The Wild West is back and wilder than ever at the Broussard Family Library and the Learning Commons at Flathead Valley Community College, thanks to a significant donation of Western literature.
Whitefish resident Nick Chickering and his wife Karen recently gave the college a gift of 287 rare books from the American West – many of them written in the 1800s and some in the 1700s – on the Rocky Mountains, l exploration of the West, North West, South West and the tribes.
Nick Chickering was the heir to the library, which was incorporated by his grandfather, Allen L. Chickering, who was born in 1877 and was an avid collector and reader of books. Most books have their personal ex-libris affixed to the inside cover.
“When he died in 1958, my grandfather owned what was supposed to be the largest private collection of Western Americana books in the United States,” Chickering said.
The donation represents about 30% of the original collection, which also contains a large portion of the California history books.
“Believe it or not, my grandfather read all of them,” Chickering said.
“They are in four different languages and, having learned Latin in law school, he taught himself to read in German, Spanish and French.”
Allen L. Chickering had been president and long-time member of the board of directors of the California Historical Society and was a frequent contributor to its quarterly magazine.
AMONG THE many rare volumes is a French leather-bound book from around 1657 with copyright in Paris. The impressions of the printing press are still felt on the back of its pages.
There is also a 1907 first edition of James Willard Schultz’s book “My Life as an Indian”, the classic memoir on Schultz’s life with the Blackfeet and the life of the Plains Indians.
“A lot of the books were written in the first person by people who lived during this time,” Chickering said. “It’s hard to read. It was a brutal life they had to survive. It is an eye opener to read what they went through.
Chickering said he always knew he would donate the books someday and is happy they are now part of FVCC’s new library collection.
FVCC Library Services Director Morgan Ray said opening and unpacking the 15 boxes of books was especially exciting.
“I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning,” she said. “Holding something so fragile is like holding history in your hands.
Ray said the library plans to list the entire Allen L. Chickering collection on WorldCat, the world’s largest library catalog, so people will know the books exist here, and also explore the process of listing them. on the Internet Archive digital library.
That said, the books will be available for students and the community to read in what is called a closed stack, which means that customers will be able to read the books in a special room in the library dedicated to them.
“As we enter the digital age, this is a tangible way to get our hands on the past. Ray said. “To get a signed first edition, firsthand account of someone’s life is a chance to connect students, authors, and historians to an experience that is not commonly found or readily available. “
“I’m really happy to do this because I think Flathead Valley Community College has played such an important role in providing young people with the opportunity to make a living in all kinds of career choices and to have a quality of life,” Chickering said.
“We are incredibly grateful and honored that Mr. Chickering has chosen our library, our students and the people of Northwestern Montana for this donation,” said Ray.
While Chickering hopes the library will eventually make them available in digital form, he stresses that the books are meant to be read.
All libraries should have books, ”Chickering said. “And if people are curious about how the West developed and how it was then, these are the books to read.”