Capitol building and sky

The Montana State Capitol in Helena is seen in this file photo.

Thom Bridge, for The Montana Standard

Ten Montanans who lived extraordinary lives in service to their state and nation have been chosen for induction into the State Capitol Gallery of Outstanding Montanans.

The 10 selected included businessmen, an agricultural leader, authors, Native Americans, a female rodeo legend and a black community leader.

They were selected by the Montana Historical Society with the assistance of people across the state who submitted nominations, and a five-member committee of leading Montana historians who made the final decisions.

“These outstanding Montanans represent the many amazing people who have played significant and diverse roles in the history of Montana,” MHS Director Bruce Whittenberg said. “We thank all those who made nominations and the committee that made the final and difficult decisions.”

The gallery located just off the Capitol Rotunda was created by the Legislature in 1981 to pay tribute to those who have made significant contributions to their chosen fields of endeavor, including science, medicine, the arts, education, economics, the law, business and politics. The Montana Historical Society was assigned by the Legislature to administer the gallery and make the selections.

The five-member committee that made the final decisions included Crystal Alegria of Extreme History in Bozeman, Kevin Kooistra curator of the Western Heritage Center in Billings, Mary Murphy professor at Montana State University in Bozeman, ken Robison historian of Great Falls and Fort Benton, and Bob Swartout professor emeritus at Carroll College in Helena.

The inductions will take place over the next ten years. Here are the inductees:

  • Alma Smith Jacobs (1916-1997) -- This lifelong Montana resident throughout her life demonstrated a passion for education, community building and racial justice in Montana. She was the first black woman to head the Great Falls Public Library and later became Montana State Librarian in 1973.
  • James Welch (1940-2003) -- The son of a Blackfeet father and Gros Ventre mother became an internationally acclaimed author. His books included the award-winning “Fool’s Crow” and “Winter in the Blood,” and depicted experiences of Montana Native American tribes. He also was an educator and historian.
  • John G. Link (1869-1954) and Charles S. Haire (1857-1925) -- These two men created the architectural firm of Link and Haire and together shaped Montana’s communities through the many public and private buildings they created including courthouses, schools, churches, hospitals and many other structures.
  • Fannie Sperry Steele (1887-1983) – Born in the Prickly Pear Valley near Helena in 1887, Steele learned to ride before she could walk. In 1907 she began to ride in bucking horse competitions and earned the title “Lady Bucking Horse Champion of the World" in 1912 and 1913. She continued to ride rough stock into her 50s, and also became a successful dude ranch operator.
  • Joseph Medicine Crow (1913-2016) -- This Crow tribal historian, anthropologist and author was an inspiration to many Montanans. He chronicled the history of his tribe and shared it with all people to enrich the heritage of Montana. He was also a WWII war hero, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  • Mildred Walker (1905-1988) -- This Philadelphia native came to Montana later in life and became a noted novelist. Her novels including “Winter Wheat” and “The Curlew’s Cry” were set in Montana, and captured the hardship, fellowship, loneliness and ambiguities of many Montana women.
  • Dolly Smith Cusker Akers (1901--1986) – This Assiniboine tribal member was the first woman to serve on the Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board and in 1932 became the first Native American woman to be elected to the Montana Legislature. She was elected 57 times as a tribal delegate to the national government.
  • Ivan Doig (1939-2015) -- Born in White Sulphur Springs and raised along the Rocky Mountain Front, Doig authored 16 fiction novels and received numerous awards for them. His memoir ”This House of Sky” chronicled his childhood in Montana and was a finalist for the National Book Award. His books are a treasure for Montana history and heritage.
  • Pretty Shield (1856-1954) -- Pretty Shield belonged to the last generation of children raised in an intact Crow culture. Just 30 years later the tribe faced the loss of its way of life as well as their lands. Refusing to surrender the tribal way of life, she became a medicine woman and raised her granddaughter Alma Snell to carry on her life work of teaching others what she had learned about medicinal plants, healing and Crow culture.
  • Ignatius D. O’Donnell (1860-1948) -- Settling in Montana in 1882, O’Donnell managed Frederick Billings’ ranch and operating Hesper Farms near Billings, O’Donnell became a leader in Montana and national agriculture development. He was a leader in modern methods of irrigation and was instrumental in Sugar Beet and alfalfa production. He served as supervisor of irrigation for the U.S. Reclamation Service.

For a complete list of past inductees into the Gallery of Outstanding Montanans log onto https://mhs.mt.gov/education/OutstandingMontanans.

Contributed by Tom Cook, Montana Historical Society. 

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