Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

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Montana: Stories of the Land

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Chapter 8 - Livestock and the Open Range, 1850-1887

Learning From Historical Documents

Harry J. Rutter reminiscence, 1931. Small Collection 35. Montana Historical Society Research Center. Archives. Excerpted in Not In Precious Metals Alone: A Manuscript History of Montana (Helena, 1976): 97.

Context for H. J. Rutter's reminiscence:

As ranges to the south and west filled and were depleted, massive trail herds began interesting Montana's grasslands. The life of a cowboy on these cattle drives was anything but uneventful. From 1866 to the late 1880s, hundreds of cowpunchers signed on for the long drives from Texas to Montana, and some of them stayed. H. J. Rutter, later a Hinsdale rancher, joined one of these last drives as a "cocky youth." Indians, rustlers, lightning storms, and mad dashes to turn the herds were only a few of the trail crew's problems. Yet some of the longest hours were spent on more tedious duties. Long stretches in the saddle, sleepless nights, and a monotonous diet were the norm.

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. The above sample from that book relates directly to this chapter.

The nighthawk
The nighthawk in his nest, photo by L. A. Huffman, Montana Historical Society Photo Archives 981-568
Charlie Russell in his studio
Charles M. Russell in studio painting The Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1918, Montana Historical Society Photo Archives 944-706