A Note on Links: When reading back posts, please be aware that links have a short half-life. You can find working links to all of the MHS resources on our Educator Resources Page.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Song for the Horse Nation and Other Cool Online Exhibits

The National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., has a new exhibit: A Song for the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures. Can’t travel to D.C.? They have also put the exhibit online.

We’ve added a link to it under “Interesting Links” in Chapter 3 of the Montana: Stories of the Land Companion Website. 

I’ve come across several other cool online exhibits lately.

The National Library of Medicine created this exhibit: Native voices: native peoples’ concepts of health and illness.

They include:
By the way: According to its creators, Omeka—the program that UM Special Collections staff used to create their online exhibits—is “a free, flexible, and open source web-publishing platform for the display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions.” They claim that “Its ‘five-minute setup’ makes launching an online exhibition as easy as launching a blog.” Given this—might the UM exhibits provide a useful model for classroom projects for the more tech-saavy among you?

Monday, November 21, 2011

National History Day in Montana, 2011-12

The Montana Historical Society is very pleased to be a cosponsor of National History Day (NHD) in Montana.

Spearheaded by our friends at MSU-Billings, NHD is a competition open to students grades 6-12. Students are challenged to research a historical topic of their choice related to an annual theme (this year’s theme is “Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History”). They use their research to produce a documentary, exhibit, paper, performance or website.

Students then present their projects at competitions at the school, regional, state and national levels. In Montana, students may compete at the state competition without competing in a regional or classroom competition first, but participating in a classroom or regional competition—or both—is highly recommended, so students have a chance to revise their projects based on feedback from the judges before coming to state.

Across the country, over half a million students participate in NHD annually, and the program is excellent tool for helping students develop research skills, the ability to analyze, and a deeper understanding of the importance of history. Montana schools’ participation in National History Day has grown markedly over the last few years due to the determined efforts of Tom Rust (state coordinator) and Michael Scarlett (assistant state coordinator).

This year, there will be two regional competitions—one in Billings (likely March 17, but exact date to be confirmed) and one at Travelers Rest State Park in Lolo (March 31)—as well as many school and classroom competitions. The Montana Historical Society will be hosting the statewide competition in Helena on April 21, 2012. Winners of the statewide competition will be eligible to participate in the national competition in Washington, D.C.


More information on National History Day is available through the Society’s website. This page provides links to state and national NHD pages as well as ideas for Montana topics that fit this year’s team, from “Chief Plenty Coups of the Crow” to the “Missoula Free Speech Fight of 1909.” In addition to suggesting topics, historians at the Society have provided preliminary bibliographies to get students started on their research.

In addition, Tom Rust, Michael Scarlett, and their staff are happy to lend personal assistance to teachers looking for help integrating National History Day into their curriculum, who have questions about how to set up a classroom competition, or just want more information about the program. You can find their contact information here.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


The Montana Office of Public Instruction Indian Education division has gathered resources to teach about Thanksgiving in a way that includes and honors native perspectives. Other Thanksgiving resources and lessons—many of the primary source based—can be found at the National History Education Clearinghouse's website, Teachinghistory.org

6th Annual IEFA Best Practices Conferences, Call for Proposals

The Indian Education office at OPI is looking for presenters for the 6TH ANNUAL BEST PRACTICES CONFERENCE, to be held Feb. 27-28, in Billings at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The conference theme is Understanding our Differences, Valuing our Connections – Building and Maintaining Culturally Responsive Relationships
If you have knowledge or experience relating to this topic that you would be willing to share, consider submitting a conference presentation proposal. The deadline to submit is December 30. More information here

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mining Remains Dangerous Work

Pat Nelson, a Missouri teacher with Montana connections who attended “The Richest Hills” workshop last summer, alerted me to the recent tragic death of a miner at the Stillwater Mine. We tend to think of mining disasters as a thing of the past (notably the Smith Mine disaster in Bearcreek, 1943, and the Speculator Mine disaster in Butte, 1917.

But as Pat noted, “the tragedies continue today…lest we forget.”

In my quest to find out more about this recent deadly accident, I found this article in the Billings Gazette.

Even more moving was a comment I found in the comment section of an earlier Billings Gazette article: “There are around a thousand people employed by Stillwater. Add spouses, children, parents, siblings and you have a huge community who are grieving and stricken. We were all by our phones last night watching the clock, wondering why our men hadn’t come home yet...the news leaked out in trickles with co-workers calling each other, wives calling each other, off duty families consoling wives of guys who were on shift... With every doorbell ring of a trick or treater, we held our breaths to see the sheriff at the door.
Our sighs of relief when our men came home are replaced by tears and prayers for Madsen's family. We’re with you, you’re in our hearts, God Bless.”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Happy Veterans Day

In honor of Veteran’s Day, the Society’s Archives staff selected letters from soldiers in the Society’s collection. They transcribed excerpts, which they shared at a public program last week as reader’s theater. [Update: You can hear Archives staff read some of these letters here.]

They also put together a booklet of these letters—an early draft of which you can download here.   

The earliest letter was written by Archibald Simons to his sister Nellie, on July 18, 1863, while he was serving in the Union Army in Tennessee. (Simons later became an Indian agent at Fort Belknap, which is why the letter ended up in the Society’s collection.

The most recent letter is an email from Capt. Cory Swanson of Helena, May 3, 2005, from Iraq.

Scans of the originals of John Harrison’s letters, transcribed in this booklet, can be found  in the Society’s digital footlocker, The Home Fires: Montana in World War II. Down the road, the Society may also scan more of these letters and place them on the Montana Memory Project. [Update: Mr. Harrison died on November 11, 2011--Veteran's Day--at age 98. His obituary paints a picture of an amazing man].

Additional resources and interesting links relating to Montanans during World War I and World War II can be found in the Montana: Stories of the Land Companion Website and Teachers Guide Chapter 16 (World War I) Chapter 19 (World War II), including artwork by Billings area Baatan Death March survivor Ben Steele.

The Library of Congress Veterans History Project includes links to oral histories and detailed instructions on how to conduct a veterans history project in your own classroom.

As I was composing this, Kathy Francisco from Project Archaeology sent me a link to this list of Indian warriors who fought against the 7th Cavalry at the Little Bighorn.  She learned about it at a presentation given by MSU grad student Veronica Maday on native women warriors, past and present.

Lots of angles, lots to read, lots of research possibilities….

Friday, November 4, 2011

Montana Tribal Histories: Educators Resource Guide and Companion DVD

I’m absolutely loving Julie Cajune’s “Montana Tribal Histories: Educators Resource Guide and Companion DVD”—produced by OPI’s Indian Education Office, which also sent copies to all Montana public school libraries. The guide is also available online

I’m especially loving the tribal history timelines she created...

And the primary sources she collected on the DVD....

And her use of specifics: Did you know that when the Flathead Indian Reservation was allotted, tribal members received only 245,000 acres of the 1,245,000 acre reservation?...

And the bite-sized chapters. A busy person might be intimidated by a 200-page resource guide—but you don’t have to read all 200 pages. Just turn to a chapter that aligns with other material you are teaching, or that seems particularly interesting to you, and you’ll get something that stands alone.

Does this resource have a strong point of view? You bet—which makes it a perfect vehicle for addressing Essential Understanding 6: “History is a story most often related through the subjective experience of the teller. With the inclusion of more and varied voices, histories are being rediscovered and revised. History told from an Indian perspective frequently conflicts with the stories mainstream historians tell.”

“Montana Tribal Histories: Educators Resource Guide” will make it dramatically easier to incorporate Indian perspectives and tribal history topics into Montana and American history curriculums. If you haven’t already explored it, I recommend taking a close look.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Your Favorite Richest Hills Lesson Plans

Last post I asked you to send me the name of your favorite lesson plan from among those created as part of The Richest Hills Workshop. And, to encourage participation, I offered a prize to the fourth person to respond.

I was thrilled at the response. Here are the lessons your colleagues found particularly noteworthy:

Jean Murphy of Havre wrote: “I’d say the most intriguing lesson plan to me was the one by Derek Frieling, St. Joseph, Missouri, 'Miners’ Messages' (Grades 11 & 4).  Letter writing is almost obsolete.  This is a wonderful idea.”
  • The lesson pairs a high school and grade school class. High school students take on the role of miners traveling to the West. Using an online forum, they will write home describing their experiences. Fourth-grade students will write letters of reply, taking on the role of family members of the miners that remained in the East.

Carol Flint of Frenchtown wrote, “My favorite is 'The Poor City on the Richest Hill' by Marla Unruh, Helena, MT.”
  • The Grades 4-5 lesson has students creating a 3-D model representing life in Butte at the turn of the twentieth century as a way to understand how wealth and poverty existed side by side; how the few used their power and what they did with their treasure; and how the many lived in poverty.

Gary Carmichael of Whitefish liked Eric Katz, New Rochelle, New York, 'Linking the West and East in U.S. Industrial Growth' (Grade 11). He said, “It had some political cartoons I had not seen before that I could incorporate into the lesson.”
  • The lesson has students analyze primary and secondary sources to consider connections between westward expansion and natural resource extraction in the West and the economic growth and industrial development of the eastern United States. 

Karin Flint of Missoula (the winner of the Charlie Russell Journal) found three lessons she’s thinking of using:

Pat Nelson, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, “The Role of the ‘Newsies’: New York, Butte, and St. Louis ” (designed for Grade 5—but Karin’s planning to use it with 7th graders)
  • Students will research child labor, the role of newsboys in history, and how children organized to make an impact and improve their own futures. 
Mark Johnson, Shanghai, China, “The Chinese Experience in the American West” (Grades 11-12) Resources (this is the murder mystery lesson plan featured in Monday’s post)

Patrice Schwenk, Missoula, Montana, “Sacred Art: Creating a Frontier Fresco” (Grades 9-12)

  • Students will understand how murals are used to communicate a community’s cultural traditions by examining the frescoed murals painted by Brother Joseph Carignano, S.J., in St. Francis Xavier Church, Missoula.

Ruth Ferris of Billings liked Linda Oesterle, Orchard Park, New York, “Long Ago and Today” (Kindergarten—described in Monday’s post) and Michelle B. Major, Rome, Georgia, “Perspectives from the Gulches” (Grade 8)
  • Students will evaluate primary source material (photos, newspapers, census, maps, court records, reminiscences, etc.) and use them to write a journal detailing life in a typical boom-and-bust mining town of the 1860s.

Betty Whiting, not a teacher but a historical fiction writer, was impressed with both “Long Ago and Today” and Mary Zbegner, Factoryville, Pennsylvania, “Using Primary Documents from the History of Montana to Inspire Historical Fiction Writing” (Grades 11-12)
  • Students will examine primary sources about Montana mining communities, 1865-1920, to become familiar with the process of writing historical fiction and to learn how research can lend authenticity to a piece of writing set in a specific age with a different life style.

Erin Oreilly from, I think Missoula, wrote “I find the murder mystery investigation [Mark Johnson, Shanghai, China, “The Chinese Experience in the American West” (Grades 11-12)] the most interesting. It is an idea outside of the box and would be interesting to many students.”

To find these lessons—and more—go directly to this link.

Too hard to remember? You can always go to the Montana Historical Society’s webpage. Then find the “Educator Resources page” in the “Outreach and Interpretation” dropdown menu. This is where we keep the goods. Scroll down Educator Resources until you find the link to “The Richest Hills” along with lots of other resources.

Thanks to all who took the time to comment!


p.s. If you actually end up teaching any of these lessons, I’d love to hear how it goes.