Local historian Nancy Watts recognized for contributions to history of Montana

Lewistown historian Nancy Watts, recipient of a Heritage Keeper Award, reviews a historic photo in the Montana Memory Project collection.
Photo courtesy of Lewistown Public Library

The Montana Historical Society honored Nancy Watts of Lewistown, Alfred Wiseman of Choteau, and Evan Barrett of Butte for their outstanding contributions to Montana history and heritage.
“Our 15-member Board of Trustees… takes great honor in recognizing the important contributions of these three outstanding Montanans. The history of Montana has been enriched by their efforts and dedication to telling the stories of our great state,” MHS Board President Bob Brown said.
Watts and Wiseman were named 2016 recipients of Trustees Heritage Keeper Awards, and Barrett the special Heritage Guardian Award.

Watts recognized for work
on Central Montana history
Nancy Watts has made accessible and helped collect the history of Lewistown and its environs to the public for 23 years as reference librarian for the Lewistown Public Library, Community Preservation Officer, local historian, and volunteer at the Central Montana Historical Museum.
Born in Pennsylvania, Watts became fascinated with local history when asked to proof read a local history book, “The History of Lewistown.” She began to collect and index local history material, tied it into a strong collection on all Montana history, and helping with local history publications and displays.
She led a team of local historians and archivists in creating two significant online collections on Central Montana history. She was an early and outspoken advocate for the Montana Memory Project, a statewide computer digitization project sponsored by the Montana State Library and MHS.
Her work in helping history organizations use modern technology to provide access to research materials has been widely recognized across the state.
“We are delighted to add our voice to the chorus of those celebrating [Nancy’s] tremendous contributions, preserving and sharing the history of her adopted home,” the Trustees wrote.

Wiseman honored for
work with Metis history
Wiseman was born in Choteau in 1936 and has spent much of his life preserving and sharing the history of the Metis in Montana he learned from the stories of his mother, uncles and other elders of the tribe.
As founder of Metis Cultural Recovery Inc., Wiseman has gathered more than 30 oral histories with Metis elders that are part of the MHS Archives and Old Trail Museum in Choteau collections. Historians, historic preservationists and other scholars have praised Wiseman for his help in understanding the history of the Metis.
In 1996 Wiseman was on the steering committee for a three-day conference on Metis history held in Great Falls. He has mapped historic trails used by Metis like the Old North Trail and preserved historic Metis cultural sites.
“Choteau – and all of Montana – continue to benefit immeasurably from the work of Al Wiseman, whose ongoing efforts and intellectual generosity make him the epitome of a ‘heritage keeper,’” the Trustees wrote in awarding the honor.

Documentary on change
leads to Barrett award
The Heritage Keepers Awards are presented annually. Evan Barrett received the Heritage Guardian Award presented occasionally under special circumstances for a unique contribution – last presented in 2011.
Barrett was closely involved in major events in Montana from 1965 to 1980, a period University of Montana Professor Emeritus Harry Fritz has called the second most important time period in Montana history.
It includes events like the growth of the environmental movement, the death of the Anaconda Company, the crafting of a new state Constitution, the rise of feminism and the reorganization of Montana’s executive branch of government.
Determined to preserve the history of this pivotal time while those who lived it were still alive, Barrett while working at Highlands College of Montana Tech, created the documentary series, “In the Crucible of Change: Montana’s Dramatic Period of Progressive Change, 1965-1980.”
The series has aired more than 1,000 times on PBS and cable channels across Montana, and is available via internet as transcripts and video. It features 43, hour-length discussions with more than 75 of the period’s history makers, including former members of the 1972 Constitutional Convention, politicians, reporters and judges.
Barrett’s personal political and governmental experience during the period gave him unique access to key historical participants and armed him with the questions that needed to be asked.
“With this award, we express our gratitude to Evan Barrett for illuminating this important period of history, preserving the voices and memories of its participants for future generations,” the Trustees wrote in making the award.
MHS Development Officer Susan Near said Montana is fortunate to have so many people involved in saving its history and heritage.
“The award recipients this year provide the best examples of individual initiative – all have made a significant contribution in preserving and presenting Montana’s heritage,” she said.
The awards will be presented at the 43rd annual MHS Montana History Conference, Sept. 22 - 24 in Hamilton. Information on the conference, to be held in conjunction with the 175th Anniversary of the founding of St. Mary’s Mission in Stevensville, is available at www.montanahistoricalsociety.org.

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