A Narrative History of the Montana Heritage Project

A History of Philanthropy: the Bair Family

Nancy Widdicombe

Harlowton High School


“The Montana Heritage Project is not just a class–it’s an experience!” said one senior at the end of an entire quarter focused on research and writing. Sixteen seniors in Nancy Widdicombe’s English IV class spent nine weeks researching the Charles M. Bair family and their notable philanthropies in Montana, particularly in Yellowstone, Wheatland, and Meagher counties. Learners documented and researched artifacts at the Bair Family Museum, joined a sheep shearing operation at the Bair ranch, and interviewed thirteen friends and neighbors of the Bair family as well as museum docents and historians.

Students held an open house to show their work to the community on April 18, 2002. As part of that program, Cody Halsy and Kelly Warren wrote an introduction to the project:

“Harlowton students. . .have conducted an extensive study into the Charles M. Bair family, using the resources of the Bair Museum in Martinsdale along with the adjoining ranch on the North Fork of the Musselshell. The class divided the work among several research teams, each taking a topic related to the Museum, the ranch, or the family’s many philanthropies. . .The research included sheep ranching in turn-of-the-century Montana, gold-mining in Alaska, the family’s relationship with Chief Plenty Coups, and an extensive cataloguing of the artifacts in the Bair home, which is now a museum. Students did research at the U.S. Bank in Billings, the Alberta Bair Theater, and the Bair archives at the museum.”

Students told the stories they found through a slide show and video presented to the community at an open house. They also published a 74-page book: The Bair Family: A Montana Legacy.

Teacher Nancy Widdicombe said the Project is worth the time and effort it takes because of what it teaches students: engagement with community members; an interest in and a love of area history; collaboration with peers and interdependence through a large-scale, complex project; and gathering large amounts of data and assimilating it and choosing from it for a final presentation. “In other words, analysis and synthesis–those higher levels of thinking.”

To print a final report for the year-end binder, click here.
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© 2002 Montana Heritage Project
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