My Trip to Montana: A Journal by Allan Charles Thurman

Rachel Phillips  |   Saturday Jun. 1st, 2024

In June 1927, 13-year-old Allan Charles Thurman traveled to the Gallatin Valley by train to spend the summer with relatives. Allan was from North Carolina and had never visited Montana before. He stayed with extended family in Belgrade and enjoyed many adventures with his Newbury, Stiefel and Smiley relations. That summer was pure joy for Allan, who, with the help of others, kept a treasured account of his trip.

Allan Thurman during his summer vacation to Montana in 1927. The dog pictured is mentioned in his journal. Photograph courtesy of Jane Thurman.

In 2008, Allan’s daughter Jane Thurman digitized her father’s boyhood writings from his 1927 summer vacation. Allan’s collection included not only journal entries, but photographs and letters to family back home. Other writers assisted Allan in documenting his summer vacation. In her introduction to the collection, Jane wrote; “Although he started the journal, after several entries, he was apparently so overcome with excitement, a female relative took up writing its entries...”

Allan’s documentation of his summer vacation includes not only valuable family history, but insight into childhood activities in 1920s Montana. Here are first person accounts of that treasured summer, along with a few current additions for context.

Allan’s Journal
Raleigh, NC
Monday, June 6, 1927
I am going to take a trip to Montana on June 9th, but I leave here today at 10 o’clock PM to go to Baltimore, MD to pick up my grandmother [Dora Stiefel Blair, “Oma”] and take her with me because I think she will like the trip... Dad bought me three books – Life, Popular Mechanics and a joke book. I got on the train at 10:15 and read some of my books.

Allan’s Letter Home
Belgrade, Montana
June 13, 1927
Dear Mother,
I am having a fine time. I went horseback riding this morning with Frances [Frances Newbury, a cousin]... After I finish this letter, I am going riding with no saddle on the horse, that is great fun. I am going to get one of those 10 gallon hats this afternoon. And Frances is going to lend me her chaps this summer...

Allan’s Letter Home
Belgrade, Montana
June 17, 1927
Dear Dad,
This place is seventh heaven. I have been horseback riding every morning since I have been here. The horse I ride mostly is Nellie. She wasn’t very tame when I got here but every time I went down to the stable I gave her my special attention and now she is very tame. Mr. Newbury [Egbert S. Newbury II] might take a trip to one of the highest mountains on horseback... and if he does, he is going to take Frances and myself. There is a lake up there (so high that nothing can grow up there)... A collie dog has been offered me and if you say the word, I will ship him C.O.D. [Collect on Delivery]. He is half grown, male, very playful, good disposition. Please send me some fishing tackle as I have a chance to go trout fishing every day.

Egbert S. Newbury II, Allan Thurman’s host during his 1927 summer vacation, came to Belgrade in 1898. “Uncle Bert” had learned the ins-and-outs of the dry goods business while living in Michigan. Bert Newbury relocated to Belgrade in 1898 after he accepted a job as clerk at the Belgrade Company, a popular area department store that operated from 1895 until 1933. He was elected mayor of Belgrade in 1923, and later worked for the A.K. Pryor Stores in Mammoth, Yellowstone Park. Bert Newbury married Alma Beerstecher in Belgrade in 1907 and the couple had three children – Dorothy, Egbert III, and Frances.

Group photograph taken during Allan Thurman’s summer trip to Montana, 1927. Front row (l to r): Allan Thurman, Allan Newbury and Frances Newbury. Back row (l to r): three unknown friends, George Manierre, Egbert Newbury III and Alma Beerstecher Newbury. Photograph courtesy of Jane Thurman.

Allan’s Letter Home
Belgrade, Montana
June 19, 1927
Dear Mother,
We went on a picnic today and had a fine time...Oma [Dora Stiefel Blair, Allan’s grandmother] wrote you a letter from that beautiful hotel in the afternoon and that night they gave away refreshments, so that drew all the hicks from far and near but after that night $1,000 worth of damage had been done, silver had been stolen, even rugs were stolen, and combs, and brushes had been stolen, the garden and lawn that they just planted were ruined...

The hotel referenced here is the Gallatin Gateway Inn, which held its grand opening on June 17, 1927. The impressive structure was built by the Milwaukee Railroad for use by visitors coming to and from Yellowstone Park. Newspaper reports agreed with Allan’s assessment of events and remarked about the large crowd in attendance at the opening. On June 24, the Bozeman Courier reported “scores of over-enthusiastic visitors took advantage of the hospitality offered to obtain souvenirs, carrying away silverware and dishes and whatever other small objects that came handy... during the crush considerable damage was done to rugs, furniture and fixtures. The total loss, it is reported, will run well over $1,500.”

Allan’s Journal
[entry by someone else, possibly Oma]
June 21st, 27 – Belgrade
We, Allan and I, are here in Belgrade just ten days, and in all that time he has not been able to settle down long enough to write in his diary. Everybody is very good to him and helping to make his visit most entertaining. He rides horseback every morning with Frances and has prospects of camping up on one of the highest peaks around Belgrade... He has often been to Bozeman and on two occasions gone to the Hot Springs [Bozeman Hot Springs] there and taken a lovely plunge. He attended the opening of the West Gallatin entrance to Yellowstone Park at Salesville – the yellow buses start from there for the park... He has prospects of going through Yellowstone Park, which will be a wonderful opportunity. This entire trip will be one he will never forget and one which he will always remember with great pleasure.

Allan’s Letter Home
Dear Mother,
I took my trip [camping on a high peak near Belgrade] and had a fine time. On the way up we got lost in the forest and trees were so thick we had to chop our way through... And when we came to two roads Egbert [Egbert S. Newbury III, a cousin] went on one to see if it was alright and the rest of us went on the other one; and in five minutes Egbert did not show up. Frances boo-hooed and said “Egbert” 50,000 times...

Fairy Lake is bottomless. Dorothea [Dorothea A. Smiley, a cousin] said it was an old crater of a geyser and Frances said, “Do you think it will erupt?” and she was awful worried. When night came, Frances said, “Let’s all sleep together.”

We tied some of the horses and hobbled the rest. When you hobble a horse, you tie his front legs and he has to hop around. But he won’t leave the rest unless the horse he was raised with goes too. Three horses got away and we had to round them up again.

Allan’s Letter Home
Dear Dad,
I have taken a lot of new pictures of everything imaginable. The photographer here keeps a museum, too. He has fossils and three-toed horses’ feet from the miosene [Miocene] age (he is going to give me some) and arrow heads (I have got some) and guns and pistols. Glory, but that man knows everything and has everything and tells everything to Allan N. [Allan Newbury, a cousin] and myself.

The photographer Allan mentions in his letter is Belgrade resident Charles A. Kinsey. Kinsey was born in South Dakota in 1874 and came to the Gallatin Valley in 1908. Besides operating a photography shop, Kinsey was a collector and gathered, according to his obituary in the Bozeman Courier, “a great assortment of items of historical and geological interest to this vicinity.” Charles Kinsey passed away in January 1949. His collection of fossils, rocks, historical objects and firearms, known as the Kinsey Collection, was soon after acquired by the Bozeman Rock Club (today known as the Bozeman Gem and Mineral Club).

Allan Thurman and Allan Newbury dressed to ride, summer 1927. Photograph courtesy of Jane Thurman.

Allan’s Journal
[entries by someone else, possibly Oma]
June 24
I am afraid that Allan will not keep his diary accurately to keep it interesting, so will not remind him anymore but will just jot down his enjoyment and occupations while in Belgrade. On Wednesday Uncle Ed [Edward A. Stiefel] took him up to Helena. The weather was ideal and the scenery very interesting. He made memorandum of everything of interest he saw on his trip up. While there he went out to the Broadwater Plunge which is the largest natural hot water swimming pool in the U.S. He had a lovely time diving and swimming. Before going home, Uncle Ed showed him all the places of interest, including the Capitol.

The “Broadwater Plunge” refers to the famous Broadwater Hotel and Natatorium in Helena, which opened in 1889 at the site of natural hot springs. It was a popular swimming destination until earthquake damage in 1935 marked the beginning of the end of the resort, which eventually closed in 1941.

Edward A. Stiefel was born in 1867 in Baltimore, Maryland. He settled first in Helena, Montana in the mid-1890s where he worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Stiefel relocated to Belgrade in 1900 and worked as a manager of the Belgrade Company. A successful entrepreneur, Stiefel also invested in Gallatin Valley real estate and farmland and was involved with the Farmer’s Bank of Belgrade and Bozeman’s Chamber of Commerce. “Uncle Ed” also participated in selecting the site for the new airport at Belgrade in 1927 and served in the Montana State House of Representatives in 1933-1934.

July 4
This was to be a big picnic day, but the
weather was not for it – it rained pretty much all day and everybody that had a home stayed in it. Allan has quite a crush on Mr. Kinsey, the man that develops his camera pictures. He has promised to take Allan up the Gallatin [Gallatin Canyon] the next time he goes and he can get specimens of petrified wood...

July 15
Weather cold and raining – has been storming
all night – the boys are very much worried that the rain will not stop, which will check their trip to Fairy Lake. The horses are all shod and ready and the excitement at the Newbury home is great...

July 18
Allan had a wonderful time [at Fairy Lake] –
his experiences will be remembered all his life. They rode to the foothills in the auto and there met their horses. Each had a horse, and one was packed with all the provisions and blankets, etc. They left at eight o’clock a.m. and arrived at their destination at 7 p.m. On their way they lost the trail and had to fight their way through the timber, which nearly tore the clothes off their back.

Allan’s raincoat was torn into shreds and his heavy dark sweater was lost entirely. At mid-day they stopped for lunch and when they arrived at the top of the mountains they built a big fire, cooked their dinner, and enjoyed the rest – none of them slept any too good owing to hard ground and many mosquitoes. In the morning they all amused themselves taking photos climbing Mt. Sacagawea. They did not arrive home until late Sunday evening not much worse for wear... Mt. Sacagawea is 8,000 feet above sea level while Belgrade is 4,500 feet.

July 20
Went on a long trip up the mountains to Wilsall where Uncle Ed has a ranch. Left early and rode all day, stopped at the fish hatchery and had a very interesting talk with the man in charge. They went through Bridger Canyon and had a very interesting day.

July 27
Well! The Yellowstone Park trip is over and it was all that Allan expected and then some – he enjoyed every minute of his stay. We went through in Mr. Newbury’s new Studebaker... We stopped at the tourist camps and ate at the different hotels. Saw the two largest geysers play – the Giant and Old Faithful. Weather was fine and we went through without a mishap. Bought a set of 50 postal cards which will help freshen his [Allan’s] memory in after years.

July 30
Tomorrow Mr. Kinsey is going to take the two Allans [Allan Thurman and Allan Newbury] out to find fossils and curios if they are successful. We have only two more Sundays before we start for home. This has been a wonderful summer.

Allan spent his last two weeks in Montana horseback riding, enjoying the movie theater, and attending vaudeville shows in Bozeman. He boarded the train for home on August 14 and stopped in Cody, Wyoming, and Pike’s Peak in Colorado. As predicted, the summer of 1927 stuck with Allan Thurman the rest of his life.

As Jane described in her introduction to his journal, “Montana was an amazing journey of boyhood wonders for my father. He collected artifacts, camped outdoors, and learned to ride a horse. He took photos and kept them and the journal until his death... I realized Dad’s trip to Montana was paradise for him.”

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