IMG_0588 A cold day at Big Hole Pass May 2012

Hi, I’m Carroll Van West and I have been documenting the Montana landscape since the early 1980s.  In 1984-1985, I undertook a major project for the State Historic Preservation Office at the Montana Historical Society to travel the state and to develop some sort of inventory of places, both known and unknown, that should be considered in the state historic preservation plan.  Beginning in February 1984 I went to every community in Montana, logging over 25,000 of traveling over the next four months.  I took over 3,000 black and white images and a much smaller number (about 300) color slides of significant landscapes and historic sites. During the travel I also had many meetings, both formal and informal, with Montanans and we talked about history and why it mattered.

The black and white images are now part of the collections of the Montana Historical Society in Helena.  The planning document was finished in 1985 and then in 1986 the Montana Historical Society Press published A Traveler’s Companion to Montana History, which interpreted all of the fieldwork within the context of the state’s history. You can read more about the book and order it by using this link:


In 2007, the State Historic Preservation Office, the Montana Preservation Alliance, and Senator Lynda Moss began to urge me to return, and to develop a new plan, more focused on heritage development, and to record the changes the state’s heritage assets had experienced in the years since the mammoth survey of 1984-1985.  Finally in 2011-12, I agreed to take on the project, with fieldwork in the late spring of 2012, in the early summer of 2013, and then in the winter of 2013-2014.

91 thoughts on “About

  1. Hi – thoroughly enjoyed your website, but I think you need to change a spelling. “Dobson” in Phillips County is really Dodson, with a second “d.” I used to live not far from there 50+ years ago.

    • hi Dave. Did you know Harvey Holman? I worked with Harvey, Jr., offshore on an Exxon oil platform off California in the late ’80’s.

  2. Dr. Van West,

    This blog sets the gold standard for historical data germane to the whistlestop towns situated on north central Montana’s Hi-Line, and I would like to thank you for your work.
    I am a photographer living in the Bitterroot Valley, and produce photo documentaries and essays for a variety of magazines. My travels with camera and journal cover a lot of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.

    Recently, just prior to the current Arctic Blast which has enveloped us, I spent six days driving back and forth along the Hi-Line between Shelby and Malta, chronicling the status quo of many of the same towns you cover in your excellent blog piece. There is, as you know, an ongoing decline readily apparent and to varying degrees in most of these towns,—notable exceptions being the more easterly locations proximal to the Bakken Boom. My goal with this piece was primarily to appear in print in the January edition of Extraordinary Vision magazine. I was to appear therein as one of several “featured” photographers. I have since had misgivings about this venue, and have cancelled my submission to EV.

    What I really wanted to say is how much I value the work you have conducted, and often rely upon specific data from your blog. I was hoping to ask you for more info about the Chinook Hotel, as a paucity of details can be found online. But since I have tabled my publication for the time being, this and other queries are made moot.

    Thanks again for canvassing the back roads of Big Sky Country, and doing our homework for us! I think you would be a fascinating individual to sit down with over lunch, and just talk “Montana”! Keep up the scintillating endeavors.

  3. Just wanted to thank you for a great peek into the part of Montana I had never seen before. Thank you so much for investing your time and energy into it.

  4. The photo of the Gateway Hotel was a joy to see. My dad an orphan arrived alone (age eleven), on The Great Northern to Poplar, Montana in 1915. He mentioned in his book (Orphan Boy) the few buildings there and one was the Gateway Hotel. He worked numerous farms and ranches, rode the grub line, harvested fields encompassing Poplar, labored at Butte’s copper mines and rode many rails and kinds of trains when roaming.

    Thank you.
    R. J. Milne, Jr.

  5. Thank you so much for this work. You’re doing what I’ve been trying to do–and doing it so much better than I. I just found your site as I’m working on Liberty County. Wish I had seen it sooner. (I’m going through the state in County Number order, so I’m nearing the end of my journey.)

    Thanks Again,

    Bryan D. Spellman
    Glory of the West: A Photographic Portrait of Montana’s Fifty-Six Counties

    • Nice job on your blog! Enjoyed reading about 40, where my family is from, and see we have a mutual friend in Dave C.

  6. May I use your image of Trask Hall in a non-commercial website? I am a retired English professor from Mayville State in North Dakota working on a website to publish research on closed/merged colleges.

  7. First off, I have to commend you on the terrific work you have documented here!

    I am writing in order to obtain permission to use your image (with proper credit given of course) of the abandoned cabins at Zortman in a local-regional publication on Montana’s natural history. We specialize in small print runs of locale specific history titles and would love your image to accompany the mention of Zortman in the first chapter.

    On an unrelated note, I would love to talk with you more about your own endeavors and potentially working together in the future.

    I gratefully appreciate your consideration,

    Artie Crisp
    Commissioning Editor l The History Press
    ph: +1 843.577.5971 x239 and fax: +1 843.577.6712

  8. I am the grandson of Victor Dostert, whom you wrote about in your Nashua article. I was most intrigued by your term “civic capitalist” in describing him. My father Vernon Dostert, carried on the family businesses in much of the same tradition.

    Thank you for your efforts in preserving and documenting the colorful history of life in Montana I do have a sizable archive of photos of family and early history of Nashua if interested.

    Paul Dostert

  9. Thank you for setting this up. As a displaced Montanan, I appreciate very much being able to consult your site when we revisit the state. The entries on Butte are particularly fine.

  10. Thank you, Thank you, THANK YOU!!!
    It is nice to know that some people are able to learn from our little town! I know we have some “knocked down” buildings and all, but with this website those “knocked down” buildings can be something grand again!!!!!!

  11. My wife and I are making a 10 day journey through Montana and Idaho. I happened to do a search on Wise River. My father was the district forest ranger there in the 60’s. I have some interesting photos of that time if you are interested.
    Drop me a note if there is interest. (not trying to sell them, they just need a better home than a box in the closet)

    • I would very much like to see those. As you know from the blog I think the ranger station at wise river is important despite its lack of notoriety.
      My mail address is P.O. box 80, MTSU/ Murfreesboro TN 37130

  12. Hi, thanks for the history of this area of Montana. My husband and I bought the RIngling Church and we are making it our home. Last week, a reclaimed wood company out of Bozeman started taking the Ringling depot down and will repurpose the material. It is a sad day around the town. Anyway, we appreciate the time and effort you have put into this blog. Be well!

  13. The school in Bainville is not as new as one might think…it was built in 1986—they did a couple additions to it in the last few years but that is all…also the bank turned into the post office for several years before the new post office was built…the senior citizen building also houses the museum and we have a new fire hall…we also have very dedicated volunteer firefighters and EMTs…I know all of this because besides the fact that I live there now I was born and raised there

  14. Just a short question: is “Judith Gap” called after my Great-Grandmother, Judith Wight ? How can I find out more ?
    Thanks a lot in advance, regards from Frankfurt

    Claudia Duffield-Bräuer

  15. I just discovered your blog and am impressed at the great job your have done. I’ve been researching my roots and have discovered that in the time period around 1915-1919, my grandfather, Ellis Anderson (born in Kansas), obtained a homestead in Valley County, Montana, as his sister-in-law, Lucy Walters (born in New Mexico), had also done. Lucy was an independent woman who never married but became a nurse (as did my grandmother Vivian Walters Anderson), served in that capacity in World War I, homesteaded in Montana, eventually returning to the Midwest before finally settling in California.

    I have copies of several old family photos taken when they lived in Valley County, Montana. The one that especially interests me is a picture of what was labeled “Elta and Vera at Aunt Lucy’s hospital in Montana.” The “hospital” building looks more like a large two-story house, but has a sign on it (partially obscured by small trees) that may say MALTA HOSPITAL, or at least the first word ends in A. Based on the probable ages of the girls in the picture, it looks like it was probably taken in about 1918. Do you know anything about this hospital from that time period ??

  16. Outstanding website. I’ve been married for 42+ years to a Montana cowgirl who grew up on a ranch about 3 miles from Logan. As an electrical engineer, I’ve been fascinated by the Milwaukee Road and its pioneer use of HVDC electrification. It’s too bad that gross miss-management destroyed the Milwaukee. Thanks for an outstanding job documenting both the Milwaukee, the Northern Pacific and Great Northern.

  17. Thank you for this wonderful site ! While researching my grandfather I came across a government type document that shows him living in Inverness in 1917.. On may 29 , 1917 he was called to active duty and eventually served in France for 2 years in the medical corp. ( he was a physician, Jefferson Medical College 1909 ). He had been serving in the Indian Service ( not sure of the proper name ) on several reservations. Your February 23, 2014 article was very informative about Hill County and the great northern towns! Grandfather never returned to Montana , settling in his native western Pennsylvania, but he often spoke of his time there. John Reilly

  18. Enjoyed the article on Livingston, I helped work on the signs about Lewis and Clark with the community, as I was the Interpretive Specialist on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, at that time. The folks in the community were wonderful and worked so hard on the sign project and you could tell the community pride to tell their story too. So good to see the signs once again.

  19. Wondering if our company could use your photos in regards to the Scott Hart Building. We did their HVAC system and are featuring them within our main projects on our new website. Please contact me for further information!

  20. Thanks for doing this. Those of us who grew up on hi-line and moved away, love everything u show us about home. I lived north of Joplin about 20 miles and also graduated from Rudyard.

  21. I own a property in Broadwater County that includes a buffalo jump prehistoric district recently listed on the National Register. You can see the nomination by searching Stone Hill Springs Prehistoric District.

  22. I was so delighted to come across this treasure trove of Montana history and excellent photographs from around the state. Thank you so very very much for sharing with us. Thank you for this wonderful site!

  23. Some time ago, I inquired about the Malta Hospital, an old 1920-era photo of which I had inherited. At that time, you replied that you were unfamiliar with such a place. I have since been informed by a resident of Montana that the building is still there, though no longer a medical facility. I now have access to three photos of the building down through the years and wanted to share this information with you.

  24. My mother was born on a ranch near Wisdom in 1917. I believe it was the V-Bar ranch, but have found no record of it in the Google Abyss. I’m planning a road trip from Texas to there next summer with a photo album and a Wisdom Sunday School Cookbook from 1923. The hope is if I don’t find the location of the ranch at least I might find some landmarks in town to form a connection. She died in 1977 when I was 15 and her mind was lost to dementia during most of my childhood. Any pointers, suggestions or directions would be appreciated.

  25. Dear Mr. Van West,
    I am writing to obtain your permission to tentatively use your image of Pierre Wibaux’s statue in the park for our publication, Working Ranch magazine. If you are agreeable, please respond with the information required so we may credit the photographer and/or the site.
    Thank you for taking such lovely photos.

    Judy Cole
    Copy Editor
    Working Ranch magazine

  26. I believe I have a photo of the original Almas-Young home with one of my ancestors as a child on the front lawn. Finally found it may still exist in Havre! Thanks to you , Maggie

  27. I have some questions related to your post about the Yucca Theatre. How can I reach you via phone or email?

    Also, may I have permission to use your Yucca Theatre images on our blog at http://www.southeastmontana.com/blog ?

    Thank you,

    Brenda Maas
    Marketing Manager
    Visit Southeast Montana tourism

  28. Hello Mr. Van West!

    I work for a Commercial Design Company out of Oregon that builds and installs interior decor for grocery stores. We are currently working on the decor for the Safeway in Dillon, MT and are in need of about 20-25 black and white historical photos that we can reprint and put up in the store. These are usually printed at 48″ x 48″. Would we be able to use the black and white historical photos you have on your site of Dillon for the store? If so, please let me know what kind of attribution is needed, and if you have access to the high resolution files for these.

    Thank you so much, and I look forward to hearing from you!
    -Kristen Arzner
    Client Manager; Commercial Design Systems

  29. Greetings Dr. West:

    I have a contract with Mountain Press in Missoula to feature some selected sites in Montana on the NRHP. As I read your sound narratives about places and features in the State during your travels, I am prompted to request permission to use some of your color images of buildings and structures for the book. I shall attribute the photographs to you. If you can extend permission, how do you wish to have the photo courtesy line read? Thanks in advance.


  30. Hi, this is a great website. I am working on a photography show of my work to be held in Pennsylvania in 2021. I plan to include a number of photos I have made over the years in MT.

    I worked one long, hot summer in the grain business–specifically, in St. Paul, MN where I was a laborer for a Robin Hood industrial flour mill–loading boxcars, cleaning out hopper cars, sewing and stacking 100 lb. sacks and whatever else they through at me. So I am very attracted to the grain elevator photos you have provided. I would especially like to see the Rex Flour Mill elevator you photographed. Would you mind telling me where it’s located (hopefully it still exists!)

    I will be in MT in late August and really look forward to it.

    Steve Plattner/Cincinnati, OH/plattners@gmail.com

  31. I am looking for any and all information I can find or get from any Augusta residents, historical groups or anyone about La Chapelle Place and about my family. Ulric La Chapelle was my family and La Chapelle place and the ranch belonged to us until Ulric died in 1971. After his death it was sold to Ray Krone. And a believe it may have been sold again after or shortly before Ray’s death. I have found a few pictures of La Chapelle place. If anyone can at least direct me on where to find information or more pictures I’d highly appreciate it. Thank you for your time.
    I was orphaned as a child and am only looking for answers to questions there is no body left to ask.

    • Apparently no one has any information on La Chapelle Place. Or the La Chapelle family who it belonged to. Or the information never reached me. I am still hoping someone may respond. My Great Grandfather had 7 sons. They owned ranches in Great Falls, Helena, Havre at La Chapelle place. The sons were Arthur, Charles, Levi, Ulrich, Herbert, Dosithy and Edmond. I have seen one picture of my family moving cattle near Great Falls. It was sold at auction threw Hertige Auctions of Texas. I’ve seen a couple of newspaper articles. My grandfather was Herbert La Chapelle. I have been told that he had worked guiding tourists on hikes in Glacier Park. During the late 1800’s early 1900 ‘s. La Chapelle Place is still listed as an unincorporated town. Any info or pictures would be highly appreciated by me. I have done my DNA to confirm my ancestry and what my father had told me when I was a young girl. My great grandfather married Marie Des Rosier or De Rosier in approximately 1910. Thank you for reading this.

  32. Sir,
    I read with interest you post of April 23, 2016 regarding Pony, Montana.

    The home that you labeled as that of “the park keeper is the Montana home of my ancestors, Eli S. & Nellie C. Adkins. It was built by my grandfather’s Father-in-Law, Nelson J. Isdell in 1867. Eli continued to reside in the home after the demise of Mr. Isdell, my grandfather’s first wife, Lulu, and Mrs. Isdell. Mr. Isdell (known as Major Isdell although he had no military service history) founded the Isdell Mercantile Co. My grandfather held several positions at the IM Co. and was its President when it finally shuttered its doors in the early 1940’s. The home was owned by my family until it’s recent sale in June 2015. It is known in the National Historic Register as the Isdell-Adkins house.
    The Pony Park was established in 1961 on the site of my grandfather’s corral and an area where the livery livestock owned by and for sale from the IM Co. we’re kept. Our family leased the majority of the lots that comprised the park to the Pony Homecoming Club (PHC) for $1 per year and paid all property taxes so that the PHC could put it’s money to use toward the restoration and maintenance of buildings in Pony’s historic district. We donated those lots to PHC in 2018 after the organization had obtained it’s charitable status and would be exempt from property taxes.
    One other point of information for you, if I may… In the article you have assigned in correct descriptions to two photos. The buildings that you say are a brick law office and a frame two-story general store are infact, not. The brick building with the three large arches was the main building of the Isdell Mercantile Company, which is situated across Broadway Street from the Morris State Bank. The other building sits across from the Isdell-Adkins house, again, on Broadway was a hotel operated until the mid-1940’s when it’s owner and operator Mrs. Welch passed away. The current owner sold the brick veneer that adorned it’s front to an architectural scavenger in the early 1960’s.
    I hope that this information is helpful to you. I believe that it is import to pass on this information and provide the most genuine histcall facts to future generations lest the true history of such treasured placed become muddled in the dust of time.

  33. Howdy,

    Thanks for your old slides of the Soo Line combo station in Outlook, Montana. I found the freight / baggage room rotting away on movers dollies in the middle of a field this year. I was able to match it up to your slides and it’s a perfect match.


  34. Hello, I am curious about the history of Hays MT and who it was named for. My wife and I want to go to Glacier National Park this summer. We have donated to the St. Labre Indian School and plan to visit there. Thank you for your website.

  35. I am working with a rancher outside of Whitehall Montana to photograph the Vendome Loop part of the Milwaukee Road mainline. He was asking me if I could find photos of old stockyards in Whitehall three Forks Piedmont area. Any chance that you have come across any photos like this? I would love to share my photos that I take with you

    • I would love to see those images. I have used the 1930 movie Danger Lights to sow students what that section at the Tunnel looks like.
      Unfortunately I do not have pics of the old Whitehall stockyards. I will double when I get to my home computer (in Omaha now)

  36. I recently took amtrak from Seattle to Chicago, I spent my time looking at our beautiful states from the train, and when the train got through the glacier mountains and farther east the view looking back at the mountains was absolutely beautiful and I had a quick glimpse of a lone tall monument at the edge of the fence by the train track. It must be someone’s ranch, the monument has a beautiful view of the mountains and I’m just trying to find out more about it. I am wondering in your travels if you have ever seen it.

  37. You missed out on some really great views on the Fort Peck Reservation, might be time for a 3rd visit. Make sure to check out the Turtle Mound Buffalo Ranch! Also the Lewis and Clark Park where the Duo spent some time.

  38. I’m asking for your permission to use a few pictures from your Montana communities for my MTGenWeb genealogy sites. I’m most interested in Rosebud and Roosevelt counties at this time, but also would like permission to use others. I will certainly give credit to you.

    • That’s fine. It please give me a bit more info on how many might be “few” and how many counties might you wish to use.

      The standard attribution is:
      Photo by Carroll Van West

    • Hi Suzanne,

      My dad an orphan at the age of eleven in 1915 was put on a train in Indiana going to Poplar in Roosevelt County, Montana. I don’t know if you are interested in pictures from this time and area, but if you are will be happy to email you pictures of him in Poplar in 1915 and his uncle’s homestead. Also branding certificate issued to him at seventeen in 1921, Trader’s State Bank check with Indian emblem face 1925 and J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company order 1925. Have a few pictures pictures of relatives living around the area at the same time. I published his story, “Orphan Boy” by R. J. Milne, Jr.
      Russ Milne

  39. Hi Carrol, I’m writing a young adult fictional novel that takes place inn Lime, MT and was wondering if I could repost some of your photographs that you have taken of Lime on my instagram crediting you as the photographer of course. They are really beautiful.

  40. Thank you for the wealth of such easily accessible information on Montana. I am researching my great-great-uncle John D. Powell who co-owned the Shaw & Powell Transportation Company. They were among the first to take tourists into Yellowstone. I was so thrilled to see the sign pictured on the Livingston Signs post: Yellowstone Park Tours. That must have been where their office was located. Thanks again!

  41. I am trying to find a picture of the schoolhouse from Lloyd MT. My Grandma taught there in 1947. She took the train out from ND, lived with a family and finished out the school year. She is 97 and I’d love to get a picture of the school for her.

  42. Thank you for your work! My grandmother, Clara Cady’s
    family farmed in Elton. They arrived in Mt in 1860s. She taught school at many of the teacherages up the shields, so I stumbled upon this article while envisaging their locations.

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