Oral Histories Are Ready for Public Access
August 19, 2020
Several oral histories collected during the 1980s are catalogued, uploaded, and organized at the Blaine County Museum, and Museum Director Sam French invites everyone to come in and hear them, using the public access monitor at the museum.
According to French, eight collections are uploaded on the guest desk top at the museum and ready for the public's educational pleasure. Many of these were interviews; some had transcripts associated with them while others did not. Several of the interviews were on cassette tapes that had maybe one or two more 'plays' left in them since they were already beginning to deteriorate. "Most of the tapes were on their last leg," French said.
To complete this initial phase of the project, Brandon Long Fox, Blaine County Museum's first-ever student intern, utilized a comprehensive software suite called PastPerfect that was designed for museums. He also drew on past experience with music cassettes from his youth. Long Fox had tricks to get the thin plastic base material to roll freely if it got bound up and techniques for unfolding it or for dealing with wrinkles.
"I'm so glad that Brandon knew how to work with cassette tapes that misbehaved so that we could save these important stories and this history," French stated. "Because of his careful work, people can come in during museum hours to listen to the voice of a living or deceased relative or friend as they are transported to the past."
Multiple collections are among the oral histories that are currently ready. An outline accompanies most of the catalog records, along with an auditory file of the voices. These include the
• 1981 Jim Magera Early Education Collection;
• 1981 Montanans at Work interviews by Laurie Mercier from the Montana Historical Society (MHS), who was assisted by Elinor Clack;
• 1982 Walker Family oral history with an interview of Jerry Walker;
• unknown project conducted by the MHS in 1982 with interviews of Bill Ross and Severin Sivertson;
• 1984 MHS project: Small Town Montana, which includes fourteen oral histories;
• 1984 MHS project: Early Merchants of Blaine County, featuring Robert Reed and Olive Sattleen;
• 1985 Neva Blackwood interview; and
• Miscellaneous interviews from Isabel Bonifas, Francis Kuhr, and Henry Martens.
One of the oral histories in the Montanans at Work series features Steve Boyce, whose family homesteaded in the Bears' Paw Mountains. Boyce tells stories of trapping wolves in the 1920s, conditions surrounding the severe winter of 1936, cattle roundups in his teens, and calf roping championships. "He's an archetype of the North Central Montana cowboy," French declared.
Oral histories like this project, as well as Small Town Montana and Early Merchants of Blaine County, capture recollections of time as it was lived by individuals, adding a personal dimension to the historical record. The oral histories in the latter two collections cover a wide range of historical topics and give voice to Montana's memory. About this state wide project, French explained that each year different communities in Montana were interviewed; 1984 was Chinook's year.
The Bonifas interview reveals details from Isabel Griffin Bonifas about local theaters, social events, the Scottish community in Chinook, and the history of Griffin Hall built by John Griffin that would eventually become the Blaine County Museum (BCM). In fact, a plaque on the south wall of the BCM memorializes the gift: "To the memory of Herb Bonifas who together with his wife Isabel gave this building to Blaine County for a museum in 1973."
The building that currently houses the Blaine County archives was constructed in 1915 to serve as a recreation center for the growing community of Chinook. This facility, named after its builder, housed a large stage with dressing rooms that catered to traveling performers, local amateurs, and school children. As stated on the BCM website, "dances, weddings, banquets, graduation ceremonies, sporting events, and agricultural exhibits took place in the hall as well. The lower level of the building even housed a bowling alley and billiard tables."
Besides visiting the BCM to view and interact with the various collections and exhibits, French reminds local residents to shop at the museum. The gift shop display includes magnets, stickers, stuffed animals, puzzles, and educational representations of fossils. It also sells Montana-made products, magazines, playing cards, beverage mugs, and a wide array of books-from history to humor and adult fiction to children's books.
One of those titles, Flip-O-Saurus by Britta Drehsen and illustrated by Sara Ball, is an interactive board book. By turning over the flaps and mixing and matching the heads, bodies, and tails of various dinosaurs, readers can create a thousand different imaginary dinos, like the Stegodocus or the Diploraptops. Each flap shares fascinating facts about each animal part, so readers can learn how their imaginary creature might behave.
"We have lots of options for gift-giving, so come check us out," French invited.
Believing that some of the individuals who conducted interviews in 1981 as part of Jim Magera's Early Education Project still live in the area and may like to revisit their 8th grade project, French wished to include not only the names of the subjects interviewed but those of the student interviewers.
For example, because Jay Pyette was her theater coach while she was in high school, French enjoyed listening to him as a junior high student, "He sounds so formal and serious, and while his voice has the same cadence, it had a much higher register back then," she announced.
Any of those individuals on the list who desire a trip down memory lane are invited to sit at the guest computer at the Blaine County Museum to engage with the past.
1981 Magera Early Education (student interviewers)
Acher, Margaret interviewed by Cheryl Preeshl
Benbo, Albert interviewed by Speed Benbo
Benuska, Lizy interviewed by Kris Stebar
Bryson, Lyle interviewed by Joseph Bryson
Campbell, Walt interviewed by Colleen Campbell
Campbell, Bruce interviewed by Marji Funk
Dannis, Anne interviewed by Edwin Hewitt
Dawson, Dave interviewed by Mari Anne Ryan
Dawson, Mina interviewed by Heather Dawson
Drewniak, Sophie interviewed by Michelle Schellin
Ehlang, Agnes interviewed by Marcene Olson
Flynn, Floyd interviewed by Karla Malsam
Goodhart, Goody interviewed by Erin Campbell
Gruszie, Louise interviewed by Melissa Gruszie
Halingstad, Ben interviewed by Lars Halingstad
Halseth, Jimmy interviewed by Brenda Bosch
Heeter, Gertrude interviewed by Jason Pyette
Hinter, Margaret interviewed by Wendy Pyette
Keaster, Richard interviewed by Kurt Hepler
Komis, Shirley interviewed by Dorothy Owens
Lalicker, Florence interviewed by Don Blatt
Long, Reva interviewed by Linda Long
MacLean, Angus interviewed by Tom MacLean
Maddox, Wes interviewed by Tim Blatter
Magnuson, Harold interviewed by Shelly MacKenzie and Melisa Drugge
McCannel, Charlotte interviewed by J.D. Pike
Monson, Mildred interviewed by Allen Pula
Nelson, Myrtle interviewed by Loren Skoyen
O'Brien, Elisabeth interviewed by Kim Peterson
Oemcke, Ralph interviewed by Brenda Bosch
Ortner, Ella interviewed by Bonnie Ortner
Paulsen, Harry interviewed by Matt Paulsen
Pederson, Rosa interviewed by Randy Scott
Praetz, Ellen interviewed by Kelly Tilleman
Pridgeon, Cliff interviewed by Vivian Pridgeon
Pyette, Willie Sr. interviewed by Willie Pyette
Ramberg, unknown interviewed by Kelly Holman
Ryan, Helen interviewed by Sue Sterrett
Schellin, Mavis interviewed by Susette Schellin
Sprinkle, Betty interviewed by Karen Chapman
Steinmetz, Adolph interviewed by Vince Gruszie
Stowman, Effie interviewed by Doran Hatcher
Wright, Wayne interviewed by Travis Tilleman