Historians seeks to capture and preserve 100-year farm heritage

Historians in the News

BILLINGS, Mont. — For 100 years Henry Armstrong's family has farmed the same patch of central Montana land, hanging on through the Depression, low wheat prices and the ever-present risk that the next generation would move on.

Armstrong, 82, lives in the same house near Geraldine that his grandfather built and lived in as a homesteader. It's a little bigger now, but lonelier since his wife, Norma, died about six years ago.

"As long as I live, I've got rights to live here," he said. "The one thing about this that I've been especially proud of is we were able to make it these 100 years on relatively small acreage."

Historians say tales like Armstrong's are becoming increasingly rare...

... But in a bid to capture and preserve a slice of the state's past, the Montana Historical Society has started a drive to identify families that have farmed or ranched the same land for a century or more.

The Centennial Farm and Ranch Program was created under a bill passed by the 2009 Legislature. The intent is to honor Montana's heritage while compiling family histories to be archived and eventually compiled for the society's Web site.

Ellen Baumler, an interpretive historian who is helping lead the effort, said it's unknown how many of the state's farms and ranches fit the bill.

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