Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

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Montana: Stories of the Land

Companion Website and Online Teacher's Guide

Chapter 1 - Montana: Where the Land Writes History

Learning From Historical Documents

Letter from Helen Piper to "Friend," Helena, Montana October 28, 1935. Montana Governors records, 1889-1962. Manuscript Collection 35. [box 63 folder 1]. Montana Historical Society Research Center. Archives. Excerpted in Not In Precious Metals Alone: A Manuscript History of Montana (Helena, 1976): 201-202.

Context for Helen Piper's Letter:

After 1929, Montana's agricultural depression blended with the national financial crash, and the low prices, high unemployment, and hard times continued. Because state government employed many people, Helena escaped the worst of the Depression. Instead, that city's disaster was natural in origin. From October 3, 1935, to February 22, 1936, over 700 earthquakes shook Helena. Although the majority were only weak tremors, a quake of major proportions occurred on October 18. Many buildings were severely damaged and hundreds of residents were forced into the streets to sleep in automobiles or hastily constructed emergency shelters. Fortunately, the loss of life was minimal. On October 28, just as the city was beginning to return to normal, Montana Deaconess School principal Helen Piper reported the experiences at the school to the institution's friends. Ironically, two days later an equally violent quake again shook the city and did even more damage.

About Primary Sources:

Letters, diary entries, census records, newspapers, and photographs are all examples of "primary sources," material created at a particular moment in the past that has survived into the present. Primary sources can provide clues to the past. They are our windows into an earlier time. The Montana Historical Society contains thousands of primary sources. In the 1970s, archivists collected just a few snippets into a book, which they called Not In Precious Metals Alone: A Manuscript History of Montana. The above sample from that book relates directly to this chapter.

Old Faithful
Geysers in the Old Faithful area of Yellowstone National Park, photo by Donnie Sexton, Travel Montana
Crazy Mountains
Crazy Mountains as viewed above Lennep, MT, photo by Donnie Sexton, Travel Montana