Monday, October 31, 2011

What I Discovered on the Way to the Post Office

Virginia City, Montana Post Office 2011
In a time not so long ago and a place not so far away - men discovered gold in a place called Alder Gulch (May 26, 1863).  As the way of the world, nine mining camps popped up along a 14 mile stretch of Alder creek within a week of the gold discovery.  Within a year of the gold discovery Congress created the Territory of Montana.  Virginia City was the middle camp in the original nine.

Alder Gulch was estimated to have a population of 10,000 that first year.  Most of that 10,000 lived in Virginia City, Montana.  It was home to the controversial organization that was known as the Vigilantes of Montana.  It is a city connected to many important historic events.

              • Montana's first Masonic Lodge
              • 1st Montana Newspaper (Montana Post)
              • 1st public school -1866
              • 1st Meeting of the Montana Historical Society - 1899
              • Territorial Capital - (1865 - 1875)
              • The Montana National Guard was organized - 1885
              • 1st Montana Town to get a telegraph -1866

What is amazing is how many of the original buildings are still here.   In 1961 Virginia City was designated a National Historic Landmark.  In 1966 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1902 Virginia City had 28 telephones.  In 2010 cellular service finally arrived.  Today there are about 150 residents.  Virginia City is a town filled with living history.   During the summer the town welcomes visitors who have come for a glimpse of another time.    One YouTube video (clayguy1) says it well, you can look "through windows to a bygone time".

One of my presentations at the Montana State Reading Conference dealt with Historic Digital Newspapers.  The newspapers I used were from Virginia City's - Montana Post, part of Chronicling America that was digitized by the Montana Historical Society. The Library of Congress is one of the partners of this project.  Every state has digitized some of their historic newspapers.


Links of interest

Audio Tour of Virginia City -   

Photos of Virginia City - MT Historical Society/Library of Congress.  
Contents Corner was the name of the building that acted as Territorial Government Offices.  It was located at 300 West Wallace (the territorial capital offices were on the 2nd floor).  Teaching Montana History Blog

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Teaching Montana History: Tech Tools for Teachers

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Leaves of October

I like October.  There are birthdays of family and friends.  I like the visual mosaic of fall - the orange pumpkins, yellow stalks of corn and the colorful falling leaves . I like listening for the sounds of crunching and crackling leaves, as I walk through them.  I like watching the leaves dance in the wind.

One year I watched a marmalade cat chase a skittering leaf.  There was a light breeze that teased that cat. He stalked that leaf, always prepared to pounce.  Only to have the leaf  tumble, and whip just out of reach.  Finally the breeze tired of the game and let the cat catch that leaf.  That marmalade cat pounced.  Then looked up so disappointed when the leaf failed to fly away.

One of the things I like about cool October nights is having a cup of warm Carmel flavored Cider and reading a great ghost story.  Savoring the scary parts as I read the leaves of my book.  Unlike some of my students I like mildly scary stories of the supernatural.  I don't read Steven King because I have enough nightmares of my own, without borrowing any of his.

That being said, I have thought a lot today about Ghost Walks and Ghost Tours here in Montana.  Karen Stevens is the author of "Haunted Montana" and in years past has organized  the Billings Ghost Tour.  Many communities sponsor ghost tours and tell about historic events that happened in the community.  Bannack sponsors several Ghost Walks.  The Ghost Walks   are reenactments of historic events.

Several other hauntingly good books are "Spirit Tailings: Ghost Tales from Virginia City, Butte and Helena by Ellen Baumler.  She also wrote 13 Chillers: 13 True Tales of Ghosts and Hauntings.  Yes there are some spine tingling reads to make you shiver during the October nights.

As I close my books I can here the sounds of October whispering.  The whoosh of a slamming door, the creek of stairs, the squeak of a gate.  The crackle and crunch of leaves, as something runs through them.  I think of these things when I see the leaves of October.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Windows to a Bygone Era

Looking through windows to a bygone era, I am reminded of a quote found on the front of  the Bannack guide.

"The roads and boardwalks are deserted.  The doors sway in the wind.  There are no children laughing and adults gossiping.  The gold rush is long over.

It is but a memory left in old dusty journals.  With nightfall the spirits return to tell their tales." - Sue Kaiser

Last week we stopped in Bannack and I took a short walk.  I was mesmerized at what I saw.  I would truly have loved to have spent more time in this preserved ghost town.  This town where I would love to listen to the walls if in deed they could talk.

In the early 1900's the original "Governor's Mansion" (a one room log cabin) burnt down.  Some of the logs were salvaged and were used to build a sod house behind this red roofed cabin.  This was also the location of the "Governor's Mansion".

While I was walking back to the pick up a gust of wind began to blow.  The golden leaves of fall began to rain down. I was fortunate to have just snapped a shot capturing the wind-dancers. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

I've Got One Track Vehicle, Who Has...?

We were out driving last weekend and went through a small Montana town.  I saw this unusual vehicle and stopped and took a few pictures.   After looking at it, I made some educated guesses as to it's age, origin and purpose.

First off it has tracks in the back.  Round windows.  Looks like a metal exterior.  You can still see the tow rope.  It looks like it may have sat in this spot for awhile.  The yellow color suggests it might have been used in Yellowstone National Park.

I guessed that it was probably built late 40's early 50's.  There was no visible name.  Because of the tracks I figured it was an early snow coach.

When I got home I began to do some research given what I had observed and what inferences I could make.

  • The back tracks told me travel on snow
  • round windows - portholes - early years maybe company that made planes or ships
  • front looks like could have had round tires but that didn't work with the tracks
  • metal exterior probably 50's some earlier vehicles have wooden exteriors.
  • Yellow paint -  color of Yellowstone National Park vehicles
With this information I tried searching to see if I could find pictures of similar vehicles.  I found out that it is probably a Bombardier snow coach.  Yellowstone did use them, as did Glacier National Park.  They were built in Canada and were used as school buses, ambulances, many doctors used them.  The biggest buyer was the military.  Bombardier also made planes. In some models the front was designed to use skis in winter.   The skis could be replaced with tires for summer use.  I don't know if the tracks were taken off in the summer or not.

My curiosity was still unsatisfied so I made some calls to the little town to see what I could find out.  One lady I talked to said her cousin would be able to answer my questions and she would have her call me back.  So now I wait and see how close I came.  Nothing like a little mystery to solve.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Things That Make Me Laugh

I saw this sign Sunday when we were driving in the "Big Hole Country" near Jackson, Montana (Beaverhead County).  We drove passed and I commented that the name would make my readers laugh. 

Dan asked me, "You really want me to turn around so you can take a picture of that sign?"

"Yes.  They will laugh."

The ground looked dry.  So Dan pulled over in the borrow pit.  The looks were deceptive. Underneath the ground was muddy.  He had to put the pickup in 4 Wheel Drive so we could drive out.  He just shook his head.

"I can't believe I almost got stuck so you could take that picture."

My answer, "It's because you love me.  That's why you turned around.  And they will love this sign!"

Monday, October 24, 2011

Have You Ever Heard of a "Beaverslide?

How about a hay sling?  We were in the "Big Hole Country" near Jackson, Montana when I kept seeing these wooden structures.  I asked my husband what they were and what they were used for?

It turns out they are used to make a haystack.  Long time ago horses pulled these frames.  Now they often use tractors.  The frames are built by hand with lodge pole pine.  If you look at the bottom you can see the runners. (Looks like the bottom of a sled.)
The hay in the haystacks made in this way will last up to four years.

The short piece is called the floor.
I think next year I would like to watch them stack hay using the beaverslide.  This form of hay "technology" has been around at least from the 1880's. One of the video's says they were invented in 1910. "Technology" can be pretty amazing. This year I have learned lots about putting up hay. 

YouTube video about how Beaver Slides work. 

Also watch the Horse-Drawn Loose Haying at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch - Deer Lodge, MT

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reading Its Magic

The conference starts tomorrow.  So many good sessions.  Last summer when I was looking through the list of things our council was responsible for, transportation was listed.  I remember saying ok got that one covered. (Picking up speakers from the airport).  I just recruited my husband to do the driving.

So tonight our council went to supper, we invited several guests to join us.  We all had the opportunity to have a wonderful visit. Imagine my delight when James Dashner said he had met Judy Blume!  And Terry commented that Judy Blume would be at an upcoming International Reading Conference.  I would like to go there.

One of the reasons I love conferences is getting to meet the authors who write the books my kids love.  What great magic that is.  As a reader the magic they put on the page makes me believe they must be a little magical themselves.

Sneed Collard writes great nonfiction.  He is so very gracious.  He truly listens when he asks you a question.  That is magic.  He has published over 60 books.  In a time when our kids hunger for good nonfiction his are truly books to be cherished.

Start checking the best seller list.  One of my dinner companions newest book is going to be on it.  Yes the only thing more magical than a good book, is talking to its author.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Oreo Cows

 I took these pictures just outside of Broadview, Montana.  The first time we passed them I noticed the cows but didn't take any pictures.  We came home and I researched them.  They are officially known as the Belted Galloway Cattle.  They are actually a rare breed of Scottish cattle.  I've talked to a number of people recently and there are several herds of them here in Montana.  In this herd there was also a brown and white cow.  I guess she is "milk chocolate".

The second time I saw them we had gone back
so I could get some pictures.  But it was tooo dark.
These pictures represent my third attempt.
I would love to put a picture of a Holstein next
to these.  I think the black and white theme
would be interesting.  Kind of reminds me of the
book Dylan's Day Out by Peter Catalanotto.

It a theme in black and white.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Montana State Reading Conference

I really wish you all could be here.  Thursday the Montana State Reading Conference starts.  I am excited and nervous.  The Montana State Reading Council has done an awesome job.  We have some wonderful presenters coming.  Just look at our line up below.  Midland Empire Reading Council - MERC, is the Billings local reading council - has been busy helping.
  • James Dashner (Maze Runner, Scorched Trials) 
  • Anne Isaacs - (Swamp Angel, Torn Thread)
  • Dr Terrell Young (Happily Ever After: Sharing Folk Literature With Elementary and Middle School Students)
  • Linda Rief - 100 Quick Writes & author/co-editor of 5 Heinemann titles 
  • Sneed Collard III (Miles City Bucking Horse Sale, Shep, The Hangman's Gold)
  • Eugene Gagliano (C is for Cowboy; My Teacher Dances on the Desk)
  • Zac Pullen - Illustrator
  • Steve Gardiner - Building Student Literacy through Sustained Silent Reading
  • Curt Layman - First Time published author - Christmas Cheese
Did I mention that Zac Pullen is going to be here.  His illustrations capture such nuances of the characters.  I hope you check out his website and blog.  (If you click on his name above I have linked it to his page).

Members of the MERC board will also be presenting at the conference.  Check out their sessions.

  • Book It With a Buddy
  • Thinking Like a Historian: Using Digital Newspapers in the Classroom
  • NaNoWriMo--Challenging Young Writers
  • Read Like a Writer:  Work with Mentor Texts

I have been looking at the schedule and picked out several I REALLY want to go to!  Rats several are at the same time I'm presenting. Come and enjoy the wonderful presentations. Hmm I wonder if anyone would notice if I skipped out and went to one of the others instead? 

Ruth Ferris
MERC - President

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Viewing Elk at Slippery Ann

Someone once said, "Montana is noted for the raw rugged land.  A land known for its isolation and grandeur.  The Missouri Breaks stands out even in Montana."

Dan read an article in the Billings Gazette, Oct 3 about being able to see Elk in Montana in the rut. The CMR Wildlife area is part of the Missouri Breaks.  I believe it is some of the most rugged and beautiful areas in Montana.

Neither of us had ever known about the elk gathering at the Charles M Russell Wildlife Area before reading about it in the paper.  The Slippery Ann Viewing area has a section that is off limits to hunting. There is an open meadow where the elk gather about 2-3 hours before sunset.  We watched the show for about 2 and 1/2 hours.  Next year we want to go earlier in the season (about the middle of September).  I think you would have seen the elk actually fighting for their "ladies hand/hooves" with other ardent suitors.

Follow highway 191 turn just after you cross the Missouri River onto the Charles M Russell Wildlife Refuge.  Follow it  as it turns into the Slippery Ann road (gravel road).  You can follow the gravel road and make a 20 mile loop.  The signs say it will take you from 2 to 3 hours to travel it.  Yesterday we just went as far as the meadow (about 5 miles from the turnoff).  The meadow sits between the road and Missouri River.  Next summer we will drive the complete loop.

There were perhaps 250-350 elk in the clearing.  We talked to a Fish Wildlife and Parks lady, and she said in years passed the elk number between 500-700.  The numbers were down because of the massive spring floods that affected the forage along the river.

The opportunities for photos is extensive, bring extra batteries and memory cards.  You can get gas in Hays about 25 miles, Malta about 60 miles or Zortman maybe 20 miles from Slippery Ann.  You also might want to pack a lunch.  Above the viewing area I saw some travel trailers parked at the campground.  There are no facilities at the camp ground and no cell service.  I think I need to look into seeing if you can get an On-star subscription for our older pickup.

As I was taking pictures I saw all kinds of cameras from smart phones to professional cameras on tripods.  One of the bulls was approximately 100-150 yards in front of us.  I was using a Canon 12x PowerShot SX130IS to take his pictures.  It goes everywhere with me.  I am still learning how to operate it.  The videos are new to me, I had never taken more than 1 or two.

When you click on the video at the top of the post you can hear the bulls talking and hear the reply of the cows.  The sounds were reviting.  Yet somewhere in my memory I had heard the whistles before.  Then I remembered my dad had deer and elk whistles he used during hunting season.  I loved the whistles as a youngster.  My mother would sometimes let me blow into them making the odd calls.  But I never touched them when my dad was in the house. Nevertheless hearing the sounds in person was amazing.

As the dark encroached everyone packed up and left. The elk seemed to just ignore the presence of all the onlookers at their grand performance.  The elk were unperturbed by us.  As we left we heard some coyotes yipping. Perhaps they too were discussing natures play.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Camels in Montana

I have been working on a writing piece for the Montana Historical Society.  It is about using historic digitized newspapers in the classroom.  It is part of the Library of Congress Chronicling America Project.

Well today I was reading the Montana Post dated July 29, 1865.  The article talked about the camels being in Virginia City.  I then did a little more research and discovered Mary Ronan  had ridden one when she was a girl.  ( Girl from the Gulches: The Story of Mary Ronan by Ellen Baumler ).

The Bactrian camels made up the camel trains that hauled freight between the mining camps from 1865-1866.  The camels were well adapted to the Montana terrain and climate.  So why weren't they used longer?  They didn't have good social skills. The mules and oxen wouldn't go near them.  Passing was out of the question.

I not only learned about this nugget of information but I learned that fossilized remains of the Camelops hesternus are still found in Montana.  This animal made it's home in the Montana Lowlands before the ice-age.  Interestingly enough it is theorized that our modern day camels may have evolved from their Montana ancestors.

The Montana story of the camels comes full circle.  Al Deutsch owns a herd of Bactrian camels.  The herd lives outside of Fairfield, Montana off highway 89.  I want to go see them.

I should take my camel saddle to school.  I wonder if my students would know what it is?