August 22, 2019

First Gold in Montana

Ellen Vogelsang, MHS Volunteer

Most Montanans are familiar with the Grasshopper Creek Gold Discovery in 1862, which began the gold rush to Bannack and the Montana Territory. However, Granville Stuart “found” gold four years earlier, near what is now Gold Creek. Stuart had been delayed by illness at Malad Creek (Utah) in 1857, on his journey from the gold rush of California back to the 'States'. He heard, from other mountaineers, of gold found on a branch of the Hell Gate River (present-day Clark Fork River) and detoured to the north. He found gold, but lacked sufficient tools to excavate and did not return until 1862.
Granville Stuart, 1883 [MHS Photo Archives 981-260]
Earlier in Utah, Granville Stuart had learned of Metis trapper named Francois Finlay, known as “Benetsee”, who had found light float gold on what he called Benetsee Creek (now named Gold Creek) in 1852. This prompted the detour north by Stuart and associates. Benetsee traded the gold to Angus MacDonald at Fort Connah, which ultimately led to MacDonald finding gold in British Columbia. Both Benetsee and MacDonald were employed by the Hudson Bay Company and were told to keep the gold discovery quiet to protect HBC’s interests. The company had seen what the California gold rush had done to their trapping grounds and business.   

Stuart returned to Gold Creek in the spring of 1862 with the proper equipment to viably mine gold. The Pike’s Peakers got wind of gold in Montana, which led to John White coming north from Colorado and finding gold in Grasshopper Creek on July 28, 1862.
View of Bannack in 1891 with Grasshopper Creek in the background
[MHS Photo Archives 940-699]
Benetsee can be credited with finding the first recorded gold in Montana, 10 years prior to the Grasshopper Creek/Bannack discovery.  Granville Stuart had the means to make his discovery profitable several months before John White. 

Angus MacDonald (1816-1889) - MHS Archives Papers/SC 47: Box 3/Folder 3
Granville Stuart “Forty Years on the Frontier”
Wikipedia: Gold Creek, Hell Gate

August 2, 2019

Montana and the Nineteenth Amendment

by Martha Kohl, MHS Outreach and Interpretation Historian

When Governor Samuel Stuart summoned legislators back to Helena on July 29, 1919, for an extraordinary legislative session, providing aid to Montana’s drought stricken farmers was his primary concern. Ratifying the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution—the women’s suffrage amendment—was almost an afterthought.
Hazel Hunkins, Billings Suffragist, as a young student [from]
Montana women had won the right to vote in 1914 and Montana had elected Jeannette Rankinthe first woman U.S. Representative—to Congress in 1916.  As Governor Stuart explained in his call for a special session, “Montana already has woman suffrage; her women vote upon every important issue presented to our people.” The amendment’s ratification would not change Montana women’s lives or rights at all; “nevertheless our women feel that the women of other states should have their aid and support in this important matter.”

Both parties supported the ratification, which passed the very first day of the special session. Governor Stuart certified the ratification on August 2, 1919, making Montana the thirteenth state to ratify (tying with Nebraska). The biggest controversy was over which party would get the credit. The Republican majority insisted that  Emma Ingalls, Republican representative from the Flathead, introduce HJR #1, much to the dismay of Representative Maggie Smith Hathaway, a longtime suffrage advocate and Democrat from Ravalli County.

Emma Ingalls [from]
The vote, though inevitable, came about only after years of struggle, within Montana and nationally. Jeannette Rankin is, of course, the most famous Montanan involved in the fight for women’s suffrage, but my favorite suffrage activist is Hazel Hunkins from Billings, who moved to Washington, D.C. at age twenty-six to work as the National Woman’s Party’s organizing secretary. She also engaged in direct action, spending many hours on the picket line in front of the White House as a “Silent Sentinel,” and was arrested three times. Her intimate letters home to her mother reveal that she hated picketing, persevering only because she believed it was “a wonderful piece of publicity. …. It would be like base desertion to quit at a time when they need me worse than they ever have before. But oh how I hate it.”
Women Voters Day on the Picket Line, February 14, 1917
The lead woman carrying the American flag and wearing a sash that reads “Voter” is Hazel Hunkins.
Hunkins’ letters and telegrams—preserved at the Schlessinger Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts—bring the suffrage story to life. Reading them, I can imagine her mother, worried in Billings—especially after receiving a telegram declaring, “TWENTY SIX OF AMERICAS FINEST WOMEN ARE ACCOMPANYING ME TO JAIL ITS SPLENDID DONT WORRY.”

In 2014, as part of the Montana suffrage centennial, the Montana Historical Society Outreach and Education Program worked with Billings school librarian Ruth Ferris to publish Hazel Hunkins, Billings Suffragist. The primary source investigation makes the fight over the Nineteenth Amendment real and personal, reminding students that the unfolding of history is not preordained and that women gained the right to vote only after seventy-two years of struggle. Hazel Hunkins’ letters are also just fun reading. Feel free to download the curriculum from the MHS website as you remember August 2, 1919, when Montana formally ratified the Nineteenth Amendment.