Troubled times are nothing new to America and Montana.
Nor is war.
A hundred years ago the United States joined its allies to fight in World War I.
This year’s Montana History Conference, “Montana, 1917: Time of Trouble, Time of Change,” Sept. 21-23, has no shortage of fascinating topics for both the historian and the general public.
A highlight is the keynote speech by Michael Punke, author of the novel “The Revenant,” which was turned into a blockbuster movie.
He gives a free public talk, “Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917,” at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, at the Old Supreme Court Chambers in the Capitol. The talk is based on his book by that title.
“The book is fantastic,” said conference organizer Kirby Lambert and covers many topics relevant to the conference’s theme.
“I’m a huge fan of this book. I’ve heard him speak about this before,” Lambert said. “It’s an important event and deserves commemorating.”
Following Punke’s talk is a reception featuring music by the Continental Divide Tuba Society, hors d’oeuvres and a no-host bar. The fee for the reception is $20.
Conference registration is $155 before Sept. 15, which includes meals. Single-day registration is available for Friday and Saturday.
At the time of World War I, two-thirds of Montana’s residents were immigrants or children of immigrants.
However, anti-immigrant sentiments ran high -- particularly against Germans, said Lambert.
Patriotism and hysteria gripped the country, and Montana would pass the Sedition Law in early 1918 -- legislation that would imprison many innocent men and women. Montana’s law would be used as the template for the federal Sedition Act.
The Montana Council of Defense formed to fight any foreign infiltration, but it greatly overreached, said Lambert.
People reported on their neighbors, and a person could go to prison for making such offhand comments as “the president is a jerk.”
Talks on War and Race will look at Montana’s African American soldiers who went off to war, and then the mass exodus of blacks from Montana after the war.
Another topic, War and the Fairer Sex, explores the role of women -- both those going overseas as part of the war effort and those on the home front.
Other speakers look at such diverse topics as U.S. Forest Service personnel overseas, anarchists such as Emma Goldman at home, and what was happening to tribal citizenship for Montana’s native people, said Lambert.
Speakers will also talk about Montana newspapers, some of which carried out “witch hunts”; the role of art and artistic propaganda; and the rise of women’s suffrage.
“In addition,” Lambert said, “many of our speakers will discuss issues that helped define life during this time period but weren’t directly tied to the war, including gambling laws and Prohibition.
Even after the war in Europe ended in November 1918, the proverbial war in Montana raged on, according to MHS press materials.
“The Spanish Flu killed thousands of Montanans from late 1918 through spring 1919. Drought ravaged the state in the years after the war, contributing to a prolonged economic depression.”
“We’ll be looking at all these issues and more,” Lambert said.
The Original Governor’s Mansion has re-created Montana’s Home Front during WWI. For information on mansion tours call 444-4794. Tours are at noon, 1, 2 and 3 p.m.
The Montana History Conference brings together history enthusiasts from all over the state to learn more about our shared past and why that past still matters, Lambert said. It’s not just for professional historians or scholars — everybody with an interest in history is encouraged to attend.