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Logger competes in the Ax Throw, July 1999
Paul Brown, Libby-area logger; competes in the Ax Throw, July 1999. Photo: Donna Mari

Libby High School: Documenting Local History

During the summer of 1999, a group of teenagers -- some Libby High School students, some recent graduates -- formed a team led by local history teacher Jeff Gruber to tell the world why Libby is unique and explain their pride in their community. Some of the students had been involved in Libby's Montana Heritage Project, some were interested in photography and some in history, but each called on his/her unique talents and interests to document their view of what it was like to live in Libby. Logging and mining industries dominate Libby's economic life, while civic activities such as Logger Days and Nordicfest, and the weekly summer car wash to raise money for local clubs and organizations, define the small Montana community.

Nordicfest is an annual celebration of the town's Swedish heritage, recalling the days in the early 1900s when a lumber mill was established in Libby and recruited Scandinavian loggers from Minnesota. Started in 1985, the three-day event features craft and quilt shows, a parade and Fjord horse show, and culinary treats like Swedish meatballs and "Vikings on a stick." As the men play accordions, women dance in their festive bunad costumes.

Logger days, a four-day festival held in early July, celebrates Libby's historic timber industry with food, parades, and crafts. But the highlights of the celebration are logging competitions such as "Bull and Bullette of the Woods," the "Ma and Pa Relay," "Donut Stacker," "Jack and Jill Race," "Log Loading," "Truck Wrapping," the "Lumberjack Relay Crew," and sawing and ax throw events. Festivities are kicked off with a traditional water fight staged by the Libby Volunteer Fire Department, and a Logger Day Queen is crowned who presides over the festivities.

As well as Libby's celebrations, the team documented the local timber industry, the mainstay of Libby's economy, by taking a field trip into the lush Kootenai National Forest. There they learned about logging practices and forest management, and observed timbermen and their machines at work. The students also studied the area's mining industry, which began in 1866 when down-on-their-luck miners struck gold on a creek nestled in the Cabinet Mountains. The Libby Legacy team panned for gold on Libby Creek, learned the basic geology of the area, investigated old mining cabins, and explored modern mining techniques.

The team documented their findings in a four-page report and 22 black-and-white photographs with accompanying descriptions.

Originally submitted by: Conrad Burns, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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