Montana Historical Society

Big Sky. Big Land. Big History.

Montana: Stories of the Land

Companion Website and Online Teacher's Guide

Chapter 19 - World War II in Montana


Learning From Historical Documents


Letter from Governor Sam Ford to Major General Jay Benedict, 1942. Montana Governors records, 1889-1962. Manuscript Collection 35. [box 121 folder 15]. Montana Historical Society Research Center. Archives. Excerpted in Not In Precious Metals Alone: A Manuscript History of Montana (Helena, 1976): 202-203.


Context for Governor Ford's Letter:

Although war clouds had been gathering for years, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, took all Americans by surprise. Fortunately, several months earlier, the Montana legislature had provided for a state preparedness program. Despite the problems sketched out in this letter from Governor Sam Ford to the region's military commander, the plan went into operation without the hysteria that had characterized the response to the United States' entry into World War I.


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.


Marine Corps Women
Marine Corps Women, 1943, NARA, Washington, D.C.
Children on a scrap heap
Children on scrap heap in Butte, photo by Russell Lee, 1942, courtesy Library of Congress LC-USW3-009702-D