The Montana Heritage Project is something that every
town should have," said student Chris Bourassa. It’s "more than just a
class. It’s a year-long exploration into one’s community, past and
When Jake Olsen first signed up for the class, he "had
no idea what he was getting into" but then said that the class turned out
to be "more enjoyable than I had ever imagined. The places we were able to
get into were places I never would’ve taken the time to go to myself,
could never access myself, or never even knew about." Jake was also
overwhelmed by the support shown by members of the community, saying,
"They wanted us to succeed just as much as we wanted to."
Twenty-two community members and organizations worked
with twenty-eight students in two of history teacher Jerry Girard’s
classes to create histories of the ten oldest buildings in Dillon.
They began by splitting into teams of three, choosing
the buildings, and doing background research on them. They wrote
descriptions of the sites, including the land surrounding the buildings,
and photographed them. With this background knowledge, students were ready
to begin the interviews.
Since the majority of students had never conducted an
interview, they first practiced on their classmates. When they felt
comfortable with their new skills, they went out into the community to
interview the people they found who could tell them about their building’s
And some of the things they found out were pretty
interesting. For instance, many students are told in their history classes
that the vigilante numbers, 3-7-77, refer to the grave measurements of any
unfortunate individual who got in the way of the vigilantes’ wrath. But
Alexandria Havig discovered during her research of the Masonic Temple that
3-7-77 may actually have come from W.H. Bell, one of the first Masons in
the state. On his deathbed, he requested a Masonic burial. She wrote that
the, "seventy-seven is the number of people that gathered for Bell’s
funeral, including the deceased...the three stands for the three principal
officers of the lodge...and the seven alludes to the number of officers in
a Masonic lodge. It is believed today that many of the Vigilantes were, in
fact, Masons, explaining how this theory might be true."
Brittny Jones said that learning the history of the O.E.
Morse Dingley building will help people see why it’s a direct reflection
of Dillon’s history. The top floor used to be a brothel while the bottom
floor has always housed wholesale and retail businesses. If you begin at
the top of the building, you start with the state’s early mining history.
By the time you work your way downstairs, you’ll end up with one of the
building’s current tenants, Radio Shack.
Jerry Girard said that one of the interesting insights
that came out of this project was to find that many of the local
perceptions of the buildings researched were incorrect. He said that the
"students’ adventures took them into many areas of the buildings’
histories that the Dillon community was unaware of or has long since
forgotten." Kaley Donnelly agreed when she said that she had gone into the
Heritage Project "not knowing anything about my community and, to be quite
frank, not really caring to know anything about it." At the end she said
that the project "opened [her] eyes to many historical sites that [she]
never knew existed." She appreciated the opportunity to work with members
of the community and to create something and give it back.
On March 18, 2003, Eda Taylor, Director of Operations
for the Bigfork Ambulance, sent a letter of appreciation to Mary
Sullivan’s entire junior English class. "I remember watching a TV series
about emergency responders several years ago. Week after week, we watched
the medics saving lives. It seemed that after the emergency was over, all
the patients came back and had a big picnic for the ambulance crew. We
joked about that . . . we’d never had a picnic. There are many rewards for
doing the job we do, but picnics must be a Hollywood thing. Last night’s
Appreciation Dinner far exceeded any TV picnic. It truly was an honor to
spend such an enjoyable evening with you."
That dinner grew from a new component of Mary
Sullivan’s Heritage Project work. During a discussion about what makes the
unincorporated town of Bigfork distinctive, Mary’s ninty-two English and
American Literature and Composition students realized how lucky the town
was to have volunteer firefighters and quick response unit (QRU) members.
Students decided to explore the question "Why are some members of the
community willing to volunteer their time in order to make life safer for
Throughout February and March, students interviewed
these volunteers, adding additional questions to their first one: can
communities survive without volunteers? What is the history of volunteer
emergency units? When and how were Bigfork’s emergency crews established?
Students then hosted an Appreciation Night dinner for
all of Bigfork’s emergency volunteers on St. Patrick’s Day. They planned
and made a lasagna dinner, decorated the high school foyer, wrote and
presented an original song, shared some of their interview findings, and
created a program that listed all volunteer firefighters and QRU members.
For the school newspaper, student Kyle Verhovshek wrote
that the juniors "realized for the first time that our emergency workers
at the BVFD were actually the ‘V’ in BVF—volunteers....Whether our
volunteers have helped you, or you’ve known someone they helped, or you
just felt more secure knowing that help is willing and a short distance
away, all Bigfork residents have been affected by and are thus indebted to
the Bigfork Volunteer Fire Department. In a world where not everyone cares
about their neighbors, we seem to have hit the mother-lode here in
The study of volunteers was only part of the Project.
In the fall, students interviewed area veterans and hosted a Veteran’s Day
program. For the program, students read aloud key passages from the one
hundred transcribed interviews that they had conducted. Folks in the
audience were touched by stories such as those told by World War II
veteran Ray Schletz’s who parachuted into enemy territory at Normandy: "If
you weren’t scared, you were crazy," he said,
Students concentrated on several essential questions:
Why did different wars affect veterans differently? What changed while you
were at war? What stayed the same? What did it mean to be from
here—Montana and this area—when you were fighting a war in a foreign
In addition to the volunteer and veteran projects,
several students added to the school’s growing collection of Women in
Montana essays. Students selected interesting but little recognized area
women, interviewed them, and then wrote 800 word essays from the
Collecting Broadwater County History
Darlene Beck, Broadwater High School
All one hundred of Darlene Beck’s junior and senior
English students joined Heritage Project expeditions this year. Changes in
teaching assignments gave Darlene the opportunity to "grow" the impact of
the Project in the Townsend community from a single class to the full
contingent of upper class students, their families, and all their mentors
Darlene and her students explored three components of
community history: veterans’ experiences; personal memorabilia
collections; and 1910 institutions, businesses, and activities.
The junior English students tackled researching
Broadwater County from 1910 to 1920 by first looking at existing county
histories and museum scrapbooks. Then they embarked on their own journey
through Townsend’s three early newspapers and family journals. Although
each junior selected a particular topic to examine (music of the time, the
community-building benefits of early sports, the effects of railroads, for
example), each student studied the era in addition to his or her specific
"Students read the newspapers with fascination and were
deeply absorbed in the news and stories of the time period. They paid
particular attention to the style of writing and were shocked at the lack
of ‘political correctness’ that they found," Darlene observed. "They were
equally shocked at the harsh and often cruel punishments that were handed
out during the same period."
Darlene’s senior English students tried an innovative
strategy for exploring their community’s past: selecting personal
collections of memorabilia and then researching the objects collected, the
collector, and his or her motives. As Darlene told her students at the
outset, "Many collections tell the story of an individual’s interests,
values, and history as well as the time period and place that the
Senior-class researchers first learned how and why
museums collect artifacts, and then each selected a community member’s
collection to study: maps, teacups, keys and locks, typewriters, beads,
buckles, firearms, and much more. Students interviewed each collection’s
owner, photographed the collection, researched the context of the
collection, and wrote an essay of their findings. Some students teamed up
with their collector to display portions of the collections in the
Broadwater County Library.
Students asked their interviewees why they collected
the items that they did, what the collection had meant to them, and what
they had learned about history from the collection. Darlene reported that
the project yielded what she hoped. "It gave students valuable insights,"
she said. "When looking back in time, we might get a sense of daily life
through books and movies. Even then, much is left to the imagination and
we often forget about the simple everyday items that can hold story after
story of fascinating history. What better entry into the history of a
community than by studying the artifacts of the day!"
Callie Kimpton worked with area historian John Stoner
to understand his interest in collecting and using historic maps. Callie
wondered, "Why such a passion for maps and preserving history?" John
explained that "there is a historical importance in learning and teaching
what our pioneer era looked like." Through her investigations, Callie
found that, "while some maps provide vague descriptions, others, such as
an eight-foot by eight-foot hand-drawn oil cloth map of the Crow Creek
Valley, are amazingly specific. Drawn by a rancher for a water rights
legal battle, this map depicts every home, every chicken coop, and every
stream in the valley as well as the only known evidence that a legendary
mining settlement, Old Center City, actually existed."
Several years ago, Darlene inadvertently began a
tradition when her students did a Veterans History Project. Townspeople
were so impressed with that project that they have looked forward to it
every year since. Each new class of students is introduced to Broadwater
County residents, and visa versa, through the interviews they conduct.
They then plan an afternoon of songs, poetry and other readings, and
refreshments to honor the veterans on or near Veterans Day.
People are noticing the contributions to the community
made by the Townsend Heritage Project. For instance, a local family who
was touched and impressed by the students’ research, donated thirty
software licenses to the school, and the Broadwater County Museum Board
showed their faith in the students by inviting them to research and write
new material for the county history book, and to correct errors in the
Accomplishing something "rather important" in Liberty County
Renee Rasmussen, Chester High School
The contributions of the Heritage Project toward a
better understanding of local and state history was recognized when two
Chester High School seniors were invited to help with a day-long workshop
at the annual Montana History Conference. A packed room of Montana
historic preservation advocates along with staff from the National Trust
for Historic Preservation, listened as Bryan Ghekiere and Andrew Thorness
described the Chester students’ research into a 1917 basta brick house
built by Estonian homesteaders and their efforts to have the building
placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
For the second year, Renee Rasmussen’s junior English
class prepared a column for the Liberty County Times entitled "This
Week in Local History." Students located historical news items that
complemented current issues, such as fund-raising for a swimming pool,
dealing with drought, and putting family ranches on the market. Each week
the column identified the contributing student and the sources that he or
she used. Among other sources, all of the students used research done by
Renee’s previous classes. In writing these columns, students quickly
became familiar with a wide variety of research material.
Each students also researched a family heirloom and a
specific historic building or place. Renata Munfrada found the heirloom
research a valuable experience. "As I talked with my mom and my grandma
about this little silver jewel," she said, "the conversation became much
more than just a part of a homework assignment. I spent time with them and
we discussed our family, where we came from, who we are, and what we stand
Teams of students also researched and wrote Essays of
Mitchell Clark thought that one of the most important parts of his
research paper was including the bibliographies. They helped him realize,
"how important it really is to show which sources were used. Without
reliable sources nothing could be trusted as fact. It is also important
because without including a bibliography page the researchers that worked
on the material before would receive no credit for their hard work."
Other student teams designed and uploaded newly
researched or written material for Chester’s website (http://www.folkways.org/Chester/).
They did quite a lot of work on, among other things, a Chester timeline
which begins at 1900 and ends with the seventies. They included quite a
few photos and student research papers on a variety of topics for each
Through his research into Chester in 1910, Mitch
Violett went from being indifferent to his heritage to becoming an eager
researcher. "Before this paper, I could not have cared less about my
family heritage and how the Chester community began," he said. "But the
more I began to research and the more I studied that period of time, the
more interested I became and the more I wanted to find out."
All of Renee’s nineteen juniors seemed to have learned
valuable things during the year. Shyann Norick learned that it’s
"important for people to record what they find because one can never be
sure what will be essential in the future." Courtney Fraser said, "I
learned that the people in our community have great memories to share.
What they were missing until the Montana Heritage Project came along was
someone who was willing to listen." And Amanda Hofer found that all of her
work was worthwhile: "I realized that after I finished this paper I had
accomplished something rather important."
Future researchers will probably agree.
Corvallis students find that "for every good question,
there is a never-ending answer"
Phil Leonardi, Corvallis High School
Geography teacher Phil Leonardi has participated in the
Montana Heritage Project almost since the Project began so one might think
that he had the process down, that his lessons would be automatic or even
boring. But that’s not the case. After eight years, Phil still finds the
Project and his students’ discoveries exciting. And, along with his
students, he is still learning. "There is something exciting about
watching young people mature and eventually grasp the concept that they
stand on the shoulders of others that came before them, that they have an
individual and collective heritage that binds them together," he said.
"For awhile I mistakenly compared them to a newborn calf taking his first
steps—slow and shaky. I now understand that the process is much more like
letting young calves out of the corral in the spring of the year to new
green pastures. The students, like those young calves, experience a
metaphorical opening of a gate and the results are the same: they run,
jump, stretch their legs, frolic, experience life, and from time to time,
get into trouble."
Twenty-three freshmen, along with twenty staff and
community members, participated in the Corvallis Heritage Project. They
completed an astonishing array of projects. They studied homesteading by
reading Homesteading: A Montana Family Album by Percy Wollaston and
comparing Wollaston’s life with their lives today; studied some of Evelyn
Cameron’s photographs and then chose an individual from one of the photos
and tried to explain, via a "postcard home," what life was like during
that era; and they watched Frontier House, the PBS documentary
about how people of today coped with living in homestead-era Montana.
Students did their research in various archives. They
researched early inhabitants of the Corvallis area and Bitterroot Valley
at the Ravalli County Museum archives; studied Montana’s population by
exploring the 1900 and 1910 census records and then cross-referencing
those records with a local cemetery database; did tombstone rubbings and
brief biographies of people that appeared in both the 1900 and 1910 census
and were also buried in the local cemetery; and used various newspapers,
local histories, and photos to demonstrate that the various "selling
points" promoters used to get homesteaders to buy land in the Bitterroot
Valley during the homestead boom of the 1910s were very often false.
Several projects were sent to the Montana Historical
Society for archiving. The archived projects include five oral
interviews—complete with tapes, tape logs, and transcripts—about growing
up in the Bitterroot Valley in the early part of the twentieth century,
and hundreds of digitized images relating to the lives of the interview
subjects. Some of the images date as far back as the late nineteenth
century and all of the images were catalogued for reference purposes. They
also created a web-based digital archives of selected historical photos
collected over the years.
Students presented their findings at a special Heritage
Night and in a revolving display of photographs placed in various
businesses in Corvallis. They also displayed some of their historic
memorabilia in a display case the Ravalli County Museum donated to the
According to their comments, students value the
information and skills learned through their participation in the Project.
All of them expressed appreciation of their new knowledge. Leah Pelkey
summarized the consensus of the class: "All of these activities help us to
understand our past and our community, as well as our families and
ourselves. We can look, through photos and research, into the past of the
place where we live, our town one hundred years ago. The knowledge we have
gained explains why things are the way they are. We now know so much more
Mark Wax said, "Before this class, I assumed that
archives were dark, sinister places occupied by bitter old women who
wanted to make you miserable. Now, I see that all the people there enjoy
helping you and teaching you all that they know. People love to share
And Maria Peterson provided the headline quote when she
said, "For every good question, there is a never-ending answer."
Building bridges in Harlowton
Nancy Widdicombe, Harlowton High School
"I have learned much about the Hutterites in the past
four weeks," said Jeff Eagleton, one of Nancy Widdicombe’s ten English IV
students. "The Hutterite people have lived in the shadows of many
different stereotypes. They are seen as a simple kind of folk who fear
change, enjoy nothing, and live very sheltered lives. The truth is that
the Hutterite people do not take part in the many things the ‘outside
world’ takes for granted, but they enjoy being alive and everything they
Jeff reached that thoughtful conclusion after the class
conducted an in-depth study of area Hutterite colonies. They chose that
focus after asking which community groups were overlooked or less
understood than others. In early discussions, students owned up to their
own limited if not biased understandings about these neighbors. So they
began their research by watching documentaries and reading secondary
histories of the Hutterites in Europe and North America. Students wanted
to grasp the historical context that had brought the colonies to the Upper
By Christmas, Nancy and her students had contacted the
Duncan Ranch, Martinsdale, and Springwater colonies and been invited to
continue their local research with onsite visits that would include
interviews and conversation with members of those colonies. In fact,
students were invited to colony Christmas programs. By January, class
members had outlined the specific questions that they wanted to pursue
during their quarter of concentrated work.
The three colonies invited students to learn about
their beliefs, history, and lifestyle. The class quickly found that each
colony had its own personality and patterns. But they also were coming to
understand commonalities: primary beliefs, the basics of colony
organization, the substance of daily life, and the organization of work
and the roles of various members. Students were able to spend a full day
at one site and additional time at the others. They were invited to shoot
a wide range of photographs. Students peeked into German and public
classrooms, watched women preparing food, documented state-of-the-art
electronic farming practices, visited churches or meeting halls, and
toured private apartments. Colony members readily shared information about
Students also learned more about Hutterite schooling
from the District School Superintendent and district-hired teachers. The
three colonies enjoy a somewhat unusual inter-local agreement that brings
public school teachers to the colonies for kindergarten through eighth
After the site work, the class began analyzing their
information, organizing images, and divvying up topics to be presented in
a self-published book as well as in two different PowerPoint
presentations. Both gifts of scholarship benefited from student Betsy
Suckow’s professional-caliber photography.
On March 22, students invited the entire Harlowton
community to a program that they organized. Although Nancy feared that the
turnout would be far smaller than that elicited by previous projects, more
than 120 area residents poured into the Youth Center to hear and see what
the students had learned. She was especially thrilled that representatives
from the colonies also attended.
The following week, students took their program to each
of the colonies so that more community residents could see the work that
resulted from their assistance and information.
Mariah Breding found that "the Montana Heritage Project
opened a door between two cultures. Through the project, all of us in the
English IV class became bridges between two communities."
Wylie Galt expressed his hope that the project "will
help some of the rumors and myths be put to rest" and that "the Hutterites
will be able to live with ‘the outside world’ with better understanding."
Student photographer Betsy Suckow said that she had
"learned much about our similarities and differences and to look beyond
what the eye sees."
Nancy Widdicombe was most pleased with how her students
came to be better reporters and historians. "They discussed among
themselves how important the ability to observe and record, without
judging, is in this world."
Libby students document the present
Jeff Gruber, Libby High School
History teacher Jeff Gruber has been involved with the
Heritage Project since the Project began and believes it’s firmly
entrenched in Libby. "More and more teachers refer to it as one of the
programs in the high school that displays student excellence," he said.
"Parents talk about how they look forward to their children being in it
when they get in high school. Two new teachers have joined, broadening the
Project’s reach. Community members offer ideas for research. True results
take time to measure but after eight years, I feel the jury is no longer
out. It works."
During the 2002–2003 school year, more than forty
individuals and groups worked with twelve students in the Heritage Project
Students began the year writing essays of place and
local legacies research papers, following the ALERT learning model. They
wrote about such varied topics as family members, notorious characters
from Libby’s past, the volunteer fire department, and former Governor Marc
Racicot (who grew up in Libby). They also participated in the Expedition
to 1910 by researching the Western News archives and creating a
poster of various news articles from that time period.
All of this work was in preparation for their major
project: a community documentation project focused on the closure of the
Stimson Lumber Company.
The mill employed 330 workers, which made it the towns
largest employer. The company announced in 2002 that they wold close the
mill unless it got help from the community in two ways: a more stable
supply of lumber and a solution to its increasing workmen’s compensation
bills that were being exacerbated by the W.R. Grace asbestos
Jeff’s students asked broad questions about Stimson’s
operation in Libby: Why do they make plywood and not lumber? What other
jobs depend on the mill? Who is the Stimson Lumber Company? To answer
these questions, students researched and produced a pamphlet illustrating
the process of making plywood, from the arrival of logs to the yard to
shipping the final product. Students presented copies of the pamphlet to
employees on the last day of the mill’s operation.
Since many students had ties to the mill, this project
had a special meaning for them. When Jeff asked the class what their
favorite project was, they nearly unanimously said the mill pamphlet.
Jeff received a pleasant surprise in April when he was
contacted by the George Lucas Educational Foundation to see if one of
their writers could visit Libby to learn more about the Heritage Project.
Writer Ashley Ball arrived in Libby on May 5 and stayed nearly the entire
week. She interviewed teachers, students, and community members and helped
to create a multi-media exhibit on the George Lucas Educational Foundation
web site (http://www.glef.org). The site includes slide shows of students
documenting the Stimson Mill, reading at their Heritage Evening, and
working on various other projects. The site also features a streaming
audio of student Amanda Shotzberger reading an excerpt from her research
paper about one of Libby’s early movers and shakers: John H. Geiger
Ashley found in Libby students, teachers, and community
members who see the value and importance of taking a good, hard look at
their local history. Student Anders Larson said, "It’s really opened my
eyes and let me see what we once were and what we could potentially be."
And students enjoy what they’re doing and how they’re
learning. Taylor Sweet said, "There is more involvement in the learning.
You’re not just taking notes, studying, and then taking a test. What you
do and learn really means something to you and others around you." Kyle
Koehler took it a step further when he said, "It is the most
self-motivated learning process than any other class I’ve taken."
History teacher Bob Malyevac and English teacher Jon
England also did Heritage Projects this year. Bob’s focus was the building
of Libby Dam and Jon’s focus was the history of all the schools in Libby.
Ronan students take an expedition to the sixties
Christa Umphrey, Ronan High School
Several years ago, Ronan High School adopted the
Expeditionary Learning education model school-wide. English teacher
Christa Umphrey has dovetailed her Heritage Project with her assigned
expedition. It’s a good fit, since in the expeditionary model, students do
extended, in-depth research into a topic they all share. Last year’s
expedition focused on the 1960s, so forty community members were
interviewed by forty juniors about different aspects of life in the
sixties. During all the students’ projects, they were asked to focus on
one of several essential questions: Why do people rebel? What is worth
fighting for? What was our community like in the 1960s?
Students began their study by researching how the
national events of the sixties related to and influenced the local
community. Each student had a specific year in the decade they were
focusing on and they spent a few mornings at the local newspaper office
looking through newspapers from the decade and collecting events, news,
and photos from their year. They also researched what the biggest national
stories were during their year, so they could compare national and local
While focusing on the Civil Rights Movement and the
American Indian Movement, students read numerous speeches and articles,
examined historical photographs, and analyzed documentary film clips.
After gaining some knowledge of the issues and events of the time, they
invited local people involved in the events to come to class and share
their experiences. Students conducted whole-class interviews so guests
could answer questions.
During the study of the Vietnam War, students read
articles and speeches and listened to music from the time period. They
read poetry and stories about the war as well as more recent articles
dealing with the aftermath of the war. Then they met with local veterans
to talk about specific war experiences. They also discussed the current
war in Iraq among themselves and with each Vietnam veteran. They also
documented their community’s reaction to the Second Gulf War.
Dan Mays said that he liked everything about the
interview. "It taught me a lot I didn’t know, about my dad and about the
war. My dad actually fought in the field, with bullets firing above his
head. I never knew he was actually in the war."
After students completed research on their specific
year, each created a visual display that compared national and local
events of the time. A few students also used the research to make two
web-based timelines: one that compared national and local events and
another that just collected all the local events from the decade.
Students also used the knowledge they gained about
civil rights issues and the Native American struggle for rights to create
a children’s book for younger students. Each junior created one page about
a topic of his or her choosing. Each did individual research to write text
and to find images, and then designed the page. The pages were collected
and bound together, and copies of the book were made for each third
A book entitled A Community and Country Divided:
Vietnam, containing the interviews with the veterans, will be
available to the veterans and other community members as soon as the
editing and printing are complete. This book will be professionally
printed and perfect-bound so the extra wait is worthwhile. Judging from
the comments from community members Christa and her students received
after the publication of last year’s book which focused on the stories of
World War II veterans, the people of Ronan think the extra wait is
Students research seditious aliens, patriots, and elk in Roundup
Tim Schaff, Roundup High School
The Heritage Project in Roundup is slowly, but surely,
getting bigger. This year, there were four teachers that coordinated the
efforts of forty-one students and twenty-nine community members.
In Tim Schaff’s English II class, students read
English Creek by Ivan Doig and then used Sanborn maps, newspaper
microfiche, photos, and interviews to produce a multi-media presentation
that chronicled the history of Roundup from 1908–1945 called "Letters
Home." Students used the information they gathered to create composite
characters that write to one another. One letter was read by a character
on the screen, portrayed by a historical photo, while a student, live and
in period costume, read the answer.
In Tim’s Local Legacies class and Tom Thackeray’s
Research Writing class, students wrote research papers on a variety of
topics. They read Joseph Kinsey Howard’s Montana: High, Wide, and
Handsome and learned about primary documents and how to use them by
completing exercises in The Progressive Years 1898–1917, a
publication of the National Archives and Records Administration. They then
visited the courthouse a few times to learn how to access the various
records kept there. Finally, teams of students interviewed and
photographed several community members.
Then they began writing.
The papers cover such diverse subjects as the
historical and current elk population of the Bull Mountains and Snowy
Mountains; the Bataan Death March; coal mining in the U.S. in general, and
Musselshell County in particular; the history of a local homesteading
family; the history of baseball in the county; a sensational murder; and a
thirty-seven page paper on the U.S.A. Patriot Act, comparing that Act with
the World War I Alien and Sedition Act. These papers are what earned a
team from Roundup the opportunity to represent the Montana Heritage
Project at the Library of Congress in May.
Students in Sherry Pertile’s Quilting II class studied
buildings that existed in Roundup in 1910. They started by examining
historical photos in the photo archives at the high school and then moved
on to the Sanborn maps to try to locate the buildings and newspapers to
document the uses of them. They finished their study by creating five wall
hangings with photo blocks of the buildings.
High school librarian, Dale Alger, continues to be an
invaluable member of the team. According to Tim Schaff, "His expertise in
photography, research techniques, and technology are in constant use by
the members of the Project." Several teachers in Roundup have been
overheard to say that they "have the best librarian in the state."
In addition to the research and writing Roundup
students did, they continued to copy, caption, and archive historical
photos from the Musselshell Valley Historical Museum, which allows the
public greater access to them while protecting the originals.
Another on-going effort that began just this year was
the creation of a database for the local newspaper. Students have entered
nearly 2,000 front-page articles from the years 1908–1920 in a searchable
database which is also available to the public.
Working as a team in St. Ignatius
Luke Brandon, St. Ignatius High School
The twenty freshmen, sophomores, and juniors in Luke
Brandon’s Montana History Through Literature class began the year by doing
individual research projects that ranged from researching their family
history to compiling histories of Kerr Dam or Fort Connah. All the
research projects had to have an oral history component so in addition to
primary and secondary research, students had to find an expert in the
field to interview. Two freshmen traveled to the Nine Mile Valley to
interview a man whose sheep had been decimated by wolves, several
interviewed family members about their family history, and at least two
students went to the University of Montana to interview professors about
their research topics.
Joseph Mitchell, who wrote a paper on Marcus Daly,
interviewed history professor David Emmons. "Professor Emmons was great to
talk to," he said. "I read part of his book (The Butte Irish) to
get ready for the interview but I still wasn’t ready for how much he knew
about Marcus Daly and William Clark. I was interested in the war between
the Copper Kings and that period of Montana history, so Professor Emmons
was fascinating to listen to."
Luke assigned the oral history component of the
students’ individual research projects to help prepare them for their main
project which was a history of the St. Ignatius Volunteer Fire Department.
Students did some legal research to find the state laws that established
and govern volunteer fire departments. They then spent three weeks doing
newspaper research to find historical stories that had to do with fires
and the fire department in St. Ignatius. Finally, they interviewed current
and past members of the department. They also interviewed elders in the
community to learn how fires were fought before there was a fire
Community elder Edna Wheeler recalled that, "we all had
our own fire truck." She told the students that many people had wagons
about the size of a bathtub that were used for personal fire trucks. When
there was a fire, they hooked their personal fire trucks up to horses,
trotted to the fire, and then used buckets to put it out.
Luke found the interviews to be one of the most
important aspects of the Project. He said that by interviewing community
elders, students "began to understand that the older members of their
community are a resource for them to better make sense of their own
When the students had collected all the information
they had time to collect, they began their final products. They created a
display about the fire department that was set up in the school and is
available for the department to use for their events, and they created two
web sites. One of the web sites featured the individual research papers
(http://mission.blackfoot.net/STUDENTS/ Personal/INDEX.HTM) and the other
focused on the fire department (http://mission.blackfoot.net/Fire
Students also painted a large map of Montana on the
back wall of Luke’s classroom which highlights the most interesting things
they learned during their individual research projects.
Junior Annie Mitchell found value in the teamwork the
projects required. "In the beginning no one realized how much work we’d
have to do or how well we’d have to work together to complete this
project. Because of this class, we got to know each other better and
learned to appreciate the small things, like help with a transcription or
getting advice on a project or finding the perfect quote. Our class came
closer to becoming a team."
Simms students figure it out together
Dorothea Susag, Simms High School
One day while students were collecting resources for
their research papers, Simms English teacher Dorothea Susag heard a girl
in the far corner of her classroom announce in frustration, "I don’t know
how to do this!" Before Dottie could intervene, another student crossed
the room. "That’s okay," the second student said, "we can figure it out
That moment defined Heritage Project work at Simms this
year. Several classes—the computer applications class, Seniors Honors
English students, and junior history/English scholars—worked together to
explore the Sun River Valley as it existed in1910.
Students began their expedition to the early part of
the century by interviewing family and community members and then
transcribing those recordings for local and state archives. Next, students
solicited original photographs of Vaughn, Sun River, Fort Shaw, and Simms
from the years surrounding 1910. They located several significant new
photographic collections and digitized and cataloged more than 300 images
that are now available for other researchers.
Mid-year, Dottie immersed her students in the
economics, politics, culture, and technology of 1910, drawing in part on
material that Project Director Michael Umphrey had prepared for the 2002
Teacher Institute. In their heritage scavenger hunt, students read
magazines, novels, and newspapers of the period, watched movies about it,
listened to its music, and studied its fashions.
With that context, one set of students used maps,
photographs, and oral histories to reconstruct the appearance of the main
street in each of the four communities in the valley. Another group
selected a single newly-found photograph from 1910 and teased questions
from the image about the history, geography, and culture of the era and of
the valley. Everyone worked to create a time line that placed the Sun
River Valley’s 1910 experiences in the context of the nation and the
world. Students added new dates to the time line as they worked at putting
local stories into historical perspective.
Students drafted essays, poems, maps, and PowerPoint
presentations, conducting additional research and interviews as needed.
Dottie and fellow teachers Sarah Zook, Mary Jane Johnson, Belinda Klick,
and Chuck Merja pushed their students to find concrete, specific
information that would shed light on several big questions: What’s
changed? What’s lost? What’s gained? What stories hide behind what we’ve
believed and thought was true? What’s stayed the same in the Sun River
Valley and our four towns? Why? Part of the fun was to refuse to settle
for easy answers.
In the spirit of figuring it out together, each student
essay or presentation was read by student peers, teachers, and mentors.
The Senior Honors English class then polished the material one last time
before its presentation in Simm’s sixth Stories in Place literary
magazine and in their PowerPoint presentations. "Even though my I thought
my paper was done, it had just begun. I learned how to revise, edit, and
correct, " Dani Fleming wrote in her evaluation of the Heritage Project.
At the beginning of the year, Whitney Hall worried that
the amount of research required would jeopardize other school work and
activities. As she pored over a Sunnyside Store photograph and kept
searching for information about it, she found that "as the work progressed
into more depth, it became more enjoyable." She pushed herself to excel as
she realized that "speaking to the community encouraged me to perform to
the best of my ability. I did not want to let them down."
Simms used their March Heritage Fair to thank community
mentors and to introduce a new community advisory council formed to
provide community support to the school. In exhibits, songs, poems,
audiovisual presentations, and dances, they also showcased their answers
to their big questions about the similarities and differences in the
valley between 1910 and 2003.
Researching historic schools in Meagher County
Nancy Brastrup, White Sulphur Springs High School
History teacher Nancy Brastrup launched the Montana
Heritage Project in White Sulphur Springs High School this year with six
junior and senior students in an elective class. The year proved
adventuresome for this first-year band of educational explorers.
Class members decided to research and document the
historic ghost town of Castle. Situated high in an island mountain range
of the same name, Castle once boasted three newspapers and a vigorous
community life that stands now in stark contrast to its skeletal remains.
The ghost town looms large in area consciousness, so taking students to
the site and introducing them to historical photos and community museum
exhibits served as a great introduction for additional Project work.
Students then learned web-building skills kicked off
through a workshop by Michael Umphrey. They used their Castle photographs
and research to create their own web pages (http://www.folkways.org/WhiteSulphur/studentprojects.htm).
Nancy’s class investigated additional historic
buildings in the town of White Sulphur Springs itself, but met many
obstacles, not the least of which was the closure of the public library
due to structural problems. They learned that original research is often
slow and frustrating and good scholars are patient and persistent.
The class found pay dirt when researching six of
Meagher County’s once-operating sixty historic one-room schoolhouses.
County Superintendent of Public Instruction Julie Hanson offered direction
and encouragement. The records stored in her office gave students a rich
cache of primary source documents to study as well as leads to potential
interview subjects, including former students and teachers. Students also
located a number of historic photographs.
The class identified several historical patterns. Most
obvious to them were the effects of school consolidation and the loss of
population in many areas. Few of the county’s rural schools are still
open. They also saw how weather, parents’ need for children to help with
farm and ranch work, and changing enrollment forced educators to be
flexible about schedules and attendance rules.
Nancy’s students puzzled over teachers living in
teacherages and earning well under a $1,000. They observed that punishment
for misbehavior was more physical than it is today. They came away with an
understanding of how remote many corners of Meagher County had been,
especially when roads and vehicles were less reliable. And they noticed
that even though there were few formally organized sports or recreation
programs, people clearly knew how to create their own fun.
Interviewees remembered such things as the treats
associated with special Christmas programs, the fun of a school play, and
the excitement they felt when they could team up with students from
another school for sports events or spelling bees. Most spoke of having
few modern conveniences. Jim Fuller, for instance, remembered, "If we left
our lunches in the cloak room on cold days, our sandwiches would have ice
crystals in them at noontime." At Lingshire School, students had to get
water from a nearby coulee and heat from a wood stove. The school had 140
library books, eight maps, one globe, a phonograph, a flag, and good