A Note: Serendipity and Research

While working at the Pioneer Museum today, I noticed the 1877-78 volume of the Bozeman Avant Courier was lying on a table. I had planned to examine it for articles about the flight of the Nez Perce through Yellowstone Park for my next book, Encounters in Yellowstone, but hadn’t bothered to haul it out of the basement. Since it was just sitting there, I decided I’d go through it. I’m glad I did.

The first thing I found was a story about the adventures of Ben Stone, a member of one of the tourist groups that the Nez Perce attacked. On the same page were two other stories: one reporting that one of Stone’s companions had been killed, and one reporting that a man from another group of tourists who had been reported dead was found alive. These stories, published within days of the incidents they reported, were vivid and had an immediacy that historical accounts often lack.

I found stories in four subsequent issues, but then discovered several issues were missing—including the one that would have reported Chief Joseph’s surrender after the Battle of the Bear Paws. I suspect it was stolen. Of course, that thought made me angry, but finding gripping reports took out  some of the sting. I know I’ll be able to find the missing articles at other archives.

Knowing that there are exciting articles available motivates me to examine other newspapers such as the Helena Independent, the Missoulian and the Montana Post. Finding the stories will be hard work, but it will make Encounters a better book.


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