By Al Knauber Independent Record
TOWNSEND, Mont. (AP) – The Missouri River, high and muddy, rolls just outside of John Stoner’s home near town as he talks about history.
This isn’t just any history but that of his home for these past 32 years that interests him and enough so that he’s been a member of the board for the local museum for nearly half of those years.
The museum belongs to the Broadwater County Historical Society as do its contents that come from local families and relatives. Museum officials estimate their collection of artifacts at 10,000. This year’s exhibits include one of Radersburg, Stoner said, that is celebrating its 150th year.
Stoner, 86, and other of the museum’s board members are there to help, and this includes lending a hand with displays and other duties as needed. Building repairs are contracted out and the county’s maintenance staff handles the minor work, he said.
The museum is open from mid-May to mid-September, closed July 4, and sees visitors from across the nation and others who are visiting the United States. Some seek out small museums. Others hear about them from visitors who stopped in. Still others find them by chance.
People in Townsend appreciate that local history is available at the museum although others, like any place, Stoner noted, have never stopped in.
“I think that they would all agree, most of them will agree certainly, that it’s definitely a benefit.”
“The museum is just not a storage house for a bunch of stuff,” Stoner said. “It’s more than that. We’ve got a lot of neat stuff to look at but really our big focus is on our research end of it.”
A vast amount of information helps families with research, he said and explained that the museum encourages people to bring in old family photos for either copying or donation of the originals.
Those photographs where people and events are identified are truly cherished by the museum, Stoner added.
When the Lewis and Clark Expedition passed through here in 1805, William Clark was on the west side of the Missouri River. Stoner said he likes to imagine that Clark walked through the area where his house now stands.
The 16-foot dugout canoe in the museum, a half scale of those used by the famed explorers, is the product of a winter’s labor by him and another man who worked on it with historic tools as time allowed.
Stoner is originally from San Diego but came to appreciate Montana from his summer visits to his grandparents’ ranch, Grandview, to see his grandmother. His grandparents homesteaded in Toole County in about 1910. Montana became his home in 1956.
Stoner moved to Broadwater County from Lothair on the Hi-Line, west of Chester, to take a job as a deputy sheriff after having been a Liberty County deputy sheriff for about 10 years. He also farmed there. His wife at that time, Barbara, who is deceased, ran the post office at Toston after having handled that duty in Lothair.
After a year as a Broadwater County deputy, he worked at a sawmill before joining the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks where he worked at Canyon Ferry for the parks department, he said. He retired in 1994.
“I just always have been interested in history wherever I lived,” he said. “I’ve been a collector of artifacts.”
An old wooden prop from a biplane adorns a living room wall in his home, and a couple of old pots sit on a shelf. Rocks that he’s collected over the years, including marble from a local quarry, decorate a table.
He has also been collecting facts about local events that might otherwise go unnoticed and assembling them into narratives of the past.
“I just got interested in all kinds of things,” he said.
Few might ever recall of plans for a railroad to Radersburg that never materialized and the 13-mile long flume that brought water to the placer mining districts of Indian Creek, were it not for his manuscripts.
“I want to record the history so people in the future can understand what was here, how it developed,” Stoner said of the roughly two dozen manuscripts he’s assembled from newspapers published in the county over the years and census data.
“It’s just collecting history that a lot of people don’t know.”
A fun thing to do, he calls it.
“It’s just my desire to leave as much recorded history, in either in actual artifacts or written history for people in the future, to pick up and have to enjoy and to learn what it was like.
“It doesn’t have to be something that’s 12,000 years old like some of our Indian artifacts … the time doesn’t have to be all that important. It’s just to record what has happened. Hopefully somewhere along the line someone will be interested enough to check out one of my manuscripts and be able to do something.”
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