A Narrative History of the Montana Heritage Project

Myth and Truth in the Sun River Valley

Dorothea Susag
Bill Durocher
Belinda Klick

Simms High School


“I saw a lot of elderly people happy and excited to see young people working so hard,” said Kary Kolski. “By doing the heritage project, I learned that elderly people have interesting stories to tell and it makes them happen to know that we younger people do care.” Community member Butch Walker agreed: “This project brings together all generations of the community.”

The heritage project in Simms was a cross-curricular effort involving the junior English and history classes. Fifty-five students, four teachers, and twenty-five community mentors participated.

One emphasis of the project was on what truths lie behind the myths we have heard or known about our place. Learners read either Killing Custer by James Welch or A Bride Goes West by Nannie Alderson and Helen Huntington Smith and began identifying myths and forming questions about them for research.

Another emphasis was upon collecting oral histories for the Veterans History Project sponsored by the Library of Congress. Students were divided into five groups, each for a different war. In addition to reading extensively, students visited the Fort Missoula Museum, the Cascade County Historical Society Archives, and Wohlgemuth’s World War II Museum in Vaughn to research “their” war.

Working in groups of two and with an adult mentor, class members interviewed more than thirty people who had served in the military or on the home front during any of the wars of the Twentieth Century.

A selection of work from all the projects completed during the year was published in the fifth literary magazine produced by the Simms Heritage Project: Stories in Place, V. The junior class did the research and writing then submitted it to the senior class, who did the editing and production.

The final major undertaking was to transform the quarter’s work into a heritage fair for the entire community. Groups designed and created booths, committees planned music and ways to honor veterans and other community members who had helped, and all students helped write invitations and make phone calls. This annual fair has become a community tradition that brings 200 or more people to the high school gymnasium, and students are aware of the high standard set by previous classes.

“One thing that won’t be on the Iowa Basics test is how important communication with others is through a project like this one,” said Kevin Mellinger. Gordon Hawks went further, “I learned that even though history and communication are good, they are nothing without a community to use them.”

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