Range Rider crowd steps back in time

Jennie Pak stepped straight out of her car and into character at the Range Riders Museum on Saturday.

Portraying 19th-century Montana pioneer Sarah Elizabeth Woody, Pak, dressed in the attire of the time, entertained and informed a crowd of about 20 history enthusiasts at a free Humanities Montana Speakers Bureau program.

Pulling period pieces from a trunk to use as props, Pak outlined the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Woody, a school teacher, mother and wife of the first mayor of Missoula, Frank H. Woody.

Sarah Woody was born in northern California in 1853, and criss-crossed the country with her parents, moving to Iowa and back before eventually settling in Montana. “My father had a condition that my mother called wanderlust,” Pak said, playing the role of Woody.

Woody, all grown up at age 16, became a school teacher, working in one-room school houses in Philipsburg, Deer Lodge, and then Missoula. “School teachers in the West were hard to find and really hard to retain,” Pak explained.

Woody’s teaching career lasted only a few years, shortened by a rule that today’s feminists would likely find appalling. “I was courting, so I wasn’t allowed to teach,” Pak, channeling Woody, told the crowd.

Her suitor was lawyer Frank H. Woody, 20 years her senior, who would go on to become Missoula’s first mayor and a judge. The couple had nine children, but only three lived to adulthood, falling victim to various afflictions.

“I wore black from the time I was 22 years old until the day I died,” Woody, via Pak, explained.

Pak, a history buff and senior care provider from Missoula, has been studying and portraying Woody for the past eight years, after landing the gig during that city’s annual cemetery tour.

“I feel like Sarah is a very good friend,” Pak said after her presentation. “I know more about her than my own family.”

Museum Curator Bunny Miller said the program was partially funded by the Speakers Bureau. The museum hosts three speakers each year, with historians playing the role of Montana’s early movers and shakers.

Pak’s effort was well-received. She said she attempts to inject a bit of levity into her portrayal, and she saved her best for last. Holding her antique Brownie camera, Pak turned her back to the crowd, extended her arm, and demonstrated what she said was the latest 19th-century craze. She took a selfie.