Big Sky Spotlight: Meet James Behring
Story and photo by Chris La Tray
It’s a late Saturday morning in August and already starting to swelter when James Behring meets me at the door of his shop around the back side of Missoula Winery on the city’s west side with a large cleaver in his hand.
“Check this baby out,” he said with a grin. “This is the prototype. I just thought of it last night. It’s our first multi-tool.”
The knife is called the Elk Cleaver, a custom blade Behring dreamed up to sell under the Behring Made brand that bears his name.
It’s a heavy thing with a thick, convex, 7-inch blade of hand-forged high carbon spring steel.
Its integral inverted gut hook can cut through sinew, the blade edge is sharp for skinning – Behring demonstrates this by slicing effortlessly through a thick piece of scrap leather – and the overall heft can be used to chop through thick hunks of meat.
It’s just one of a multitude of custom knives that Behring and his three-man crew – Travis Williams, Dustin Millard and Grant Cunningham – have conceptualized themselves or manufactured to desires of discerning customers since Behring founded the business in 2011.
Behring grew up in Michigan and went to school to pursue a teaching degree. After graduating, he decided the last place he wanted to be was in a classroom again.
Behring preferred being out in the wilds hunting and fishing, pastimes he’d enjoyed his entire life.
The knife trade appealed to him.
His father, Jim Behring, started a knifemaking business in 1998 called Treeman Knives, and the junior Behring decided to learn the trade as well. It seemed a potential way to make a living tied to a lifestyle he enjoyed.
On a road trip to Austin, Texas, he met a woman from Montana. They married and decided to relocate to Missoula. After a few months acclimating – and fly fishing – he moved into his current shop started Behring Made.
“I started in September of 2011 and worked October, November, December,” Behring said. “Around the first of the year I met Travis (Williams) and I mentioned, ‘I’m thinking about hiring someone, it’s kinda lonely working here by myself.’ And he’s like, ‘I’ll work for you!’ ”
Behring blades are made using old school, hand-forged knife-making techniques.
The steel used is sourced either as a length of bar stock, or in sheets, and each knife begins as a piece cut to rough size. It is then worked over by forge, hammer and anvil until the desired shape is attained.
From there, a Behring blade is tempered and heat-treated, worked (repeatedly) over a belt grinder, until a handle – usually made of antler – and hilt is affixed. The final step is grinding and polishing until the knife is finished and ready to sell or deliver.
By the end of 2012 the shop had produced more than 900 knives and sold them all. Online business generated the bulk of the sales.
Word of mouth generated the rest. Initially, that was about the only way to get a Behring Made knife.
Since then, Behring has sought partnerships with other companies to reach a larger customer base. Among the most impressive partnerships to date is a five-year contract with Wisconsin-based Mathews Inc., the bow and archery accessories manufacturer, that will sell Behring Made knives co-branded under the Mathews logo.
There are also pending projects with Cabot Gun, the Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company and Pheasants Forever.
Locally, Behring has built partnerships to make knives for Cooper Firearms of Stevensville, The Resort at Paws Up (including making kitchen knives for the “Montana Masters” grilling event held there), Rock Creek Cattle Company and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Behring isn’t shy about admitting that he’s learning as he goes, but he says that’s part of the fun. “We all work together on design concepts, construction, what’s the best product to use for this versus that,” Behring said. “I’m trying to create careers, not jobs. I would be so happy if this work could support 10 families in this community, [because] this is where we live. There’s so much fun stuff to do, you know. It’s about lifestyle.”
A lifestyle built on making knives.
What do you say when someone comes to you with a custom idea for a knife they think they might like you to make?
We’re like, “Buddy, we can make whatever you want!” I don’t think people are used to hearing that these days. They’re more used to hearing, “No, no, we can’t do that.”
What if you make a knife that isn’t quite perfect for their needs?
We say, “Send it back. We’ll make you a brand new knife.”
What’s the biggest difference in working with larger companies, like a Mathews, to working with smaller, local companies?
The lead time. The time from concept to production is like six months on some of this stuff, to a year.
Where in Montana do you go to relax?
Butler Creek. Quiet mountain living with hiking, skiing and hunting a rocks throw away.
What three words describe Montana?
Challenging. Opportunity. Emptiness.
Chris La Tray is freelance writer from Missoula.
Written and submitted by Willena Burton
Queenie had been gone for four days.
I could hardly wait for four o’clock and dismissal from the small one-room school that I, my younger sister, Pug, and two older brothers, Abe and Doc, attended in the Bull Mountains of Montana. There was a place that we hadn’t searched yet, and when Doc finally joined me after school we struck out for a coulee by the river where we had so often hunted rabbits with Queenie, a small brown and white fox terrier.
The snow, left by the first Chinook wind, was deep and heavy crusted with ice. Soon that snow would be icy rivulets racing into the coulees, filling the trails and falling over the cut banks in miniature waterfalls.
Deep in thought, I followed Doc’s tracks in the drifted snow. I knew that Queenie, an inveterate hunter, often went into the hills by herself, returning late in the afternoon, exhausted, her wiry fur matted with the orange-brown pulp of old rotten logs.
Queenie loved chasing rabbits. Although she never caught one, she never gave up trying, digging her way into the log where the rabbit was hiding.
It was beginning to get dark when Doc and I reached the snow-choked coulee. Though we searched for any sign of life, the only tracks to be found were those of a pack of coyotes or wolves. We called hopefully, but only hollow echoes of our voices came back. Disappointed and tired we turned back, floundering through the snow crusts that sometimes gave way and plunged us waist deep into the drifted snow banks.
“There’s one good thing about it anyway, Doc, Queenie is so light she can walk on top of the drifts,” I said hopefully. Doc looked skeptical but said nothing.
We were nearly home when we heard the wolves. The high-pitched nearness of the howls, echoing in the cold, dry air sent a shiver up my spine. Wolves were common in the mountains around us but they had never been known to harm anyone, even the livestock. There was plenty of other small prey, such as mice and rabbits to satisfy them. I drew closer to my brother and fear gave wings to our feet as we hurried on to the welcoming lamplight ahead and Mom’s anxious face pressed against the kitchen window.
With questioning looks in their eyes every head turned as we came stamping snow from our overshoes. I could feel them thinking,
“How can she be so sure that Queenie will come back? Doesn’t she know that Queenie is probably already dead?”
Everyone was quiet, knowing the search had been unsuccessful. Silently Mom filled our plates as we joined the rest of the family around the table.
I knew that all of us believed that prayers were answered, especially Daddy. I also remembered that Daddy had told us that sometimes God said, “No.”
I had already run this and a hundred other things through by mind, and after all had been duly considered, I knew that God would take care of Queenie and send her home to me.
Daddy was always the last one to go to bed. I could hear him walking around as he banked the fire and turned down the kerosene lamp. Then, I could hear him scraping frost from the window and thought, “Daddy’s looking for Queenie, too.”
I lay wide-eyed after saying my prayers and listened to the wind sigh through the pines, the creaking of the windmill and the yipping howls of the coyotes. Slipping out of bed, I scratched a patch of frost from the window and stared out into the clear winter night, searching the shadows. The sparkly-bright snow glowed in the moonlight and every star in the universe seemed to be out.
“Queenie can see her way home,” I thought with some relief as I jumped back into the flannel sheets, freeze-dried and sweet smelling. I fell asleep, dreaming of winter wheat, oatmeal cooking on the stove, and Queenie. All the sudden, Queenie was licking my face and I turned away laughing, trying to escape that rough little tongue! Someone was shaking me and Queenie was still licking my face!
I didn’t want to give up my dream, but the gentle shake was insistent. Was I awake or was I dreaming?
Daddy was sitting on the edge of the bed, his face soft and unguarded. “She ate four fried eggs! She must have hung up in a rotten log and starved her way out,” the words came out in a rush!
“I knew she’d come home, I just knew it!” I said.
Half laughing, half crying, I hugged her skinny, fur-matted little body close. The whole family came awake, crowding into the room to exclaim over Queenie’s miraculous return. As she was passed from one to another she basked in the attention she was getting and wagged her tail weakly.
After everyone but Daddy had gone happily to bed, Queenie snuggled down comfortably in “her” spot on the pillow. Suddenly she sat up and took stock of her surroundings, which included Daddy’s formidable presence.
Remembering former scoldings, she scuttled under the covers to the very foot of the bed. Feigning a look of stern disapproval, considering a “dog” in the bed, Daddy’s face broke into a resigned smile as he closed the door behind him.
Queenie squirmed from under the covers and with a tremendous sigh of relief settled herself back on the pillow beside me. And again, I fell asleep to dream of tomorrow, of sunshine and Chinook winds, of melting snow and waterfalls, of crocuses and pine-covered mountains to climb with Queenie and the reassurance that, with God, all things are possible for those who believe in Him.
August in Montana
Written and submitted by Kirsten Billingsley
There is an argument that, because they pass on the July crop in favor of chokecherries, bears do not like huckleberries. This is nonsense. The bears know that the larger, sweeter huckleberries that appear in August are worth the wait. Huckleberries are the grand finale of the mountain berry season. Bears simply save the best for last. I, too, am a huckleberry snob and have been since I was little. The year I turned 3, we lived smack in the middle of a huckleberry heaven.
In 1965, East Portal was a Milwaukee Railroad substation, tucked away in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. The tiny community consisted of two small houses, one for the substation manager and one for the electrician’s family; a bunk house for maintenance workers; and a brick building full of the wires, conduits and transformers that kept the trains running. The railroad tracks were only a few yards from the creaky wooden front porch of our house. You could hear the trains coming long before they arrived and, for some time after, you watched the caboose disappear into the woods. My father was employed as the substation electrician.
The morning of my birthday, my father prepared for a walk in the woods in search of berries for a much-anticipated huckleberry pie ala mode. After supplying the two of us with plastic ice cream buckets, my mother warned us to be careful of bears.
“Claws” raised above his head, my father growled a deep bear growl. The two of us laughed while mother shook her head.
The memory ends after we stepped across to the other side of the tracks. I do remember, from other huck hunts and hikes of my youth, that the forest ground in late summer is covered with dry evergreen needles that fill the air with the scent of pine as they crunch under your feet, mixing with hints of wild mushroom, grasses and earth, inviting you to breathe a little deeper.
As you hike, you feel rocks, twigs and packed dirt under your feet. If your huck hunt is rewarded with a berry patch, and you don’t hear the grumbled warnings or rustling of a grizzly bear, your buckets fill much more quickly if you do not eat the berries as you pick.
My older brother Tim always did just that – unrepentantly. It takes a stronger will than my brother possesses for the berry to make the trip from bush to bucket. There is nothing more intoxicating than deeply inhaling the sweet, tart aroma of a bucket full of fresh wild huckleberries; their scent more than hinting of their bold flavor. If left unattended, he would sneak berries picked by others as well.
Several years ago I visited my childhood home for the first time since I was 3. Now known as The Hiawatha Trail recreation area, East Portal, Montana remains just as I remembered it: a magically colorful and aromatic micro-climate of fairy story proportions. The railroad tracks have been removed, but the imposing 50 foot, rough, blackened wood tunnel door remains – as does the breathtakingly beautiful woodland of my childhood. One need only walk a few steps out of the warm sun into the cool shade to hear the creek that feeds into the Clark Fork River. Along the banks of the creek are lacy ferns, soft moss and a mixture of sweetly scented delicate wild flowers.
As I had as a child, I picked a bouquet of paint brush, glacier lilies and phlox. To retrieve lavender harebells and columbine for me, my younger brother Stephen braved the slippery wet rocks of the “crick,” as the Montana boy in him still pronounces it.
When I returned to Utah, I placed the flowers in my curio, on top of the brick I took from the pile of rubble that marks the place where my father died of electrocution on Nov. 9, 1965; three weeks after Stephen’s birth, and three months after my third birthday.
Whenever I return home to the mountain air of Montana, or hike in the woods, or taste huckleberries, or hear a train, I am transported back to a perfect August day from my childhood.
Celebrated Place: Hogeland welcomes hundreds for church’s centennial celebration
By JENNA CEDERBERG
Photos by TODD KLASSY
Early summer sun filtered brightly through the sturdy stained-glass windows that line the worship hall of Hogeland’s American Lutheran Church onto pews packed full of people last June, as the worship bell rang to announce the start of special Saturday morning service.
Just outside the church, nearly 200 people sat under a white and green party tent set up for the day, their folding chairs turned toward a pair of flat screen TVs set up to stream the service live.
“This is a living house of worship,” visiting Bishop Jessica Crist told the crowd as the service began. “I give thanks to God for the ministry of this congregation.”
The red-roofed, white washed church that makes up the skyline of the tiny northern Montana prairie town celebrated its congregation’s 100th year on June 28 when it welcomed almost 300 people and eight clergy members to its centennial celebration.
Crist joined Bishop Rick Hoyme, five former pastors and current pastor Ellen Ayres at the head of the church.
Susan Billmayer ran the registration desk outside before the service. She helped hand out nearly 275 meal tickets and nametags to attendees, most who had come back especially for the church’s celebration that Billmayer and other church members worked for nearly a year to plan.
Of all the living former pastors, only two were missing, Billmayer said.
“I had all the pastors’ seats and all their wives assigned seats. I had a map,” said Billmayer, a Chinook native and Hogeland church member since 1976.
Lifetime member Kathy Johnson Zellmer played piano during the service.
Kathy and husband Ed’s son, Jordan, set up cameras and streaming equipment to make sure the overflow crowd in the tent could see the service.
Their daughter, Jennifer Zellmer Cuaresma, performed special music during communion with Aimee Timmons and Hazel Del Hansen Clegg.
The church’s altar was dressed in vintage maroon velvet for the day and decorated with fresh bouquets donated by the family of Hilda and Adolph Beck.
The light shining through the church’s impressive stained-glass windows – several of which are dedicated to the church’s founding families like the Becks – added a winsome touch to the ceremony.
“We had a wonderful celebration,” Billmayer said.
A spate of churches popped up along the Big Flat and Hi-Line areas in the early 1900s, as settlers set down roots and got down to the business of forming congregations.
The Lutheran congregation that would eventually find a permanent home in Hogeland held its first official meeting in the community of Silver Bow in 1914.
In October that year, the founding families accepted the former Silver Bow Schoolhouse as it church.
According to church history written for the anniversary, “liberal donations,” including one from railroad magnate James Hill, helped build a new Silver Bow Lutheran Church which was completed in 1925.
Three years later, church members met to decide if they would move the church to Hogeland, the “new town that sprang into existence when a branch line of the Great Northern Railroad was built out from Saco in 1928.”
The church was moved to Hogeland in 1928, and although it was an unpopular decision in the eyes of many, its members came with it. A parsonage was added and the church served the community through its peak and through harder times.
Hogeland’s population thinned with the Depression and drought years in the 1930s. The school closed in 1970. Small farmers had a harder time making a living.
Today, there are roughly 50 members at American Lutheran in Hogeland, which is now a part of a three point parish with Harlem and Turner.
That Hogeland’s church has survived is credit to its hardworking and longstanding members.
Current pastor Ayres is the only paid employee. She makes a 70-mile round trip drive from Harlem to Turner and Hogeland for three services each Sunday.
The rest of the work is done by member volunteers, who made sure the church was in top condition for the celebration.
“They just do an amazing job,” Ayres said. “A new fence was put up, they sided the old garage and put down sod around the church in April.”
Hogeland got a scrub down, too.
“I think we had about 12 to 15 weed eaters in town and I don’t know how many mowers,” said Ed Zellmer, a Hogeland native. “I tried to count them and I think there were about 10 mowers going around town. All at once.”
Necessary improvements to the church are done on an ongoing basis. Funding for larger projects is often secured through donations solicited from current and former members through letters.
“You couldn’t believe (the donations),” Ed said of the gifts received to help prepare the church for the 100th anniversary celebration.
Rev. Ron Nybroten and his wife, LaMay, stayed with the Zellmers during the celebration.
Nybroten was the last pastor to live in the Hogeland parsonage before the church – already a partner parish with Turner – was consolidated into a single parish with Harlem.
Now retired in Wisconsin, the Nybroten’s first came to Hogeland in 1966. LaMay taught at the Hogeland school while Ron served the church.
“Our oldest son was born in Havre in 1968. He was like a son of the rest of the families. I’ve never been in congregation where they would say, ‘Pastor you look kind of tired, you should go for a vacation and we’ll take care of Nathan,’ ” Nybroten said.
The Nybroten’s hosted radio nights – for area kids of any denomination – during their time in Hogeland.
“We had the only high fidelity stereo,” he said. “We’re just like one family in Christ.”
They left in 1969 but felt at home when they came back nearly 45 years later for the 100th anniversary celebration.
“One thing I was really surprised about is how many people I know here,” Nybroten said, adding that the draw to return to a place like Hogeland – hampered perhaps only by lack of economic opportunity – is strong. “They’d all be here. They would all live here if there was more of an area to make a living.”
It was under the party tent during an early afternoon supper of pork loin and baby red potatoes that Nybroten and the rest of the returners got reacquainted before spending the rest of the afternoon reminiscing.
No one was surprised that so many came back to celebrate the congregation’s 100th year.
“This is home for a lot of people,” Pastor Ayres said after the service. “There are so many people where this is all their memories … This church is kind of the womb of their faith.”
In fact, as many as five former pastors completed their first call in Hogeland, including Nybroten and now Bishop Rick Hoyme, who served in Hogeland from 1979-1982.
“He spent many hours on tractors, grain trucks and combines, as well as in churches and working with young people,” the church history said of Hoyme.
During the centennial celebration service, Hoyme delivered the sermon and Holy gospel, recounting anecdotal stories of church as both a place that shelters those who have been beaten down and that can bring out the optimist in everyone.
“That’s this church, I know that,” Hoyme said.
Kathy admitted to fighting back tears at moments as she sat behind the piano during the service.
“It was so emotional,” she said. “It was déjà vu seeing eight pastors all together. It was just awesome. I could hardly make it through.”
A crowded church isn’t the norm at the American Lutheran Church in Hogeland. Typical Sunday services draw a dozen or so members.
That doesn’t mean roots don’t still run deep.
“Everybody still feels that,” Kathy said. “That’s what’s so great about it. A lot of places people leave and don’t come back, that doesn’t happen here.”
Jenna Cederberg is the editor of Montana Magazine. She writes from Missoula.
Ready, Set, Go! to Glasgow’s World Wildlife Experience
By Andrew McKean
Photo by Sean Heavey
A surly water buffalo stares down a dappled axis deer that seems to be slipping beneath the flowing flamboyance of peacock feathers, maybe in an attempt to avoid that malignant bovine gaze.
Across the way, a long-bearded Barbary sheep watches a Persian ram. Around the corner, a South African springbok arches its back in its raggedly gymnastic “pronking” vault.
Welcome to the highly concentrated world of wildlife, where dozens of species of familiar and exotic wild animals are frozen in place by time and taxidermy on the interior walls of an unremarkable building in downtown Glasgow that, until a short generation ago, housed the prairie town’s J.C. Penney department store.
It’s wildebeest meets pronghorn antelope meets catalog-order pajamas.
This isn’t Manhattan’s American Museum of Natural History – not quite.
It’s missing the expansive vaulted ceilings and the dramatic painted dioramas that define that rarified space just off Central Park in New York City.
But eastern Montana’s newest wildlife installation has something that world-class museums lack: a sense of both singular purpose and wild improbability.
The collection of glassy-eyed mounts represents the efforts, affections and prodigious stalking skills of Skip Erickson, himself a fixture of Glasgow.
Erickson, 66, has been a hunter all his life.
He grew up exploring Valley County’s remote corners, and after a career with Grain Belt realty and insurance, he began pursuing his passion for hunting and fishing in equally remote quarters of other continents.
He brought back ostriches and antelope from Africa, stags and spiral-horned game from New Zealand, vampiric fanged deer from England, and a veritable Noah’s Arc of horned, antlered and clawed critters from elsewhere around the world.
For years, the hides and horns of those animals have been collecting dust and occupying corners of Erickson’s Glasgow home.
And they probably would have been joined there by other shoulder mounts and full-body poses had Erickson not been diagnosed with colon cancer in 2011.
That diagnosis reframed his priorities.
“I knew I always wanted to do something more or less public with this collection,” said Erickson, standing among his reconstituted menagerie just off Glasgow’s Main Street on 2nd Avenue South.
“I had been in discussions with our children’s museum even before I got sick. But once I got the diagnosis, this effort took on a different momentum,” Erickson said. “And I started hunting not so much for myself as for the museum.”
AN EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY
What Erickson recognized was the educational value of his wildlife collection for the public in general but specifically for the Children’s Museum of Northeast Montana, a homegrown collective that has created one of the most visited and acclaimed educational facilities on Montana’s Northern Plains.
The museum, under the direction of executive director Stacy Fast, also saw the educational potential of Erickson’s wildlife collection, a permanent exhibit entitled “World Wildlife Experience.”
The exhibit is scheduled to open this winter, though it will likely be expanded through 2015 and beyond.
“When Skip initially approached us, I was a little unsure,” said Fast, who balances a career as a medical professional and a mother of three young children with her oversight of the museum, which hosts between 4,000 and 5,000 visitors per year, mainly school groups from across the Hi-Line.
The museum was founded in 2005, and is the only children’s museum between Fargo, North Dakota, Great Falls, and Regina, Saskatchewan.
“I didn’t want this to be the trophy room of a globe-trotting hunter. I wanted the animals to be the vehicles for teaching the community about cultures, ecosystems, and the diversity of nature,” Fast said.
After years of discussion and accommodation, Erickson’s animals went into place this fall, in a wing of the museum that previously housed J.C. Penney’s catalog showroom. The vacant space was transformed with track lighting and durable carpeting, the animals arranged according to the hemisphere of their origin and their native habitat.
Along one corner of the space, a broad representation of Africa’s antelope congregates around a life-sized ostrich. The biosphere includes springbok, impala, hartebeest, wildebeest, and such unlikely critters as the small, shrill rock hyrax – a sort of marmot of southern Africa – and an improbably huge life-sized leopard, coolly assessing the room from a lofty rock.
The Africa collection morphs into animals from the Middle East, Europe and the Himalayas, which face other critters from the Old World, including Asiatic water buffalo, Indian blackbuck and axis deer, and that iridescently plumed peacock.
Around the corner are Western Hemisphere animals, including full-body, spreading-antlered representatives of all the elk subspecies, caribou subspecies and even an arctic muskox.
Wild sheep and mountain goats look on from the sheetrock ceiling, and around the corner, visitors are confronted with an immense bison bull, ringneck pheasants, sharp-tailed and sage grouse, whitetail deer and a golden eagle, its three-foot wings extended in takeoff. These prairie animals, familiar to a visitor from northeastern Montana, face a collection of maybe a dozen wide-antlered mule deer, the species that Erickson grew up hunting and which he still considers his totemic species.
“I’ve hunted around the world, but every fall, I still spend most of my time scouting and hunting mule deer where I grew up,” he said. “I learn something from mule deer every year.”
NAME THE GATOR
The walls of the exhibit space are sprinkled with saltwater and fresh-water fish, but what is arguably the centerpiece of the World Wildlife Experience is a life-sized alligator, all 12-foot, 6-inches of its scaly-skinned, reptilian creepiness curling toward visitors, who are alternately captivated and repulsed by its mossy teeth and prehistoric stare.
Erickson harpooned the giant gator in Florida a few years ago, and after recovering his breath and his wits once he boated the beast, he knew it would someday anchor the exhibition.
“Stacy and I want to hold a community contest, asking kids to name the gator,” said Erickson, his eyes lighting up as he describes his epic battle with the water dragon. Then he walks around the room, commenting on every hunt for every animal on the walls. It’s clear that, for Erickson, the animals in this collection are intensely personal and his experience with them are frozen in moments of pure effort and achievement that only fellow hunters can understand.
What Erickson and Fast hope they can transcend this personal connection with the animals into something more universal.
For Fast, that includes context.
“It’s neat to see these animals, to experience their diversity, and to be able to notice differences between an Indian antelope and a North American deer,” she said. “But I hope that these animals will be the vehicles that convey information about world cultures and habitats. Ultimately, I’d love for a kid from Malta or Nashua to look at an African animal but to see right along with it a Bushman spear or a Kalahari drum. That’s the way we start to broaden the horizons of our visitors.”
And that global window, both Erickson and Fast agree, is the ultimate value of the wildlife collection.
“Not everyone is going to be able to travel the world and have the experiences that I’ve had,” acknowledges Erickson. “But I hope that when a kid looks at these animals, that they are transported, even for a few minutes, from Glasgow, Montana to the Himalayas or to Central Asia or to Australia.”
Fast’s goals are equally ambitious.
“In a rural community, a facility like ours has a disproportionate impact compared to a museum in a larger city, where there are other educational opportunities outside school,” Fast said. “We think the wildlife exhibit can really catch the attention of our visitors and give us the ability to deliver an educational message that they may not even realize they’re getting. That’s the goal of any museum, and especially a children’s museum in a small town.”
Andrew McKean is the editor in chief of Outdoor Life magazine. He writes from Glasgow.
Children’s Museum of Northeast Montana
The Children’s Museum of Northeast Montana in Glasgow was established in 2005 as a result of community power serving a community need. It is a nonprofit 501c3 organization with a mission to offer hands-on learning in a fun way. To learn more about the museum or to donate, visit www.nemtchildrensmuseum.org.
Pioneer Pilot: Esther Vance was Montana’s first licensed female pilot
By Jon Axline
Photos from the Montana History Society Research Center Photograph Archives
Airplanes and pilots captured the American imagination in the early 20th century. Americans loved the new technology and the feats of young men and women who attempted to tame the sky in airplanes.
Stories about aircraft and the exploits of daredevil pilots filled newspapers after World War I. While the aviation industry was dominated by men, there were several notable female pilots who took to the skies and become pioneers in the emerging field.
Amelia Earhart is the most famous, but she was certainly not the only female pilot flying in the United States in the post-war years. Montana had several; including Katherine Stinson and Maurine Allen. But the most famous and influential was Esther Vance, the state’s first licensed female pilot.
Born in Indiana in 1903, she moved with her family to Sidney at the tender age of 2. Her father, Billy Combes, was Sidney’s undertaker, movie theater owner and landlord with an interest in technology.
In the early days of aviation, many itinerant pilots who displayed their fearless flying abilities in traveling shows throughout rural America also offered rides to residents. These daredevil barnstormers gave the first airplane rides many people experienced, and for some, it installed a lifelong love of flying.
To see the entire story on Esther Vance, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
Celebrated novelist Mildred Walker used Montana as inspiration for books
By Carol Bradley
Photo courtesy of Ici Schemm
The yellow bungalow on Great Falls’ north side is devoid of frills and unpretentious – the type of house motorists might drive right by without a second glance. There’s no hint that at this spot, more than half a century ago, author Mildred Walker penned some of the most realistic novels ever written about the West.
From her desk lined with pigeon holes in her bedroom at the rear of the house, Walker created complex portraits of ordinary characters wrestling with below-the-surface dramas.
Her books evoked vivid images of Montana and other locales. She wrote about family relationships, the changing roles for women and children, and how lives changed when people migrated across country to the sprawling, still somewhat unsettled Intermountain West.
She wrote 13 novels in all and is best-known for Winter Wheat, the stirring story of a young girl’s efforts to make sense of herself and her family as she comes of age on a Montana dry-land farm.
“Mildred Walker writes with distinction,” the Los Angeles Times enthused when the book appeared in 1944, “and this penetrating story…is a sincere, honest, and substantial novel, superb as a picture of family life and as a view of one part of rural America.”
To see the entire story on Mildred Walker, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
Elk camp provides family of hunters more than a place to sleep
Story by Jack Ballard
Photo by Lisa Ballard
“Home is where the heart is,” or so the threadbare, but penetratingly truthful, saying goes.
Where one sleeps for the night may define his or her place of residence. The tiny space on a vast planet to which one is most emotionally connected more appropriately qualifies as home.
On the Thursday prior to the fourth weekend in October, I yearly depart the location described on various legal documents as my “physical address” to return home, perhaps for 5 days or as long as two weeks.
The moving truck, laden with all the earthly possessions required for the relocation spins beyond the houses and lots of Red Lodge, past towering cottonwoods clinging to their last few golden leaves of autumn along Rock Creek, then westward through a range of hills covered in prickly ponderosa pines to Interstate 90.
Hours of work are left undone in the office. The 6 a. m. scheduled departure occurred just before noon. Gas mileage be damned. Even with a loaded pickup it seems imperative to inch the speedometer a wee bit beyond the speed limit.
At Whitehall, my course veers southward from the state’s four-lane, east-west transportation artery onto ever-narrowing roads.
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