Now don’t forget, Lizzie, when you get to the new world, don’t stop in America. You go straight to Butte, Montana.” — Mary Hagan to her daughter Lizzie Keough, County Clare, circa 1910
Apparently this year, Montana history buffs are going to heed Mary Hagan’s long-ago advice and come straight to Butte.
“A Blast from the Past! Mining Montana History” is the theme for the 48th annual Montana History Conference to be held Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 23-25, at the Copper King Convention Center.
The history conference, which has been in existence for nearly 50 years, has been held in cities and towns across Montana.
This year, the Mining City conference includes numerous talks on a variety of Butte and Montana history subjects, along with tours around Butte.
Molly Kruckenberg, Montana Historical Society director, described the three-day event as an exploration of the people, events and episodes that make Montana’s heritage rich and exciting.
“You can be assured of terrific speakers and tours, a wide variety of topics, and a whole lot of fun with our friends in the Montana history community,” said Kruckenberg.
Registrations for the lectures are still being accepted. Forms and detailed information can be found on the Montana Historical Society’s website or call 406-444-4719. If space allows, limited on-site registration will be available starting Thursday, Sept. 23.
Kirby Lambert, project manager for MHS, said that Helena is the usual designation for the conference. But every other year, an alternate site is chosen and the main focus is always the local history in that area.
Next year, it won’t be in Helena, either. Instead, in celebration of Yellowstone National Park’s 150th anniversary, the event will be in West Yellowstone. As for this year’s conference, so far, at least 300 people have signed up.
“Butte definitely fits the bill,” said Lambert. “It’s rich and fascinating … a perfect place for a history conference.”
Lambert said the conference could not have taken shape without the help of several Butte businesses and organizations, including Montana Resources, Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives, Butte-Silver Bow Historic Preservation, MainStreet Uptown Butte, and the World Museum of Mining, just to name a few.
“Butte people are proud of their history and it’s great when we have that kind of enthusiasm,” said Lambert. “They’re able to add local color.”
Thursday, Sept. 23
A day-long tour kicks off the conference with a “Made in Montana” theme. Leading the group will be retired Montana Historical Society library manager Brian Shovers. The list of sites include Montana Precision Products, Montana Craft Malt, National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), Berkeley Pit Overlook, Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives, Anselmo Mine and the Bluebird Mill, and finally, the Headframe Spirits Distillery, with a tour and a tasting.
At the Copper King, an educators’ workshop on how the discovery of copper transformed lives and the environment is planned from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Presenters include Dylan Huisken and Jennifer Graham, who will share lessons for highlighting under-discussed communities affected by the mining boom; MHS staff, who will share ideas for integrating primary sources into the classroom; and Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal member and archaeologist Tim Ryan, who will discuss how the tribes used the resources of this region before the discovery of copper. This workshop concludes with a tour of sites relating to the Granite Mountain–Speculator Mine Disaster led by Doug Ammons, author of “A Darkness Lit by Heroes: The Granite Mountain-Speculator Mine Disaster of 1917.” The mining disaster occurred June 8, 1917, and killed approximately 168 men.
An archives workshop titled “We’re All in this Together” will be held from 9 a.m. to noon. Join the Montana State Historical Records Advisory Board for a results-oriented discussion on how archives can work together to meet the challenges of shrinking budgets, downsized staffing, and an increasing volume of electronic and paper records.
Also from 9 a.m. to noon is a brand registration workshop — “Making Your Mark: 148 Years of Recording Montana Brands and Marks.” Join MHS reference historian Zoe Ann Stoltz and MHS library manager Laura Tretter to learn how to do brand research using the Livestock Brands collection on the Montana Memory Project website.
A preservation workshop will be from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. and participants will learn about mapping local history. Ellen Crain, director of the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives, will talk about efforts made by Archives staff to document all roads in Silver Bow County. Other speakers include geographic experts Jeremy Grotbo, J.D. Holland, Walter Barber, and Kyler Mozell.
“Publishing the Past: A Workshop for Authors” is from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. This two-part workshop will focus on the ins and outs of getting your books and articles into print. It will begin with a roundtable discussion featuring editors from the University of Oklahoma Press, Mountain Press, Montana Historical Society Press, and Montana: The Magazine of Western History. Then, in break-out groups, participants can get one-on-one advice with the editors — Dr. Charles E. Rankin, John Rimel, Dr. Diana Di Stefano, Laura Ferguson, and Dr. Jeff Bartos.
The conference’s opening reception is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and begins at the Elks Club in Uptown Butte, followed by a visit just up the street to Headframe Spirits. The reception concludes with a tour of Fifty-One Below on Park Street.
The day concludes with “Copper Tailings: The Hauntings of Butte” from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Dr. Ellen Baumler will share stories from her years of research documenting historic otherworldly encounters. Then, participants will board the Butte-Silver Bow Chamber of Commerce “Spooks and Spirits” Trolley for a driving tour of haunted sites led by Butte historians Chris Fisk, Jim McCarthy, and Lindsay Mulcahy.
Friday, Sept. 24
Molly Kruckenberg, MHS director and Ellen Crain, Archives director will kick off Friday’s events with “The Power of Place: Butte, America.”
Concurrent sessions to be held from 9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.:
Montana Department of Transportation historian Jon Axline will reveal all with “Scandal at the Montana State Highway Commission.”
MHS interpretive historian Christine Brown will present “All the Sign Text that Isn’t Fit to Print.” The talk highlights stories left on the cutting room floor and range from war heroes, abusive husbands, and powerful widows to suicide, robbery, and runaway horses.
Four Montana historians — Professor Jan Zauha, Dr. Mary Murphy, Molly Kruckenberg, MHS director, and Zoe Ann Stoltz will share Mining City tales from the kitchens of yesteryear.
Mining and the environment are on tap. Montana State University Ph.D. student Jacey Anderson will examine the impacts of mining on Montana’s economy and the environment in “Mountains and Minerals: Community Organizing in Montana, 1872-1998.”
Recent University of Montana graduate John Stefanek will discuss “Creating and Destroying History: Butte’s Model City Program, 1968–1975.”
Concurrent sessions to be held from 10 to 11:45 a.m.:
Historian Dr. Delia Hagen will explore “Black Montana: Butte’s African American Community.” Hagen examines the establishment, entrenchment, and subsequent decline of Butte’s African American community in the context of the history of Black Montana and the Black West.
Anthony Wood, University of Michigan doctoral candidate, stays on topic with “Keep off the Fourth: Black Westerners and the Memory of Emancipation,” a consideration of inherent contradictions and complexities as Butte’s Black residents commemorated Emancipation Day in 1902.
MHS community preservation officer Kate Hampton will explore the history of state and national legislation that particularly affected the African American community with “In the Chop House Affair and Beyond.”
Also, in “The Battle for Butte Journalism: From Mining and News to Mining, News, Politics, and Power,” retired University of Oklahoma Press editor-in-chief Dr. Charles E. Rankin will argue that, while such domination of Montana journalism did originate in Butte, the roots of that influence came years earlier, amid a raucous, more chaotic time for Mining City newspapers.
Next, Northern Arizona University communication professor Dr. Brant Short will share his views on English coal miner and labor leader Keir Hardie, who came to the U.S. in 1895 to learn about the U.S. labor movement and political protest. Short’s talk is titled “An English Agitator Visits Butte, Montana: Keir Hardie’s 1895 American Tour.”
University of Montana professor Dr. Rosalyn LaPier will share “The Pictures of Ella Mad Plume Yellow Wolf: Native American Photographer.” The collection documents life on the Blackfeet Reservation in the early 1940s.
Another talk on photography will be included. Rhodina and Phebe, wives of early Montana photographers Oliver C. Bundy and Edgar H. Train were photographers as well. Retired MHS photograph archivist Rebecca Kohl will share their story in “The Bigger Picture: Focusing on the Helpmeets.”
During lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m., Montana author Doug Ammons will take participants on a trip back in time. He will share short time-lapse videos through Butte as it grew from an ephemeral gold rush town into a social, financial, and industrial metropolis.
Concurrent sessions to be held from 1:45 to 3 p.m.:
Montana State University professor Dr. Mary Murphy will detail the story of “Elizabeth Davey Lochrie: Artist, Ally, Mother.” From her home on Butte’s West Side, Lochrie crafted a life as artist, mother, clubwoman, and ally to Montana’s native peoples.
MHS senior curator Jennifer Bottomly-O’looney will share “The Enigmatic Art of Voldemar Podder,” a physician and prolific artist who was displaced from his native Estonia during World War II. He immigrated to the United States in 1956 and six years later, moved to Butte.
In “The Role of Bozeman and Helena in the Baker Massacre and Why It Matters Now” will be shared by former American Forests’ editor Dan Smith, who reveals how leaders and institutions in both communities witnessed the movement of some 250 men and their horses and supply wagons on the march to attack.
Historian and author Ken Robison relays his thoughts about “Tales of Whoop-Up Country.” In the 1870s, starting at Fort Benton, the absence of law and order forced the Canadian government to shut down the whiskey trade, forcing traders back into Montana from Canada.
“From Hides to History: The Heritage Symbolism of Montana’s Cattle Brands” will be presented by Dr. Carol Lombard, linguist. The Billings resident will share the significance of brands beyond their practical purpose to their important role as symbols of personal, social, and cultural heritage.
In “Inventing the Gun That Won the West: Early Winchester Rifles,” retired MHS museum technician Vic Reiman will start his talk with a short sketch of the development of black powder and firearms and then fast forward to the first four models of lever-action rifles made by Oliver Winchester.
Concurrent sessions to be held from 3:15 to 4:30 p.m.:
Butte historians and educators Jim McCarthy and Chris Fisk will bring to light a darker side of Butte’s past with “The Galloping Gallows: The Legal Hangings of Butte.”
Scott Rosenthal, mining department head, and Shannon Panisko, Montana Tech Foundation director of annual giving, will discuss Clara Clark of Butte and Isabel Little of Baltimore, Maryland. In 1904, both women were among the first students to receive degrees from Montana Tech’s mining engineering department.
Recent Montana State University graduate Dr. Andi Powers will explore “Indian Princesses,” the ways in which contestants in the Miss Indian America Pageant served as important cultural ambassadors, participating in presidential inaugurations, appearing on popular television and radio broadcasts, and working on important projects on both local and national levels.
In the presentation, “Gaelic Manuscripts in the Butte-Silver Bow Archives: Preservation and Interpretation of Materials,” Dr. Ciara Ryan, special projects coordinator at the Montana History Foundation, will focus on the importance of these documents to enhancing our understanding of Irish cultural traditions in Montana.
The most memorable oral histories collected as part of the Verdigris Project will be shared by Aubrey Jaap, Archives assistant director, and Clark Grant, general manager of KBMF Radio.
Cocktails and conversations will be from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Copper King. The awards banquet follows from 6 to 8 p.m.
Lambert will present a lighthearted look at some important numbers and what they tell us about our past.
Following Lambert’s talk, the MHS Board of Trustees will present its 2021 awards.
The evening concludes with the encore presentation of “Copper Tailings: The Hauntings of Butte” from 8 to 10 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 25
Food for thought at breakfast will be “Making Trouble at Montana State Normal College: Scandal and Student Activism in the Spring of 1907” and will be from 7:30 to 8:45 a.m. Shawn Brackett, doctoral student at the University of Calgary, explores the unsolved case of famed musician turned instructor, rumors of his sexual impropriety, and student efforts to remove him from his position.
Concurrent sessions to be held from 9 to 10:15 a.m.:
“The Great Explosion of 1895” occurred in Butte’s warehouse district, killing 58 people. Butte Historical Memorials board members Lindsay Mulcahy, Judy Chadwick, and Karen Henningsen will tell the story of this largely forgotten tragedy.
Discover interesting little-known information in Rocky Mountain College history Professor Tim Lehman’s “Straight Shooters, Pistol-Packing Mamas, and Other Myths of Gun Culture in Early Montana.”
In “Western Neoliberalism: Neoliberal Rhetoric in the Battle between Old West and New West,” Greg LeDonne, winner of Montana: The Magazine of Western History’s 2021 emerging scholar contest, will review how the Owyhee Cattlemen’s Association, a group of Idaho ranchers, employed neoliberal rhetoric in advocating for their use of public lands around and during the Rangeland Reform ’94 debate.
Join educators and historians Cheryl Hughes, Ellen Baumler, and Deb Mitchell as they talk about “Spirit Warriors: Montana’s Native American Veterans.”
Concurrent sessions to be held from 10:30 to 11:45 a.m.:
Dr. Martin Nekola, coordinator of the Czechoslova Talks Project, will lead a discussion on the “History of the Czechs in Montana and Elsewhere in the Northwest”
In “Your Hands Are Bathed in Gold: Pressures on Butte’s Chinese Residents, 1880s–1920s,”Mark Johnson, a fellow with the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives, will examine connections between Butte’s Chinese community and their relatives in southern China.
MSU adjunct humanities faculty Dr. Dan Hanson will examine how Bannack State Park utilizes haunting as a commercial attraction and historical teaching tool in its annual “Ghost Walk.”
Dr. Dayle Hardy-Short, professor of communication studies at Northern Arizona University, will explore “Public Memory and Historic Preservation in Western Mining Museums.”
A University of Colorado PhD student, Kerri Clement will examine horse herd restoration efforts in “What Is a Country without Horses? Robert Yellowtail and Horses on the Crow Reservation in the 1930s.”
In “White Man’s Buffalo: The Growth of the Cattle Industry on the Flathead Indian Reservation,” author Bob Bigart will explain how cattle exports from the reservation in the early 20th century supported tribal members and made it possible for the tribes to avoid dependence on general rations from the federal government.
Noon to 1:30 p.m. luncheon
“Butte, America, and the So-called Rural-Urban Divide” will be the luncheon topic. In this presentation, Dr. Laurie Mercier will share oral history recollections from Montanans that puncture the assumed dichotomy between rural and urban.
Guided tours 1:45 to 4:45 p.m.
“Saints and Sinners” is a trolley tour that takes passengers to such churches as St. Lawrence O’Toole Church, Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, Congregation B’nai Israel, and the Myra and Dumas Brothels.
“Headframes Hike through History” will begin at Walkerville’s Lexington Mine. Butte Silver-Bow Department of Reclamation data management division manager Abby Peltomaa will lead guests to the Granite Mountain Memorial, then on to the nearby Bell Diamond Mine. Peltomaa will cover mining history and recent Superfund site efforts to reclaim the area for recreation.
Join Butte-Silver Bow County historic preservation officer Mary McCormick to learn about the architecture and history of the “West Side” neighborhood’s many one-of-a-kind homes.
Sponsors for this year’s conference include the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, Montana History Foundation, and Montana Resources.