A Narrative History of the Montana Heritage Project



Working as a team in St. Ignatius

Luke Brandon

St. Ignatius High School

2002-03

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 department.

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 world.”

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 Department/Home.htm).

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.”

To print a final report for the year-end binder, click here.
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© 2003 Montana Heritage Project
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