Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

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Montana: Stories of the Land

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Chapter 9 - Railroads Link Montana to the Nation, 1881-1915

Learning From Historical Documents

Alma Coffin Reminiscence, c. 1910. Alma Coffin Kirkpatrick reminiscence, [ca. 1910]. Small Collection 940. Montana Historical Society Research Center. Archives. Excerpted in Not In Precious Metals Alone: A Manuscript History of Montana (Helena, 1976): 110-11.

Context for Alma Coffin's Reminiscence:

Alma Coffin captured the rigors of early passenger travel in Montana in this account, likely based on a diary she kept during a trip she took years earlier. In the summer of 1878, she and two of her sisters journeyed from the family home in Mankato, Minnesota, to visit their father, who had taken employment as a mine superintendent at Glendale. By river steamer they traveled to Fort Benton where they transferred to horse-drawn stage. The trip was an adventure for the young ladies, but the mud-spattered, windblown, thirty-two hour rides were enough to convert anyone to the advantages of improved transportation and railroads.

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.

Elephants on parade
Elephants on parade, Billings, 1912, Montana Historical Society Photo Archives PAc 96-83.6
Railroad poster
Northern Pacific Railroad Poster, Montana Historical Society Museum 1980.61.209