I grew up in Helena and for many years lived on Breckenridge Street by the Capitol, so this room was a cool spot to kill some time. Sadly, I think I was one of the few that ever visited, and I don’t think it gets many visitors today. It’s a shame, because it costs nothing to head up to the third floor of the Veterans’ and Pioneers’ Building to see it.
“Various flags and symbols of the Lewis and Clark Expedition were added to the area by the veterans of Montana under the direction of Mr. Chet Shore. Shore also finished the Trophy Room on the third floor furnishing it with many donations of Montana veterans of all the Wars.”
On January 21, 1962, the Helena Independent Record had a story called “Nutter Dedicates Military Room in State Museum.” An image of him was shown looking at some of the glass cases in the room, perhaps as he thought back on his own time piloting a B-24 bomber during the war. He flew 62 missions in all, putting in more than 500 hours, including thirteen months in the China-Burma-India Theater.
The Sydney Herald had a good story on Governor Nutter in June 2014, about who he was as a person. It’s worth checking out, or you can just wait until my sixth volume of Montana history comes out next year. Until then, let’s take a look at what I like to call “the coolest room in Montana.”
I really hope this post gets viewed and shared a lot, because more people need to see these weapons. More than that, they need to think about war and whether we should build a bigger room. After all, this one’s full, and it looks like war’s coming to the world yet again.
Montana’s Iraq War Weapons
In front of it is a small case, which looks like this:
- Bank Note, 10 Dinar, Iraq;
- Rocket Powered Grenade Launcher, RPG 7-B mfg, China;
- AKM 7.62 x 39mm Romanian mfg;
- US Army Manual;
- Propaganda leaflets, US;
- Field radio, Iraq, Russian mfg;
- Surrender Leaflet, safe passage;
- Soldiers Guide to Saudi Arabia;
- Saudi Bank Notes;
- Kuwaiti Flag;
- Sumer Cigarettes, Iraq.
The items were loaned by Captain Mark Welker and the 159th USAR of Helena.
Montana WWII Weapons and Stories
There are lots of swords and knives as well, many captured from the Japanese in the Philippines.
The bottom image has lots of items, including a white practice hand grenade, a compass & pocket knife, a large homemade knife that some concerned family members sent to a Montana boy overseas, and shrapnel from a Japanese kamikaze pilot. The photo is of course of the Japanese surrender in 1945, with some handwritten notes and signatures at the bottom. History rarely feels so alive.
Montana Civil War Weapons and Stories
Also in the room is a Union Army buckle that Chester K. Shore donated, though I’m not sure if that’s the person who wore it. If you were to go through the records of these veterans organizations, you might be able to learn that. Sadly, there’s no space for those except at Fort Harrison, and few Montanans head out there.
Finishing out the Montana Civil War collection is a rifle bayonet that was donated by Helena’s Edward Cowan. It’s clear from the collection that much of the material represents the North.
Montana World War I Weapons and Stories
In the back of the room there are some cool items from WWI that Montana men were able to get back to the state.
Colonel John “Gatling Gun” Parker commanded the regiment, though he was wounded early in the fight. The cane was given to him by Burg while he was recovering, and the men of the regiment carved “Powder River, Let ‘er buck” into the cane.
The 362nd was made up mostly of Montana men and they had more men killed and wounded, took more prisoners, seized more enemy war material, and spent more time in the fight than any others, says the plaque in the trophy room.
The bottommost cane was the following paper with it:
Memorial French Cane
Presented to the American Legion Department of Montana
This cane is herewith presented to all my American comrades of 1918. It was made from a holly tree taken from the forest of Saint Aignan, Loir et Cher: where the men of the 41st Division were stationed. We will never forget you and God bless you for your service to my beloved country.
Coulfy, Loir et Cher,
Montana Korean War Weapons and Stories
The latter was Charles L. Sewell, who was killed in action. Some items of his include the pack of cigarettes there, as well as the pocket watch and the western union telegram telling his parents of his death. There are also some items from his brother, Russell L. Sewell. The Helena family donated them to the trophy room.
Montana Vietnam Weapons and Stories
Well…they don’t. These aren’t from the Indian Wars, they’re from Vietnam. The caption on the larger set of bow and arrows reads “On Loan From: Dennis R. Larson. From Cambodia – Captured in 1969.”
The caption on that pinkish-orange piece of paper reads “Montagnard Crossbow & Arrows. These furnish silent death by a tribe fighting for the South Vietnamese. On Loan by Frank O. Vavrin.”
Something else that’s real cool is this kit here:
The items are listed on a separate sheet and include:
- 1 Waterproof Bag
- 1 Signal Mirror
- 1 Flexible Saw
- 1 Flare Gun, w 2 White Flares
- 1 pkg Kling Gauze
- 1 Adhesive Plaster
- 6 Bandages, Absorbent, Adhesive
- 1 pkg Bouillon Cubes
- 1 Water Purification Tablets, Iodine
- 1 Betadine Solution
- 20 Salt Tablets
- 8 Spesin-PS Tablets
- 12 Tetracycline Tablets
- 10 Fungicidal Ointment Unettes
- 1 Insect Repellant
- 1 Tube Bacitracin Opthalmic Ointment
It’s unfortunate that so few know about Montana’s contributions to the Vietnam War. I’ve thought about it a lot, because the first school I ever went to was named after Jim Darcy, a helicopter pilot that was shot down in 1967. It was made sure that we knew why the school was named what it was, at least in the mid- to late-80s.
I’m not sure it’s spoken of as much today, but one place to learn about Montana and Vietnam as in the Nutter-Shore Memorial Trophy Room in the Montana Historical Society. Hopefully more people learn it’s there.
The Future of the Trophy Room
- The 163rd Infantry Regiment;
- The American Legion;
- Disabled American Veterans;
- Veterans of Foreign Wars.
That year the Montana Board of Education requested $18,008 for a military package to accommodate that move, as well as $17,200 in 2003. This also assisted with the “appropriate handling, disposition, exhibit, or move of the artifacts and interpretive materials now located in the” trophy room. It was also revealed that “these veterans’ organizations hold extensive records on Montana veterans and have asked” the Montana Historical Society “to assume responsibility for them.”
I hope more people visit this room, and I hope these weapons and the stories behind them can be displayed more prominently. Children especially should see these, both for the thrill and to learn something. Having a revolving display that shuttles around the state’s schools would be one way to accomplish this, and perhaps some thought should be put into that.
Until then, the trophy room sits, empty most days, but with the lights on. It’s there, waiting for you.