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Learning From Historical Documents

Letter from William Sellew to "Mother," from Great Falls, June 21, 1888. William Roland Sellew papers, 1872-1909. Small Collection 331. Montana Historical Society Research Center. Archives. Excerpted in Not In Precious Metals Alone: A Manuscript History of Montana (Helena, 1976): 117.

Context for William Sellew's Letter:

Railroads changed many things about life in Montana. They not only helped Montana's economy by carrying in machinery and equipment that industrialized the state but they also transformed the social landscape by connecting towns and people together. The railroads however had their critics, including W. R. Sellew, a Great Falls farmer, who stated that the Great Northern laid tracks so close to his house that "it shakes when they go by."

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.

Capital Restaurant Menu
Capital Restaurant Menu detail, 1897, Ephemera Files, Montana Historical Society Library
Railroad poster
Northern Pacific Railroad poster, Montana Historical Society Museum 1980.61.209