Exhibit: Appropriate, Curious, & Rare: Montana History Object by Object

Montanans at Work

Beginning with its First Peoples, residents of Montana lived off the land. Europeans’ arrival in the eighteenth century changed how Montanans worked, but they still relied primarily on the state’s natural resources to provide their livelihoods. By the 1870s, cattle grazed the plains once reserved for game and Indian ponies. Farmers soon followed, plowing up the grasses. Montana’s mineral wealth brought extractive industries, along with an immigrant population searching for opportunity. Businessmen established commercial enterprises to meet a growing population’s needs while women generally worked at home caring for their families or labored in the few occupations open to them. Throughout the twentieth century advancing technology transformed work at home and in the office, yet today agriculture remains Montana’s primary industry. Prosperity was sometimes elusive: Montana’s economy has been defined by booms and busts, and the work itself has often been difficult. Nevertheless, Montanans continue to make a living through ingenuity and resourcefulness.

Maul / Berry pounder

Stone Maul, ca. 1890, MHS 1987.76.01

Montana’s First Peoples were hunter-gatherers whose complex cultures included a division of labor based on gender. While men procured meat by hunting game, women were responsible for all other aspects of feeding their families. They gathered roots, plants, and berries when they were in season, then preserved them for use throughout the winter. One of the primary ways of doing this was by making pemmican—a mixture of dried meat, animal fat, and berries, either service berries, huckleberries, or chokecherries. Pemmican was a power-packed food that lasted easily through the scarce winter months, staying edible anywhere from six months to five years. Women used mauls like this one to process the pemmican. Although this “berry pounder”—made of a granite cobble hafted to a willow handle with hide and sinew—was probably made about 1890, the style and materials used date back to prehistoric times. The hide-willow handle made it flexible and easy to use for pounding the berries and meat.

Burh stones

Father Ravalli's Buhrstones, 1845, MHS X1904.01.05

Jesuit missionary Father Pierre-Jean De Smet founded St. Mary’s Mission in 1841, and the Jesuits began harvesting crops there in 1842. Initially, there was no mill, so wheat was ground by hand with a mortar and pestle or roasted or boiled for mush. Father Anthony Ravalli brought this set of Belgian buhrstones to the mission in 1845, where he constructed Montana’s first grist mill. The mill could grind a dozen bushels of grain daily into graham, or whole wheat, flour with these stones, which are sixteen and twenty inches in diameter. The mission closed by the end of the decade, and in Montana’s first written conveyance of property, Major John Owen purchased its mill, buildings, and fields, establishing Fort Owen in 1850. The Jesuits reclaimed the buhrstones in 1857 and moved them to their mission at St. Ignatius, where the stones remained until the Jesuits donated them to the Montana Historical Society in 1904.


Branding iron

"Square & Compass" Branding Iron, 1899, MHS X1967.08.07

By the time that the first cattle were brought into Montana in the 1840s, the practice of branding livestock to show ownership was hundreds of years old. Intended in large part to thwart theft, brands took on additional significance during the open-range era when herds belonging to different owners were grazed together on public lands. In response to the new territory’s burgeoning livestock industry, Montana’s 1871–72 Legislative Assembly created a “general office” for recording brands and marks, and mandated that the records be kept in a “book suitable for the purpose, which shall be free to the inspection of all persons interested.” On February 10, 1873, the Poindexter and Orr Ranch in Beaverhead County registered the Square & Compass (a traditional symbol of the Masons). It was the first Montana brand to be recorded. . Today, the original Brand Books, in use since 1873, continue to be held in trust by the Montana Department of Livestock Brand Division.

Camera, Single Lens Reflex

Evelyn Cameron's Tourist Graflex Camera, 1903, MHS 1991.07.01 a-b

Eastern Montana photographer Evelyn Jephson Flower Cameron (1868–1928) refined her skills with a camera to support herself and her husband. Born into an affluent British family, Cameron settled in Montana in 1893 with her ornithologist husband Ewen. While Ewen devoted his time to the study of Montana’s birds, Evelyn did everything else—cooking, housework, gardening, and running the couple’s small ranch. Evelyn also worked to secure much-needed income—selling produce, taking in wealthy boarders, and establishing herself as a photographer. Self-taught, Cameron traveled widely, photographing her neighbors at work, rest, and play. In addition, she kept meticulous diaries detailing her daily life. Together, Cameron’s photographs and diaries now comprise an unparalleled record, not only of Cameron’s own life, but of Eastern Montana during the first quarter of the twentieth century.

Miners in the Stope

Miners in the Stope by Paul Sample, X1966.21.10

At the turn of the century, Butte was the largest producer of copper in North America, employing over 10,000 miners and boasting a population of 60,000, making it Montana’s largest city. While mining made Butte the “Richest Hill on Earth,” it was also very dangerous work. Accidents, cave-ins, and fires were common in mine shafts, and respiratory illness from inhaled dust presented long-term health problems. Butte’s miners unionized a union in the late 1870s hoping to gain higher wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions. The city was embroiled in many high-profile strikes during the early 1900s and became nationally known as the “Gibraltar of Unionism.” Fortune Magazine commissioned this oil on canvas from Paul Sample (1896–1974) for a 1937 feature article on the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. Sample’s artistic style followed the tenets of the then-popular American Scene movement. Titled Miners in the Stope, the painting unflinchingly depicts the physical demands of working miners.

Finnish loom

Traditional Finnish-Style Loom, ca. 1916, MHS 1992.26.01

Amanda Perala Kraftenberg (c. 1882–1952) wove together Finnish cultural practices and the Treasure State’s natural heritage to create a uniquely Montana home for her family. She and her husband Fred homesteaded near Little Belt Creek in the Korpivaara (or “Wilderness Hill”) community in Cascade County. From 1916 until her death in 1952, Amanda wove a variety of items on this four-harness counter-balance loom, which was made by John “Jack” Veeda out of pine and willow harvested from the nearby Highwood mountains. Kraftenberg’s textile work was exceptional not only because of her skill as a weaver, but also because she used yarn she had washed, carded, and spun from wool gathered form sheep raised on her family’s ranch. Consequently, the rag rugs she wove exemplified both Finnish traditions and the “ingenuity, resourcefulness, and rugged individualism” she demonstrated in making the most out of available resources.


Smith Mine Disaster message

Chalk and Wood Message from the Smith Mine Disaster, 1943, MHS 1985.38.01

At 8 a.m., Saturday, February 27, 1943, Emil Anderson and seventy-six other coal miners entered Smith Mine #3 near the community of Bearcreek. One hour and thirty-seven minutes later, employees close to the surface of the mine felt an enormous pressure in their ears, followed by a powerful gust of air filled with soot and debris exploding past them. Only three workers escaped from the mine. Within its depths, thirty men died instantly from the forceful blast and another forty-four soon suffocated. Anderson was part of this latter group. In the short time he had remaining, he used the materials he had available to leave his family this message on the lid of a dynamite box: “It’s 5 minutes pass [sic] 11 o’clock Agnes and children I’m sorry we had to go this way God bless you all Emil with lots [of] kisse[s].” This fragile letter—which conveys a deeply personal and tragic story—survives as one of the most poignant objects cared for by the Montana Historical Society.