Tag Archives: history

Dr. Indiana Sietsema Uncovers Fascinating Local Relics Under His House (My wife picked the title while editing 😀)

Reprinted with generous permission from the Big Sandy Mountaineer. If you enjoy this article, support our work by picking up a copy of the paper or (even better) subscribing to our hometown periodical. Check us out at https://www.bigsandymountaineer.com

Last week, I found a treasure trove of Big Sandy history artifacts while doing some work on my house. What started out as a cold weather attempt to protect my plumbing and insulate our 3- seasons porch rapidly turned into an adventure in local history.

For background, I need to explain that my family bought a house in town last year that many locals know either as the Brumwell or the Faber house. Before it was either of those, it was the Shamrock Hotel. In the early days of our town’s existence, the Shamrock was built.

The Shamrock Hotel circa 1911

The deed says it was in 1911, but my wife has found photos in the museum labeled 1890s that include our house. Over the course of last week, we were adding insulation under the house, and I came across more than a few items from around a century ago, many of which have led to me learning some interesting things about our town.

I’d like to share a little of what I learned and found over the next few weeks of articles.

Perhaps the coolest item of local significance that turned up under the front porch was a program book to a basketball tournament, which Adam Poole (my contractor and friend) uncovered.

The Basketball Program

When I sat down to investigate the booklet, enough of the front cover remained to determine what it was. However, there were no years printed anywhere to tip me off as to when the tournament took place. I started from the assumption that it dated to the same period as other items we came across, which were primarily from around 1900.

We had months, days, and days of the week printed in the program, which made it possible to pick out a few potential years. February 23rd only lands on a Sunday every few years. Carefully cleaning the program revealed a team roster, along with the rosters of the competing teams from Havre, Fort Benton, and Chinook. Searching a few players names in The Mountaineer archives revealed that one, Sig Moe, played for Big Sandy in 1924.

The team rosters

At the outset, I had no idea how much of a story there was behind the tattered little program.

My next step was to head to the High School to check out the class pictures in the hallway to see if I could find our basketball team. Because we were hunting for information during Christmas break, I had to get help from our superintendent to check out the class pictures.

Because basketball practice was happening at the same time, we got into the school and waited in the hallway outside the gym for Dan to arrive. We spent our time checking out the old trophies on display. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a silver cup engraved with the date: February 23rd, 1924. We had learned from the program that the silver cup was the prize that went to the winner of the North Central District Basketball Championship, and here it was!

The 1924 District Championship Cup

The program that somehow made its way under my porch is for the year we went to state! The back of the trophy was engraved with the players names. Incidentally, the silver cup sits on the same shelf as a bronze one awarded to the 1924 Big Sandy Debate Team. Among the names engraved on that cup is the coach, who appears to be the mother of Sig Moe (but more likely his aunt), our star basketball player, and Hershel Hurd, who also played on the basketball team.

The 1924 Debate Team Trophy

I have walked past that trophy hundreds of times without ever considering its significance. Even knowing a little of the story and holding the program in my hands, I had not yet begun to scratch the surface of the significance of the award.

According to the articles I encountered while researching the victory, the silver cup isn’t just a basketball win. It was also a vindication for our small town after shady dealings cost their football team a trip to state earlier that year.

When Dan arrived, I checked the class pictures and was disappointed to learn that they only go back to 1930, so I would be unable to find pictures so easily. However, the knowledge that we won district that year and a solid date made it possible for me to call up the February 28th, 1924 issue of The Mountaineer.

The bold text of the article summary: “Cheated out of Football Championship Big Sandy Comes Back Strong and Proves Continued Superiority.”

The Surprising Headline

The line struck me as odd, but didn’t prepare me for the larger story that had our town up in arms. As I read on, I would quickly discover how much more there was to the story.

Our team apparently went into the tournament as underdogs, with few believing that we could win it all. The article goes on to describe the huge turnout cheering the local boys as they returned home on the train. Coach R.E. Cameron carried the silver cup which is now on display in the High School. Each individual player came home with a small silver cup of their own for winning the district tournament.

The last game was played against Great Falls and our boys attracted a large crowd of local supporters who cheered them to victory. The turnout seems to have been both in response to our tournament success and (it seems) a grudge over the events from the previous football season.

The article covers each of the games in detail and fills more than a third of page one and continuing on page four. There is a second piece, also on the front page, detailing our team’s upcoming trip to Bozeman for their debut in the state tournament. If you’re interested in reading the game details, I will post the pages on patchingcracks.com with additional pictures. (See above)

Page four is where the story gets much crazier.

The majority of the page is devoted to the basketball championship, but much of the material is related to the football season controversy alluded to on page one. It seems clear that the win wasn’t just about basketball. It was also a vindication after the town’s football team was cheated out of a District Championship and a trip to state.

I learned this from a short, reprinted piece from the Havre paper commenting that many of the teams present for the tournament and fans were very pleased to see Big Sandy win. Many locals throughout the district were still angry that Big Sandy had won the District Football Championship and were headed to state, before the team was disqualified on a technicality!

One player was ruled to be ineligible to play after the tournament. The Havre paper goes on to speculate that the disqualification took place because larger, more influential towns were not okay with such a small town team “taking them to camp.” Many in the district believed that our football team was handily the best in the state, but was never able to prove it’s mettle.

This makes another piece that appears on page 4 particularly galling. Protests were made regarding the eligibility of our basketball team during the tournament. In addition, the paper claimed to be in possession of evidence suggesting that the protest was planned in advance and not raised until the tournament was underway.

I will write a follow up article exploring this issue, the underhanded dealings that disqualified our team in 1924, and the furor that surrounded the Big Sandy football team literally being cheated out of its first trip to state, in a year that they were favored to win it all.

It’s easy to see why Big Sandy considered that 1924 basketball win to be such a big deal. The players and the town had won a victory to right a wrong that had been dealt a few months earlier.

It’s interesting that I have walked past that dusty old cup hundreds of times and never payed it any mind. I find it heartening and exhilarating that it represents our town’s elation, not only over a tournament win, but also as a little way they could gain some satisfaction.

In a way, it makes last year’s Pioneer Football state championship – which landed 99 years after the fact – a long overdue vindication.

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Do All Christians Celebrate Christmas on December 25th?

One minor issue that could potentially cause confusion in the discussion of the date that the church “officially” celebrates Christmas relates to the various branches of the church choosing different days for observing the birth of Jesus.

You might be thinking “What other days is Christmas celebrated?” The majority of the church in the west observes Christmas on December 25th. 

A few years ago while visiting Bethlehem in January, I got to witness a huge celebration in the square outside the church of the Nativity. That is when I learned that the eastern part of the church celebrates on January 7th. 

So, why don’t all Christians observe December 25th as Christmas?

The answer is tricky. Nearly the entire Christian world celebrates the birth of Jesus on December 25th. The fact is that even those who celebrate on January 7th are also observing the December 25th date. 

Some branches, mainly the Orthodox and Coptic churches, observe Christmas on January 7th because they choose to follow the old Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar. 

The Julian Calendar was instituted in 45 BC under Julius Caesar and was the dating system for most of the western world until Pope Gregory XIII came along in 1582 and altered the old calendar by .0075 days.

The change made but Pope Gregory correct the inaccuracy of the old system’s calculation of a solar year. The tiny variation (10.8 minutes) results in the Julian calendar gaining a day every 128 years. Today, that drift has accumulated into a 13 day difference… Just enough to separate December 25th and January 7th. 

I believe the reason for the continued use of different calendars is related to the eastern church not recognizing the authority of the pope. This means their church government deals with these decisions and simply never opted to take on the adjusted calendar. 

Nearly the entire church continues to place Christmas on December 25th, but using different calendars, one of which is around 11 minutes longer than the other. All of the churches essentially agree on that day, but not the calendar. 

Why do the Julian and Gregorian Calendars matter as it related to Christmas?

The obvious reason to deal with it is because it emphasizes that the difference in dates has to do with calendar issues, not disagreement on the liturgical calendar. 

Apart from that, I am addressing this detail for a few other reasons: 

  1. It is kinda interesting. 
  2. It emphasizes the unity of thought on the matter of celebrating the nativity on December 25th throughout the majority of the church beginning very early on.
  3. It is a peek at how weird and difficult calendar issues can be. It’s also a bit of foreshadowing of the complications that come into play when we start digging into ancient calendars. They’re messy and hard to synthesize. 
  4. In my next post we will be looking at the winter solstice. This is the shortest day of the year. After the solstice the nights grow shorter and the days grow longer. The solstice was important for several pagan religions in the ancient world. One ancient faith in particular, the worship of Sol Invictus, fits into the debate around discussion about why December 25th was chosen as the date of Jesus’ birth. That will be addressed in the next post. The 10.8 minute drift will also factor into that conversation.

Note: The Armenian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 6th. January 6th is observed as the feast of the Epiphany for much of the church. Epiphany refers to different things in different church traditions. In the east it is associated with the baptism of Jesus. In the west it refers to the revelation that Jesus is God. Either way, in the 6th century a church council declared that the 12 days between December 25th and January 6th are the “12 Days of Christmas” with December 25th counting as the first day of Christmas. January 6th, in turn is the 12th day of Christmas. Within the Armenian Orthodox Church the celebration of Christmas and the baptism on Jesus are done at the same time. 

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