A Seat for History

By Beacon Staff

Some nine decades ago Frank Linderman would gather his notes and family and sit back in his favorite chair. Lit by kerosene lantern, Linderman would read aloud his latest writings, sitting near the long picture window overlooking Goose Bay.

Linderman is long since gone, but his work remains an important record of Montana history, much of which became the basis of his many books and articles focused on the history of Montana’s American Indian tribes, according to his granddaughter Sally Hatfield.

Linderman came to Montana in the late 1800s and was a historian, writer and ethnographer who built a massive log home overlooking Goose Bay near Lakeside in 1917.

“They’d saw a broad axe to level logs and teams of horses would haul them up. It’s amazing to think of,” Hatfield, who owns the house with her husband, said.

And inside that house has sat an old recliner.

Made of stained oak and covered with olive green leather, Hatfield said the chair has been a part of the house since it was first built. It has also borne witness to some of the history that occurred there, including many visits by Linderman’s friend, artist Charles Russell. Both men were instrumental in telling the story of Montana’s native people through both words and paintings, often collaborating on projects.

“They cataloged and recorded the history of Montana and the Native Americans for prosperity,” said Sharon McGowan, of the C. M. Russell Museum in Great Falls. “They were both forward thinking men … by preserving the past.”

Now, Linderman’s granddaughter is involved with preserving a piece of her own past. For years, Linderman’s oak recliner had sat in need of repair, held together with only wire. Finally, Hatfield and her husband have decided to repair the old chair, and to do so they enlisted the help of Dennis Swensgard.

Swensgard, a retired shop teacher in Kalispell, had never worked on a restoration project, yet was interested in the chair’s history.

“I thought it was a good project to be involved with,” he said.

A week ago Swensgard picked up the chair and brought it to his home shop, where he disassembled and cleaned the vintage pieces before re-gluing them together.

Now that it has been returned to the Linderman home, Hatfield said they will start looking for someone to refurbish the leather covering of the chair, upholstered somewhere around the turn of the century. The couple is glad the chair is well on its way to being properly restored, maintaining it as a physical reminder of both Linderman and Russell’s legacy.

“They were just two of a kind,” Hatfield said. “They were both saving a picture of the fading frontier.”

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