Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

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Montana: Stories of the Land

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Chapter 11 - The Early Reservation Years, 1880-1920

Learning From Historical Documents

Letter from George Browning to James Brisbin, December 18, 1878. James Sanks Brisbin papers, 1850-1891. Manuscript Collection 39. [box 1 folder 25]. Montana Historical Society Research Center. Archives. Excerpted in Not In Precious Metals Alone: A Manuscript History of Montana (Helena, 1976): 65.

Context for George Browning's Letter:

Corruption, graft, and incompetence in the Indian Service often resulted in extreme hardship on the reservations. Hungry and without adequate clothing or shelter, tribesmen often left the reservation on hunting and raiding forays. White settlers facing Indian raiders cared little about the causes and demanded action from the military. However, the military recognized the problem and attempted to halt abuses in the supply system. Major James S. Brisbin of the Second Cavalry worked throughout his career in the West to alleviate this and other problems, soliciting reports and evidence on the subject. In one reply, Captain George S. Browning, a member of the Seventh Infantry and supply inspector at the Crow Reservation, detailed his knowledge of conditions among the Crow.

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. That book is now on the web in its entirety. Below is a sample from that book, which relates directly to this chapter.

Indian Land for sale
Indian Land for Sale poster, courtesy Library of Congress, Broadside Portfolio 240, Number 24, Rare Book Collection
Crow Indians
Crow Indians, 1888, photo by O. S. Goff, Fort Custer, MT, Montana Historical Society Photo Archives 955-809