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White Sulphur Springs

Friday, March 17, 2006

Something old, something new: Martha Kohl in White Sulphur Springs
   White Sulphur Springs High School

Traditions are the “we always” of families, like “We always make snow ice cream at the first snowfall,” or “We always have games and popcorn on Saturday night,” according to family scholars Nick Stinnett and John DeFrain.

Traditions are more than routines, which are everyday activities that involve little emotion. They are regularly recurring activities that give those involved positive feelings. Sometimes they are handed down from generation to generation, but new ones can always be created.

Traditions help form connections between family members and between generations. By spending time together doing something fun or visiting a special setting, family members grow closer. Even simple traditions, like breaking a pinata on birthdays, can help foster a sense of identity and a feeling of belonging.

Traditions provide energy that can counter what family scholars call “entropy"--the tendency of systems to lose energy and fall apart.

Martha Kohl from the Montana Historical Society presented her research on wedding traditions in Montana and how they’ve changed through time to students in Nancy Heggen’s class at White Sulphur Springs. An article based on her research will appear in the forthcoming issue of Heritage Education magazine. Martha is currently working on a book, with support from the Montana Committee for the Humanities, on wedding traditions. In addition to research in documentary sources, she’s completed oral interviews around the state, including in communities with ongoing heritage projects.

Nancy has been working to help her students see the the importance of traditions to families. Family members today live in ways quite different from those of family members decades ago, and many traditions have been abandoned. Others, however, have come into existence.






Traditions can provide family members with predictable and familiar experiences, giving them something to look forward to as well as shared experiences to remember. To keep family bonds strong amid hectic modern lifestyles, today’s young people may need to make an intentional effort to preserve and create important family rituals and traditions in their families.

See the Library of Congress Learning Page for a unit on Exploring Cultural Rituals, including wedding rituals.


Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/17 at 05:17 AM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Chennell Brewer
   White Sulphur Springs High School

When White Sulphur Springs teacher Nancy Heggen was going through the records from the Poor Farm, she found three unusual entries. She asked one of her students, high school rodeo champion Chennell Brewer, if she’d like to research them. Chennell was immediately interested. “Most of the people that died at the Poor Farm died of disease or old age,” she said, “Those three entries were much more violent than the others. And the dates they were admitted were the same. We knew something interesting had happened. Interested? You could say I was interested.”

Chennell began her research odyssey as a junior. She completed her journey near the end of her senior year.

At the beginning of her project, Chennell had very little to go on. She had names, dates of admission, and dates of discharge—or in the case of one of the men—date of death. She was looking for what happened to cause one of the men to be admitted for club wounds and the other two to be admitted for gunshots. She spent her junior year researching every resource available to her, only to end up empty handed. “Curiosity turned into stubbornness and stubbornness into determination,” she said. “I kept saying ‘Why can’t I find anything!’ I stayed with the project because I wasn’t going to let it beat me.”

Well, the project did beat her—at least during her junior year.

In the fall of her senior year, Chennell and the rest of her classmates traveled to Helena to research a completely different topic at the Montana Historical Society. While going through old newspapers, someone found a mention of the three men and their by now familiar wounds and brought it to Chennell’s attention. “It was sheer random chance,” Chennell said. “I knew those names and I knew those injuries. I was so excited.!”

“After that, my research project got a lot easier. It was still research, so it was hard work, but I finally solved that mystery.”

When Chennell was asked why she kept with the project for a year and a half, she said, “I was so interested in it, and being interested kept me motivated. And you can’t imagine the excitement I felt when I read those names in that newspaper.”

Chennell embarked on another adventure last fall, this time as a Montana State University freshmen. When not busy attending class or studying, she competes on the university rodeo team in goat tying and breakaway roping. It takes a certain kind of person to rodeo—someone who is determined and stubborn and who can accept defeat. But there’s something else—a need to go the distance.

Chennell could have been talking about rodeoing when she talked about what she wanted others to get out of her research project: “You shouldn’t just throw in the towel. Stick with it. The results are definitely worth the pain.”

Chennell’s essay: Solved! The Mystery of the Men at the Poor Farm







Posted by Katherine Mitchell on 02/08 at 11:12 AM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Saturday, February 19, 2005

White Sulphur Springs Students Tackle the Mysteries of a 90-Year-Old Crime
   White Sulphur Springs High School

Nancy Brastrup’s 19 White Sulphur Springs High School seniors are again in pursuit of elusive historical information. Intetgrating their understanding of justice in America with their heritage work, students have begun unraveling many questions that surround a 1917 murder near Judith Gap and the very speedy hanging of three African-Americans for that crime. They are wrestling, in fact, with both the details of the event and its larger context: was this event part of a larger labor and railroad dispute; was the IWW involved; were local attitudes the precursor of later KKK activities; was justice served.

But research into an event that occurred ninety years ago has its challenges. On Thursday, February 10, 2005, Dave Walter and I had the opportunity to spend two hours with Miss Brastrup’s seniors and Mrs. Wilhelm’s sophomores visiting about the great fun and the great frustrations of primary source research. Dave brought the file of material he’d collected before writing about “The Somprero Murder: A Meagher County Mystery.” He talked students through the value of finding contextual information (weather; days of the week from a perpetual calendar; other local, regional, and national events); of using a wide array of primary source documents; and of visiting and documenting the actual locations of the events being studied.  I tried to reinforce Dave’s real-life experiences with a variety of handouts, including a look at how historians work like detectives


The following Wednesday, February 16, 2005, Nancy brought her full class of seniors for a day of research at the Montana Historical Society. As half of the class visited legislative hearings, the other half immersed themselves in secondary and primary source research. Here, Amy O’Neill and Sara Seidlitz pore over archival documents.


The Lewistown City Directories allowed Shannon Griffeth to confirm the name and location of the attorney who defended the African-American men accused of the murders. 


By spells, the hum of three microfilm readers in operation dominated the Society’s reading room, while Lacey Morrison and several other students skimmed microfilmed newspapers from Great Falls, Lewistown, Helena, and Billings to see whether the crime received broader publicity. Other students worked carefully through historic prison records, Taylor and Rose Gordon papers, and the Governor Samuel Stewart’s papers looking both for information about community sentiments and to determine how or whether state leaders were involved in the case. 


Kevin Hockstrat and Becky Teague examined historic photographs in the Society’s Photograph Archives holdings. Within an hour, staff had helped them locate an image of the building in which the three black men were hung and street and relevant railroad scenes from the Judith Gap area. 


By 2:00, the White Sulphur students had gathered up their notes, microfilm copies, and xeroxes to head home. They had learned for themselves what Dave had explained a week before--that research isn’t linear, that you may not find just what you are looking for specifically, that you are also likely to find treasures you didn’t anticipate, and that, if you document your search well, you and others can build on it at any point in the future.

The students’ work at the Society benefited enormously from patient and interested help by the Research Center’s staff--orchestrated by Rich Aarstad. Because Nancy had provided him with a list of the kinds of materials she wanted her students to explore, he and others in the library, archives, and photo-archives assembled as much as they could ahead of time---and spent a pretty active day of assistance that Wednesday as well.

Nancy and her students will soon visit the scene of the railroad murders, gather more research materials from the Minnesota Historical Society’s Great Northern railroad records, and evaluate what all the material that they’ve found so far might tell them--about that one crime and about how that era approached justice.


Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 02/19 at 11:06 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project
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