By Trudie Porter Biggers
Armed with my MacBook Pro laptop computer and a generous grant from the Montana History Foundation, I set out in April, 2016 to interview folks whose parents or grandparents originally homesteaded on the Huntley Irrigation Project.
With a list of questions and a deep respect for those more chronologically gifted than myself, I first visited the home of 96-year-old Tom Tennyson and began digitally recording Mr. Tennyson’s memories. Tom’s father, John Henry Tennyson, was the blacksmith who shod the horses of the engineers, surveyors and workers as they labored to build the Huntley Irrigation canal. Work commenced in 1905 and the main canal was completed in late June, 1907. John Henry Tennyson later married and homesteaded his own parcel of land on the project close to other families who had immigrated from Sweden. He also became the first Deputy Sheriff of the Huntley Project.
Throughout the summer and autumn of 2016 I had the great privilege of interviewing fourteen amazing people who descended from the first families on the project. As well as sharing their stories, they also entrusted me with priceless heirloom family portraits which I uploaded and digitized.
Many of the Oral Histories participant’s families were known as, ‘Volga Germans from Russia’. As I listened to their stories, a fascination to know more about the history of this group of immigrants took root in my heart. Today I know a great deal more about their journeys than I did eighteen months ago, but not nearly as much as I would like. Participant families were not only from Russia, but from Germany, Sweden, Holland, Mexico, the British Isles and many other countries.
The Huntley Irrigation Project Oral Histories include recorded memories from the following; Katherine Davidson Anderson, Barbara Banderob, Margaret Oxenreider Caster, Mary Eunice Sanborn Cummins, Milburn F. Fark, Jr., Ruth Ann Chesterman Farnes, Bill Kraske, Ron Ohlin, Phyllis Sherman Rapp, Dorwin Schreuder, Tom Tennyson, Lydia Oblander Walters, Ed Weidinger and Phyllis Reiter Weidinger. An excellent history of the Huntley Valley prior to and following the completion of the Project was also recorded from Ken Kephart, superintendent of the Southern Agricultural Research Center.
With the help of Dave Shearer at the Billings City Library, these recordings were then uploaded to the Montana Memory Project website at montanamemory.org. These audio histories are free to the public by visiting the website listed above. By late Autumn 2017, I will also have over two hundred fifty vintage photographs uploaded to the same site.
Generations yet to be born will listen to these recordings and hear the stories and experiences of people whose voices will soon be gone. Please join me in hearing their incredible stories of ingenuity, faith, perseverance and ultimately, success.
For more information about the Huntley Irrigation Project Oral Histories, contact oral historian Trudie Porter Biggers at firstname.lastname@example.org or go directly to montanamemory.org.