July 18, 2019

Flashback Montana 1969

Christine Brown
Historical Specialist

The world watched in awe in July 1969 as scientists and astronauts successfully launched the Apollo 11 spacecraft, explored the moon’s surface, and safely returned to Earth. The momentous occasion was ever-present in the media and for good reason. Nine years and billions of dollars brought unprecedented advances in engineering and technology, spawned whole new industries, and gave the world technological innovations we still benefit from (and can barely live without) today.

The Eagle has landed.  Apollo 11, July 22, 1969.  U.S. National Archives

While the nation focused on the space race, in Montana advances in aerospace engineering and space exploration took a back seat and local matters dominated the state’s newspaper headlines.

Governor Forrest Anderson took office in January 1969. Back then legislators had just sixty days to decide on a lengthy docket of proposed legislation. The state desperately needed money for infrastructure and programming, and the legislature passed a 15 to 18 percent increase in the individual income tax, along with increases in property tax, corporate income taxes and fees, gas and cigarette taxes, and a doubled beer tax.

Other historic legislation lowered the voting age to nineteen, created a Constitutional Revision Commission, funded the state’s five vocational-technical colleges, and condensed 100-plus agencies into 29 departments. Legislators failed to fund public kindergarten and a prison pre-release program, and voted down the minimum wage and collective bargaining for state employees.

The year 1969 saw low unemployment in Montana, but an increasing demand for federal welfare funds as county governments tried to help the working poor and correct social and economic inequalities. Federal funds transformed Montana’s physical landscape too, as Montana cities applied for urban renewal grants to clear deteriorated buildings in their historic commercial downtowns. At the same time, developers built new shopping centers at the outskirts of town.

Teens, college students, and drugs were of rising concern. Both Helena and Missoula reported multiple teen arrests and sentencing for marijuana crimes. The University of Montana addressed the issue by inviting noted professor and LSD user Timothy Leary to the campus for a debate on drug use.

The war in Vietnam also preoccupied Montana campuses. Thirty-four students and instructors at the University of Montana turned in their draft registration cards in April, refusing to serve in the war. On October 15, thousands of Montana students participated in a national day of protest against the war. By the end of 1969, Montana had lost 204 men to the conflict in Vietnam.
Peace march in Helena
Montana’s Jeanette Rankin, at age 89, participated in the October 15 Moratorium Day activities from her adopted home in Georgia and continued to campaign for women’s rights. Almost exactly fifty years after women won the vote, 30 percent of Montana women were full-time workers. While a few more women each year rose to prominent posts, female pay in 1969 was about 40 percent less than a male’s pay for doing the same work.

In many ways Montana in 1969 was in a parallel race alongside the U.S. and Russia. Instead of rocketing to the moon, Montana was racing to keep pace with neighboring states in the never-ending quest to fund, maintain, and modernize. Just prior to July 20, U.S. President Richard Nixon declared the impending moon landing a national holiday, a day to watch and reflect on the U.S.’s scientific achievements. While many Montanans stayed home, watched television, and toasted the moon landing with glasses of champagne, Montana state offices remained open and Governor Anderson was at work. He declined NASA’s invitation to watch the moon landing from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and instead traveled to Sun River with fish and game officials to survey problem elk range areas and help set antelope quotas.
The Independent Record (Helena, Montana) 22 July 1969

July 9, 2019

"The Whole Country was...One Robe"

by Barbara Pepper Rotness, MHS Research Center

We just received the book back from the conservator, nicely bound and protected from further wear and tear, it had been so well-used and perused. “The Whole Country was…’One Robe’”, the definitive history of the Little Shell tribe of Métis in Montana. And, the life work of Nicholas Vrooman, folklorist, historian and defender of Métis rights. With this one book, Nicholas made their complex history accessible to the rest of us. And, he continued making it accessible through presentations and interviews. And, through his genuine passion for and love of a culture not his own.

We were honored to hear Dr. Vrooman share a bit of his vast knowledge during a panel discussion this past April. Not nearly enough time to even scratch the surface, attendees stayed an hour after the discussion to talk with the panelists. Between the extensive experience and knowledge of both Nicholas and his partner on the panel, Al Wiseman, a Métis and Montana Heritage Keeper, the audience was mesmerized from beginning to long after the end.

[Image from the Humanities Montana website]
You can watch the video of the panel discussion here, and, you’ll see for yourself the passion and intelligence of a man who is no longer here to share his knowledge with us. Nicholas Vrooman died June 26, 2019, and there is now a void in this ‘whole country’.

The ‘under one robe’ part of the book's title refers to the fur trade days when vast buffalo herds roamed the plains and resources were plentiful; when the peoples sharing a space and time could learn from one another. The Métis, or, ‘mixed blood’, are the result of that coming together from two very different worlds: that of French, Scottish, and Irish, and, that of predominantly Chippewa, Cree, and Assiniboine. In addition to the intermarriages, the exchange of ideas and resources led to cross-cultural innovations like the red river cart. An ingenious combination of Native travois and Celtic cart, red river carts had no metal parts. They could be easily built and maintained and, at the height of their use, there were thousands of them on the plains. Now, there are, at the most, one or two original carts remaining.
[Red River Camp and Carts, c.1890, MHS Photo Archives 950-581]
The most innovative and beautiful combination of the two peoples that has survived is their language, Michif. It's not a babel of a language. The melding of a rural type of French with the Cree language created a lilting, rhythmic language that has a tidy simplicity of structure – all verbs are Native, all nouns are French.

Even their music is a blend of cultures. Heavily influenced by the Celtic side of their heritage, they took Irish fiddle music and added a syncopated beat. This film explains and demonstrates what that means.

And, of course, food became an amalgamation of two cultures. Bannack bread (or, Li Galette) is a type of Irish soda bread that is quick and inexpensive to make. And, it was portable and filling, something they could take with them on the red river carts. 
[Galette recipe courtesy of Reno Charette, MSU-Billings]

Instead of the buffalo robes of their earlier days and ways, the Métis now carry sashes woven with colorful threads. Al Wiseman pointed out what most people don’t know, that even Charlie Russell incorporated one into his own wardrobe. “Russell also used his sash to store his art supplies when he was traveling horseback. “All the breeds wear them,” he said.”* Black, red, white, green all have significance. Red is the blood of their ancestors, green the grass, black symbolizes loss and death, blue the sky, and white represents the clouds.
[‘Would you know me Bill?’ Charlie Russell watercolor, 1901, MHS 1986.06.07b]
As Nicholas commented, the story of the Métis is a difficult but beautiful one.

Currently, the Little Shells' tribal status is being reviewed in the U.S. Senate as part of a decades-long effort to become federally-recognized as a unique people and culture to be honored and protected. Vrooman, who dedicated years of his life to this fight, won't see the fruits of his labor, but his work and his impact will live on. So, too, will the Métis people, whose flag, with its infinity symbol, represents lasting life and hope. Today, we raise it high!

July 1, 2019


Kelly Burton
MHS Film Archivist

One of the more frequent visitors to the Montana Historical Society’s moving image archives is Helena advertising entrepreneur and filmmaker Robert Henkel. After selling ads for the Billings Gazette for seven years, Henkel started his own company in 1959 under the name of Sage Advertising. While Henkel worked (and continues to work) from Sage’s headquarters in Helena, partner Jim Graff handled the Billings office. Sage had immediate success with the creation of promotional materials for Yellowstone National Park, a fact that is detailed in a July 5, 1987 issue of the Helena Independent Record: “The account with the private concessionaire at Yellowstone National Park has been Sage’s major success, a national ad account that ‘made’ Sage in the late 1950s and has stayed with them over the decades. In 1971, Sage noticed that Yellowstone was peopled with tourists who ‘weren’t spending any money there,’ who treated Yellowstone as a stopping-off point ‘to the rodeo and the South Dakota snake pit.’ Sage convinced the park to increase its ad budget by a third, reach visitors before they hit the park, and target their ads to a more upscale tourist. Ads began to appear in ‘Sunset’ and ‘Better Homes & Gardens’; the next year was a record-breaker.” Sage Advertising estimated that Yellowstone visitation went up 20 percent the following year, and the “average stay went from 1.7 to 2.4 days.”

from the Helena Independent Record, 5 July 1987

In addition to creating a wide range of print materials for Yellowstone National Park, Sage Advertising also made promotional films which served to highlight the various features and amenities of the park. Sage Films soon became a prolific arm of the company in its own right, with various employees – including Henkel and Graff – often handling the production, direction, writing and photography of the films themselves. The printed promotional materials for ”Yellowstone: A World Apart” describe the 1963 film as “a wondrous tour through nature’s unspoiled domain” with highlights that include “the great basins, bubbling mud pots, miniature volcanoes, geysers (starring Old Faithful), begging bears with cuddly cubs, and the many sports activities available.” Celebrated outdoor magazine ‘Field & Stream’ made note of the 1967 Sage Films production “The White Face of Yellowstone”, calling it “a pictorial winter tour into Yellowstone Park via snowmobile” that “captures the smoky eruptions of Old Faithful, focuses in on the park’s majestic wildlife, and its fantastic bubbling hot springs.” Sage also created “Four Seasons of Yellowstone” for the park in 1970, which sought to “explore the 4 delightful seasons of Yellowstone’s 2 million-acre sanctuary” and promote year-round visitation to the park.

(collection MOV 0099)
(collection MOV 0099)
In addition to Yellowstone, Sage Films worked with other customers throughout the region to create effective travelogues and promotional films. The company was very prolific through the 1970s, and some of the tiles from the Sage Advertising moving image collection (MOV 0099) include: “Montana: Land of the Big Sky” (1971); “Escape to Montana’s Glacier Park” (1972); “Montana: A Little Farther North” (1973); “Explore the Old West Trail Country” (1973); ”Red Sunday: The Story of the Battle of Little Big Horn” (1975); “Montana Grain Helps Feed a Hungry World” (1976); and “Old West Trail Country: Your Land and Mine” (1977). Customers for these films included the Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming Travel Divisions, the Montana Bicentennial Administration, the North Dakota Bicentennial Commission, the Montana State Advertising Department, Glacier Park, Inc., Montana Dakota Utilities Co., United States Travel Service, Old West Trail Foundation, Northwest Airlines, and the Montana Power Company, to name a few.

Sage Films promotional materials (MOV 0099 accession file)
Sage Films promotional materials (MOV 0099 accession file)

The 1987 article from the Helena Independent Record also discusses the political work of Sage Advertising, stating that “a large chunk of Sage’s reputation stems from its political track record – only two general election losses since 1968 – the 1982 gambling initiative and Don Allen’s unsuccessful bid to unseat U.S. Congressman Pat Williams in 1986.” Noting that “every Montana governor for two decades has used Sage,” Helena’s newspaper quotes Henkel as he describes Sage’s approach to the regional political landscape: ‘We like to win, so we try not to pick candidates we can’t work with. We can’t stop our compulsion to win. We’ve had clients who were egotistical, aggressive, hard-to-work with, nearly impossible. But even then we couldn’t stop ourselves from wanting them to win. We’re a success story because our clients are a success.” Sage often created motion picture films for their political clients, an excellent example of which are the ten “Forrest Anderson: Democrat for Governor” commercials currently housed at the Historical Society. These commercials were created for the Anderson campaign in 1968 by Sage Films, and their airing on Montana television was followed by a victory for the candidate later that year.

(MOV 0099)

(MOV 0099)

The Sage Advertising moving image collection at the Montana Historical Society consists of 73 films and videos, in addition to ephemera such as promotional materials and production documentation. Seven films from this collection are available for viewing via the MHS Moving Image Archive playlist on the Historical Society’s YouTube channel.

Sage Films production documentation (MOV 0099 accession file)