What We Have Done So Far

Fergus County Red Cross Parade, Courtesy of Montana Historical Society (MHS) photographic archives.
  1. Secured a letter of support from Montana PBS. Director of Content, Paul Heitt-Rennie, would like to see the finished film to consider it for broadcast. He writes, “I wholly support the project and your search for production funding.” The full copy of his letter is below.
  1. Wrote six grants and were awarded funding from the following four organizations:

    Humanities Montana: $10,000 film production grant. Learn More

    The Greater Montana Foundation: $20,000 film production grant. Learn More

    The Montana Film Office: $25,000 Big Sky film production grant. Learn More

    Treasure State Studios: $20,000 In-Kind Services grant for equipment rental and studio use. Learn More
Red Cross Nurses standing in front of Havre Commerical Co., Courtesy of Montana Historical Society (MHS) photographic archives.

  1. Researched letters, diaries, oral histories, and memoirs of Montanans, as well as over 60 Montana newspapers, ca. 1918-19. Read current scholarship on the 1918-19 influenza in Montana and nationwide. Listened to Blackfeet and Crow elders describe what the pandemic was like for their respective tribes. Combed through archival photographs from 1918-19. The Montana Historical Society, the Mansfield Library Montana Collections at the University of Montana, and the Library of Congress Photographs and Advertisements were principal sources.
  1. Partnered with the Public History Program at the University of Montana to offer Historical Documentary Internships to History majors and graduate students.  Brought four UM interns on board:  Kevin Mobley and Kym MacEwan (2021) and Ginger Duncan and Chad Keller (2022). Interns joined in production assignments such as scripting voiceovers from firsthand narratives, storyboarding, directing landscape and reenactment shoots in Missoula, and conducting filmed interviews with historians.
  1. Production took place September – December 2022

Listening to the firsthand narratives of Montanans, we found that few wanted to remember a
pandemic; most sources offered minimal remarks. Despite near silence on the influenza, we did
discover six compelling stories that also mirrored the diversity of this region. A Finnish
immigrant, a Blackfeet couple, a white nurse, a Crow law school graduate, an African-American
entrepreneur, and a boy in a small railroad town became the focus of our film.

Core Crew:
John Nilles, a filmmaker in his own right, and Josef “Tuna” Metesh, a sound engineer and
skilled cinematographer, became our Director of Photography and Camera B, respectively. We
also partnered with Blackfeet elders Leon Rattler and Cheryl Cobell Zwang, as well as Crow
elder Reno Charette to tell the indigenous stories within this film. Former intern Ashby Glover
was promoted to Assistant Producer. And two U.M. film interns came on board, Ginger
and Chad Keller, with Intern Kevin Mobley continuing.

From September through December, we filmed locations, landscapes, and weather, staged reenactment scenes, recorded voiceovers scripted from personal narratives, and interviewed scholars, relatives, and elders.

Tuna, John, and Dee capturing river scenery

The locations, dates, and focus of each shoot were as follows:

Sept. 14-18: Browning, East Glacier.
The Wades in the Waters story. The Wades in the Waters were a Blackfeet couple who started a
chapter of the Red Cross in Browning to combat the influenza. Mobilizing the Red Cross grew
out of their traditional role as members of the Crazy Dog Society. We filmed interviews with
elders Leon Rattler and Cheryl Cobell Zwang, a direct descendant of Julia Wades in the Water.
We also filmed a reenactment scene of the Crazy Dogs making masks, and landscapes from Julia
Wades in the Water’s home ground.

Sept. 28 – Oct. 11: White Sulphur Springs.
Rose Gordon’s story. Rose was an African-American entrepreneur who volunteered to nurse
influenza patients in this small, mostly white community. Rose Gordon’s interest in health care
grew out of a local economy centered on hydrotherapies at the commercialized hot springs in
town. Despite her encounters with racism, Rose nursed black and white alike. We filmed the
downtown and later captured a rainstorm blowing in across the plains outside of town.

DP John Nilles and and Ashby plan a shot in White Sulphur Springs

Oct. 5-9: Columbus, Red Lodge, Forsyth.
Arvo Collins’ story. Arvo Collins was a Finnish immigrant who saw his family fragmented by
influenza. His sister perished, and his brother-in-law adopted out their new baby to a couple in
California. We filmed in Red Lodge and Columbus, where Penny Redli, a descendant of Arvo
Collins, told his story in a filmed interview with us. Director of the Museum of the Beartooths,
Penny also arranged for us to film a dramatic scene in a vintage kitchen, in which Arvo Collins
was confronted by the nephew his brother had adopted out eighteen years earlier.

Walter Dean Jr.’s story. Walter Dean was only nine years old when the virus ravaged Forsyth.
He lived at the Commercial Hotel, owned and managed by his mother. When she converted the
hotel to a sick ward, young Walter’s job was to check patients each morning to see whether they
had lived through the night. Gordon Dean, son of Walter Jr., told his story in an interview with
us. We filmed at the historic hotel in Forsyth, and on the banks of the Yellowstone River where
Walter Jr. went to get away from sickness at the hotel.

Oct. 9-10: Billings, Crow Agency.
Mary Garrigus’ story. Mary Garrigus was a Crow woman who graduated U.M. Law School in
1918, with plans to move to Denver to learn the practice of juvenile law. To earn money for her
move, Mary taught Business classes at Carbon County High School. When influenza closed the
schools, Mary volunteered to nurse influenza patients. We filmed an interview with Crow elder
Reno Charette, who provided cultural and historical contexts for Mary Garrigus’ opportunities
and decisions. We also shot the distinctive cliff rocks at sunset on the Crow Reservation.

Oct. 19-23: Missoula.

We shot portions of the following stories in Missoula:

Hazel Yoder’s story. Hazel Yoder was a licensed, professional nurse who responded to the U.S.
Army call for health care professionals to serve stateside. Stationed at the University of Montana,
Hazel found influenza throughout the ranks of Student Army Training Corpsmen bivouacked in
tents on the oval. We tried to find Army tents to recreate that scene, to no avail. Alternatively, we
filmed inside Heritage Hall at Fort Missoula, creating a set that closely resembled the infirmary
run by the Army in the U.M. gym. We filmed reenactments of Hazel Yoder nursing SATC men
stricken with influenza.

UM Intern Kevin Mobley as SATC Commander, UM student Kennedy Fox as Hazel Yoder, and Jeffrey Beisecker as influenza patient in Army Infirmary ca. 1918

Mary Garrigus’ story. We turned one of the rooms from the Heritage Center at Fort Missoula
into a 1918 classroom set, in order to film a reenactment of Mary Garrigus teaching at Carbon
County High School. UM student Aspen Lefthand (Crow) played the role of Mary Garrigus.
Fittingly, Aspen is a pre-law student. UM student Brylee Gardner (Crow) and Ashby Glover
played the roles of students in Mary Garrigus’ classroom.

Mary Frances Garrigus

Rose Gordon’s story. We shot reenactments of Rose Gordon clerking at the Commercial Hotel
(of Lewistown), using the Florence Hotel Lobby in downtown Missoula, which is outfitted in
1920s décor. Cat Crawford-Deriana and Audrey Brosnan played Rose and her friend Mable for a
scene drawn directly from Rose Gordon’s memoir, in which Rose had to navigate a mix of
friendliness and racism.

Prep for Rose Gordon hotel lobby scene. John Nilles, Cat Crawford Deriana, Audrey Brosnan

The Wades in the Waters story. With Blackfeet actors Corwin Yellow Kidney, Omar Upham,
and A. J. Weatherwax, we filmed a reenactment of the Crazy Dogs bringing word to residents on
the Blackfeet Reservation about preventive measures like masking and quarantine. We filmed
this scene at a homestead cabin on the Fort Missoula grounds.

Omar Upham, AJ Weatherwax, Dee, UM Film Intern Ginger Duncan, Ashby, and UM Film Intern Chad Keller at dinner after the Crazy Dogs film shoot

UM Interns Ginger Duncan, Chad Keller, and Kevin Mobley took turns directing on our
Missoula shoots. Many thanks to the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History (Learn More) and Executive Director Tate Jones for his assistance on these shoots; to Hayes Otoupalik for
lending us WWI military uniforms for the Army Infirmary shoot; and to Amy Andrews,
Executive Director of the Northern Rockies Heritage Center (Learn More), for facilitating our use of Heritage Hall.

Nov. 16-19: Voiceover Recording.
Our thanks to Treasure State Studios of Missoula for an In-Kind Services grant which
permitted use of their sound studio, equipment, and sound engineer at a discount. We recorded
voiceovers with volunteer voice actors recruited from town, too numerous to name here.
Voiceovers were scripted from the 1918 narratives of Montanans.

Nov. 29, 30, and Dec. 15: Interviews with historians.
We filmed interviews with historians Anya Jabour, Tobin Miller-Shearer, and Leif Fredrickson
at Treasure State Studios. To shed light on Hazel Yoder and Mary Garrigus’ stories, Dr. Jabour
supplied political and social context for understanding women’s role change during WWI and
the 1918-19 pandemic. To frame Rose Gordon’s story, Dr. Miller-Shearer provided historical
perspectives on Black Americans in Montana from the turn of the century through the 1920s. To
provide further understanding of the 1918-19 pandemic, Dr. Fredrickson commented on historic
trends during public health crises, both nationally and within Montana.

Historian Anya Jabour begins her interview

We wrapped production December 15, 2022!

Feb. 20 – June 30, 2023: Post-Production
As we head into Spring 2023, we begin editing footage to build the stories. We expect to
complete our final cut by June 30th.

Distribution Plans include submitting the finished film to Montana PBS, from whom we have a
Letter of Interest. We also will apply for a Humanities grant to bring the finished film to
communities across Montana, inviting audiences to participate in discussion after each screening. Finally, we will enter the documentary in a handful of major film festivals, in Toronto, Austin, Memphis, New Orleans, and Kansas City.

Humanities Goals:
If we think of History as collective memory, then we inhabit the stories that tell us who we are
and where we came from. The Humanities explore what it is to be in relationship – – with each
other, with ourselves, with the natural environment, and with socio-economic and political
environments. What happens to individuals and their communities when a lethal virus upends
their worlds? Amid the pandemic, we discovered themes of risk and responsibility, tradition and
innovation, community and resilience. We believe this film will invite discussion, not only of the
fear and trauma that accompany an epidemic, but also of the ways people worked together to
meet the challenges of a public health crisis.

The six stories also highlight ethnic, gender, racial, and cultural diversity, expanding our
perceptions of who makes history in Montana. We think these stories will invite viewers to
recognize their shared humanity with others, and to reflect on our shared challenges: How do we
step outside our comfort zone to help a neighbor? To nurture a community? What is the role of
storytelling in healing trauma? What fuels courage in trying times? How can exploring our
collective past help us to better understand the present?

  1. Created this crowd-sourcing website to raise funds to meet production costs. See Budget. So far we have crowd-funded $2,600 toward the costs of production.


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Barry, John. “How the Horrific 1918 Influenza Spread Across America.” Smithsonian Magazine (November 2017): 1-12.

Barry, John M. The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. New York: Penguin Books, 2018.

Child, Brenda. “Jingle Dress Dancing is Rooted in Another Historic Pandemic.” Minnesota Star Tribune. December 18, 2020.

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