Notable black Montanans: Part one of black history in Montana.

As a Montana historian I think that because Montana is overwhelmingly white and our collective history is overwhelmingly devoted to masculine narratives (boring) our education systems do not talk about the Other nearly enough. The Other means just about everybody who isn’t a straight white man. The thing is, those stories are not only incredibly interesting, but very important. If you can’t picture a Montana that was full of immigrants, queer folks, black people, indigenous people, Latinos, etc. you can’t fathom their realities in the present and future. We’re a state with a history of being full of people from all corners of the earth, with complicated pasts and widely differing value systems, who made efforts to build communities, have families, make a living, and define themselves! And it was NOT just the rugged mountain man, the independent cowboy, or the long suffering homesteading couple in their sod-roof house.

Right now with a big social and societal push for immediate action and justice for black lives, I wanted to write a series of posts about some notable black residents, publications, societies, etc. and also some links to other resources. I was raised in Helena and not once did I have a class where even a fraction of our time was devoted to learning about the black experience in our state, so I am starting from scratch. Join me! (Let’s be clear: I will make mistakes.)

I attached lots of hyperlinks to other great sources because all of this is knowledge I’ve pulled from various archives, newspaper articles, black history resources, etc. and so you can go do your own learning!

This is just part one, by the way, so please be patient. I started out with some notable and interesting Montana residents but I think I need to flesh out more contextual information in the next post for these folks to fit into.


Since white dudes have hogged the “rugged individualist man” trope (le sigh) let’s put some black men in there, because you better bet they were there!

Let’s talk about James Pierson Beckwourth! 

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Image via BlackPast

James Pierson Beckwourth (c. 1800- 1866) was apparently known as far as France for his adventures in the American West (oui oui!). He lived for several years with the Crow (Apsáalooke) nation, participating on raids against the Blackfeet, learning the Apsáalooke language, marrying an Apsáalooke woman (or two, depending on your source), and having adventures that make me want to have a beer with the man and just listen.

He was a trained blacksmith born into slavery around 1800 (sources differ on his date of birth). His white father technically owned him (just in case you didn’t know how shitty slavery and the laws surrounding it were), but freed him at some point. Most of Beckwourth’s Montana adventures occurred after the 1820s, while he worked with the Apsáalooke nation. When he wasn’t there he was getting a mountain pass named for him in the Sierra Nevadas, running a store in Denver, being a professional card player in California, or trapping just about anywhere in the West that had fur-bearing critters. He is the only black man who had his adventures in the West published under the grandiose (and glorious) title The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians in 1856. (The link will take you to a Wayback Machine copy of the entire book.)

Beckwourth dictated his life story to a Mr. Thomas Bonner who was working in the California gold fields in the 1850s and one wonders how much Bonner’s hand had in skewing some of Beckwourth’s words (there’s a lot of power you have as the writer of something being dictated to you!) . Beckwourth’s book, while successful, eventually became dismissed as the far-fetched tales of a big-mouthed black man by white readers. Meanwhile, white men could tell the same stories (whether truthful of not) and be taken much more seriously! James spoke at least two or three languages fluently (if you’ve ever seen Apsáalooke written out, it doesn’t seem like a casual language you just pick up), traveled thousands of miles on horseback and on trains, probably got away with his life by the skin of his teeth more often than we can know, but still had a lot of his stories written off as fables.

It’s important that if we’re going to continue to glorify the “intrepid mountain man” trope (as Montanans can never seem to NOT do) that we include such larger-than-life characters as James Pierson Beckwourth. Black men were just as adventurous, determined, creative with their tales, and hard-living; we just don’t have as much testimony about their experiences. This is purposeful: keep in mind that the reason men like Beckwourth aren’t as well known as Jim Bridger and the like is because they were kept out of narratives or telling their own stories by multiple, strategically placed barriers. Today Beckwourth’s book is considered a valuable primary source for information about the US Army, the Apsáalooke people, wildlife, geography, and information about diseases!

Mr. Beckwourth died in 1866 in Montana. He was working for the US Army leading them to an Apsáalooke outpost when he died, and some believe he was poisoned.

Mary Fields 

Mary Fields Photograph via http://montanawomenshistory.org/the-life-and-legend-of-mary-fields/ from the Ursuline Sisters Archive in Great Falls

Mary Fields with the Cascade Baseball Team Photo via http://montanawomenshistory.org/the-life-and-legend-of-mary-fields/ from the Wedsworth Memorial Library in Cascade

Mary Fields (1832-1914) is something of a folk legend if you live anywhere around Great Falls. She came to Montana around 1885 after working for a convent in Ohio. She traveled on the Missouri River and worked at St. Peter’s Mission near Cascade, Montana. While she got along great with the nuns, Fields was apparently fired by the bishop because she swore, smoked, and had a strong temperament (this means she probably spoke her mind). Instead, she became the mail deliverer between the Mission and the town of Cascade. If you know anything about Montana winters (they tend to be at least six months long, vengeful, dark, and incredibly cold) the idea of delivering mail for a living in a horse-drawn cart every day sounds as fun as walking on prickly pear cactus without shoes, but she did it, and very successfully, for years. She was likely paid terrible wages and it was hard work. She was one of the few women in the nation given their own mail route, although I doubt that it felt like an honor some days.

This excellent article speaks up about the loneliness and lack of respect that Fields experienced, despite her hard work and kindness towards her fellow Cascadians. She wore men’s clothes frequently,  was tall and not slim, and lived outside of ideas of womanhood. She was the only black resident in Cascade, and as such very visible (while also being somewhat invisible, in that she was probably limited in how she could talk about her experiences or relate to her neighbors). While collective memory has turned her into a hardy folk hero, a determined gun-toting badass who got the mail delivered, loved baseball and a hard drink, she was also a black woman living alone. Fields made a living in a community that was small, insular, and took advantage of her labor and very much held onto stereotypes about her. (She was apparently a caretaker for lots of the children in town, but how much of that was because her white neighbors figured she could do it because she was black vs. because she wanted to is unclear.) We also don’t have any of her own words to reflect on, as if she left any letters . She died in Great Falls in 1914 after moving there in her old age.

P.S. Apparently she babysat a young Gary Cooper. He had such fond memories of her he wrote an article for Ebony magazine in 1959 about her! I can’t find the article online but it is mentioned in many of the sources I used. .

Samuel Lewis 

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Samuel Lewis’ home in Bozeman today. (Via Google Street View)

Samuel Lewis (1835-1896) is perhaps just slightly less famous than his internationally recognized sculptor sister, Edmonia Lewis . (Edmonia’s life story is incredible, and you should definitely read about her sculptures and her life, but alas! I must stay on theme!) Lewis, who was born in Haiti, came to Montana to be a barber after working in Idaho and California mining camps. Upon his arrival he was one of less than 10 black residents in Bozeman, and became incredibly successful in his own right. He passed through Helena for a bit but eventually settled on Bozeman as his home.

Lewis came to Bozeman in 1868, and was the right man in the right place at the right time. The town was about to experience a surge in growth, and his barbershop, located on Main Street, was well-known and respected. His reputation and business grew as a result, and he invested his money into building rental homes and funding his sister’s education (which paid off- she studied in Rome, worked in Paris, and lived in London for much of her life and became famous for her talent with marble). In 1884 Lewis married a local widow, Melissa Bruce. She had six children from her previous marraige and she and Lewis had one son, Samuel E. Lewis. With his successful business ventures, Samuel Lewis proceeded to built a beautiful Queen Anne Eastlake style home very close to downtown Bozeman today.

The Lewis house is still beautiful and standing (and Zillow estimates it’s worth over $1 million dollars!). It’s right near Bogert Park in Bozeman, and Lewis and his wife are buried in the local cemetery. The house fell into disrepair after Lewis’s wife’s death but a couple bought it in 1975 and fixed it up. One of the owners apparently has become an Edmonia Lewis researcher herself! (Check out this neat Bozeman Chronicle article, but don’t get too mad when you read that they bought the Queen Anne mansion for only $40,000…)

When Samuel Lewis died in Bozeman one of the pallbearers at his funeral was the mayor. He made Bozeman is home and was a beloved member of the community. I wanted to talk about Lewis a little because one of the things we as Montanans need to do is also value the stories and lives of people who weren’t larger-than-life or folk heroes. Samuel Lewis was important because he was one of many successful black business owners in Montana! While he was definitely far more successful than most (he died with a fortune of $25,000 to his name) he was not unique.

Note: I could not find any photographs of Lewis. This is frustrating because as a wealthy local business owner he in all likelihood had quite a few photos of himself, his family, his home, etc. and what probably happened is that his son inherited all the family photographs. Unfortunately, this son died without having any children of his own and it doesn’t look like any libraries or archives have any of Lewis’s letters, photos, or other materials ( I will keep looking!).

P.S. I did read in one article about Lewis that he was supposed to be a world class musician but can’t seem to find what instrument he played! 

Rose Gordon and Taylor Emmanuel Gordon

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Rose Gordon with brother Taylor Gordon in White Sulphur Springs. Image via http://montanawomenshistory.org/rose-gordon-daughter-of-a-slave-and-small-town-activist/

This brother and sister duo both wrote memoirs about their lives, which were intense and busy, though only one of them got their memoirs published. Taylor (1893-1971) made a name for himself during the Harlem Renaissance, had a long musical career, and even had airtime alongside Fred Astaire in The Gay Divorcee. Rose (1883-1968) stayed in White Sulphur Springs, became a vocal local historian, physical therapist, outspoken political candidate, all while holding down at least four jobs at a time, all the time.

The Gordons were part of a large family of six siblings and two parents. They were part of a small black community in White Sulphur Springs, a small but busy mining town. Rose was the valedictorian of her high school class and gave a speech called “The Progress of the Negro Race”, which was inspired by the ethos of Booker T. Washington. Unfortunately, her and Taylor’s father, John Gordon, was killed in a train accident in the 1890s, and it fell on Rose to make money for her family. Rose tried repeatedly throughout her life to pursue medical training, but never became a doctor because her family needed her and she never got the time to go away to college. One wonders what her life would have been like if she had been able to carve a few years to herself, because it’s apparent that she had an incredible work ethic and drive.

For fifteen years or more, she tried to get her memoir, Gone are the Days, published. In between writing, pitching her memoir, taking care of her multiple family members, running a cafe, and working as a seamstress, she found the time to become a Swedish massage therapist and naturopath. Diet and exercise advice in Meagher County? Chat with Rose Gordon! Need some physical therapy after you did something to your back herding cattle? Call up Rose! Need a homeopathic tincture? Rose will make one! She seemed like White Sulphur Springs’ early life coach, physical therapist, and naturopath all in one!

On top of all this (aren’t you tired just reading how much she accomplished?!) she was Meagher County’s best local historian. She had not one but two columns in the Meagher County News paper. She also pissed off locals by running for mayor in 1951, and even though she lost, she refused to stop her campaign despite threats. She remained vocal about her experiences as a black woman up until the year of her death. Perhaps most notably, of all the columns and articles she wrote, the one titled “My Mother Was a Slave”, published 1955, is as Dr. Michael K. Johnson notes, “the only published first person narrative of nineteenth-century African-American migration to Montana”. This article evidently talks about the idea that going West was, for many former slaves, one way to re-invent themselves (a theme that presents itself in many other narratives). Rose’s life ended up being devoted to caring for others, and even though she wanted more for herself, she refused to be silent or complacent.

Her younger brother, Taylor, went East as a young man and sang in New York. His timing for arriving was in sync with the Harlem Renaissance and in the 1920s he was having a successful run working with J. Rosamund Johnson. In an article by Barbara Behan she notes that W.E.B. DuBois said “No one who has heard Johnson and Gordon sing ‘Stand Still Jordan’ can ever forget its spell” after they sang at Carnegie Hall in 1927. Two years later Gordon published Born to Be, his memoir of boyhood in White Sulphur Springs. His sister was back in Montana, her memoir never published. Gordon’s book was relatively successful, but his musical career mostly ended.

Taylor Gordon tried to get a second book published after his musical career waned, but was unsuccessful. He battled with Viking Publishers for a long time, and experienced a mental breakdown in 1947 after spending World War II working in a factory, and spent at least the next twelve years largely hospitalized in New York. He returned later in life to White Sulphur Springs. He played a few live shows there, made occasional appearances on local television, and in one source I read made a living by having an antique store. He outlived his sister by three years, and his papers are today held by the Montana Historical Society (although they are not digitized which is a shame!).

White Sulphur Springs today has less than 1,000 residents. It’s not a destination for most people (although the brewery there is awesome) and while if you drove through today you might wonder why a black family would choose to setttle down there, you have to remember that when the Gordons moved to White Sulphur Springs in the late 1800s it was a small but busy mining town. Small towns get to make their own rules and communities more than large cities, so in pop-up mining towns like Virginia City (hint at a future post!) and WSS, you get a community that may have been more flexible and welcoming to it’s black residents.

….

This is the end of Part One. I only mentioned five notable people! This article took 12 hours of research over two days. Again, this is a learning experience for me too, so let me know what you’d like to see, what I can do better, etc.! Thanks so much.

BTW, while you’re here consider donating to the Montana Racial Equity Project! They’re an amazing racial justice non-profit in Bozeman that do state-wide work.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Behan, Barbara. “Taylor Emmanuel Gordon, 1893-1971” BlackPast, 18 August 2016. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/gordon-taylor-1893-1971/

Ferguson, Mike, “Historian: Though few, African American’s mark on Montana is ‘indelible’ ” 19 August 2016, Billings Gazette. https://billingsgazette.com/news/local/historian-though-few-african-americans-mark-on-montana-is-indelible/article_3c7c9028-243d-5d5b-afc1-dc5ee0005651.html

Hanshew, Annie. “The Life and Legend of Mary Fields”. Women’s History Matters, 8 April 2014. http://montanawomenshistory.org/the-life-and-legend-of-mary-fields/

“James Pierson Beckwourth” http://beckwourth.org/Biography/index.html 

Johnson, Michael K. Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos: Conceptions of the African American West. Univeristy of Mississippi Press, 2014.

“James Pierson Beckwourth: African American Mountain Man, Fur Trader, Explorer” https://www.coloradovirtuallibrary.org/digital-colorado/coloradohistories/beginnings/james-pierson-beckwourth-african-american-mountain-man-fur-trader-explorer/

Pickett, Mary “Samuel Lewis: Orphan Leaves Mark on Bozeman” originally from Billings Gazette http://faculty.webster.edu/corbetre/haiti-archive/msg11004.html

Ravage, J.  “James Pierson Beckwourth (c. 1805 – 1866)”. BlackPast,  https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/beckwourth-james-pierson-c-1805-1866/

Walter, Marcella Sherfy, “Rose Gordon: Daughter of a Slave and Small Town Activist”. Women’s History Matters, 18 February 2014. http://montanawomenshistory.org/rose-gordon-daughter-of-a-slave-and-small-town-activist/

Other Resources:

Black Masculinity and the Frontier Myth in American Literature by Michael K. Johnson

Black Pioneers: Images of the Black Experience on the North American Frontier by John W. Ravage

Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos: Conceptions of the African American West by Michael K. Johnson

“Montana’s African-American Heritage Resources” https://mhs.mt.gov/Shpo/AfricanAmericans/ResourcesResearch

Eruteya, Glenda Rose, “Racial legislation in Montana 1864-1955” (1981). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers, University of Montana.  https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=9660&context=etd

Michael K. Johnson has a now-defunct WordPress blog where he posted research into the Gordon family! https://taylorandrosegordonproject.wordpress.com/ 

Violence All Around

I was ten years old when September 11 happened. I was at home and my parents wouldn’t let me into the living room, but stood in front of the television, not able to take us to school or peel themselves away from the terrible scene in front of them. My parents both grew up on the East Coast, going in and out of New York for fun as teens, and my sister and I had been in the city days before the attack.

John Sifton, a Human Rights Watch director, discusses 9/11, the world long before, right before, and after this incident. He discusses the blundering, the linguistic inventions of new terms for failure by the Bush administration, the use of terrible intelligence, and the way the US took an attack and fucked up our response royally (in one memorable scene, his colleague on the ground in Baghdad calls and reports that the US has “no plan” after invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein. As a cynical historian, this was not surprising.) He also muses on the nature of violence, from the Christian crusades to the misinterpretation of Gandhi’s use of non-violence, to the inherent reality of violence present in our lives, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. As somebody who was actually present in Afghanistan, Iraq, Poland, Thailand, and other places of human rights atrocities and fuck-ups before and after 9/11, his point of view is not jaded, nor arrogant, but tempered, pragmatic, and beautifully written. As an American who grew up while the news blared updates of our involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East, the billions of dollars wasted, the innocent lives killed by soldiers, drones, and other weapons, I fell into this compact but exquisite book and loved it.

I am a Master (of the Arts)!

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I defended my thesis on August 25, 2017, in Victoria. My defense happened in a bland classroom, with my friends and family present while my thesis supervisor, my co-supervisor, and my external examiner asked me questions varying from fun to dreadfully difficult.

But I DID IT! I defended my thesis! 

27,000 words.

97 pages.

18+ months of research, writing, editing, tears, questions, failings, and early mornings in coffee shops trying to tap into my best historian.

Getting an M.A. was not easy. The last two years I was lonelier, more anxious, more stressed, and more unsure of myself than I have ever been. My degree was full of welcoming, warm people that I still struggled to connect with. I had mental health issues that required therapy, long walks, and acceptance of the situation at hand.

One of the most darkly hilarious moments occurred in my first semester. I was living alone in a wicked apartment, but couldn’t find a reason to leave it. One day, after emerging outside after three days cooped in, I realized that I had no friends in town and that the only way anybody would know I had died would be only after my body began to stink up the building. Shit, I thought, it’s time to make some fucking friends. 

I wasn’t dating Logan yet when I began my degree, but he came to be a huge influence on keeping my head above water, as we both experienced our own struggles and cheered each other on. I also spent hours by the ocean and in the Ross Bay Cemetery, lingering in quiet places where the world continued to go on without me. This might seem scary to some, but I found the rhythm of natural things comforting. It wasn’t necessary for me to read the whole 400 page book I was assigned in a week to still see the leaves change, to smell the rainy mornings, to hold a cup of hot coffee and appreciate it. I learned how to temper the pressure of the degree, with it’s vicious pace and difficult, open-ended questions, with my own pace.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned, apart from how to write, edit, research, and be a more thorough historian, was how to be alone and utterly at peace with my solo existence. I loved being alone, as it allowed me a certain degree of anonymity. I could sit with a book at a cafe and hear the grizzled old dudes at the table next to me make fun of Trump, or go on a long walk and pet dogs as they came up to me in the dog park. I wasn’t anybody important and I wasn’t threatening. I could merely be. That was honestly the best.

Now, I am back in Missoula, surrounded by smoke from the wildfires and looking for work. But, I can do it knowing I have accomplished something that was terrifying, challenging, and exhilarating! It feels so good.

This is why the EPA matters.

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All photographs courtesy of the DOCUMERICA collection in the  U.S National Archives Flickr.

Above: Contaminated waterways, algae blooms, dead fish, uncovered coal trains, strip mining activities, soil that won’t grow anything due to contamination, sulphur gas being emitted, oil spills…..

The EPA was created in 1970 to assess, research, and keep track of the environment in the United States. In the early 1970’s, the United States government sent out several photographers to document the state of the nation. What the photographer’s images revealed, in the early stages of the EPA, was massive contamination of water, pollution of major waterways (including the Potomac), dead and dying fish, pristine landscapes planned for strip mining, and other atrocities.

Today, 46 years later, the human impact on Earth has only become more significant. Climate change is real, as is our rapidly growing global population. The United States, which prides itself on being a global leader (as a historian I can go off on a tangent about that later…) has a duty to help lead the way to enforcement of environment protections, research to preserve our environment, develop technologies that have less of a carbon/energy footprint, and protect our natural environment as well as encourage reclamation of areas that were previously developed for such activities as mining, dumping, etc.

Thanks to the EPA, more and more of us have clean drinking water, we have preserved coast lines, deserts, Arctic regions, forests, and prairies. We have quick responses to oil spills, and those companies get investigated swiftly. We have relatively clean air in most parts of the United States, and most of us (still not all) can live without fear of contaminated soil in our gardens. (As a Montanan, our resource extraction legacy still leaves us with contaminated waterways, energy development projects that threaten our national parks, contaminated soils, garbage piles, and the like.)

If you want rivers that catch on fire, if you want irresponsible, outdated energy development (don’t get me started on coal), irresponsible reclamation if any at all, polluted air, more and more endangered species, and oil spills that don’t get immediate attention and lawsuits for those companies, let’s turn back the clock almost half a century. If not, let’s look forward and do good on this beautiful Earth we all live on.

First year of grad school: DONE

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My first year of grad school has been over for a month now.

I turned in my final papers and breathed, but also couldn’t stop being stressed out. I worked harder this year than I think I ever have. My mind was constantly being bent, twisted, guided into places it hadn’t ever been. My curiosity, which knows no bounds already, was unleashed in ferocious ways. I questioned verbally and mentally. I reasoned and debated and held my ground and changed my opinions and was, in general, constantly feeling alive in an exhausted, electric way.

It has been a month since I posted on here. My sincere apologies. I have been home looking for employment, catching up on reality, being with people I love, and eating good food. I have been catching up with humanity, politics, and the outside world. My life is stressful in different ways now.

The photographs above are from the History program’s end of semester trip to a cabin on Lake Cowichan. We all gather and sleep in a simple cabin. We drink and eat and ponder. Aimless conversations, still beneficial, sporadically pop up. We learn bits and pieces about each other that we didn’t before, though we have spent dozens of hours together. I have been a bit of a recluse in some ways so coming to gatherings like this are wonderful. I realize that even though in some ways this degree is isolating it is also cohesive, and that these humans I work with are in this with me.

 

You can tell a woman did this: Artemisia Gentileschi

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Details from Judith Beheading Holofernes, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

I love Judith and Holofernes paintings quite a bit. Lots of artists have done their interpretations of the scene- and most of them have been men.

The way that men typically paint Judith is either as she’s about to cut off Holoferne’s head or after, or if she’s shown actually beheading him she’s very flimsy about it. Her grip on the sword seems less than realistic, and she usually looks calm and beautiful (you know, for that pesky thing called the male gaze).

Here, we have Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian Baroque painter, giving us her version. While I don’t think it’s been substantiated, this is seen as something of a revenge painting. Artemisia was supposed to have been raped at some point as a young woman and it could be said that this painting is her version of getting back. It certainly is a bloody scene, and much darker than many paintings.

I love how intensely Judith is in the process of beheading him (realistically decapitation is no piece of cake- you’ve got muscles, sinew, ligaments, a spine, etc. to get through) because it feels real. You can see her hand gripping the hilt of the sword while one hand is tangled in Holofernes hair so as to get a better grip. Her assistant holds him down, and his massive form is shown writhing, desperately trying to avoid the inevitable. His blood streams down the edge of the mattress and sprays un-elegantly out of the side of his neck (those arteries!). This feels legitimate. It wasn’t painted for some man to stare at as some gorgeous, poised Judith delicately saws through Holoferne’s body passively- it was created by a woman who imagines if she were actaully given the task to get Holofernes drunk and then dispatch of him. If you were a female assassin, what would you do? This. 

This painting is magnificent. I wish I had known about Artemisia when I was at the Uffizi in 2009- I was much more obsessed with seeing Botticelli and Michelangelo at the time. Someday I will go and honor this wondrous woman’s creation in person properly. Until then, she has all my respect.

 

Current project: Evelyn Cameron

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Images via the Montana Historical Society

I am currently writing a 30 page academic paper exploring the diaries of Evelyn Cameron, a British woman who moved to a ranch outside Terry, Montana, in 1893 and lived in Montana until her death in 1928.

I am researching the first 10 years of her life in Montana- how she breaks horses, makes curry, acquires her cameras and begins to become an avid and talented photographer. This project has become deeply personal- I have grown so attached to Evelyn that I am already planning a trip to Terry this summer so I can see where she built a new life.

To try and describe Evelyn would be a difficult project. She was strong, hardworking, incredibly creative (two diary passages in 1895 are entirely in rhyming verse!), as well as patient and loving. She lived in Eastern Montana, a land prone to cruel temperatures, prairie fires, wolves, coyotes, and all sorts of challenges.

So far I have discovered that she writes in Italian and French when she wants to write some private thoughts. She often worked from 6 am to 10 pm, while managing to read quite a bit. Her husband, Ewen, often seems to be quite the grump (he was 15 years older than her, and apparently previously married), but she writes often of missing him when he makes overnight trips. Evelyn definitely did the work around the ranch- entries documenting her gathering hundreds of pounds of potatoes or spending hours repairing fences, watering animals, etc make me tired just reading them (and give Ewen a dirty look). Evelyn was very good with animals of all kinds as well. Many diary entries write of boarders at the ranch having a go at breaking stallions, to no avail, until Evelyn comes in and does the job. She and Ewen moved to Montana with the dream of sending polo ponies to England, but the travel often stressed the animals, and they were not as broken or tame as the buyers in England wanted.

Overall, reading Evelyn’s diaries has been an overwhelmingly wonderful experience. I am heavily considering turning her diaries into a thesis. Donna Lucey already published a marvelous biography of Evelyn with all her gorgeous photographs in 2000 but I am tempted to turn her diaries into a sort of lens into food habits of British expats or something (I doubt there were many homesteaders making curries or sago pudding at the time in Terry!).

 

Headframe Spirits

Butte is a proud city that saw some of the nations first unions, had an incredibly diverse immigrant population, and a world famous Red Light district, among many other accomplishments. It also saw some serious mining disasters and has battled environmental issues and dwindling populations at times. There is a sturdiness to Butte, though, that leaves you with the impression that even if you regularly drive past empty or dilapidated buildings or get the feeling of decay, that these issues are not real setbacks. They add to the cocktail that is Butte. The folks in Butte (like many fellow Montanans) are incredibly friendly and Butte itself always seems to surprise me with how much I learn or discover.

Headframe Spirits could be argued to have these ideals woven into it as well. Each variation of the alcohol brewed is named after an important mine within Butte, and I particulary enjoyed this aspect. Seeing as I will soon be a master’s candidate in History, I especially love how much history is reflected. The Headframes website itself is full of historical facts, with links to various historical museums and updates.

Kristin and I went into the taproom on Montana Avenue and I immediately admired the large old fashioned wooden bar with tall windows. The taproom was well lit and comfortable, without any feeling of pretentiousness. Aesthetically I enjoyed how neat everything was- the glinting of the glasses, a lovely vase of purple tulips that we sat near, and the menus which are tied with cord. Our bartender was really friendly and there was no rush- maybe this is because it was a Sunday afternoon.

Our drinks weren’t too expensive, and while I’m no gin connoisseur I greatly enjoyed my basil gimlet. Kristin and I agreed that there could have been more alcohol in proportion to the mixes in our drinks but nevertheless they were delicious. I definitely plan on going back.

Exploring the past

My grandfather has left me with several boxes full of Kodak Carousel trays of slides to scan! Mostly Kodachrome, they start right around 1960, and chronicle my grandparents marriage, their times before they had kids, and my mum and uncle growing up.

They were very insistent on road tripping, camping, and the outdoors. My grandmother was a school teacher with a  Master’s degree, which was not very common back in the 60’s. She once told me about how when you went to interview for a teaching job showing up with an engagement ring wasn’t smart because it showed you were probably going to get married and then immediately have children.

My grandfather was in the Air Force in the 1950’s, where he met my grandmother in Texas. From there the rest is captured in hundreds if not thousands of slides. He was an avid photographer but won’t speak about it too much.

It’s beautiful to see my grandfather’s photographs. He has an eye for good images and he captures images that are quietly significant to me. I love seeing them appear in my scanner on the screen from the tiny little Kodachrome slide.

They’re  visiting for the next two weeks and I’ve been showing them the images that I’ve found and I am showing you a few here.

Day off

 Today was my day off.

I woke up early and played with my dog, drank mint tea and ate muffins. Then I headed downtown to read on a sunny bench. I’m currently reading about 3 or 4 different books, all with very different ideas. One is Margarted Atwood’s The Robber Wife, which thus far is very much from the early 1990’s and different, if not still good. A biography of FDR has revealed that he was a ridiculous momma’s boy, but still incredibly good as a man and president (we can’t all be perfect!).  I shared my books with a spider that literally blew in on the wind, but didn’t want to hang around for whatever reason.

I wound up at the Montana Museum, where I saw Charles M. Russell’s depictions of cowboys, Native Americans, and life in Montana 120 years ago. I feel very grateful for modern furnaces and adequate clothing, as well as bug spray!

Among many of the treasures there, however, a beautiful red dress adorned with elk teeth always catches my eye. It’s such a beatiful color and elk’s teeth are smooth and symmetrical, and on the dress they are beautiful. I am not sure if they were elk ivory (elk have two ivory teeth in their mouths, per elk. They are beautiful!). I also visited the eerie creamy white bison that inhabits the second floor the Historical Society. Blue glass eyes add to the effect, making me never want to spend much time in front of the creature.

I came home and promptly fell asleep for 3 hours of odd afternoon dreams, and woke up in time to help make dinner and wish I’d done more with my day. I was going to drive to the Deerlodge Car Museum but decided that I couldn’t afford the gas (GAH) and so stayed within the town limits for the day, but nonetheless still had a lovely time!

World War One and Harold Gillies

EYEBROW-GRAFT tubed-pedicle-graft-harold-gilliesThese are two images from Harold Gillies’ 1920 book “Plastic Surgery of the Face”.

I’m doing a rather greusome and graphic study on medical innovations that resulted because of World War One, and it’s painful to know that thousands of people had to suffer massive disfigurements, wounds, and other fates. Treatments were done with the aid of ether or choloform, sometimes mixed together- both were not as medically sound as they could have been, although no other options existed at the time.

Harold Gillies pioneered a lot of plastic surgery techniques to restore a realistic face to many men- he performed over 11,000 surgeries (along with the first sex change!) and his work, while not perfect and often with scarring, gave many soldiers hope that they could return to society and not feel the need to hide. He grafted cartilige, injected fat (sometimes paraffin wax), and gave men lips, eyebrows, and eyelids where they were burned off or blown off by the massive artillery or chemicals.

I’m doing this paper and every word I write makes me grateful for the medical science around me as well as feeling immense compassion for the surgeons and men who had to work under such conditions.

 

For some reason I always think the Defenestration of Prague happened on Valentine’s Day

defenestration_of_prague

I literally always wake up on Valentine’s Day and imagine a bunch of Bohemian guys being tossed out of windows. The first Defenestration (de = from, fenestra = window in Latin) was actually on July 30 in 1419.

Here’s an engraving of the event- I think dudes should highlight their burly man-calves in tights and shoes with petite heels more often, no? Also, note the guy on the far left about to be tossed out- he doesn’t even look that upset.

In any case, enjoy your day, because I think I can safely say you won’t be tossed out a window!

 

 

My love for Edvard Munch intensifies.

edvard_munch_danceoflife

The Dance of Life (showing Munch accosted by Lust while Love waits and decays on either side)edvard_munch_scream

The Scream- considered a possible drawing of a human soul, inspired by a bloody sunset on a bridge, also a culmination of anxiety and fear.edvard_munch_seperation

Seperation- a lithograph where the memory of one of his lovers pervades as hair over his shoulder on the shore of his summering place in Norway, probably.edvard_munch_the_kiss

The Kiss- his response to a kiss with an early lover, all-encompassing, overwhelming, but gloriously so. munch_ashes

Ashes- Edvard often felt “used” by women, drained by them (this inspires his “Vampyr” series, where life force is taken by various lovers, particularly Tulla, an obsessive wealthy girl who stalked him all over Europe). munch_self_portrait_1895

Self Portrait with Skeleton Arm- Edvard would put fetuses, skeletons, and corpses in the borders of some of his prints, which I love.

Growing up in Kristiania, which is now Oslo, to a fiercely religious father and a sickly mother, Edvard Munch watched his family succumb to sickness, death, and insanity. His mother slowly wasted away, his best friend and dear sister Sophie died (he kept the chair she expired in for the rest of her life), and his sister Laura descended into madness and schizophrenia. His Aunt Karen, his father, and his youngest brother and sister lived on but forever in debt, living in more and more decrepit apartments.

Edvard was a master drawer, and very creative, but plagued with depression and bouts of extreme sickness. Because of his father’s religious beliefs, he from an early age recalls thinking about how he would surely perish and end up in Hell. He also never managed to escape the idea of love/intimacy with being sinful- making every relationship with women he ever had doomed.

He would starve for days to afford paint, and in the papers he was known as Norway’s most infamous artist, hated and feared. He “disgraced” his family and eventually moved between Oslo, Berlin, and Paris, borrowing money and drinking all day, creating gorgeous paintings laced with his common experiences with death, sickness, poverty, and emotional twists and turns that we could only barely portray.

Munch was a genius in how he showed his ideas- they are universally understood. Where other artists followed symbols and color ideas, Munch just painted how he felt. And it’s so easy to feel exactly that- grief, exhaustion, terror, anxiety.

The intense psychology and the influence he exerted later on the Die Brucke movement in German Expressionism has spawned some of my favorite art- free of “rules” and expectations, but uninhibited, active, and gorgeous, in oft unsettling ways.

He is the ultimate master of manipulation. I feel loss of innocence, terrible guilt and immense sadness when I look at his things.

Only a few short months until I will be in New York to stand in front of The Scream, where I am totally sure I will weep a bit- Munch’s things are so saturated, I don’t believe I could help myself (I’ve only cried in front of Guernica, Picasso’s huge canvas, and Seurat’s Bathers before. The list will grow).

Paul Rule photography archive continued

I am slightly infatuated with Kodachrome tones, saturated skies, cateye glasses, and the feeling of mid-century Americana that absolutely saturates and charms in Paul Rule’s photographic archive (Flickr set HERE, all photographs sourced to there).

I don’t know any of these people, and a large majority of the photographs haven’t been labeled very specifically. It’s this sort of anonymity that makes it possible to love these vintage slides even more. You can easily imagine pulling out the dusty Kodak Carousel projector and sitting there, hearing the satisfying click, seeing another image from the past come to life in front of you.

While I merely click ahead on my laptop, and while these people are strangers, I still feel wonderfully transported on their adventures grand and minute. I hope you feel even a whisp of the whimsy I do!

“Diner People”

“Paris Street Vintage Slide”

“Russian Metro Vintage Slide” (P.S. How did these people make it into Moscow in the late 50’s?)

“Grand Imperial Hotel”

“Frying Pan Wallpaper”

“Does This Hat Make My Head Look Big”

“Blue Skirt, Black Dog, Red Bug”

William Hope’s spirit photography: Creepy things

 

William Hope supposedly was able to capture spirits whilst taking your portrait. Do I believe that? No, I do not- by the early 20th century I think dark-room manipulation was advanced enough that Hope could have easily made fraudulent positives for his customers.

Nonetheless, they give me the most delightful chills.