh cavalry detachment scouting expedition out of Ft. Lincoln near Bismarck, N.D. in 1876, the film portrays the events leading up to the tragic Battle of the Little Bighorn. The film itself was made with the cooperation of the Crow Indian Tribe, Montana Film Office, City of Billings, Yellowstone County Fair Board, and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, and many of the battle scenes were staged on the Snook ranch. Earl Snook shot 30 minutes of home movie footage during the filming of Warpath, a fact that was noted in one of the many newspaper articles covering the production: “Earl Snook, on whose ranch most of the battle scenes are being taken has been a continuous visitor on the set. He has been taking his own action movies along with the studio camera.” (Billings Herald, September 7, 1950) Billings also hosted the world premiere of Warpath at its Fox and Babcock Theatres in 1951, though this party remains sadly undocumented in the Snook Family films.

Harry Carey Jr. and Polly Bergen on the set of the Paramount Pictures feature Warpath, filmed in 1950.

October 11, 2018

A Taste of the Past: Gathering Montana’s Food Heritage

by Molly Kruckenberg, MHS Research Center Director

The Montana Historical Society’s work extends beyond the borders of our doors and reaches out into every corner of Montana.  Recently, MHS staff spent time in Sidney, Montana learning about the food history and heritage of that area.
MSH students digitize food-related materials at the Pella Lutheran Church in Sidney.
Image by Tom Ferris, MHS Photographer

On Saturday, September 15th, a team of historians and students from the Montana Historical Society and the Center for Western Lands and Peoples at Montana State University hosted "A Taste of the Past: Gathering Montana's Food Heritage" in Sidney. Residents of Richland and Roosevelt counties were invited to bring traditional recipes, community cookbooks, historic photographs and documents of food-related events, menus, records of home demonstration clubs, and artifacts related to food preparation and preservation to share with the historians and students. While stories were shared with historians, the MSU students scanned and gathered information about the documents and artifacts that were brought to this event. During the day, MHS and CWLP staff presented programs on Montana food history and preservation techniques for cherished artifacts, cookbooks, and photographs.  
Recipe card library with handwritten recipes from the Lambert area,
courtesy of the Lambert Historical Society.
[Image by Tom Ferris, MHS Photographer]
Area residents brought in items ranging from cookbooks to bread rising bowls to recipe cards and krumkake bakers. A 1920s era Sidney Ladies Guild Cookbook showed ads from local businesses, as well as favorite recipes from women of the Ladies Guild. A set of three krumkake bakers, dating from the early twentieth century to the early twenty-first century showed continuity in area food traditions.  A group of items containing a large wooden bowl, paddle and mold illustrated how butter was packed into one-pound blocks for use.  These, and the many other recipes and artifacts that were documented, speak broadly to the history of the region’s local food customs.

Wooden bowl, paddle, and butter mold that belonged to Mary Folvag,
courtesy of Debra Rasmussen.
[Image by Tom Ferris, MHS Photographer]
The digital images and information collected at the event will be used to study Montana’s food heritage and history in many ways.  The images and accompanying stories will eventually be made available on the Montana Memory Project (, where they can be freely used by the public for research and enjoyment.  Additionally, the historians involved in the project will return to Sidney in the spring of 2019 for a public program based on the stories and information gathered at the event. 
MHS Reference Historian, Zoe Ann Stoltz, spoke with many
event participants about Montana's food history and heritage.
[Image by Tom Ferris, MHS Photographer]
This project was made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as through the partnership of many institutions:  Center for Western Lands and Peoples at Montana State University; Sidney-Richland County Public Library; James E. Shanley Tribal Library at Fort Peck Community College; MonDak Heritage Center; Montana State University Library;  and the Montana Memory Project.

September 27, 2018


Kelly Burton
Film Archivist
Montana Historical Society

Station identification art card (collection PAc 2018-43)
The Photo Archives at the Montana Historical Society is very excited to announce the recent acquisition of the KRTV audiovisual collection. KRTV began its television broadcasting life in the Great Falls area on June 27, 1958, with early business being conducted from a metal Quonset hut. By 1960, the station was broadcasting in color. KRTV was primarily an NBC affiliate with some ABC programming, and when KFBB-TV took on a primary ABC affiliation in February 1966, KRTV began carrying CBS programming. It replaced KFBB as part of the Skyline Network, now the Montana Television Network (MTN). Over the next ten years, KRTV gradually phased in more CBS programming. By the summer of 1969, CBS programming exceeded that of NBC, making KRTV a primary affiliate of CBS. The station became a full-time CBS affiliate in 1976, when KTCM (now KTVH in Helena) expanded its coverage to become the default NBC affiliate across much of Montana. Now in its sixtieth year of operation, KRTV continues to broadcast on channel 3 as a CBS affiliate. Studios for the station are currently located on Old Havre Highway in Black Eagle, just outside of Great Falls.

The KRTV collection spans six audiovisual formats and consists of 847 individual films, videocassettes and audio reels. Collected from 1968 to 1996, these materials provide researchers with a dynamic window into local, national and international news stories in the second half of the twentieth century, as well as into the station's own technological evolution. Recurrent news stories within the collection include: Malmstrom Air Force base, Air Force maneuvers and troop assignments in the Great Falls area, the Charles M. Russell Museum, Great Falls School Board decisions, Paris Gibson Park events, area high school and College of Great Falls sports events, elections and voting procedures, Montana Power Company developments, prominent building constructions and demolitions across north central Montana, Republican and Democratic Party rallies, American Indian (particularly High Plains Indian) events and historical retrospectives, the Great Falls Centennial Celebration, and celebrity visits to north central Montana.

KRTV studios (collection PAc 2018-43)
KRTV studios (collection PAc 2018-43)
Undoubtedly the most prominent regional figure in the KRTV collection is broadcaster Norma Ashby. A fourth-generation Montanan, Ashby was born in Helena on December 27, 1935. She obtained a journalism degree from the University of Montana in Missoula, and worked as a researcher for Life magazine until her return to Montana in 1961. Ashby began her career with KRTV in 1962, and soon became the co-host and producer of KRTV’s award-winning live program “Today in Montana.” Over the course of her career, Ashby produced more than 21 television documentaries, hosted approximately 260 shows per year, and interviewed over 26,000 individuals, including many nationally known musicians, celebrities and political figures. Some of the more notable interviews given by Ashby for the station include: Pat Nixon, Joan Crawford, Clint Eastwood, Olivia de Havilland, Bob Hope, Art Linkletter, Vincent Price, Charley Pride, Mary Kay Ash, and Butte’s own Evel Knievel. Norma Ashby was inducted into the Montana Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame in 2010.

Norma Ashby and Clint Eastwood (collection PAc 2018-43)
Norma Ashby and Joan Crawford (collection PAc 2018-43)
In addition to a wealth of films and videocassettes, the KRTV collection also contains four boxes of artifacts from the television station. A series of seventy-two photographic slides contains various CBS News programming cues, images of both old and new KRTV studios, portraits of on-air personalities, and images from KXLF – a sister station in Butte, Montana. Other artifacts include a series of one-of-a-kind on-camera art cards, which have been grouped into the following categories: advertisements, news/sports/weather Reports, general programming announcements, specialty programming announcements, cartoons, and station Identification. These additional materials provide unique insight into the inner-workings of the station during the late 1960s through the early 1980s, and serve to flesh out the history of KRTV for contemporary researchers.

Advertisement art card (collection PAc 2018-43)
Station identification art card (collection PAc 2018-43)

The processing of large moving image collections is by nature a resource-intensive undertaking. Thanks to a generous grant from the Greater Montana Foundation, the Historical Society has been able to begin preservation work on these wonderful regional documents in September of 2018.

September 13, 2018

A Family Tradition of Writing

by Karly Watts, Summer Archives Intern

There is a tradition in every family: a holiday meal, a pearl necklace on a 16th birthday.
 In this family collection, that tradition was writing.

A love letter Alexander wrote to his wife, Mildred, five years after their marriage.
Some of it was natural; letters between family during wartime deployment was the norm. 
Others were carefully cultivated and encouraged by surroundings and education: 
a childhood diary, college degrees in English and Journalism, poetry, 
glee clubs, literary magazines, and family histories.

Soldier's letter from home, 1898
The Swaney Family Papers are filled with the works of three generations of Montanans, 
stretching from the pioneer and homesteading days of the 1880s to the very recent 2015. 
From Andrew’s letters home while stationed in Manila, Philippines 
during the Spanish-American War; to Alexander's letters home 
from the consulate in Chefoo, China; to the letters written 
in sympathy of Alexandra’s wife’s passing.

Flyer for Mildred Swaney née Buckneberg’s Glee Club
The Swaney Family Papers, more than letters, 
is a collection of the ups and downs of life: 
war, growing up, marriage, death, travel, and love.

Within this collection you will find letters
 –  between friends, lovers, mothers, daughters, fathers, and sons – 
poetry, diaries, Blackfoot oral histories, published articles, and many manuscripts. 
There are also newspaper clippings of their exploits, land deeds, certificates, 
membership ephemera, and military miscellany. 

The Swaney Family Papers detail pioneer life, worries, 
turn of the century commitment to Country, 
the adaptability to changing culture and technology, 
and a great fondness for Montana life and culture.


I would like to take this opportunity to thank the friends, family - and friends that may as well be family - to the late Alexandra Swaney. As I have poured over the richness of the lives of Andrew, Alexander, and Alexandra, I have come to realize how special they were, and how special a place their beloved home, Montana, was and continues to be. As I poured over their personal papers, I grew rather attached to the people that have long left this world before I even entered it. More than once I laughed as I read Alexander’s sharp opinions on modern media and cried over his letters to a young Alexandra after the passing of her mother. Never before have I had such fear of the unknown as I read the letters and musings of Alexander in his twilight years, when he felt himself slipping away.

But, they are gone now, and it is thanks to you, dear friends, that some small piece of them remains so that the rest of us can get to know, even a little, the bright, gentle souls that have gone on before us.