September 15, 2014

Ask A Curator Day, September 17, 2014

Do you have questions you’ve always wanted to ask a curator? This is your chance. On Wednesday, September 17, curators around the globe will log on to Twitter during #AskACurator Day. Here at the Montana Historical Society (MHS), we’re lucky enough to have two curators participating.

Kendra Newhall, MHS Museum Registrar
Kendra Newhall is our museum’s registrar. In her time at the Montana Historical Society, she’s cataloged thousands of artifacts, and she’s an expert on their care. How do we keep hundred-year-old tools from rusting and papers from crumbling? Kendra will answer your questions about collection care from 10:00 A.M. to 11:00 A.M. (Mountain Daylight Time) on #AskACuratorDay.
Maggie Ordon, MHS Museum Curator of History

Maggie Ordon, Montana Historical Society's Curator of History, will be available from 11:00 A.M. until noon (Mountain Daylight Time) on #AskACurator Day. She’ll answer your questions about historic fashion. How exactly did ladies and gentlemen (and children and workers and homesteaders) dress in the early days of Montana? Maggie knows the details, right down to the historically accurate fabrics.

To ask Kendra or Maggie a question, simply log in to Twitter on September 17 and tweet to @MThist using #AskACurator.

September 3, 2014

Lee Metcalf's Legacy of Conservation

By Matthew M. Peek, Photograph Archivist

The narrative that is often told of the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act describes how conservation groups and key politicians nation-wide united to support the conservation of America’s natural resources and wild areas. While true, the story of the Wilderness Act’s origin and development has up to now largely left unexplored the influence of one of its greatest proponents: Senator Lee Metcalf of Montana.

On the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1964 Wilderness Act, a look at the role Metcalf played in shaping our national wilderness policy is vital to understanding the full extent of his dedication. Serving as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1953-1960) and the U.S. Senate (1961-January 1978), Lee Metcalf’s priorities were not just about preserving forests and wilderness, but managing and protecting all resources which are part of nature’s lifecycle, including wildlife and their habitats, streams and rivers, bird migration routes, clean water resources, and so much more.
Dr. Arnold W. Bolle, Dean of the Montana State University School of Forestry [present-day University of Montana], testified in support of a bill to establish a land and water conservation fund to assist state and federal governments in meeting outdoor recreation needs. Pictured are (left to right) Agriculture Secretary Orville L. Freeman; Senator Lee Metcalf; Bolle; and Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, March 6, 1963. [Lot 31 B16/6.10]
As early as the 1950s, Metcalf was determining the course of conservation efforts. The proposed Echo Park Dam would have flooded portions of Dinosaur National Monument.  Metcalf became one of the most vocal opponents of its construction and one of the major reasons the Echo Park Dam was dropped from the Upper Colorado River Project.  The Echo Park Dam controversy sparked the modern conservation movement, and made the need for federal wilderness legislation glaringly apparent.

Just after President Eisenhower was sworn into office in 1953, Montana U.S. Rep. Wesley D’Ewart introduced the Uniform Federal Grazing Land Act, which would have allowed cattle ranchers to graze their herds on national forest lands and would potentially destroy wildlife habitats. Rep. Metcalf’s testimony and advocacy to protect wild areas helped kill that grazing act.

He also helped stop another grazing bill (S. 2548) that would impact national forests.  During the U.S. Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee hearings on January 21-22, 1954, Metcalf testified against that bill stating:    
In the light of industrial development and expansion we should continue to be alert to protect our water...and to follow the leadership of enlightened local community leaders who know the problems and are familiar with local conditions. A balanced constructive legislative program is needed.
That same year, Metcalf blocked the passage of the Ellsworth Timber Exchange Bill. This bill would have allowed the federal government to exchange national forest lands for private lands in order to reimburse private owners for federal projects developed on their land. Metcalf called this trading “trees for stumps,” and was the strongest opponent of the bill. For his efforts, Metcalf received the 1954 National Award for Distinguished Service to Conservation.

In addition to helping stop potentially destructive legislation, Lee Metcalf introduced many conservation and wilderness-related measures from 1953 to 1963, including: an outdoor recreation bill in 1956 (H.R. 1823); the first ever federal legislation for studying the effects of pesticides and insecticides on wildlife and fish, which passed in 1958 as the Pesticide Research Act; a bill, introduced in January 1956, to protect federal wildlife refuges from dissolution; and the “Save Our Streams” bill (S. 2767), on January 30, 1962, to cease the destruction of rivers and streams by sloppy highway construction.

When John F. Kennedy was running for President in 1960, he and Metcalf discussed Kennedy’s stance on conservation issues if he were to win the presidency. In the autumn of 1960, Metcalf and Kennedy shot a television program on conservation for Kennedy’s campaign. On October 21, 1960, shortly before the national elections, Metcalf wrote to Senator Kennedy:
Conservation has the power to impart to an administration a quality of character which makes it stand out in history. I sincerely believe you could set the tone for your Administration by this approach. Through the medium of conservation the needs and aspirations of our people can be galvanized—the challenge of tomorrow translated in a visible way.
Senator Lee Metcalf meets with other national conservation leaders, August 6-12, 1961, to discuss legislative strategy regarding the proposed national wilderness preservation system bill. (Pictured left to right, standing) Alden J. Erskin, Izaak Walton League president; Phil Schneider, International Association of Game, Fish & Conservation Commissioners president; Tom Kimball, National Wildlife Federation exce; Carl W. Buchheister, president of National Audubon Society; (left to right, seated) C.R. Gutermuth, chairman of the Natural Resources Council of America; Senator Metcalf; and Ira N. Gabrielson, president of the Wildlife Management Institute. [Lot 31 B16/2.06]
As a precursor to the Wilderness Act, Metcalf introduced the National Preservation System bill in the House of Representatives on June 13, 1956. Eight years later, on August 21, 1964, Senator Lee Metcalf, as presiding officer, signed the Wilderness Act on behalf of the U.S Senate. In a ceremony on the grounds of the White House Rose Garden, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act and the Wilderness Act on September 3, 1964.

Lee Metcalf was one of America's most vocal and effective conservation congressmen. He had a hand in the classification, eventual creation of, or passage of every acre of wilderness in Montana by the time of his death in January 1978. He also is one of the major reasons Montana has the great outdoor recreation sites and facilities it does, which draw millions of tourists to the state and employ thousands of Montanans.

His is a truly great legacy, which is fitting to recall on the anniversary of the signing of the 1964 Wilderness Act.

August 22, 2014

Montana's Role in the War on Poverty: 50th Anniversary of the Passage of the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act

By Matthew M. Peek, MHS Photograph Archivist

In his State of the Union address in January 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty.”  Speaking on March 18, 1964, just after a major bill to fight poverty was introduced to Congress, Montana’s U.S. Senator Lee Metcalf expressed his deeply held support:
Only a small fraction of our nation’s poor are wholly responsible for their condition.  Most often they are the victims of circumstances.  Just as some Americans inherit wealth, others are born into poverty. . . .  Somehow, we must find a way to break the cycle of poverty that so frequently carries from father to son.  The elimination of poverty is above all a moral obligation.
In July 1964, with a vote of 61 to 34, the U.S. Senate passed Senate bill 2642, its version of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.  The U.S. House passed the bill a couple weeks later and President Johnson signed the bill into law on August 20, 1964.  Johnson’s “War on Poverty” was launched with this act, signaling a national dedication to the eradication of poverty in the United States through the provision of “opportunity.”  The Economic Opportunity Act would become the hallmark of Johnson’s administration.

MHS Photo Archives, Lot 31 B8/14.04: Great Falls School District speech therapist Jean Irwin (right) works with Lily Meyer, a participant in Head Start, in Great Falls, Montana, [circa 1960s].

What few people realize is this ground-breaking legislation had its origins in the patient work of Montana’s Lee Metcalf, first as a representative to Congress in the 1950s, and later as a U.S. Senator in the 1960s.  Working closely with his friend and colleague Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D-MN), then Representative Metcalf envisioned a program for youth patterned on the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps, which he and Humphrey called the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC).  The idea behind the program was to help lower youth delinquency through federally-funded summer forest, park, and wilderness conservation and improvement programs.  The program allowed for “enrollment of up to 150,000 boys and young men, between the ages of 16 and 22.”

On December 29, 1956, Senator Humphrey unveiled the first version of the YCC, in a six-point youth opportunity program to address education, delinquency, and employment for youth and college students in America. On behalf of his colleague, Rep. Metcalf, Montana Senator James E. Murray introduced a bill (S. 812) he wrote for the establishment of the YCC in 1959, based on Humphrey’s proposal.  Despite setbacks, Humphrey and Metcalf would continue to work from 1956 to 1964 for passage of America’s most sweeping social welfare programs.

Metcalf testified with Senator Humphrey before a House of Representatives Education Subcommittee in April 1960 regarding the situation in which young boys and men found themselves after World War II.  Referring to the constant flow of youngsters into the labor market which he said “is at best inhospitable to teenagers,” Metcalf declared,
Many of these youngsters . . . are not going anywhere, except to boredom, confusion and trouble.  Evidence of this is provided by the growing problem of juvenile delinquency—and the increasing numbers of youngsters in our custodial and penal institutions.
The program failed in the U.S. House in 1960.  Nothing happened with the bill until February 14, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy gave a “Special Message to the Congress on the Nation’s Youth.”  He called for solutions to deal with the growing issues faced by America’s youth.

After years of work, Metcalf was ready to make the final push.  By 1963, he had become a U.S. Senator involved with Senate committees dealing with education, public works projects, and the Interior Department.  Senator Metcalf helped strategize and publically campaigned for the establishment of a series of national social welfare programs, trying to address rising social problems across the country.

After ascending to the presidency following Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Johnson moved to capitalize on the years of preparation when he called for his “war on poverty.”  The President’s poverty program was multifaceted.  Along with an authorization for nearly a billion dollar appropriation to implement the proposed act, the bill called for the creation of the following: a Jobs Corps; work-training programs; a federal college work-study program; community action programs; rural areas programs; employment and investment incentives; a version of the Peace Corps for the United States, labeled the Volunteers in Service to America, or “VISTA”; and experimental or demonstration programs labeled “Family Unity Through Jobs.”  The bill would also create the Office of Economic Opportunity, whose Director would hold the power to define broad portions of the act and delineate funds for various programs.

MHS Photo Archives, Lot 31 B17/8.13: Glenn W. Ferguson (right), Director of VISTA (a branch of the Office of Economic Opportunity), appears as a guest with Senator Lee Metcalf (left) on set in the Senate Recording Studio, during the filming of a June 1966 film segment for one of Metcalf’s weekly “Washington Report”. Ferguson was discussing the role of Montanans in the VISTA program, June 21, 1966.
A key sponsor of this Economic Opportunity bill, Senator Metcalf was a member of the Senate’s Special Subcommittee on Poverty, whose responsibility was to conduct hearings on the Senate version of President Johnson’s poverty bill (S. 2642).  The Poverty Subcommittee began hearings on the bill on June 17, 1964, amidst accusations that it was Johnson’s attempt to court votes in the upcoming 1964 presidential election.  Laying politics aside, in a July 29, 1964 radio address, Lee Metcalf reflected on the purpose and need for the Economic Opportunity Act:
It is the constitutional responsibility of Congress to provide for the general welfare.  The Economic Opportunity Bill of which I am a sponsor and which passed the Senate this last week is designed to help fulfill that responsibility. . . .  I am proud to have had a part in its inception.
Following the bill’s passage, Metcalf worked to establish and get funding for Head Start programs in Great Falls, Montana, Job Corps Camps at Kickinghorse on the Flathead Indian Reservation, neighborhood centers, and Neighborhood Youth Corps programs in Butte, Montana, among many others.

Despite the War on Poverty’s ultimate failure to fulfill its grand scheme, the legislation did and does still bring great benefit to the United States and Montana.  Senator Lee Metcalf’s role in laying the groundwork for the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 was not in vain, and his steady and active drive to pass it marks him as one of America’s great social welfare legislators.

August 12, 2014

Lost in Translation?: Pierre Menard’s 1810 letter from the Three Forks - Part Two

By Rich Aarstad, Senior Archivist, Montana Historical Society Research Center

Pierre Menard's April 21,1810 letter from the headwaters of the Missouri is the earliest documentation the Montana Historical Society holds regarding the American attempt to open Montana for business. Taken on its own, the letter only hints at the compelling story hidden just below its surface.* 
Pierre Menard's letter written in French to Jean Pierre Chouteau
[From Montana Historical Society (MHS) Archives, MC 4, Box 1, Folder 1]

But of equal interest is how the letter ended up traveling, through history, from the headwaters of the Missouri to the Montana Historical Society Research Center Archives. The Menard letter is only one of a number of items in the archives collection that has made a circuitous journey beyond the state’s borders only to return as a donation. In this case, the letter belonged to the Chouteau family of St. Louis, Missouri—a name that has a long association with the history of the Missouri River fur trade and Montana.

The letter first surfaced when Hiram M. Chittenden, then a brigadier general in the Army Corps of Engineers, was researching his seminal work on the fur trade - The American Fur Trade of the Far West - published in 1902. In the third and final volume of that work, Chittenden quoted the letter in its original French; he also included a corrected French version and an English translation. He described the original as “written upon a sheet of fine light blue paper, full letter size, and still in excellent preservation.” Chittenden noted that the original letter was in the possession of the St. Louis Chouteau family. Chittenden presented the family with a signed copy of his French and English versions, which prompted a descendant of Jean Pierre Chouteau (1758-1849) and his son, Pierre Chouteau, Jr. (1789-1865) to give Chittenden “an old missive made famous in the “Fur Trade” (Pierre Chouteau letter to Hiram M. Chittenden, March 13, 1902, MHS Archives MC 4, Box 1, Folder 2.) —this very letter from Pierre Menard to Jean Pierre Chouteau.

Chittenden's English translation of the original French version.
[From Montana Historical Society Archives, MC 4, Box 1, Folder 1]
[Scanned by MHS staff]
Chittenden donated the original letter, along with his English translation, to the Montana Historical Society in 1902, shortly after receiving it from the Chouteau family. Both versions are now part of the Pierre Chouteau, Jr. and Company Records, Manuscript Collection 4, an amalgam of donations from Granville Stuart (1894), Paris Gibson (1905), and Hiram Chittenden that outlines the Chouteau family business interests in Montana 1810-1864.

*To learn more about the story, the previously published article by Rich Aarstad, "'This Unfortunate Affair': An 1810 Letter from the Three Forks,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Vol. 58, No. 4 (Winter, 2008), pp. 62-67, 96, provides an in-depth description of the situation at Three Forks.

August 4, 2014

Lost in Translation?: Pierre Menard’s 1810 letter from the Three Forks - Part One

By Jared Peloquin, Montana Historical Society Research Center Intern
Attempting to translate an historic document can be a tricky task.  The difficulty is most prominent when the text of a document is far removed from one’s own language, customs, and culture.  I was recently asked to translate an 1810 letter written to Pierre Chouteau (1758-1849) in French and, even though I’ve studied French, this would require more than just an understanding of the French language.

I was forced to think not only about the letter, but about the person who wrote the letter.  The author, Pierre Menard, spoke French but was born in 18th century Montreal to a French soldier’s wife.  He left school at the age of fifteen to become a fur trader in the expansive American wilderness.  Given the age of the document, the changing nature of any language over the past two hundred years, and the fact that this man was born in the New World, I knew I would encounter words or spellings with which I was unfamiliar.  Growing up in Louisiana, I learned Parisian French while attending a French immersion school.  However, at home my elders spoke Cajun, which closely resembles 18th and 19th century peasant, or rural, French.  Despite my background, there were many questions I didn’t anticipate.
Close-up of the first page of a letter from Pierre Menard to Pierre Chouteau, written April 12, 1810, from the Three Forks area of what would become Montana
[From MHS Archives Collection  MC 4, Box 1, Folder 1]

Reading the first sentence, I noticed unique problems immediately.  The letter begins, “Je matandaie Pouvoire vous Ecrire Plus favorable…”  But, the words “pouvoire,” “ecrire,” and “plus” are not capitalized in contemporary French, and, there is no “e” at the end of “pouvoire.”  More troubling was the second word, “matandaie,” which I had never seen before.  I labored for some time until I started saying the word out loud.  Then I realized that the author must have meant “Je m’attendais” or “I was expecting…”  This makes sense in the context of the entire sentence: “I was expecting (or hoping) to be able to write you more favorably…”*

Multiple thoughts ran through my head, even after successfully translating that first sentence.  I wondered if “m’attendais” was spelled differently in 19th century North America, or if it was simply a result of the author’s lack of education.  Moreover, I was concerned about the capitalization of words throughout the letter.  All nouns in German - not just proper nouns as in English and French - are capitalized.  However, if one reads American documents written in English during the early Republic, one may notice often times that all nouns are capitalized, signifying a much closer connection to the English language’s Germanic roots.

Close-up of the signature of Pierre Menard from his 1810 letter from the Three Forks
[From MHS Archives Collection MC 4, Box 1, Folder 1]
We may never know all the factors which influenced and determined Pierre Menard’s particular French writing style.  Nevertheless, these are just some of the problems and questions one might face when translating any document.  Language is essential to culture, society, and history; and language can tell us much about all three.

* See the English translation of Menard's letter in Part Two.