Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

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Montana: Stories of the Land

Companion Website and Online Teacher's Guide

Chapter 13 - Homesteading This Dry Land, 1905-1920

Learning From Historical Documents

Letter from W. M. Black to Gov. Joseph Dixon, from Shelby, July 28, 1921. Montana Governors records, 1889-1962. Manuscript Collection 35. [box 7 folder 33]. Montana Historical Society Research Center. Archives. Excerpted in Not In Precious Metals Alone: A Manuscript History of Montana (Helena, 1976): 179.

Context for W. M. Black's Letter:

No federal or state aid was available to assist drought victims in the late 1910s and 1920s. Bankrupt and destitute homesteaders turned to the Salvation Army and the Red Cross for help. Unable to aid the thousands of homeless, these agencies argued that drought sufferers were a state concern. Shelby attorney W. M. Black witnessed the disaster and wrote Governor Joseph M. Dixon about its proportions.

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.

Agriculture painting
Detail, Agriculture, Marjorie Gieseker Goering, 1935, Montana Historical Society Museum
Gallatin valley wheat field
Gallatin Valley wheat field, photo by Albert Schlechten, Bozeman, MT, Montana Historical Society Photo Archives