FieldNotes logo


Saturday, March 25, 2006

1910 in the Upper Musselshell Valley
   Harlowton High School

It was real spring day, and a few residents of Harlo were out and about. Several conversations were held by people yelling at acquaintances on the other side of the street.

Nancy Widdicombe’s senior English class is participating in the 1910 Expedition, studying what life was like on the Upper Musselshell in 1910.

Students will illustrate the book they are writing about 1910 in Harlo with photographs of themselves in clothing from the period, made available by the Upper Musselshell Museum. Dwayne Mullens in the drivers seat.

Dwayne Mullens is the groom; Kayla Hagberg is the bride; Kayla Suckow is the photographer.

Kayla Suckow. Kayla’s sister Betsy provided the photography for the extensive study of neighboring Hutterite communities completed in Nancy’s classes a few years ago.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/25 at 11:02 PM
(0) CommentsPermalink
© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

True Intellectual Curiosity Took Root Today
   Harlowton High School

On Monday, November 14, Nancy Widdicombe and her 14 English IV/Montana Heritage Project students braved 130 miles of icy roads to begin their year’s research efforts in the Montana Historical Society’s collections.  This year, the class is exploring what life was like in the Upper Musselshell around 1910–a pivotal point in time for that valley. In particular, these young people will compare and contrast cooking, clothing, social activities, sports, and other entertainment of today with that of almost a hundred years ago.

Nancy had used a part of her Summer Fellowship preparatory time and money to work with the Society’s collections and get a sense herself of the kind of archival, text, newspaper, and photographic resources that might capture students’ attention–that might draw them into the adventure of research and analysis. Her two July days at the Society convinced her that students would find the Society’s rich array of relevant historic documents and materials fascinating and compelling.

To prepare for the students’ arrival, Society staff members Rich Aarstad, Brian Shovers, Karen Bjork, Jeff Malcomson, Jodie Foley, Lory Morrow, Becca Kohl, and George Oberst had pulled library, archival, and museum materials and created “stations” for students to move among.

Staff encouraged students to use archival documents and showed them how to handle these fragile resources carefully.  Krya Hagberg found business and family names that she recognized. Ideas in other documents prompted students, like Dwayne Mullens, to leave Marcella and the library staff with new research leads to track.

Every student had the opportunity to scan one of Montana’s “big city” newspapers for years between 1909 and 1911. As did her colleagues, Kendall Theriault looked for advertisements, sports stories, restaurant menus, and social columns that could give her a better sense of social life in 1910. Nancy’s students will read their hometown weekly newspapers at their local library.

Here, Tyrel Berg, on the left, and Brandon Sheets are studying historic cookbooks. Students quickly observed the absence of recipes for dishes that they like best now: pizza, lasagna, tacos. They also noted that in 1910 cooks had to know the chemistry of cooking far more than today’s chefs--recipes didn’t provide as much specific guidance then as they do now.

Using a “how to analyze an historic photograph worksheet” from the Project’s web page with much assistance for Photo Archivist Becca Kohl, students study and understand historic photographs. In fact, Bethelle Dick’s efforts may help the Society better identify Harlowton images.

During a very short lunch break, students also explored the Society’s exhibit galleries as part of a 1910 scavenger hunt. Education and Museum staff members Deb Mitchell, Kirby Lambert, and George Oberst helped Nancy and Marcella insure that the exercise stretched from finding “things” to understanding.  For instance, each student team wrestled with the question of why Charles M. Russell was painting scenes of bison on an open range around 1910 even as the state’s economy boomed with copper mining and smelting and three transcontinental rail lines bisected the state.

As Crystal Crouse and Carlee Church boarded the bus to head home on slightly better roads, Nancy said, “You wouldn’t believe what happened here today. I saw true intellectual curiosity in play throughout these hours.”

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 11/15 at 10:30 AM
(0) CommentsPermalink
© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, October 28, 2005

1910 in the Upper Musselshell--Investigating Harlowton’s Historic Architecture
   Harlowton High School

Students in Nancy E. Widdicombe’s English IV/Montana Heritage Project class began examining life in the Upper Musselshell in 1910 by taking three investigative trips to Harlowton’s Central Avenue--the town’s main street. Although founded earlier, Harlowton took “concrete” shape between 1907, when much of the original business district burned, and 1915, when it became the county seat of newly formed Wheatland County. In the intervening years, Harlowton realigned its downtown to serve the newly arrived transcontinental Milwaukee Railroad line as the jumping off point for the Milwaukee’s unique electrically-powered section.

Crystal Crouse (looking up) and Kyra Hagberg examine the style, materials, form, and function Harlowton’s main street buildings. To begin analyzing the rapidly changing and optimistic world of 1910, Harlowton students focused on what they could learn from the design and construction of Harlowton’s historic commercial buildings. Nancy invited former State Historic Preservation Officer (and current MHP Education Director) Marcella Sherfy to teach students how historic buildings reveal information about the era in which they were built and what the builders’ preferences and intentions were.  Photo by Kayla Suckhow.

Tiffany Galahan and Jennie Connolly pore over a scavenger hunt booklet created by fellow student Kayla Suckow. The scavenger hunt was designed to help them zoom in close on architextural details on Central Avenue. Kayla Suckow is also this year’s official Heritage Project photographer. Photo by Kayla Suckhow.

Much to their own surprise, these Harlowton young people found that intense research--here in the form of careful investigative field work--changes perceptions and yields useful information. Brandon Sheets, Tyrel Berg, and Jason Carlson (identified left to right) scrutinize building blocks, learning to see the different forms used throughout Harlowton. Some buildings use real native stone, some use concrete shaped to look like stone, and some use tin manufactured to mimic stone. These specific building materials were used by 1910 builders to craft Harlowton’s distinctive appearance. Photo by Kayla Suckhow.

As the year unfolds, Nancy’s scholars will analyze how residents of the Upper Musselshell in 1910 dressed, entertained themselves, cooked, and socialized. Students will investigate why so many customs, mores, and patterns were changing rapidly at that time and compare life then with the life they know today. 

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 10/28 at 10:06 AM
(0) CommentsPermalink
© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Life on the River
   Harlowton High School

The downpour that drenched Harlowton an hour before the English IV’s 2005 Montana Heritage Project Open House seemd to be part of program. Recent rains provided students with an unanticipated ending to their “Life on the River: Stories from the Upper Musselshell Valley” research and analysis. “Drought” wasn’t the watchword for the evening, as community visitors dodged puddles to reach the program. Instead, people talked about how good thunder sounded.

Project teacher Nancy Widdicombe moved Harlowton’s fifth annual heritage open house to the school gym this year. It provided ample space for students to demonstrate square dancing--once a familar form of recreation in the Valley. 

Cheyenne Rodgers, sporting a square dance dress loaned by Sarah Dodge’s family, welcomed the crowd of 160 folks. In addition to writing newspaper announcements, Harlowton students send invitations to everyone who has helped their Project throughout its multiple year history--and to people who’ve signed the guest book at earlier open houses.

Following the square dance demonstration, Mrs. Widdicombe described how this year’s work built on research and interviews from the past four years. Student then presented a PowerPoint show that summarized the projects they had researched within this year’s theme Life on the River. Each member of the class provided spoken narration when the PowerPoint illustrated their own work.

The culinary arts at Harlo again baked and decorated theme cakes. Nancy whipped up punch. The crowd not only welcomed refreshments. The post-show hour has become valued community fellowship time, offering students, parents, and grandparents the opportunity to catch up on news and thank each other for help related to the Project.

Families and individuals who were interviewed could study exhibits from all previous years--along with the two created by the class this year.

(The class’s remarkable artist, Brittany Lind, painted backdrops for both story boards.)

Students also displayed early Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps (a crowd favorite--as visitors look for their own homes and businesses), historic square dance cards and costumes, maps of water sources, and, here, film footage of Harlowton’s 1927 May Day celebration. 

Nancy may move next year’s open house back to the cozier Harlowton Youth Center--even though it’s bound to be still more crowded. But setting will never matter half as much as what the Open House represents: difficult analytical and field work accomplished; old community connections honored and reestablished; new community connections forged and recognized; contemporary topics studied in the context of comparable historic issues; the products of student thinking, writing, and creating given to the Valley for its future use.

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 05/18 at 12:16 PM
(0) CommentsPermalink
© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Monday, May 16, 2005

Harlo students document branding at Jones Ranch
   Harlowton High School

May 10, 2005 - Branding at Bob Jones Ranch

Waiting to get started, Montana Heritage Project students from Nancy Widdicombe’s junior English class wait at the barn of the Two Dot Land and Livestock Company on the Robert O. and Diane Jones Ranch. The expedition is part of the “Life on the Upper Musselshell” documentary project the students are working on, which will culminate in a book and a public open house.

Not one to hang back, Nancy gets a bit “hands on” herself. She insists the calf was smaller than normal and suggests that it may have been tranquilized. Cattle expert Tim Schaff says the smaller ones have slicker hair and can be quite hard to handle.

Alli Jones, who will do the write-up on the Jones Ranch, wrestles the first calf of the day. All subsequent calves were done inside the barn.

Though it was a rainy day with quite a stiff wind, the work went ahead. Bob Jones speculated that it rained because he had the branding scheduled, and he didn’t dare postpone it because, in the midst of a seven-year-drought, rain is more important than comfort.

For Bob Jones, the main work of the day is to get the cows vaccinated and wormed and the calves branded. For the students, the main work is to capture good images and gather the information they need for their book. A nice merging of old and new traditions. Whether it’s working cattle or doing investigations, we are richer when we have things that keep us working in the landscape.

Amanda Miller with the Camera, Cheyenne Rodgers in orange standing on the fence nearest the camera, Johnny
Cooney standing in the mud getting ready to deworm the cattle.

Melana Todd and Cavan Cooney spend a quiet moment in the barn.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 05/16 at 01:05 PM
(0) CommentsPermalink
© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, April 15, 2005

Managing the River and its Watershed
   Harlowton High School

This year, Nancy Widdicombe’s 21 senior English students are working to understand how “the River"--meaning the Musselshell River-- shapes the lives of people in their Valley and how the people of the Valley shape the health and well-being of the River.

On Tuesday, April 12, 2005, the class took their inquiries--and their cameras, tape recorders, sketch tablets, and questions--out into the field with U. S. Forest Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Park personnel to expand and illustrate their perceptions and knowledge.

On Monday, the day before the field trip, Forest Service employees Dave Wanderaas, Steve Martin, Lary Dobb, and Wayne Butts had met with students in class--to explain what students might analyze in the field. In fact, between February 1st and this field trip, Forest Service staff had been in Ms. Widdicombe’s class half-a-dozen times and provided background reading, lectures, and individual interviews. So when the group arrived at Spring Creek (a Musselshell River tributary), orientation to the day and its issues didn’t take long. 

All students were responsible for asking questions that would help complete their research assignments. In addition, students recorded what they learned in a variety of formats from still photography to video tape to sketches. Here, student artist Brittany Lind sketches the Spring Creek bank restoration project. Students learned how and why the Forest Service had chosen to stabilize the bank on a newly formed Spring Creek meander. 

Almost all of the public employees who worked with Nancy’s class during the field trip had other happy connections to the Project.  Here, Katie Butts’ father, Wayne, describes a project at Cooks’ Flat (in the Spring Creek drainage area) that he supervised to reseed an overused range area. Cheyenne Rodgers recorded his explanation of how this single area had been so overgrazed that native grasses wouldn’t regrow, how a 1960s reseeding how introduced grasses that had become nuisance species themselves, and how he and the Forest Service leasee are trying to remedy the situation now.

Still further up the Spring Creek drainage, Steve Martin used an expansive vista to show students how fire suppression over the last century contributed to the loss mature trees and of high meadows as smaller tree species edged into them.

After a sumptious lunch, the field trip moved right down to the Musselshell River on Russ and Kathy Berg’s ranch to meet a crew of Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks employees. Crew leader Ken Frazer explained to students how the electro-shock process that they were using that day helps FWP understand the health, density, and composition of the River’s fish population. 

As students headed back to Harlo, the clouds looked like they MIGHT produce a thunderstorm. In the course of the day, students had already heard the word “drought” more than any other--and had been wrestling with the impacts of no snow pack, streams already running lower than mid-summer levels--water already too scarce to serve a variety of Upper Musselshell needs. 

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 04/15 at 08:55 AM
(0) CommentsPermalink
© 2005 Montana Heritage Project
Page 1 of 1 pages