Saturday, November 1, 2014

Montana Memory Project: Big Timber Pioneer Newspapers, 1899 and 1916

8.  Montana Memory Project:

Big Timber Pioneer Newspapers, 1899 and 1916


      Early newspapers are a historian's delight, providing provocative tastes of local life.  Montana's weekly Big Timber Pioneer, reprised in the Montana Memory Project, does not disappoint.  The front pages for January 12, 1899 and January 6, 1916 are snapshots in time, reflecting changes that occurred there during that seventeen-year period.

      Big Timber is the county seat for Sweet Grass in south central Montana.  It remains a small town today, according to its Chamber of Commerce (, with a population of 1,641.

      The headline for January 12, 1899  (http://mtmemory. org/cdm/ compoundobject/ collection/p16013coll7/id/74195/rec/7) reads "Delinquent Tax List for 1898."  The half-page article names and threatens non-tax-payers: "If not paid, [your property will be] sold at public auction."  About one-third of the front page is devoted to ads:  Cottage Hotel rates are $1.25/day,  Perrine's cuts hair for thirty-five cents, Sam Lee Laundry does "all kinds of laundry quickly and neat (sic) done," and H.O. Kellogg's clothing store advertises Christmas specials (three weeks too late).  The remainder of the front page contains "The State's Latest News."  Montana shipped out 384 railway boxes of sheep in 1898.  The Smith Brothers own the oldest sheep ranch (1872) in Montana:  in 1898, 33,000 grazing acres for 48,000 sheep valued at $32,000.   No national or international news features appear.  Big Timber still considered itself a pioneer town in a pioneer county:  organized, somewhat isolated and self-sufficient.

      The Big Timber Pioneer front page of January 6, 1916 ( compoundobject/collection/p16013coll7/id/71654/rec/12) is more sophisticated in its presentation and includes a broader range of news.  There are no advertisements here; about half the page is devoted to local and regional news, the rest to national, with one international article.  The headline reads "Annual Masquerade Breaks Big Records."  Hundreds of guests met in the lodge of the Modern Woodsmen of America, a fraternal benefits society, to dance and to enter a costume contest.  Prizes ranged from $5 cash to a fifty-pound bag of Gold Medal Flour; winners' names and costumes are listed.  The second most important article announces the opening of Ellison Brothers' Parking Garage "to serve residents and tourists," featuring steam heat and  a ladies' rest room.  Besides clips from Bozeman and Livingston, a national news item declares "Montana Leads in Wool Production," having generated 29, 000,000 pounds of wool in 1915, over 10% of the national total.  A small blurb entitled "Another Ocean Liner Sunk by Torpedo" states the Persia sank in the Mediterranean with 300 people lost.  It provides no further details; the editors apparently assumed readers read related articles and thus this sufficed.    Although this issue is more inclusive than its 1899 predecessor, Big Timber readers still consider local occurrences more interesting and timely than outside news. 

      These Big Timber Pioneer front pages indicate town and county growth.  The 1916 page stresses modernization and culture; news extends beyond county borders, though local items -- even less pressing ones -- remain prominent.  Both issues display population diversity for women and ethnicities.  They emphasize local growth industries and financial stability:  information about the area's ranching, sheep-raising, forestry and town development lead all other articles.  Like most small town newspapers, the Pioneer retains its parochial approach.  Hometown news trumps the East Coast and Europe.

1 comment:

  1. While I focused on an adolescent's 1916 road trip with her mother and brothers this week, newspapers popped up there too. The family made the papers at least twice as they traveled: once when they visited their Cousin Lottie in Helena (apparently out-of-towners were newsworthy), and once after a very bad car accident that resulted in their fully overturned car following a steering wheel malfunction (though shaken, miraculously no one was hurt). News of the accident was sent by the locals to the Associated Press for national reporting, given the nature of the malfunctioning Model T (though the diary does not mention whether the AP actually ran the story).