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High Plains Book Awards finalist: ‘A History of Montana in 101 Objects: Artifacts and Essays from the Montana Historical Society’ by the Montana Historical Society, Kirby Lambert and Tom Lambert

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History of Montana in 101 Objects

This beautifully-crafted book provides a fascinating window into Montana history for experts and novices alike. As the title suggests, the book features 101 historical treasures held by the Montana Historical Society, each one elegantly photographed and accompanied by a brief explanatory essay. The result is aesthetically pleasing and highly informative, food for both the visual senses and the rational brain. Perusing these pages is almost as stimulating as visiting a fine museum, and the book is a deserving finalist in the Nonfiction Category in the High Plains Book Awards.

The selection of artifacts from the state historical society dazzles, from half-century old archaeological artifacts to abstract art and medical devices from recent decades. Including both the famous and the anonymous, the collection includes a beautiful Blackfeet elk tooth dress originally owned by a survivor of the 1870 Baker Massacre, letters and documents from the fur trade, and Jim Bridger’s Hawken Rifle. Montana’s most famous cowboy, Teddy Blue Abbott, is represented by his chaps, and the state’s most famous artist, Charlie Russell, has several paintings included.

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The book’s most striking feature is its unexpected wealth of artifacts that demonstrate Montana’s rich and varied tapestry of racial and ethnic diversity. Indigenous objects and art range from ancient to contemporary, a stunningly beautiful beaded Chinese pouch represents the thousands of railroad workers who connected 19th century Montana to the world, while an African-American cookbook from the early 20th century provides delicious snippets of a mostly forgotten past.

The pervasive theme of the book is the lived social experience of everyday people rather than the rich and famous. A message left by workers at the Smith Mine Disaster and scenes from the Butte mines feature more than Marcus Daly and the Copper Kings. Jeanette Rankin’s shoe takes on added meaning in the context of A’Aninin Quillwork Moccasins from Fort Belknap.

Much like a visit to a good museum, this book is a treat that readers will want to savor and come back for more.

Tim Lehman is Professor of History at Rocky Mountain College and author of “Bloodshed at Little Bighorn” and “Up The Trail.”

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