This workshop is sponsored by the Montana Historical Society and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture: Workshops for Schoolteachers. Highlights of “The Richest Hills” include an exploration of five of the Treasure State’s most colorful and historically significant communities:

Bannack. Nestled along the banks of Grasshopper Creek, Bannack was the site of Montana’s first major gold strike. Now a state park Download
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and a National Historic Landmark, the territory’s first capital epitomizes the “boom and bust” pattern typical of so many western gold camps that lived fast and died quickly.

Virginia City. The best-preserved gold rush town in the American West, Virginia City is a National Historic Landmark that has been compared in importance to Colonial Williamsburg for its power to evoke the mining frontier. Located among the once-gold-laden hills of Alder Gulch, the numerous well-preserved, gold-rush era, false-front buildings provide an excellent classroom in which to explore the 1860s gold rush.

The seven stacks of the Neversweat Mine, the Original Mine yard, and the tailings from the Alice Mine. (Photo courtesy of MHS)

Helena. Home to the fourth largest gold strike in the United States, “Last Chance Gulch” grew from a miner’s camp into an important political and banking center, noted for the stately business blocks and elegant mansions that still characterize the “Queen City of the Rockies.” In addition to hands-on exercises in interpreting this remarkable architectural legacy, NEH Summer Scholars will spend time analyzing historic photographs from the Montana Historical Society’s extensive collection of images.

Butte. Copper deposits were discovered just at the moment the United States needed the red metal to electrify the country, quickly cementing Butte's reputation as “the Richest Hill on Earth.” Once the most celebrated and lively cosmopolitan center between Minneapolis and Seattle, this one-of-a-kind mining town is now part of the largest National Historic Landmark in the United States. In addition to other aspects of the mining story, Butte owes much its landmark status to its association with labor history and was often called “the Gibraltar of Unionism.”

Anaconda. In 1902, the Anaconda Copper Mining Company constructed the Washoe Smelter, twenty-six miles west of Butte. At the time the smelter was the largest non-ferrous metallurgical plant in the world, and Anaconda became one of the largest towns controlled by a single corporation. Also part of the Butte-Anaconda National Historic Landmark, this planned company town provides an interesting comparison to Butte’s more organic development.


Using Montana as a case study, “The Richest Hills: Mining in the Far West, 1862–1920,” will bring NEH Summer Scholars to five distinctive mining communities: Bannack, Virginia City, Helena, Butte, and Anaconda. All five communities retain a rich historic fabric, with many buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Bannack, Virginia City, Helena, Butte, and Anaconda have been recognized as National Historic Landmarks for the exceptional value they possess in illustrating and interpreting the heritage of the United States.

In addition, NEH Summer Scholars will gain new tools to analyze and understand primary sources, particularly photographs, maps, and historic buildings. Tips for teaching with historic places and incorporating primary sources into the classroom will help NEH Summer Scholars transfer what they learn to their own classrooms.

Helm was one of the outlaws invited to a necktie party by the Virginia City vigilantes. (Photo courtesy of Corinne Colman)

The six-day workshop blends lectures, tours, and hands-on learning activities. NEH Summer Scholars will be provided with a collection of readings that they will finish before the workshop starts, as well as a large number of optional readings, which they can refer to as they create their final project or use later for reference. Although the workshop days are busy and long, the activities allow for extensive interaction with the faculty, time to work with primary documents, and numerous opportunities to experience the West as a place.

A focus on using and interpreting primary sources will be maintained throughout—with an emphasis on the idea that buildings, cemeteries, head frames, and other traces on the land can be among the most intriguing primary sources of all. To fully participate in the experience, NEH Summer Scholars will need sturdy shoes and a spirit of adventure. The altitude in the communities we will be visiting ranges between 4,000 and 6,500 feet and walking over uneven terrain is central to the experience. Weather extremes are possible any time of year—plan for sunshine but don’t be surprised by snow.

academic resources

NEH Summer Scholars will be provided with books and PDFs of relevant articles (mailed to participants ahead of time), samples of primary sources, and templates for lesson plans. Scholars are highly encouraged to bring laptops as computer facilities will not generally be available. Scholars will also find digital cameras of use. Because of the rural nature of this workshop, there will be periods during which scholars will not have access to the internet or cell phone service.


NEH Summer Scholars will be required to complete a self-evaluation and a lesson plan that uses primary sources (either photographs, maps, buildings, or documents) to explore place and its relationship to a historical theme. The lesson plan can either adapt workshop strategies to an NEH Scholar’s own locale or employ the workshop's specifically western materials. There will not be much time to work on the lesson plan during the workshop, so Scholars should schedule time after their return home to complete the lesson, which needs to be submitted electronically within two weeks of the workshop’s conclusion. Although all faculty members have extensive experience in curriculum development, the project’s curriculum specialist, Cheryl Hughes, will be on hand throughout the workshop to discuss ideas with NEH Summer Scholars about developing their lesson plans or adapting workshop approaches to their own settings. The best projects submitted by NEH Summer Scholars attending this workshop will ultimately be added in the projects sections of the website and to the catalog of best projects at the Richest Hills Digital Edition. Scholars will also find examples of the best projects from Richest Hills 2011 and 2013 at the “Best Projects” on the Richest Hills Digital Edition.