Fifty years ago, the Woodstock music festival inundated a farmer’s field in New York and Neil Armstrong took “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Seventy years ago, tragedy struck at Mann Gulch, when an out-of-control wildfire killed 13 firefighters.
The Montana Historical Society will commemorate these anniversaries and explore many other topics in Montana history at its 46th Annual Montana History Conference, held in Helena at the Delta Colonial Hotel, Sept. 26–28. This year’s theme is, appropriately, “Keeping Up with the Past!”
In recognition of such historic milestones as the Apollo 11 moon landing and Woodstock music festival, the conference will kick off Thursday with a 1969-themed reception. Participants are encouraged to don their favorite 1960s apparel for a chance to win a “best outfit” prize, while enjoying refreshments, conversation, and “Flashback: Montana 1969,” a special slideshow created by MHS historian Christine Brown.
“It’s always surprising to see how much has changed in just 50 years,” Brown says. “And really eye-opening to see how much has stayed the same.”
So dust off your bellbottoms and love beads, let your hair down, and come party like it’s 1969!
According to organizer Kirby Lambert, “Conference topics are so diverse there should be something here of interest to everyone.”
Sessions will cover subjects ranging from prostitutes and cannibalism on the frontier to railroad tourism, historic photography, and the role of Cheyenne and Lakota women at the Little Bighorn. Famed western photographer Barbara Van Cleve will share her photographic journey, while Northern Arizona University professors Brant and Dayle Hardy Short will offer their insight into retellings of 1949’s tragic Mann Gulch fire.
And, Lambert says, “For those who like their history to be a little more entertaining,” the past will come alive in performances by Mary Jane Bradbury as Nancy Russell and Neil Lewing, who offers a musical salute to the U.S. Forest Service, national parks, and the timber industry.
Friday evening’s awards banquet celebrates the contributions of Dr. Larry Len Peterson, Mardelle Plainfeather and the Extreme History Project.
Pre-conference workshops provide special instruction for educators and archivists, while this year’s ever-popular Made in Montana Tour (8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday) will focus on Helena’s art heritage. Post-conference field trips (2-4:30 p.m. Saturday) include a journey through Helena’s medical history led by Dr. Ellen Baumler and a self-guided tour of some of the Helena Valley’s most spectacular rural historic sites offered by the Montana Preservation Alliance.
MHS director Bruce Whittenberg invites Montanans from across the Treasure State to “join us for the unique and always stimulating conference! Come take a deep dive into Montana’s past, and while you’re at it,” he suggests,” extend your visit a bit and take advantage of the many heritage and cultural amenities that this historic community has to offer.”
For more information on conference registration – including the full conference schedule – visit the Montana Historical Society website.