The Billings Outpost

Marketing expertise helps students, businesses

BUSINESS

MSU Billings News Services

Business students in A.J. Otjen’s marketing communications courses at Montana State University Billings discover there’s more to creating a great marketing campaign than meets the eye.

“It’s more of a visual call to action,” senior marketing major Alissa Barth said. “All aspects of marketing are involved—from psychology to research, to analysis, communications and execution.”

Barth was one of 13 business students who were tasked over the past year with creating three 30-second commercial spots for the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch as part of a two-semester long project focused on applying classroom theory into real-world practice.

The commercials began airing this month on Bresnan and Charter Communications stations.

Students enrolled in Dr. Otjen’s Integrated Marketing and Communications fall semester course and, subsequently, her spring semester Applied Marketing and Communications Undergraduate Research course, work with community businesses and nonprofit organizations who need help with brand identity and marketing strategies.

The project is an ongoing effort by Otjen, associate professor of marketing in the College of Business, who has over the past decade worked with clients such as the Salvation Army, Billings Depot and the Beartooth Nature Center. She and her students have garnered 11 American Advertising Awards — six of which are gold awards.

For students, Otjen said, the opportunity is a taste of how the professional world will be different from the learning environment of their classroom.

“The strategy and client set the pace and project deadlines,” Otjen said. “The coursework is designed to be as close to real life as possible so that the students have a clear understanding of the dynamic and sometimes messy experiences.”

This year’s class worked with Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch to help advance public awareness of its programs . Students researched best practices for the industry and worked closely with YBGR to develop the message.

“Youth suicide and mental health is a serious issue, and YBGR has many community-based services to help address these issues,” Barth said. “The messages we helped develop were clear — the whole community needs to be a part of the solution to teen suicide and other mental health issues youth experience. YBGR is here to help youth and their families whether it is in their home, school or life.”

Otjen and YBGR set parameters for the students on how to stay consistent with the organization’s brand identity and ensure copyright law and university policies weren’t violated. Outside of this, students were given creative freedom to script and direct the commercials.

Participating businesses and nonprofits provide the funding for research, production and design expenses. Often times, nonprofits are awarded grants and sponsorships to help cover the cost.

The class collaborates with Spotlight Productions, a Billings-based video and marketing company. The production company has sponsored a large portion of their services since 2005 for participating nonprofits.

Anne Gauer, one of two principals of the production company, said before video production begins in the spring semester, students verify every statistic and test each one of their concepts in the fall semester to see what marketing strategy will be most effective.

“These students are very busy, hardworking people and their efficiency always impresses me,” Gauer said.

Although the production is a team effort, each student was assigned roles such as script writing, talent casting, location scouting, costume and set design, and budget and time management.

Next year, Otjen and her students will work with Billings Clinic and a marketing campaign aimed at fighting childhood obesity.

“Service-learning helps students understand social responsibilities, which is essential to becoming a successful business person,” Otjen said. “Students are gaining such a valuable educational experience.”

Students are also making a positive impact on the Billings community, Barth said.

“The results of our efforts matter. It’s not just about getting a good grade, it’s truly about making a difference,” she said.

Those interested in working with the marketing class must be willing to spend time with the students and provide management, operations, marketing and financial information to the team. For more information on how to be a participating business or organization, contact Otjen at 657-4378 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 June 2014 21:51

Hits: 1552

Local breweries win

BUSINESS

More than a dozen Montana breweries won awards at the 2014 North American Beer Awards this month in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Breweries from Belgrade, Bigfork, Billings, Hamilton, Lakeside, Missoula, Philipsburg and Whitefish all placed in their divisions.

Montana is home to 46 breweries that employ more than 500 Montanans, with at least six more expected to open later this year. Brewers use more than 6 million pounds of malted grain, much of which is grown in Montana. In 2013, craft beer production increased by 15 percent.

Below is a list of the Montana breweries that received recognition at this year’s competition:

Billings winners were:

Canyon Creek Brewing: Silver medal for One Night Stand.

Carter’s Brewing: Gold medals for Rob Moore Abbey Ale and The Golden Boy’ silver medal for Biere de Mars 2014; bronze medals for Switchyard Scottish Ale and Franbeaux.

Montana Brewing Co.: Bronze medals for Whitetail Wheat and Beartooth Espresso Porter.

Uberbrew: Bronze medal for Black Hops Tactical IPA.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 June 2014 21:50

Hits: 831

Employment up

BUSINESS

HELENA – Montana’s unemployment rate dropped 0.2 percentage points over the month for a rate of 4.6 percent in May. The U.S. unemployment rate held steady at 6.3 percent.

Total employment, which includes payroll employment plus agricultural and self-employed workers, added 1,326 jobs in May. Montana has added over 10,000 jobs since the beginning of the year, and since May 2013 has had an annual growth rate of 2.1 percent. In comparison, Montana’s average growth rate is roughly 1 percent annually.The labor force increased by 341 workers.

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 June 2014 21:46

Hits: 1561

New citizens sworn in

By STEPHEN DOW - The Billings Outpost

Thirty-three immigrants from 19 countries were sworn in as U.S. citizens during a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ceremony on Thursday, June 19, at the James F. Battin Federal Courthouse.

Nearly 100 people attended the event to support loved ones who had immigrated from Barbados, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Guatemala, India, Italy, Japan, Mauritania, Mexico, Mongolia, Pakistan, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

Deputy Court Clerk Heather Mclean said, “We don’t usually have this many people who want to come to court proceedings … . This is about the only time that people are excited to come to court, and we’re OK with that.”

The hour-long ceremony was a joyous and often raucous occasion filled with clapping, hugging, smiling and shouting.

“Hooray for mommy!” a young boy shouted as his mother, Italian-born Veronica Rousseau, accepted her citizenship certificate.

“I did it!” exclaimed a Barbados native as she accepted her certificate and waved a small U.S. flag in the air.

“This is pretty exciting,” U.S. District Judge Susan Watters said near the beginning of the ceremony. “This is the first naturalization ceremony that I’ve presided over because I’ve only been a federal judge for six months.”

She added, “As you can imagine, a lot of what I do in this courtroom is not particularly joyful. When people leave, they are often crying, but not with the tears of joy that I see today. I want to congratulate you on behalf of the United States and the state of Montana.”

Everybody had a reason to celebrate. The ceremony marked the end of a long naturalization process that included filling out paperwork and taking a citizenship test.

The 33 Billings residents join 778,000 immigrants who have become naturalized U.S. citizens during fiscal year 2013.

Judge Watters commented that the long naturalization process helps these new citizens “appreciate being a United States citizen more than people who were born here. Many of us tend to take it for granted.”

Representatives of U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh and U.S. Rep. Steve Daines were on hand to give their congratulations to the new citizens.

“Today represents many things,” said Tester’s representative, Rachel Court. “The United States of America is granting you the opportunity to participate in this country as a citizen. In turn, you are granting this country and its citizens the chance to know you and learn from you. As you leave today, know that we are very glad to have you.”

Near the end of the ceremony, Judge Watters reminded attendees of rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens in the Constitution and said, “We have all these rights that I know many of you did not have in your countries of origin, and rights that many natural-born U.S. citizens take for granted, but it’s days like today and ceremonies like this one that remind all of us how wonderful it is to live in the United States and how blessed we are to be United States citizens.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 June 2014 21:44

Hits: 774

Reenactments featured in Little Bighorn Days

Gen. George Armstrong Custer meets his fate once again in reenactments this weekend near the site of the original battle and near Hardin.
 
By STEPHEN DOW - The Billings Outpost

The Custer’s Last Stand Reenactment and the 21st annual Battle of the Little Big Horn Re-enactment will be featured during the Little Bighorn Days events being held from Wednesday, June 25, to Sunday, June 29.

Crow Native Days events will be held concurrently at the Crow Agency.

The Custer’s Last Stand Re-enactment will be held from 1-3 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, June 27-29. It is located just south of Crow Agency and six miles west of Hardin on Old U.S. 87. Tickets are $20 for adults, $8 for children ages 6-12, and free for children under six. To order tickets, visit www.custerslaststand.org/tickets.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn Re-enactment started nearly 20 years ago, to share more of the Native American story of the Indian Wars and to have the reenactment on the ground where the teepees of the Indian Village were located, between Custer’s Last Stand Hill and Reno-Benteen Battlefield. It will be held at 1 p.m. on June 27-29.

This year marks the 138th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which was fought by 600 U.S. cavalry men and more than 1,800 warriors of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe nations on June 25th, 1876.

The re-enactment is just one of many events that are a part of the Little Bighorn Days.

The events begin on Wednesday with a Quilt Show from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the  Big Horn County Library.

The main event of Thursday’s festivities is the Grand Ball March starting at 7:30 p.m. and featuring all participants in 1876 attire. The march will end at the Big Horn County fairgrounds where the Grand Ball will take place until 10 p.m. Participants in the Grand Ball must pay $20 in advance. A light dinner is included during the ball.

Special events on Friday include an Old West Youth Parade starting at Hardin’s downtown center at 11 a.m. From 5-7 p.m. , there will be a pork dinner benefit for the Hardin AAU Wrestling Club. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children under the age of six. The location for the dinner will be announced at a later date. There will also be a talent show at 6 p.m. at the Hardin High School Auditorium. Tickets are $6 at the door.

Events on Saturday begin with the Patriots Cancer Challenge 5K Walk. Registration for the event begins at 6 a.m. at the Hardin High School Track. The walk begins at 7 a.m. and the registration fee is $20. The Custer Historic Field Trip takes place from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Cost for the event is $55. Call Ted Heath at 329-1315 for more information.

The Little Big Horn Days parade begins at 10 a.m. on Center Avenue. The John Harder Memorial Firemen’s Fun Day, featuring many family games and free food, will take place from 12 -3 p.m. at Wilson Park. A demolition derby will take place at the fairgrounds at 1 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12, and free for children under 6. A Family Fun Night will take place at the 300 block of Center Avenue from 4-6 p.m. It will be followed by a street dance at 8 p.m.  Bucky Beaver and the Ground Grippers will provide music. Tickets are $5.

Sunday will feature a non-denominational church service at Hardin’s First Congregation Church at 11 a.m.

An Arts and Crafts Fair, a Historic Book Fair, and a Quilt Show will be held throughout the Little Bighorn Days.

Crow Native Days will also be taking place from June 25-29. A powwow celebration will take place at 7 p.m. June 26-28. More than $10,000 in prize money will be split between the best singers and dancers in various categories. Darrin Old Coyote and Corky Old Horn will be the masters of ceremonies for the events.

The 2014 Crow Native Days Parade will take place at 10 a.m. Friday, June 27. The parade will begin at Gas Cap Hill in Crow Agency. More than $4,000 in prize money will be split between participants with the best costumes and floats in the parade. Call parade manager Destiny Bear Claw at 679-0743 for information.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 June 2014 11:13

Hits: 1070

Students replicate old Fort Custer for museum

Photo by Thomas McNab - Steven Levesque, an MSU architecture student from Fountain Valley, Calif., was one of 10 students from the MSU School of Architecture Community Design Center who built accurate model of historic Fort Custer.
 
By CAROL SCHMIDT - MSU News Service

BOZEMAN – Using cutting-edge technology and old-fashioned detective work, a group of Montana State University architecture students has replicated a historic Montana fort that disappeared more than a century ago.

MSU School of Architecture Community Design Center students, under the direction of Thomas McNab, researched historic photographs, drawings, maps and written descriptions, then translated the information to develop 3-D computer building models and a site model which were sent to a 3-D Printer and CNC fabricating machine to accurately create the physical 6-by-9 foot model of historic Fort Custer. The model is among several displays created by the students for the new Centennial Gallery of the Big Horn County Historical Museum and Visitors Center in Hardin, which opened last year during Hardin’s 100th anniversary celebration.

The Centennial Gallery, which tells the stories of the various cultures which meld in the Hardin area, is at  the heart of the new museum and visitors center that was built last year, according to Diana Scheidt, museum director.  Scheidt praised the MSU students for bringing fresh vision and technology to the display areas of the historical center.

“It was awesome to see Fort Custer come to life through the students’ work,” Scheidt said. “In fact, through the whole project, it was great to see the museum through young eyes.”

McNab, a teaching professor who is the director of the School of Architecture’s CDC, worked for more than a year with MSU students to develop the model of Fort Custer. The students also hand built a traditional wooden model of the hospital at Fort Custer, and designed other display  concepts and logos for the Hardin museum.

In its 38th year, the MSU Community Design Center provides visioning, planning, and conceptual

design to non-profit organizations and government agencies. McNab first heard of the Hardin project several years ago while talking to the architect who designed the new museum building. The museum had few funds left over for design consultation or display development, so McNab, who has family roots in the area, approached the museum about using students for the project’s design needs.

Scheidt said the students worked for a year to research the museum’s needs and came up with several innovative ideas that the museum used to adapt to its needs and budget. Those ideas included museum branding, exterior and interior mural design, graphic materials and a unique idea to cross reference the historic buildings located on museum grounds to the display areas inside the buildings.

Scheidt notes that more than 26 historic buildings have been relocated to museum grounds from throughout Big Horn County.

“The students inspired us to do so many things,” Scheidt said. “It was a great relationship working with them.”

But, central to the project was research and construction of a model of a historic fort that no one had seen in more than 100 years.

Fort Custer was built in 1877 on a bluff at the confluence of the Big Horn and Little Big Horn rivers to house members of the U.S. Cavalry. It was closed just 21 years later.

“Fort Custer was known, in its time, as the most luxurious fort in the west,” McNab said. “It was the Riviera of Indian forts.”

Among the fort’s residents were one of the famous Buffalo Soldier platoons made up of African-American soldiers. However, Native American tribes were already on reservations when the fort opened, and it was officially closed in 1898, with most of the buildings moved throughout the region.

 and repurposed, Scheidt said.  “Now, there is nothing there.”

Starting in the spring of 2012, McNab and his MSU architecture students embarked on painstaking detective work to learn what the fort looked like 100 years ago. While beautiful black-and-white period photographs of the fort exist, information on the layout of the fort was scant until students uncovered mid 20th century aerial photographs showing soil disturbances that marked the exact locations of the fort’s original buildings. They also discovered an original U.S. Army ordnance survey drawing in the MSU Library Special Collections that identified and located every building on the original fort grounds.

The students developed 3-D computer models of the buildings from historic photographs, drawings, maps, and contemporary written descriptions of the fort. The information was sent to a 3-D printer that accurately created physical models of each of the over 100 buildings of historic Fort Custer.

The contour model of the site that the fort sat on was developed by combining topographic data from a number of sources, since no accurate mapping was available for the site. Through a series of computer overlays the CDC students were able to create a “data point cloud” that was converted to a “contour mesh.” The mesh was then manipulated in the computer and compared with photographs taken at the site to accurately portray the bluffs along the Bighorn River. This computer model was sent to a CNC (computer numeral control) machine that cut the physical site model from layers of medium density fiber board.

MSU architectural graduate student Steven Levesque of Fountain Valley, Calif., who worked on the project beginning last summer until it was installed last month, said the project was rewarding and eye-opening. Originally drawn to the project because of his love of model making, he also enjoyed his first experience working with a client. He believes the experience will make him a better architect.

“I really enjoyed seeing a whole different way to look at architecture,” Levesque said. “I think many of us think that architecture is only making buildings. That’s not true. We have a wide skill set, and a variety of projects that we can do, as shown in this project.”

Scheidt and Levesque both said it was a near magical experience to see the fort come to life before their eyes.

“Even people who have lived here their entire lives were surprised to see that there were so many buildings on the fort’s grounds,” said Scheidt, adding that many have asked the museum to re-create the original fort, which would be completely infeasible economically. “But, now we can see what it really looked like. That’s pretty cool.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 June 2014 11:09

Hits: 1182

Gladstone on ‘last best place’

By Deborah Courson Smith - Big Sky Connection

GREAT FALLS – A troubadour of Montana’s Blackfeet Indian Nation, Jack Gladstone, will be at the University Theater in Great Falls on Tuesday with a presentation incorporating storytelling, lyric poetry, and music to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1964 Wilderness Act.

The event is just one stop in a series of appearances Gladstone is making around the state to share Native American traditions.

He says this is a year of reflection on a common heritage and connections to wilderness. “The stories within our cultural traditions,” says Gladstone, “the creation stories - Old Man Napi the trickster, Scarface, Morning Star. All these characters are embodied in the landscape.”

Gladstone says Americans are taking advantage of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act to reaffirm the importance of wilderness to the revitalization of the human spirit. “There’s a sacred geography in the landscape. There is a saying in our tribe that the land will tell you who you are.”

More than three million acres in Montana have been designated by Congress as Wilderness since the National Wilderness Preservation System was signed into law in 1964.

The anniversary events are supported by the U.S. Forest Service, Montana Wilderness Association and The Wilderness Society. Gladstone will also be appearing at the summer solstice celebration of the “longest day” at Lindley Park Pavilion in Bozeman, on Saturday, June 21st.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 June 2014 11:02

Hits: 1056

Author to sign books

Rickard Ross presents a paper on Friday, June 27, and signs copies on Saturday of his new book, “The Story of Five Montana Pioneer Families.”

In 2010, Mr. Ross says, he published a biography of his great-grandfather  Frederick E. Server, a Montana soldier, explorer and pioneer. Mr. Server came to Montana at the age of 18, a fresh recruit in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry stationed at Fort Ellis.

During his 10-year career in the Army, he was a member of Col. John Gibbon’s Montana column and was among the first to come upon the dead of George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry.

After he was discharged from the Army at Fort Custer in 1883, he and his wife, Anna, operated a hotel at Custer Station (now Custer, Mont.) from 1883 and then at Crow Agency from 1892 until his death in 1911.

Now he has written a new book about the Server, Getchell, Ross, and Buzzetti families at Crow Agency and in Hardin.

Mr. Ross will present a paper on the Server biography on Friday, June 27, in Hardin, at the Custer Battlefield Historical and Museum Association symposium. The next day, June 28, he will sign books at the Big Horn County Historical Museum.

Last Updated on Friday, 20 June 2014 10:59

Hits: 1104

Mangoneada: Raging shakedown in your mouth

FLASH IN THE PAN

By ARI LEVAUX

On paper, a mangoneada has no business tasting this good. There are too many big personalities involved, too many loud notes of sour, salty, sweet, and heat. It’s too crazy a combination to work. But it does, because unlikely as it may seem, these contrasting flavors play remarkably well together.

From place to place, this refreshing treat is often called a mangonada or chamango as well. As its many names suggest, the dish is built upon mango. The sweet fruit is combined, in various ways, with chili powder, lime, salt, and a sour spicy sauce called chamoy. A mangoneada is as visually stunning as it is daring of flavor. The bright mango component lights up the dark red chamoy like a desert sunset on red rocks. 

Chamoy is typically made with pickled apricots or plums, and chile, lime, sugar and salt. In a mangoneada, additional lime and chile powder are added. Doubling up on these caustic ingredients creates a raspy red sauce that could fairly be called the opposite of mango. This chamoy-based slurry is at once too spicy, too sour and too salty. But in mango, the sharp red slurry finds a sweet, fragrant dance partner. The mangoneada is evidence that a marriage of opposites can work.

Mangoneadas come from the Mexico/California border region, some say Tijuana, and today can be found in Mexican treat shops, which are called neverias or paleterias. These establishments serve fruity popsicles and ice cream concoctions, and are found in highest concentrations in the southwest. But recently, paleterias and neverias have been popping up in big cities nationwide, wherever Mexicans and hot weather are found.

There is no single form in which a mangoneada is made but rather, several common ways that the ingredients are combined. It can be served as an icy drink, with swirled layers of mango slush and chamoy sauce. In San Diego, “chamango” specifically refers to this presentation, and often contains tamarind as well.

If one were looking to turn the fiesta up a notch, slushy and liquid incarnations of mangoneada such as this would be a good choice for mixing with tequila.

Another common incarnation of mangoneada is chunks of mango that have been tossed, drizzled or drenched in chamoy. These dressed pieces of mango can in turn be layered in a cup with mango slush or sorbet. The sorbet can be made by blending mango with fresh orange juice. The straw can be dusted with tamarind powder.

My first mangoneada was built around a mango popsicle that was frozen in a plastic cup, with a wooden stick protruding. When I placed my order in that Albuquerque paleteria, the popsicle was removed from the cup, and a dose of chamoy was deposited in its place. Limes were squeezed, their juice added, along with more red chile powder. The popsicle was returned to the cup, squeezing the chamoy-based slurry around the popsicle, coating all sides. The drill, I quickly understood, was to lick or bite the popsicle through the slurry, coating my face red if necessary, before returning the popsicle to the cup for a chamoy reload.

Although somewhat under radar among gringos, mangoneadas probably won’t remain a cult dish for long. They have a way of evoking a certain giddy goofiness among fans, who seem eager to publically share their love for it. Instagram is full of mangoneada portraits, and Twitter is full of confessions of love and lust for its many forms, and longing iterations of its many names.

“Bring me a mangoneada right now and I’ll love you forever.”

“His name is Chamango :) I think he. Loves me too”

“99 problems, and a mangoneada solves all of them.”

“Quiero mangonada.”

Of its many names, I prefer the “mangoneada” spelling because it’s the most interesting. The word “chamango” was obviously created from “chamoy” and “mango.” And while there is no Spanish translation for “mangonada,” it sounds a bit like limonada, aka lemonade. To be honest, the first time I ordered one, I assumed I was getting mango lemonade.

“Mangoneada” is a conjugation of the verb mangonear, which means to boss around, abuse, or generally mess with for ill-gotten personal gain. Or, as Anahi Gildo Beltran, who sells homemade mangoneadas from a cooler-equipped push-cart at a Los Angeles park, told me by phone: “‘Mangoneada’ means when you grab somebody and shake them.”

The assertive flavors of a mangoneada do add up to a shakedown for your mouth, like getting worked over in a sweet, refreshing way. And while it’s hard to go wrong with mango, much of the credit for a mangoneada’s unique flavor goes to the chamoy, and its unusual sour flavor.

Chamoy is thought to be a descendent of umeboshi, Japanese pickled plum paste. Commercial preparations can be purchased at Mexican grocery stores, and the “ethnic” aisles of many supermarkets. It can also be ordered online. Alas, most store-bought chamoy is not made with real fruit. Trechas brand, for example, is made from water, iodized salt, red peppers, citric acid, corn starch, sugar, xanthan gum, sodium benzoate, and Red No. 40.

There’s a part of me that wants to advise you against resorting to using store-bought chamoy. But the reality is, the mangoneada boom was built on this processed stuff, and so in a way, using bottled chamoy is as authentic as it gets. But if one wants to go rogue, in a DIY kind of way, many recipes can be found online that combine apricot jam, lime, chile powder and salt. One can also try to fake it with fresh apricots, which happen to be in season. Mangoes, conveniently, are in season as well. But if you do try to make it at home, you should have a bottle of commercial chamoy on hand, just to know what you are aiming for.

To make a mangoneada, mix your chamoy with some form of mango, be it a popsicle, fresh chunks, or icy slurry. Season with more lime and chile powder, and perhaps tamarind. And let the games begin.

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 June 2014 11:55

Hits: 714

Train trips to Paradise: Montana and railroads

Second of two parts

By HARRY W. FRITZ - University of Montana - Department of History

After all these non-mechanized years, three railroads in the 1880s! Montanans were, literally, transported. The railroads mark a fundamental turning point, the greatest historical watershed in Montana history. All but ending the captivating river and wagon trades, they linked Montana to vital national markets. They opened the territory (and soon the state) to outside investment and exploitation. They goosed economic growth and development. W. G. Conrad said it all:

“The railroad … changed all the channels of business and many … were unable to adjust themselves to the new conditions it brought. The coming of the railroads annihilated time and distance … and annexed the country to the commercial territory of the great eastern merchant princes.”

By 1909, a third transcontinental, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific (the “Milwaukee Road”) had cut through central Montana just in time to capitalize on the great homesteader boom. Railroads were absolutely essential to homesteading in central and eastern Montana – there’s almost a causal connection. Railroads brought farm families into the state with all their goods, livestock and equipment. They allowed grain growers and ranchers to ship their products to eastern markets. The Northern Pacific in 1900 was the largest landowner in Montana, and it had millions of acres to sell. The Great Northern and the Milwaukee Road depended for their very existence on filling up the plains – once home to widespread Indian nations and buffalo – with productive, Jeffersonian, agrarian yeomen. Their message to potential farmers all over America and Europe was simple: Come hither, and replenish the earth.

Factors other than railroad promotion and cheap transportation drew settlers to Montana after 1890. Land was free – 160 acres under the Homestead Act of 1862. The acreage doubled in 1909, and the proof period dropped from five to three years. Governments at all levels sought to attract citizens. Rainfall seemed ample, and if not, scientific agriculture – or dryland farming –promised good crops anyway. Commodity prices were high.

It all seemed so easy … free land, railroad competition, instant returns, endless markets, high profits. No wonder people poured into Montana – 103,000 in the 1890s, 133,000 in the 1900s, an incredible 173,000 in the 19-teens. From 1890 to 1920, Montana’s population exploded by nearly 300 percent. In 1910 on a single day in Havre, 250 homesteaders arrived. In 1913, each month, 700 people filed there. In March 1916, the number reached 1,200 a month. The plains areas alone accounted for more than 70 percent – 220,000 – of Montana’s population increase in the first two decades of the century. 

Everything expanded – prosperity; population; land under cultivation; wheat production (both yield per acre and price per bushel); women, children, and families; the number of towns and counties; railroad trackage. The years 1900 to 1920 were years of frenzied railroad construction in Montana. The great transcontinentals sent feeder lines to the farthest hamlet, mine or forest. Steel rails crisscrossed the state. You could go anywhere, it seemed, on the iron horse.

Every boom, unfortunately, produces a bust. The homestead era began gradually and collapsed abruptly. When the Great War ended in Europe in 1918, the bottom dropped out of the market.

Commodity prices plummeted. A searing drought, for which even scientific agriculture had no remedy, scorched the plains. Crop yields imploded. Fire, wind, hail, plagues of locusts, a flu epidemic and dust storms of biblical proportions battered Montana’s grasslands. Paradise became hell overnight.

The same trains that had carried thousands of settlers into Montana for 30 years carried thousands away after 1918. Montana was the only state in the nation to record negative population growth in the 1920s. Though no one realized it yet, the railroad era in American history was over. Trains built the country and made Montana. But when Henry Ford rolled a cheap Model T off the Dearborn assembly lines in 1915, the world changed. Automobiles, trucks and highway construction constitute the next, enduring chapter in Montana’s transportation history.

It was a great ride for 15 or 20 years on either side of 1900. Railroads and homesteaders go together in Montana. Each had its glory days. We still have farmers in Montana, and trains, but the romantic connection is history.

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 June 2014 11:30

Hits: 638

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

Top Desktop version