Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day

The late nineteenth century was a time of national labor unrest when workers nation-wide protested deplorable working conditions. Labor unions in New York City celebrated the first Labor Day on Tuesday, September 5, 1882. Ten thousand workers took unpaid leave to march from City Square to Union Hall. The idea caught on, and many states followed New York’s lead. In 1891, Montana joined nine other states whose legislatures had previously designated the holiday: New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey and Ohio.

Early telephone operators often worked ten to twelve hour days for as little as thirty dollars per month. In 1907, Butte operators struck and were granted a minimum wage of fifty dollars per month, an eight-hour workday, and a closed shop. These operators are working in Helena in 1906. Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, PAc 75-43 folder 23
On September 7, 1891, flowers looked their prettiest and birds sang their sweetest when Montana celebrated that first Labor Day. Deer Lodge was the main center of celebration where people from all points gathered. They came from the country, from outlying camps, and on the train from Butte. Seventeen rail cars dispatched some two thousand visitors and two bands. They formed a procession and marched to a pavilion prepared for the occasion. Hon. E. D. Matts of Missoula, who authored the legislation making Labor Day a state holiday, addressed the crowd. Other speeches followed, filling two hours. The crowd listened intently. At four o’clock, rail cars brought five hundred more guests from Butte where all the labor organizations had marched in a huge parade. Revelers quietly scattered, some participating in races and games, others strolling the grounds among the trees and quietly enjoying the holiday. An evening of dancing brought the pleasant day to a close.

This photo by N. A. Forsyth, taken circa 1905, shows the dangerous working conditions in Butte's mines that contributed to labor strikes and unrest. Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, ST 001.168
Several years later in 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation designating the first Monday in September a federal holiday. Congress passed the Labor Day act on the heels of a violent strike by employees of the American Railway Union in Chicago. Federal troops were called in and thirty-four workers lost their lives during vicious riots. Although President Cleveland was not favorable to unions, he signed the act in an attempt to mend damaged ties with American workers.
While we celebrate the workingman’s holiday today more as a symbol of summer’s end and the start of the school year, we should remember that it was a originally a workingman’s holiday born of national unrest.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Photo: Working on the Railroad

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, Railroad Collection
Happy Labor Day weekend! Here's a classic photo of laborers. Japanese railroad crews like this one built hundreds of miles of track in Montana. These men are getting ready for the last spike celebration of the Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul Railroad, better known as the Milwaukee Road, four miles west of Garrison, Montana. The photo was taken on May 19, 1909.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

There’s Something Out There!

Here's a link to some background about the Flathead Lake monster, the topic of today's post.

Skeptics have explained the mysterious creature sighted in Montana's Flathead Lake as an overweight skindiver, a mother-in-law in a swimsuit, a sturgeon, a superfish, a prehistoric holdover, even a wayward seal. As unlikely as it may seem, however, the USO (unidentified swimming object) may not be a hoax. For well more than a century, reports of something in the third largest body of fresh water west of the Great Lakes has kept residents and tourists on the lookout. And sightings have been numerous.

Stories about a creature living in Flathead Lake have long been the subject speculation.
Flathead Lake, Ralph De Camp, oil on canvas, Montana State Capitol
Visitor Services Bureau Chief Ken Soderberg of Montana State Parks related an incident that FWP Maintenance Supervisor Merle Phillips shared with him a few years ago. Phillips and his crew were called to Wild Horse Island to dispose of a dead horse that was, as Soderberg puts it, "making a bit of a stink." While sometimes in such a situation the men will resort to dynamite, a nearby cabin made that solution unwise. The horse was stiff as a board and too big to load on the boat, so they built a raft of inflated inner tubes and boards intending to haul it across to shore. They lashed the horse to the boards, legs sticking straight up in the air, but they slightly miscalculated the weight of the horse. Once in the water, it partially submerged.
The boat moved slowly, dragging the raft with its unusual cargo. Boats passing by gave the FWP crew double takes as they saw what was tethered to the raft. Finally one boat turned around, pulled alongside the FWP craft and the driver asked, "Hey, what are you guys doing?"  
Phillips replied in all seriousness, "Mister, I would advise you to stay back from this official boat."
The driver was taken aback, "Well, how come? What are you doing?"
Phillips realized he had to come up with an answer. The look on the fellow's face was priceless when he heard Phillips' response, "We're trolling for the Flathead Lake monster!"

Monday, August 25, 2014

W. A. Clark Theater

When W. A. Clark died in 1925, he was one of the fifty richest men in the United States. His wealth endowed the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at the University of California, the School of Law at the University of Virginia, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. In Montana where he made most of his fortune, Clark built Columbia Gardens—a state-of-the-art amusement park—in 1899. Built for the people of Butte with uncharacteristic generosity, the park promoted Clark’s political ambitions. What little else of Clark’s vast fortune that came back to Montana went to the prison at Deer Lodge. He endowed the prison library and band in exchange for convict labor for his ranches and mines. Warden Frank Conley cultivated Clark’s friendship and that of his son. It paid high dividends. In 1919, the younger Clark gave the prison $10,000 for the construction of the W. A. Clark Theatre.

The W. A. Clark Theater opened in 1920 and was the first theater in the United States to be built inside a prison.
J. M Cooper photograph from Baumler and Cooper, Dark Spaces.
Clark’s state-of-the-art theatre was the first constructed within a prison in the United States. James McCalman—veteran builder of the prison wall and cell blocks—designed the building and oversaw the inmate laborers. Completed in 1920, the building’s white facade of brick and simulated stone was strikingly out of character within the prison yard. There was seating for one thousand in leather-covered seats and an ample stage and orchestra pit that could accommodate the most elaborate productions. The formal opening was on March 21, 1920, included a matinee for the male inmates and then an evening show for the public and women inmates. The traveling cast of the musical comedy My Sunshine Lady, starring Gudrun Walberg, brought down the house.

The theater included seating for one thousand, art painted by inmates, an orchestra pit, and a state-of-the-art projector system for moving pictures. Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives.
Warden Conley’s pride was short lived. Governor Joseph Dixon removed him as warden and ended his career. The theater served inmates and the community until 1975 when arson left it a burned out shell. The inmates responsible were never identified.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Photo: Blackfoot Glacier

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 956-593
These hikers climbed Blackfoot Glacier on Mount Jackson in 1909, one year before Glacier National Park was founded.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fort Benton’s Hoo Doo Block

Vigilantes hanged desperado William Hynson at Fort Benton in 1868. The hanging on Block 25, some believed, triggered a series of dark events on that site. Sheriff John Morgan built a livery stable, a hand-dug well, and a home on Block 25 around the time of Hynson's hanging. Morgan's wife died and his house burned down. Soon after, during a skirmish in the streets of Fort Benton, an Indian was hanged on Block 25 and the bodies of several Blackfeet were thrown into Morgan’s well. It was thereafter known as the Place of Skulls. By 1870, Morgan had died and his livery passed to others. A small log house on Block 25 served as the county jail.  On November 28, 1872, it burned down with three men inside. Officials found the charred remains of two men. Officials speculated that the third prisoner killed the other two and escaped. Locals whispered that the block was cursed, although Morgan’s livery continued to do a brisk business under other owners. Rumors circulated, however, that the ghost of a the dead prisoners spooked the livery’s horses, wandering over the other empty, overgrown lots of Block 25.

Block 25 in 1884 included Ferdinand Roosevelt’s first furniture store, destroyed in a freak wind, the River Press offices, and the livery business. Sanborn fire Insurance Map, MHS Research Center.
On the site of the jail in 1884, Ferdinand C. Roosevelt’s furniture store was nearly finished when a freak wind tore the boards apart and blew the entire frame structure into the river. The wind touched nothing else.  Roosevelt rebuilt. In 1885, fire claimed the store, Roosevelt’s huge inventory, and nearly destroyed the River Press next door. Property owners did not rebuild on Block 25. Brothers Ed and George Lewis rebuilt the livery in 1895, then Ed died in 1897. By 1900 only George Lewis’s new livery stood on the east half of Block 25. In a final burst of evil energy, fire consumed it. George Lewis promptly relocated his business. Finally, A brave citizen built a home where the jail once stood. Renumbering of the townsite blocks, twice, helped erase the stigma of the Hoo Doo Block. W. S. Stocking wrote in 1906 that forty years later, only the one dwelling stood there: “…and good luck seems to attend the occupant—from which it may be argued that the ‘hoodoo’ has exhausted its power for evil."

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Territorial Period Landmark

Summer is county and state fair season and Montana’s fairs at Helena stretch back to 1867. Horse racing—both trotting and racing under saddle—was central to those celebrations. Helena’s official racetrack, completed in September 1870, accommodated six to eight totting horses and sulkies abreast, and it was the only regulation one-mile track in the territory. Early fairs attracted racers from across the West. Kentucky thoroughbreds, Montana-bred runners and trotters, and non-pedigreed horses all raced at the Helena track in the early years. But by 1884, entrants had to go through a nomination process to be accepted to race. After statehood in 1889, Helena’s fair became the State Fair. Purses of $300, $500, and $1,000 in the various trotting and running categories emphasize the importance of these races and Helena’s track. The track was refurbished in 1890, and according to local tradition, trains brought in carloads of imported Kentucky earth to spread on the track for luck. The newly refurbished track, said the Independent, was “as smooth as a billiard table….”

This aerial view shows the historic footprint of the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds Racetrack circa 1970s.
Courtesy MDT.
In 1904, relay races were introduced. Racers rode only thoroughbreds. Riders changed horses at top speed. Fannie Sperry, later the Lady Bucking Horse Champion of the World, rode Montana’s first relay race at the fairgrounds racetrack. Betting on horse races became illegal in 1914, the state cut its funding, drought impacted agricultural displays, and the fair began to decline. A new auto racing track built inside the one-mile racetrack brought a new attraction in 1916, although horse racing remained popular.  Betting resumed in 1930 when more than 350 horses from the best circuits in Canada, Mexico, and the United States vied for generous purses, but the Great Depression suspended fairs. Helena’s last was in 1932. The state fair later moved to Great Falls.

Portions of the track remain intact, recalling the days when horse racing was a popular sport.  Courtesy SHPO.
Horse racing reemerged with the Last Chance Stampede from 1961 to 1998. Today surviving sections of the racetrack, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, are a rare territorial period landmark. Recent insensitive remodeling of the fairgrounds destroyed some of the track. The surviving portions remain highly endangered.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Photo: Lumberjacks

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 949-126
Today's photo shows the Baker brothers with 16,130 feet of lumber near Whitefish circa 1900. Sledges like this one were used to transport logs to a nearby landing where they could be loaded on railroad cars or floated by water to a mill.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Great Falls

The entire two-month journey from the Mandan villages where the Corps of Discovery wintered was easy compared to the portage around the Great Falls of the Missouri. From fifteen miles away Captain Meriwether Lewis, traveling overland with a small advance party on June 13, 1805, saw telltale spray and soon heard “a roaring too tremendious to be mistaken.” Approaching the sound, Lewis saw “spray arise above the plain like a collumn of smoke.”

The Great Falls circa 1901. Stereograph by N. A. Forsyth
Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, ST 001.292
Humbled by the magnificence of the falls, Lewis felt his written description impossibly inadequate. The grueling eighteen-mile portage around the natural wonder, however, was a month-long ordeal with many days spent in preparation and eleven days in transit. Grizzly bears, rattlesnakes, and “muskquetoes” kept the men vigilant while, scorched by the summer sun, they dragged crude wagons filled with supplies across gullies and around ravines. Today the great rock cliffs over which the water tumbled lie exposed, the falls long since harnessed for hydroelectric power. Although the town of Great Falls has grown up around the area and the portage itself is not discernible, the visitor can still locate the route, identified through documentary and cartographic research. Sites include several campsites, the sulfur spring that saved a critically ill Sacagawea, and Giant Springs. The portage, a National Historic Landmark, is under varied ownership and ranges from highly developed to near pristine.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Frank Linderman

Sixteen-year-old Frank Linderman left Chicago for the Flathead Valley wilderness in 1885. He became a friend to the Indians and viewed encroaching civilization firsthand. Linderman’s passionate desire was to preserve the old West, especially Montana, in printer’s ink. Linderman did it all. He was a trapper, trader, assayer, newspaperman, businessman, insurance agent, and state legislator. He was an advocate of Indian causes.

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 943-498
Through his efforts, along with Charlie Russell and other friends, Congress created the Rocky Boy’s Reservation for landless members of several Chippewa and Cree bands. Native American leaders respected Linderman’s active support, and through “sign talk,” he shared their histories, customs, and stories. From 1898 to 1905, Linderman edited the Sheridan Chinook in a building that Charles Bovey later rescued and placed at Nevada City. In 1917, Linderman built a cabin in Lake County where he authored many books, stories, and articles, among them the highly acclaimed biography of the Crow chief, Plenty Coups. His accurate portrayals led Plenty Coups to conclude, “I am glad I have told you these things, Sign Talker. You have felt my heart, and I have felt yours.” Frank Linderman is one of the treasures of the Treasure State.