Meeting Otto’s friends

Research in Bozeman

I had written my very first email to the Gallatin History Museum (back then still namend Pioneer Museum) on the 25th of December 2012. Rachel Phillips answered only 2 days later. She was able to provide me with some information about the farmer August Gottschalk whose farm Otto stayed at during his visit. On the 29th of December 2012, I wrote Rachel that I had the idea to recreate Otto’s journey.

On June 22nd, 2016 – 3 and a half years later – I walked into the Gallatin History Museum and said “Rachel, here I am!”

Before I even started my research, Rachel showed me the staff kitchen where to get my coffee and I “moved in” at the big conference table – which was quickly covered in my research materials.

1881 newspapers

I started my research the next day, reading through the entire newspapers from August 1881 until February 1882 hoping to find any mentioning of the arrival of Otto or the opening of his tannery. It was quite tireing, because the writing was very small and dense, but hilarious at the same time – the news of 1881 are very entertaining to read…”Watermelons arrived in Helena”. Unfortunately, I did not find any records of Otto directly. However, I was able to find advertisements by local businesses which he mentions, the announcement of the Christmas Ball which he attended as well as other events that he describes. Everytime I found something, I felt a rush of excitement and shouted out in the museum – followed by a read-out of the newspaper article. Reading the newspaper brought me to the Bozeman of 1881 and felt very close to Otto. He probably read that same newspaper.

Finding August Gottschalk’s property details

One of the first things Rachel and I did was walking next door to the Clerk & Recorder where all kinds of records of landownership are stored. I asked if they had records from 1881 and about 5 minutes later I was holding a piece of paper with a map and the exact outline of August Gottschalk’s property in my hand, and the only thing I was thinking was “That fast?”. They had the records of the purchase including the detailed description of the piece of land which he owned. From this, the wonderful lady working there drew the outline. I couldn’t believe it, but now I knew exactly where Otto lived in Bozeman.

Meeting Otto’s friends

In his descriptions of Bozeman, Otto mentions many different names of people he had met, hunted with or done business with. Everytime I told Rachel a name (“Kopp”, “Cooper”, etc.), she would literally ran off and get a file of that person. It was absolutely amazing getting to know all those people he had met. The ancestors of the Kopp family actually have done extensive research and had put together a whole book. When I opened that book and saw the picture of Karl Johann Kopp and his wife Anna Boentgen, a couple he was friends with, stayed with for a month and worked for them – I thought “these are people he met” and started crying. It was just overwhelming “meeting” the friends of Otto. In that moment, one of the volunteers came by and said “And this is why we work here”.

Seeing Otto’s Bozeman

The museum has folders and folders full of old pictures from Bozeman an sourroundings. I dug in those files to find some images of Bozeman in 1881 – the Bozeman that Otto saw. I was lucky and did find some pictures, for example from the stagecoach stop Red Bluff and of Main Street from the time – and I just imagined Otto standing on that street – admiring the shop from Walter Cooper (whose facade still exists).
That moment when you find your Email on file
One of the funniest moments was when I opened August Gottschalk’s file and found my email from December 2012 in there. It made me not only realize how long ago I have had the idea, but also that I was contributing to Bozeman’s historic records through my project.

Going the extra Mile

I was desperate to find the business license of the tannery “Otto Dahl & Co”, but the business records were stored in Helena, the capital of Montana at the Montana Historical Society. So one day, I went up there to dig in the files, but of the year 1881, the book covering September – December was missing. Deeply dissapointed I returned to Bozeman, but I tried my best.

I would like to thank the Gallatin History Museum for having me and supporting my research! I had a wonderful time and I cannot believe how my I have found. 

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