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The Best of Montana History:  Recommendations from the staff at the Montana Historical Society Research Center- 2007


General History


Montana: An Uncommon Land, K. Ross Toole, University of Oklahoma Press, 1959, 278p., illustrated.  Written by a native Montanan, who served as the first professional director of the Montana Historical Society and then the Hammond Professor of Western History at the University of Montana, Toole presents the history of Montana framed by the theme of “state as colony of corporate interests.”  A great introduction to Montana’s past.


Montana: A History of Two Centuries, Michael Malone, Richard Roeder, and Wm. Lang, University of Washington Press, 1991 revised, 466 p., illustrated.  A collaborative effort by historians Malone (who became president of Montana State University), his colleague there, Richard Roeder, and the former editor of  Montana, The Magazine of Western History.  This book has become the standard text for the study of  Montana history, thoroughly covering all the major epochs in the state’s history and bringing it up into the 1990s.


Montana, the Magazine of Western History, 1951-Present, Montana Historical Society, illustrated.  At the website of the Montana Historical Society ( you will find a complete index to the magazine under Publications.  The magazine offers a gold mine to researchers on every topic related to Montana history, authored by some of the leading scholars in Montana and western history.


Anthologies of Essays, Articles, and Stories


An Anthology of Historical Essays: The Montana Heritage, edited by Robert R. Swartout and Harry W. Fritz, Montana Historical Society Press, 1992, 301 p., illustrated; revised in 2002 by Harry Fritz, Mary Murphy, and Robert Swartout; Essays on History, People, and Place: Montana Legacy.  The editors who have all taught Montana history have selected a great collection of essays on topics covering events and people of both the 19th and 20th century; the revised edition places more emphasis on race, class, gender, ethnicity, and the environment in the 20th century.


Montana, high, wide, and handsome, Joseph Kinsey Howard, University of Nebraska Press, 1943 (reprinted 2003), 347 p. Written by a journalist from Great Falls and one of the state’s most astute observers of Montana politics, this series of essays provides invaluable insight into the economic forces shaping the state over time.


The Last Best Place:  A Montana Anthology, edited by William Kittredge and Annick Smith, Montana Historical Society Press, 1988, 1158 p.  The most comprehensive collection of descriptions, stories, and memoirs drawn from the experiences of Montana’s native peoples, explorers, ranchers, farmers, miners, artists, and novelists.  Includes an amazing selection of contemporary poets, writers, and essayists.  Provides real insight into the heart and soul of Montana peoples and the landscape they have inhabited.


Montana Campfire Tales: Fourteen Historical Narratives, Dave Walter, TwoDot Press, 1997, 226p.  This highly entertaining series of essays covers everything from the Petrified Man to Carry Nation in Butte.  Dave Walter served as the chief reference librarian at the Montana Historical Society for over 15 years and wrote a regular history essay for The Montana Magazine for years.


Speaking Ill of the Dead:  Jerks in Montana History, edited by Dave Walter, TwoDot Press, 2000, 218 p.  This wonderful collection of essays come from a regular session of the Montana History Conference, organized by Walter as an antidote to the state centennial celebration in 1989.  The authors of these essays take an irreverent look at the darker side of Montana history.


Tales and Anecdotes Collected by the WPA Montana Writers’ Project, 1935-1942: An Ornery Bunch, edited by Megan Hiller, Rick Newby, Elaine Peterson, Alexandra Swaney, TwoDot Press, 1999, 205 p.  During the Depression the Montana Writers’ Project grew out of an effort by the federal government to put unemployed writers to work.  A group of writers traveled Montana collecting stories and folktales and the editors have finally made them available to a wider audience.


Not in Precious Metals Alone: A Manuscript History of Montana, compiled and edited by Montana Historical Society staff, MHS Press, 1976, 296 p.  A collection of some of the most significant primary documents found in the archives of the Historical Society covering every era in Montana’s past.


Gold Rush


Journeys to the Land of Gold: Emigrant Diaries from the Bozeman Trail, 1863-1866, Susan Badger Doyle, Montana Historical Society Press, 2000, 2 volumes, illustrated.  Doyle, a freelance historian, has taken on the monumental task of editing dozens of diaries and reminiscences that describe the journey over the Bozeman Trail to the Montana gold placer diggings, during a brief period of the 1860s.  The book is thoroughly indexed making it extremely useful to all readers.


A Tenderfoot in Montana: Reminiscences of the Gold Rush, the Vigilantes, and Birth of Montana Territory, Francis M. Thompson, Montana Historical Society Press, 2004, 292 p.


Mining and Mining Culture


The Battle for Butte:  Mining & Politics on the Northern Frontier, 1864-1906, Michael Malone, University of Washington Press, 1981, reprinted 1995 Montana Historical Society Press, 281 p., illustrated.  A very readable analysis of the origins of industrial copper mining and smelting in Montana, and its affect on politics in the Treasure State.

Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917, Michael Punke, Hyperion, 2006, 338 p.  A former attorney,  Punke skillfully weaves together the politics, labor struggle, and social life of Butte miners killed in the Speculator Mine fire, capturing the human dimension of the disaster.


Mining Cultures: Men, Women, and Leisure in Butte, 1914-41, University of Illinois Press, 1997, 279 p., illustrated.  Mary Murphy, a professor of Western History at Montana State University, provides insight into the social life of men, women, and children in Montana’s largest city during its domination of world copper markets and its subsequent decline.


Anaconda: Labor, Community, and Culture in Montana’s Smelter City, Laurie Mercier, University of Illinois Press, 2001, 300 p., illustrated. Laurie Mercier, a professor of history at Washington State University at Vancouver, brings to light a previously untouched exploration of community and unionism in the copper-smelting town of Anaconda.


The Butte Irish: Class and Ethnicity in an American Mining Town, 1875-1925, David M. Emmons, University of Illinois Press, 1990, 433 p., illustrated.  Dave Emmons, a former University of Montana history professor, has provided an in-depth analysis of the Irish community in Butte and its impact on politics, industry, labor, and culture.  A must read for anyone interested in what makes Butte tick.


Red Lodge and the Mythic West: Coal Miners to Cowboys, Bonnie Christensen, University Press of Kansas, 2002, 312 p., illustrated.  Christensen, a professor of history in Hawaii, traces Red Lodge from its beginnings in coal mining to its 21st century life of serving up-scale tourists with downhill skiing and dude ranching.   


Native Peoples


Scottish Highlanders, Indian Peoples: Thirty Generations of a Montana Family, James Hunter, Montana Historical Society Press, 1996, 224 p.  This fascinating family history links residents of the Flathead Reservation to Nez Perce chiefs and Scottish chiefs, comparing the struggle encountered by two very different warrior cultures on two different continents.


The Medicine Line: Life and Death on a North American Borderland, Beth LaDow, Routledge, 2001, 272 p. The author explores life for Native peoples and Euro-American settlers on either side of the “medicine line,” the 49th parallel separating northern Montana from Saskatchewan and Alberta.  A beautiful portrait of this complex history.


Fools Crow: A Novel, James Welch, Viking, 1986, 391 p. This brilliantly crafted historical novel provides a Native insight into the dilemma faced by the Blackfeet people in northern Montana on the cusp of monumental change in 1870 with the arrival of Euro-American culture.


Wind From An Enemy Sky, D’Arcy McNickle, Harper & Row, 1978, 256 p.  A wonderful novel by one of the pioneers in Native American literature, which explores controversy on the Flathead Reservation over the building of a dam.  McNickle was born in St. Ignatius in 1904 and attended mission schools in Montana, and then Oxford University in the 1920s.


The Surrounded, D’Arcy McNickle, Dodd, Mead & Co., 1936, 297 p.  McNickle’s first novel, which tells the story of a mixed blood on the Flathead Reservation who faces a conflict in his identity (Spanish-Salish heritage).


The Great North Trail, Dan Cushman, McGraw Hill, 1966, 383 p.


Stay Away Joe, Dan Cushman, Viking, 1953, 249 p.


Legacy: New Perspectives on the Battle of the Little Bighorn, edited by Chas. Rankin, Montana Historical Society Press, 1996, 332 p., illustrated.  More has been written about this single event than any other incident in American history.  This anthology represents essays from leaders in this field of inquiry, including recent scholarship in archaeology, Indian policy, the Native perspective, and the mythology surrounding the battle.




The Frontier Years: L.A. Huffman, Photographer of the Plains, Mark H. Brown and W.R. Felton, Henry Holt & Co., 1955, 272 p., illustrated.  This book documents the work of L.A. Huffman of Miles City, Montana, who documented the Crow, the Northern Cheyenne, and Sioux, as well as the U.S. military and cowboys of southeastern Montana.


Before Barbed Wire: L.A. Huffman, Photographer on Horseback, Mark H. Brown and W.R. Felton, Henry Holt & Co., 1956, 254 p., illustrated.  Very useful documentation of the “open range” cattle frontier in Montana and activities around Fort Keogh in Miles City during the 1880s.


L.A. Huffman: Photographer of the American West, Larry Len Peterson, Seattle Western Galleries, 2003, 305 p., illustrated.  Contains over 500 of Huffman’s images documenting the vanishing Montana frontier of Native Americans, open range cowboys, and military forts.


Photographer on an Army Mule, Maurice Frink with Casy Barthelmess, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1965, 151 p., illustrated.  This biography of Christian Barthelmess, a soldier musician-photographer in the 2nd Infantry, stationed in the Miles City area, provides good documentation of late 19th century Montana.


F.J. Haynes Photographer, Montana Historical  Society, 1981, 192 p., illustrated.  This book documents the work of F.J. Haynes, official photographer of the Northern Pacific Railroad and Yellowstone National Park, highlighting the 9,000 images of Haynes archived at the Montana Historical Society.


Northern Pacific Views:  The Railroad Photography of F.Jay Haynes, 1876-1905, Edward W. Nolan, Montana Historical Society Press, 1983, 206p., illustrated. Provides great documentation of how railroads, specifically the Northern Pacific, reshaped the U.S. northern tier during the later part of the 19th century.


Photographing Montana, 1894-1928, The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron, Donna Lucey, Alfred Knopf, 1990, 250 p., illustrated.  The fascinating story of a British noble woman turned Montana homesteader and photographer told through her own diaries and images of Terry, Montana and the surrounding badlands.


Hope in Hard Times: New Deal Photographs of Montana, 1936-1942, Mary Murphy, Montana Historical Society Press, 2003, 242 p., illustrated.  MSU history professor Murphy tells the story of four Farm Security Administration photographers and their perspective on Depression-era Montana through text and black-white images.




Guide to the Milwaukee Road in Montana, Steve McCarter & Dale Martin, Montana Historical Society Press, 1992, 104 p., illustrated.  A good overview of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul in Montana, its electrification, and its impact on the landscape and peoples of Montana.


Wired for Success: The Butte, Anaconda & Pacific Railway, 1892-1985, Charles Mutschler, Washington State Univ. Press, 2002, 135 p., illustrated.  An informative overview of the Butte to Anaconda freight and passenger line, and its significance to the industry of copper mining and smelting.  Lots of great photos.


Northern Pacific’s Rails to Gold and Silver: Lines to Montana’s Mining Camps-Vol. 1: 1883-1887, Bill & Jan Taylor, Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., 1999, 148 p., illustrated.  The Taylors have published a series of very informative books on various branch lines of the Northern Pacific, including detailed maps, timetables, and photographs.  The series includes books on the Butte Short Line and Mullan Pass.


Short Lines of the Treasure State:  Histories of the Independently Operated Railroads of Montana, Thomas T. Taber, unpublished typescript, 1960, 166 p., illustrated.  Includes an amazing collection of original photos of the various shortlines, including the Montana Southern, the Butte, Anaconda & Pacific, the Jawbone Railroad, the Gilmore and Pittsburgh, and the Montana, Wyoming and Southern.




All But the Waltz:  Essays on a Montana Family, Mary Clearman Blew, Viking, 1991, 223 p. In these essays, Mary Clearman Blew who teaches at Lewis-Clark State College, documents the trials and tribulations of her homestead family beginning in the 1880s in Fergus County.


Very Close to Trouble: The Johnny Grant Memoir, edited by Lyndel Meikle, Washington State University Press, 1996, 221 p., illustrated.  This memoir of Grant, the son of a Hudson’s Bay trader, provides amazing insights to life on the Montana cattle frontier during the late 1850s-mid-1860s.


On Flatwillow Creek: The Story of Montana’s N Bar Ranch, Linda Grosskopf with Rick Newby, Exceptional Books Ltd., 1991, 384 p., illustrated.  This comprehensive history of a historic Fergus County cattle ranch, beginning in 1884 and continuing up to the present.


40 Years’ Gatherin’s, Spike Van Cleve, The Lowell Press, 1977, 301 p., illustrated.  In this book Van Cleve spins yarns about his 20,000 acre dude ranch on the back side of the Crazy Mountains near Melville, Montana.