The Montana Historical Society is the guardian of Montana's memory. Established in 1865, the oldest institution of its kind in the West, the MHS's vast historic collections of artifacts, photographs, and documents are exhibited in six extraordinary galleries. In 1969, we became the official state Archives and the repository for state agency records of permanent value.
Since the founding of the Montana Historical Society in Virginia City in 1865, our historians, curators and educators have worked as a team to save and share the stories of Montana.
The mission of the Montana Historical Society is to promote an understanding and appreciation of Montana’s cultural heritage—past, present, and future.
James Brownlee Rankin--a New York and San Bernadino, California, teacher and historian--collected information concerning Montana artist Charles M. Russell in preparation for a Russell biography and an illustrated catalog of his work. The collection consists primarily of correspondence concerning Russell's life and work as remembered by his friends, acquaintances, and art owners. This series, constituting eighty percent of the collection, is the most valuable for research on Russell and on ranching and cowboy life in the open range era. Many friends and acquaintances of Russell corresponded extensively with Rankin, and their reminiscences would have been the basis of his book. Other correspondents discussed the Russell paintings and sculpture in their collections. The letters also reflect the provenance of much of the artist's work, kinds of shows that it appeared in, and methods by which it was acquired. The collection also contains photographs, clippings, and research notes. The Research Notes series of the collection contains listings of paintings, notes on interviews, and transcriptions of letters of Russell and others. Also, there are several photographs of pieces of Russell's work owned by various institutions and individuals at that time. The collection is completed by a series of Clippings gathered by Rankin which generally concern Russell's life.
These locally-produced books of 100-1000 pages contain the rich, detailed stories of small Montana communities from the homestead era and beyond. Fully searchable by keyword, the books include family histories, photographs, maps, diary excerpts, letters, and first-hand recollections of significant events. This growing collection currently covers 29 of Montana’s 56 counties.
Evelyn J. Cameron was a pioneer photographer and rancher in eastern Montana. Originally from England, she moved to Montana with her husband Ewen in 1893. Evelyn kept extensive diaries from 1893 until her death in 1928. The diaries (35 in total) presented here chronicle her daily life including books she read, chores, lists of letters written and received, local and national events, photographs taken, social activities, verbatim copies of special letters, and weather. The diaries also include innumerable tidbits of information that reveal the fabric of her life and by extension that of many women in eastern Montana at the time. For instance, her diaries include the number of eggs gathered and chickens killed per month; notes on the amount of butter she churned; methods of skinning a coyote and breaking a horse; accounts of money made from her photos and garden produce; lists of supplies; and Evelyn’s favorite poems and quotes. In order to make ends meet Evelyn also became an accomplished photographer, working for hire for local families wanting to records special events. Her images capture the surprising ethnic and cultural diversity that marked life in the Terry, Montana area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The diaries record when and where she took images, for whom, why and on what occasions, and what her thoughts were at the time. Taken together the images and diaries provide wonderful insights into the life of early eastern Montana ranch families.
Rosetta Kamlowsky was one of the first female broadcasters in Montana. She hosted the Scooter radio show on KBLL Radio beginning in 1968. Over the course of her broadcasting career she interviewed everyone from her local friends and neighbors to Montana Governors and Hollywood celebrities. This is a collection of those interviews dating from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Research Montana’s rich history using materials from the collections of the Archives at the Montana Historical Society. This collection includes digitized manuscript materials like diaries and letters, as well as the records of government agencies, corporations and organizations. Collection strengths include documentation of state and local government, 19th century businesses, overland journeys, mines and mining, political figures, national parks, wilderness and environmental issues, fraternal and/or service clubs, and women’s history. Check back regularly for new materials being added to this collection.
A 40,000-page collection of historical livestock brands encompassing the beginning of brand registrations in Montana in 1873 and including new brand assignments, transfers, and re-registrations through 1980. The records were compiled by the Brands Enforcement Division of the Montana Department of Livestock. Brands were registered for a ten-year time period and had to be re-registered - starting in 1911 - at the start of each decade (1921,1931, etc.).
Research Montana and the West using maps from the collections of various institutions throughout the state of Montana, including contributions from the Montana Historical Society Research Center and The University of Montana Mansfield Library. This collection includes everything from territorial maps to present day topographic maps. Institutions are always adding new content, so check back often.
This digital collection is comprised of State of Montana enlistment cards for the Montana National Guard from 1890 to 1918, arranged alphabetically by surname. It includes enlistment information for all persons who entered the service in Montana during this period, including Spanish-American War and pre-World War I enlistments. This card file is part of the Montana Adjutant General's Office Records 1889-1959 (RS 223).
The bulk of this collection consists of WWI army enlistments, organized into groups by surname. The collection also includes marines, marine officers, and nurses, as well as dishonorable discharges, fraudulent enlistments, and enemy aliens. This card file is part of the Montana Adjutant General's Office Records 1889-1959 (RS 223).
This collection consists of military enlistment records for World War II (1939-1945), arranged alphabetically by surname. All branches of military service are included together, with their respective branches marked on the individual cards. This card file is part of the Montana Adjutant Generals Office Records 1889-1959 (RS 223).
The membership of the Montana Council of Defense, established in response to an executive order by President Woodrow Wilson, was initially appointed by Governor Sam Stewart. Challenges to their authority however led Stewart to call a special session of the legislature in February 1918. The legislature officially established the Council in on February 20, 1918 and empowered it to "do all acts and things not inconsistent with the Constitution of laws of the State of Montana, or of the United States, which are necessary of proper for the public safety and for the protection of life and public property… and things necessary or proper so that the military, civil and industrial resources of the State may be most efficiently applied toward maintenance of the defense of the State and nation... “ The Council first concerned itself with agricultural production and boosting enthusiasm for the war to counteract Montana's strongly anti-war labor unions, radical farmers, and large immigrant population. The war propaganda campaign however gradually led to the suppression of all dissent with which the Council eventually became identified. With the Armistice signed in November 1918, the Council quickly ceased active functioning although it was not formally dissolved until July 1921 after the United States had signed a treaty with Germany.
Montana Territory was formed during the waning months of the Civil War, but her people, politics, culture and subsequent history are steeped in the issues of the war and the tumultuous period that followed. These records consist of wartime diaries, letters, and reminiscences that share the experiences, thoughts and daily lives of those who came to the region during the 1860s. Some came directly as a result of the upheaval, some to rebuild lives, and others to simply make money and return home. The issues and ideas presented through these records form a bedrock for Montanan’s to understand the beginnings of the territory, its role on the regional/national stage, and especially the beginnings of the state’s earliest communities.
Complete nominations for 89 historic sites located throughout Montana. In addition to detailed descriptions and discussion of historical significance, the nomination packets include maps, blueprints and photographs (typically found in Section 10). The Montana State Historic Preservation Office houses more than 1600 such forms; this digital collection encompasses only born-digital nominations from 2006-2010.
The physical collection consists of records of the Montana State Prison (1869-1974), the Board of Pardons (1890-1965), the Board of Prison Commissioners (1890-1962), and the United States Penitentiary, Montana Territory. This digital collection will ultimately comprise approximately ten thousand prisoner description sheets with mug shots. Post-1932 records may also include FBI arrest sheets. Check back regularly for new materials being added to this collection.
The Montana’s African American Heritage Places collection consists of histories, photographs, and architectural descriptions of properties across the state associated with African American history. Although African Americans never totaled more than one percent of the state’s population, they have been in the place that would become Montana since the earliest days of non-Indian presence and contributed greatly to Montana’s culture, economy, and religious life. Each corner of the state has significant stories to tell about the African American experience in the West. From 2014-2016, the Montana Historical Society oversaw the survey of 51 historic properties – 26 in Helena and 25 in other communities – and created Historic Property Record forms for each. These forms constitute this collection.
Learn about Montana’s rich history through these images—a sampling of the 500,000 photos in the collection of the Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives that illustrate the diverse history of the state and its people, as well as the beauty of its landscape.
Research Montana’s rich history using published materials from the collections of the Library at the Montana Historical Society. This collection includes pamphlets, posters, books, and state and federal documents. Check back regularly for new materials being added to this collection.