Montana ranchers asked to help Historical Society preserve history |

Montana ranchers asked to help Historical Society preserve history

As it celebrates its 125-year history, the Montana Department of Livestock is encouraging ranchers to preserve a piece of history for future generations by working with the Montana Historical Society (MHS) and other organizations that focus on preserving Montana history.

Jan French, a cattle producer from Hobson who chairs the Montana Board of Livestock, said the livestock industry “helped put Montana on the map” and has played a crucial role in the founding and development of the state.

“The livestock industry has obviously been a big part of the state’s history and heritage, and ranchers can help preserve their place in that history,” she said. “It’s important for people to remember how the state evolved and why.”

The department emphasized just how much history there is and how valuable preservation efforts are.

“When you look back 125 years, you realize just how much ranching history there is,” she said. “It’s close enough to touch and feel here in Montana, and history that isn’t preserved now might be lost forever.”

“It can be a problem,” said Richard Sims, MHS director. “Sometimes people don’t realize the historical value of items until it’s too late.”

According to the MHS, items that are important to preserve include diaries describing ranch life, family histories, oral histories, photographs, ranching-related artifacts and more.

“There is a wide range of things that have historical value and are worth preserving,” Sims said. “If you aren’t sure of the historical value, seek some advice. There are all kinds of things that have value that might not be recognized.”

Sims also recommended oral histories as a great way to preserve a slice of the past.

“Oral histories are a really good way to preserve history,” Sims said, adding that the MHS has online and other resources to help people learn how to conduct oral histories.

The MHS also has a wide variety of other resources and programs ranchers can use to preserve history:


• Research center ( An excellent place to begin your research. The Research Center catalog, which lists library and photo archives as well as other resources, can be found online at

• Brands Research: One of MHS’s most requested services from ranchers and their families is brands research. For a nominal fee ($10 for Montana residents), MHS staff will conduct brands research for all brands issued between 1873-1951. To request brands research, go to the MHS’s Research Request page ( and click on General Research. For research on brands issued after 1951, please contact MDOL at 406-444-2045.

• Montana Memory Project: Many MHS materials, including brands records, have been digitized and are available on the Montana Memory Project (

• Oral Histories: MHS has great resources for using oral histories to preserve a slice of the past. Resources include how-to’s such as How to Preserve written & Oral Histories, and “The Basics: An Introduction to Oral History Interviewing.” MHS has digital recorders that can be loaned out for conducting oral histories.

• Additional Online Resources: Montana History Wiki, (


• Centennial Farm & Ranch Program:

• National Register Sign Program:


• Cowboy artist Charlie Russell

“If someone wants to work on preserving family or other ranch related history, we’ve got resources that will help,” Sims said.

For additional information on working with the MHS, contact the Research Center at 406-444-2681 or

Other options include working with local preservation groups. Many communities across the state have local museums with exhibits, archives and other information.

“There are many small museums around Montana that have historical information on ranching,” Sims said, naming Culbertson, Glasgow and Dillon as examples.

The department will be taking its 125th anniversary display on the road this summer to producer group meetings and other events, with all showings to be announced on the MDOL Web site.