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

Montanans in Motion

Transportation has played a central role in the history of Montana. For centuries, nomadic First Peoples traveled from camp to camp, relying on dogs and, later, horses, to haul their possessions. By the early nineteenth century, Euro-Americans began arriving by horseback, steamboat, and wagon, setting in motion changes that would forever alter life under the Big Sky.  In the 1870s railroads made the frontier even more accessible, providing safer and shorter passage from more populous parts of the country. Subsequently, in the twentieth century automobiles connected even the smallest, most remote communities to the rest of the state and the nation. All of these advances in transportation were accompanied by dramatic changes in the economy and culture of Montana and Montanans' daily life.



Beaded Cradleboard, ca. 1900, MHS X1982.44.01

Montana’s indigenous women used cradleboards to carry their babies, enabling mothers to keep their arms free for other activities while ensuring the infants’ safety. Designs and materials varied from tribe to tribe. This cradleboard, likely Shoshone, features soft white buckskin attached to a wooden plank with brass tacks. The floral design is made of glass seed beads which, like the tubular beads on the fringe, are likely much older than the cradleboard itself, which dates from 1900. The tri-foliate motif, popular among Montana tribes, has its origins in the beadwork of the Métis voyageurs who came to this region with the fur trade. The Shoshone people once populated much of Montana, but were pushed south by the Blackfeet and west by migrating Hidatsa, Crow, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes in the early 1700s. Archaeological evidence—including pictographs and hunting sites—throughout central and southern Montana testifies to the Shoshones’ long occupation of this region.

Covered Wagon Train Jerkline 12 on Old Freight Road

Collotype by L. A. Huffman Titled Jerk-Line 12 on the Old Freight Road, 1883, MHS 981-248

L. A. Huffman (1854–1931) came to Montana in 1878 to work as Fort Keogh’s post photographer. He gained renown for his work at the fort, most notably from his photographs of Indian warriors and Euro-American hunters. He soon purchased a studio in nearby Miles City, where he continued to document frontier life. This collotype, which was taken in 1883, shows a twelve-horse team pulling freight between Miles City and Billings. That same year the Northern Pacific Railway was completed, reducing much of Montana’s need for horse-drawn freight lines; however, well into the twentieth century wagons were still used to transport goods in remote areas. Huffman romanticized frontier life and shaped his images accordingly. In the background on the left side of this image, Huffman altered details on the glass plate negative he felt detracted from the setting, most notably pigs and a haystack. In later prints these elements are removed, making the landscape seem closer to the open-range Huffman had loved.

Snow skis

Wooden skis used by Yellowstone photographer F. Jay Haynes, 1894, MHS 1979.17.138

Now used primarily recreationally, cross-country skis once provided an essential means of transportation in snowy climes. While serving as the photographer of Yellowstone National Park, F. Jay Haynes (1853–1921) relied on skis to traverse Yellowstone’s beautiful—yet unforgiving—landscape with his camera and gear, allowing him, in 1887, to take the first known pictures of the park in winter. In March 1894 Haynes once again ventured into the Yellowstone backcountry, initially hoping to document more of the park’s scenery and wildlife. Instead, he found irrefutable evidence of bison poaching. The photos he took of the poacher’s crimes led to public outcry, encouraging Congress to pass stronger protections for Yellowstone’s wildlife later that year. Haynes used this set of wooden skis on this second expedition. They were crafted by Wold and Kolstad of St. Paul, Minnesota, measure over nine and half feet long, and fasten with leather bindings and metal buckles.

Columbia chainless bicycle

Reverend Edwin M. Ellis's Columbia Chainless Bicycle, ca. 1899, MHS 2002.45.01

In the early 1890s, the national Presbyterian Church increased its efforts to minister to children. Consequently, in 1891 Reverend Edwin M. Ellis (1853–1940) was appointed as Montana’s first Synodical Superintendent of Sunday School Missions. Tasked with supervising Montana’s widely scattered Sunday schools, Ellis visited settlements all over the state—traveling nearly 8,000 miles in his first year. Railroads and stagecoaches couldn’t deliver him to every remote congregation, so he used this chainless bicycle to reach them. In 1913, Rev. Ellis relinquished his post due to health problems, but continued his ministry in Helena. By the end of his three-decade career, he had biked over 36,000 miles across the Treasure State. In 2002, Rev. Ellis’ grandson donated his bicycle, hymnal carrier, and portable communion set to the Montana Historical Society. The poor condition of his well-used bike illustrates his dedication.


"Good Roads Congress" Delegate's Pin, 1914, MHS 1978.08.12

David Hilger, Vice President of the First National Bank of Lewistown and later librarian at the Montana Historical Society, wore this pin while mingling with fellow delegates at the fifth Montana Good Roads Congress in 1914. The year prior, Montana’s legislature had established the Montana Highway Commission, providing funding and administration for a centralized roads system in the state. Consequently, while previous conferences focused on the logistics of road building, the main topic of the 1914 gathering was the need for further government expenditure and federal laws to support the construction of good roads. Delegates learned of cost savings and social benefits from “Good Roads Apostles,” listened to lectures in support of convict labor for construction, marveled at road-building machinery, and pondered principles of governance, engineering, and business management. This pin, donated to the Montana Historical Society in 1978, illustrates the importance Montanans placed—and still place—on infrastructure.


Lewis and Clark Bridge

Lewis and Clark Bridge Near Wolf Point, 1930

When it opened in 1930 the Lewis and Clark Bridge was the only public access over the Missouri River for 350 miles. Located six miles east of Wolf Point, the new bridge connected residents to outside markets and Canadian neighbors. The spot had long been considered a strategic location. Lewis and Clark had camped there in 1805 and an army engineer noted in 1860 that it was the logical place for a bridge. But even after the Great Northern Railway arrived in 1887 and the federal government opened area tribal lands in 1913 for homesteading, the only crossing for man and beast was by ferry in good weather and over the ice in winter. In spite of its continuing importance to regional travel, by the late twentieth century the bridge had become too narrow for modern traffic and was replaced. Its symbolic importance, however, prompted its preservation. The Montana Historical Society accepted ownership of the historic three-span Pennsylvania through truss bridge in 1998. (Hope Good, photographer)