Montanans and the American Revolution

By John Rice, MTSSAR, Don Reed, MTSSAR, and Kerry O’Connell, Montana Historian Magazine

Wreaths Across America took place in December of 2019 in the Capital Rotunda. Those in attendance were (from left to right) Don Reed (MTSSAR), Keith Kramlick (MTSSAR), Brigadier General Jeffrey Ireland, Jane Hammond (MTSDAR), Warren Dupuis (MTSSAR), and Doug Fraser (MTSSAR). (Photo courtesy of Shirley Herrin)

One of the joys for us at Montana Historian Magazine, is the connections that we make. Connections with those who know history, appreciate history, share history, and research history. We’ve written before about the threads of stories that are woven into Montana’s rich heritage. Many Civil War veterans have stamped their legacy in our stories of vigilantes that helped form the state that we call home.

But what of the American Revolution? Our fight for independence from the British goes back so far in our Nation’s history, it surely had little relevance by the time Montana became a territory. Yet it is because the Revolution formed the foundation of our country, that a group of people make it their mission to help us remember. Remember how far we’ve come. Remember our forefathers. Remember how they lived, and how they fought for independence.

The Montana Society of the Sons of the Revolution (MTSSAR) celebrated its 125th Anniversary in 2019. Founded in Helena in 1894, it is a non-political, patriotic, charitable, historical society. One of MTSSAR’s objectives is to remember our past by honoring ancestors who served or assisted the American colonies during the Revolutionary War. 

Members of MTSSAR (and their “sister” organization, Montana Society of the Daughters of the Revolution) can all trace their lineage back to the Revolution. Its members’ lineages are available to everyone on the National Society SAR website (www.sar.org). Current members are able to support local citizens through research and workshops in genealogical procedures and in discovering their lineages and historical connections.  Montana’s Sons of the American Revolution have multiple direct blood-line patriots with 75 being the SAR record.

At its heart, MTSSAR is about community and education. Members sponsor local SAR contests and awards for youth programs such as the Eagle Scout Award Contest, the George & Stella Knight Essay Contest, and oration and poster competitions.  They foster better understanding of U.S. history by historical presentations in local schools and historical re-enactments such as the ones at Fort Missoula.

Don Reed of the Guardian Chapter designed a float depicting a Revolutionary War Encampment. The float was used in several patriotic parades around Montana in 2020. In this picture are Guardian Chapter members (L-R) Keith Kramlick, Don Reed, Warren Dupuis and Sourdough Chapter member Rodney Wheeler. (Photo courtesy of Gale Kramlick)

This year members built two floats to be used in patriotic parades. The Encampment Float pictured above featured several historically accurate displays.

The wedge tent was in use from the French and Indian War, American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican War, and American Civil War. Canvas wedge tents were the most popular tent design in America from 1755 through the 1860s. This 7’ x 7’ x 7’ tent would have provided shelter for three enlisted rank soldiers.

The Encampment Float pictured at the Big Timber Rodeo Parade with (L to R) John Rice, Rodney Wheeler, Keith Kramlick, Don Reed, and John Robinson. (Photo courtesy of Gale Kramlick)

Also on display on the Encampment float were a Betsy Ross pattern garrison flag and guidon both consisting of the Valley Forge Heritage series, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  The Betsy Ross flag was an early design of the flag of the United States, named for early American upholsterer and flag maker Betsy Ross.

Several tools used during the Revolutionary time period were included on this educational float. The two-man saw was in common usage in 17th century thru 19th Century America. An iron tripod was used to suspend the ever popular cast iron Dutch oven.  Speaking of which, the patent for the cast iron Dutch oven was obtained in 1707 by Welshman, James Thomas. And of course the tripod with Dutch oven wouldn’t be complete without a period correct, tomahawk with a hand-forged head to chop kindling for the cook fire. 

The Encampment Float displays were rounded out by the inclusion of two more items from the Revolutionary era., The antique English saddle equipped with Bear Hide covered pommel holsters, period correct saddle bags, saber, and the Betsy Ross Guidon Flag, would accommodate the Dragoons and Dispatch riders of the time. The focal point of the float had to be the wonderful replica of an English six pounder cannon, provided by Bob Gunderson. This cannon took up the entire rear half of the float and garnered many questions and appreciative glances from onlookers.

Sourdough Chapter Compatriot Pete Oakander designed and built a replica of the newly commissioned USS Montana nuclear powered attack submarine. Compatriot Oakander made a to-scale cut out of the submarine and mounted it on a trailer in honor of the newly commissioned sub. The tea service (displayed at the right of the photo above) was donated by the Montana Society – Daughters of the American Revolution, who also offered a monetary donation to the USS Montana Committee who has been promoting the submarine. (Photo courtesy of Gale Kramlick)
The USS Montana Float at the Big Timber Rodeo Parade with (L to R) Gale Kramlick and Janice Hand of the Montana Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (MTSDAR). (Photo courtesy of John Rice)
In the 2020 Big Timber Rodeo Parade, with Gale Kramlick (left) and Lori Dupuis. (Photo courtesy of Barbara Kerr)

The Society has a myriad of activities every year and these floats which took part in two parades this year are only a small part. In addition to what has already been mentioned, Society members place SAR patriot grave markers and registers patriot burial sites nation-wide; helps erect and preserve markers and flags for battlefields and other American historical sites, such as the Three Rivers State Park and the Liberty Bell replica at the Capital in Helena; provides displays for the Montana Historical Society Museum, and participates in ceremonies at the Capital.

The MTSSAR honors future, current, and past American military members by presenting awards to outstanding ROTC candidates at Montana State University and the University of Montana, contributing to veteran’s memorials such as the Korean War Memorial in Missoula, posting flags on local veterans’ graves, encouraging support to veteran’s hospitals, and honoring local veterans for their service through programs such as Wounded Warriors and Quiet Waters.  It also honors local outstanding first responders.

Its Color Guard in colonial uniforms encourages patriot respect for the American flag by participating in local parades, promoting Flag Day, presenting awards for flying the flag, and promoting a large American flag display, created by former Sourdough Chapter member, Ted Williams.

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The SAR presently has 550 chapters and over 37,000 members nationwide.  The MTSSAR, working to preserve our ancestors’ and our Nation’s heritage and the principles of freedom and liberty for all, currently has 110 members state-wide.  After a lull in activity in 1970 it was re-chartered in 1972 along with the establishment of the Sourdough Chapter in Bozeman (Montana Historian’s home base).  The MTSSAR currently has six chapters, in Helena, Missoula, Butte, Great Falls, Kalispell, and Bozeman.  Bozeman’s Sourdough Chapter with its 25 members, works closely with the Montana Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution and its local Mount Hyalite Chapter.

Any male who is a lineal descendant of an ancestor, who supported the American Independence, can become a member in the SAR and MTSSAR members are available to assist potential new members in the application process.  In addition to the NSSAR web site, additional state and chapter information can be found on the MTSSAR web site (https://www.mtsar.org/state) or by contacting MTSSAR Secretary John Rice at jwrice46@gmail.com.

What about if you’re a daughter of the American Revolution? You can find them on the web at http://www.montanadar.org/ or you can contact the The Montana State Society DAR Registrar, Barb Stem through her email: montanacities@yahoo.com. Barb can help you find the Montana DAR chapter nearest you.

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