News and Events

Recreating Sister Alfreda's Attic

Keith Petersen, Mary Reed, and Krista Green in the emerging attic exhibit.

Siamese twin piglets perfectly preserved from when they were stillborn on a local farm decades ago, a mounted golden eagle with wings outstretched, an antique trumpet.These types of artifacts comprised Sister Alfreda Elsensohn’s emerging collection that she began to display in 1931 in the old St. Gertrude’s Academy attic. So began the Historical Museum at St. Gertrude. A replica of the attic has just been completed as part of a five-year exhibit remodel plan.

“We created Sister Alfreda’s attic museum experience as a way to creatively share the Museum’s beginnings,” explains CEO of External Ministries Mary Schmidt. “It was a mechanism for bringing together many of the artifacts that she first collected and it provides a context for why we preserve these artifacts that at first might not appear to fit in a museum. In addition, it allows us to honor the woman who was one of our state’s first historians and a leading author on the history of our area.”

Historically, Benedictine monasteries have served as preservers and protectors of the arts, history, and culture. Mary Schmidt and the exhibit remodel team saw the need to create a more dynamic museum that expressed the Monastery values of reflection and learning. The new exhibits are meant to tell the stories behind the artifacts in such a way that people are able to truly learn from them.

Sister Joan Smith and Shirley Gehring working in the Museum’s climate-controlled storage area.

Former Idaho State Historian Keith Petersen is also on the exhibit remodel team: “The Museum has always had outstanding collections. Artifacts maintained by the Museum on Buckskin Bill, Polly Bemis, settlement of the Camas Prairie — and of course the Monastery — are one-of-a-kind. But simply having artifacts in a case leaves most visitors wanting. Museums are at their best when they use artifacts to help tell stories. That is what we are trying to do with the new exhibits. By preserving such artifacts and by using them to interpret history in a unique way the Museum is fulfilling its mission as a major resource of historical information.”

The Museum remodel team also included Frank Halter, Sister Mary Geis, Sister Joan Smith, Krista Green, Debra Graham, Shirley Gehring, Mary Reed, Calvin Bakie, Sister Carlotta Maria Fontes, and Theresa Henson.

The five-year remodel plan began in 2015 and the first exhibit to be completed focused on the history of the Benedictine sisters. Sister Alfreda’s attic is the second exhibit to be completed. The remaining remodel phases and completion dates: Idaho County’s interesting characters (2018); temporary exhibit gallery (2018); treasures gallery (2017); and history of local people (2019-2020).

This project has been supported by Museum donors and grants from the Idaho Humanities Council and Idaho State Historical Society. Visitors can experience the two new exhibits and the rest of the Historical Museum at St. Gertrude Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 to 4:30, at 465 Keuterville Road, Cottonwood, Idaho.





New Exhibits at the Historical Museum

Former Idaho State Historian Keith Petersen, one of the people who worked on the new exhibit on the sisters, gives an introduction to the Idaho State legislature’s Joint Finance Appropriations Committee.

Like many Benedictine monasteries throughout history, our monastery is striving to preserve the cultural heritage around us as well as serve a spiritual purpose. We are preserving the past for the future through our Historical Museum that is engaged in carefully curating artifacts and faithfully interpreting the stories they represent. A major exhibit remodel is underway to further this purpose.

The remodel team includes former Idaho State Historian Keith Petersen, exhibit specialists Mary Reed and Mary Jahn, designer Amber Harris, and a team at the Museum. The remodel phases will take place over the next five years: the history of the Benedictine Sisters and their impact on Idaho (2015/2016); the history of the Museum as one of Idaho’s earliest museums (2017); Idaho County’s interesting characters (2018); temporary exhibit gallery (2018); treasures Gallery (2017); and History of local people (2019-2020).The first phase is complete.

Recently, the Museum hosted the Idaho State Legislature’s Joint Finance Appropriations Committee. They were able to experience the new, nearly-completed exhibit on the history of the sisters.

“This exhibit reflects hundreds of hours of time, energy, and attentiveness,” said Prioress Sister Mary Forman. “It is a beautiful tribute to our heritage!”

Former Idaho State Historian Keith Petersen (center), exhibit specialists Mary Reed (left) and Mary Jahn (right) donated numerous hours of time for the new exhibit.

The museum has already received nearly $10,000 in grants for the support of this project: This project is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a state-based partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Support has also come from the Idaho State Historical Society as part of its Community Enhancement Grants program and Northwest Farm Credit Services through their Rural Community Grant Program. Further support for the exhibits remodel project has come from donors who responded to our recent Spring Appeal.

Thank you to all who affirmed this wonderful project with your amazing support. Come see our progress!








Third Volume of “Our Story” Announced: Submissions Invited

The Historical Museum at St. Gertrude has announced an upcoming third volume to “Our Story,” the collection of first-person histories that celebrates local families and their ancestors’ lives in the Cottonwood, Keuterville, Greencreek, Ferdinand, and Salmon River areas.

The first two volumes are now in their third printing and the books’ success has inspired a third volume. “The response has been overwhelming,” says Debra Graham, a Museum staff member. “People are excited about it because it is about them.”

Submissions are now being accepted for the third volume. The main criteria for submitted articles is that the family should have roots in the Cottonwood, Keuterville, Greencreek, Ferdinand, or Salmon River areas. Submissions can be up to 1,000 words and can include up to three images. Please submit on a disk or email to Shirley Gehring at [email protected] or Historical Museum, 465 Keuterville Road, Cottonwood, ID, 83522. Submissions must be received by March 1, 2018. Any questions may be directed to Shirley at 208-962-2053.

The Historical Museum at St. Gertrude's mission is to preserve the rich heritage of the Monastery of St. Gertrude, Camas Prairie, Snake River, Salmon River and surrounding areas.



19th Annual Fall Lecture Series

These events provide insights into the history of our region and are held on Thursdays during the month of October with the support of the Idaho Humanities Council. Lectures begin at 7:00 p.m. and end at 8:30 p.m. A Q&A session with the presenters follows the lectures. Light refreshments are provided. The events are held in the Johanna Room at Spirit Center at the Monastery of St. Gertrude located at 465 Keuterville Road, Cottonwood, Idaho.

October 4, 7:00 p.m. Tracy Morrison "Idaho Women in Song."

Tracy is an Idaho songwriter and storyteller who performs at festivals, museums, libraries, and theaters around the country. Her songs feature celebrated characters such as Polly Bemis, Sarah Winnemuca, Kittie Wilkins (Horse Queen of Idaho), Elizabeth Angelina Tuttle Clark, and Annie McIntyre Morrow (Peg Leg Annie). “I want to express that every woman and girl is important regardless of her culture, religious background, or socioeconomic status,” says Tracy. “Every song I receive is a gift. It is my mission to share these gifts to promote the legacies of these incredible women through story and song. They are the fabric of our Idaho heritage and there is a part of them in all of us.”

October 11, 7:00 p.m. Penny Bennett Casey “Florence Cemetery”  

In September 1861 gold was discovered in what is now known as the Florence Basin. Where gold and money flowed, the undesirables followed. Gangs of vigilantes made their way to the bustling mining town, robbing and killing sometimes innocent men. Florence’s “Boot Hill” Cemetery began to fill up with businessmen, miners, outlaws, a small child, and later Chinese.
Also included were such characters as noted gunfighter Cherokee Bob aka Henry J. Talbotte and two Swedish brothers buried side by side. Penny Casey, an Idaho native, will share her research on the old Florence “Boot Hill” Cemetery and the mysteries surrounding some of the burials. She is a member of the Idaho County Historic Preservation Commission and the Idaho County Genealogy Society. She is also a past member and editor for the Idaho State Genealogy Society and has been the webmaster for the Idaho County GenWeb since 2004.
October 18, 7:00 p.m. Phil Wimer “Hiking Idaho”

Come experience the Idaho wilderness through a slide presentation recounting years of high country adventures that often included horses and mules. The collection includes images by Phil Wimer and Lynn Welborn — a nurse, photographer, and horsewoman. Phil is a Cottonwood native, graduated from St. Gertrude’s Academy in 1960, and currently lives in Grangeville with his wife, Marilyn. “Over the last 65 years I have been into the high mountain lakes of Idaho County. The excuse has generally been called ‘a fishing trip’, but in truth the beauty of this area would be more than enough to call one to our mountains,” writes Phil. “Over the years the number of the photos increased a great deal. As time will allow we will share with you a great photo show and add a little color along the way.”

October 25  2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.  Cort Conley  “Idaho’s Famous Characters”

Come learn about Polly Bemis, Buckskin Bill, and other Idaho characters! Cort Conley is a well known Idaho author and adventuresome soul. He has written numerous books, including “Idaho for the Curious.” He will give his presentation in the Johanna room in the Spirit Center and then the group will move to the Historical Museum to view the new exhibit on Idaho characters.


ihcSponsored by the Idaho Humanities Council, Vic & Shirley Gehring, and White Rock Consulting. For more information about these events contact the Historical Museum at 208-962-2054 or [email protected]





Historical Museum at St. Gertrude receives state’s highest museum award


PHOTO  Sister Alfreda Elsensohn, founder of the Historical Museum at St. Gertrude and historian for whom Idaho’s most prestigious museum award is named.

The Historical Museum at St. Gertrude received the 2010 Sister Alfreda Elsensohn Award for Outstanding Service. The Award was presented at the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood on December 16th.

Awarded annually by the Idaho Humanities Council, Idaho State Historical Society, and Idaho Heritage Trust, the Sister Alfreda recognition includes a $10,000 award to be used by the winning museum to continue its educational efforts. This is the third year for the Award.

The Award is named for Sister Alfreda Elsensohn, who founded the Historical Museum at St. Gertrude in the 1930s. Sister Alfreda, one of Idaho’s outstanding historians, sought to collect, preserve, and interpret artifacts from Idaho County and the surrounding area to better educate the public. “A museum is a bridge which links the present with the past,” she said. It is her vision of Idaho museums as exciting, interactive, and educational institutions that the Award seeks to recognize by honoring one outstanding Idaho museum each year.

“It comes at a good time,” says Museum Director Lyle Wirtanen, “we will move forward in using the funds in a constructive manner to promote programming.”

The Bonner County Historical Museum in Sandpoint received the first Award in 2008, and the South Bannock County Historical Center in Lava Hot Springs won in 2009. “It is most appropriate that this year the Sister Alfreda Award will be ‘going home,’” noted Rick Ardinger, Executive Director of the Idaho Humanities Council. “The Historical Museum at St. Gertrude continues to carry on the legacy of Sister Alfreda in its outstanding effort to preserve Idaho history and make it accessible to the public.”

“The Idaho State Historical Society seeks to lead the state in preserving and sharing our history,” said Executive Director Janet Gallimore. “We greatly appreciate the professional collaboration of many partners throughout the state who work to preserve Idaho’s rich history on a daily basis. The Historical Museum at St. Gertrude exemplifies the finest quality work being undertaken in the state. It is an honor for us to recognize their outstanding efforts.”

While the Heritage Trust, Humanities Council, and State Historical Society collaborate on many projects, this is their only joint award. “Idaho’s museums are caretakers of the stories, artifacts, photographs, records, and memorabilia that remind us of who we have been and help to guide us to where we want to be,” stated Gaetha Pace, Executive Director of the Idaho Heritage Trust. “It is most appropriate that our three agencies recognize the important work being done by Idaho’s museums. And the Museum at St. Gertrude serves as an inspiration to others in Idaho and beyond.”


Local and state officials honor the Historical Museum at St. Gertrude

December 18, 2010


PHOTO Idaho State Historian Keith Peterson talks about the legacy of Sister Alfreda Elsensohn.

Representatives from the Idaho State Historical Society, the Idaho Humanities Council and Idaho Heritage Trust gathered at the Monastery on Thursday, December 16 to present the Historical Museum with the 2010 Sister Alfreda Elsensohn Award for Outstanding Service. Also among those gathered were Idaho County Commissioner Jim Rehder and Cottonwood Mayor Denis Duman.

Gathering in the Mother Johanna room at Spirit Center, Idaho State Historian Keith Peterson opened the ceremony. He explained how the three organizations came together to create this award that honors museums as keepers of Idaho’s culture. He thanked the Monastery for allowing them to name the award after Idaho historian and Museum founder Sister Alfreda Elsensohn, and said, “Now in its third year, it seems very appropriate to bring the award home.”

Gaitha Pace, Executive Director of Idaho Heritage Trust, thanked the Sisters for creating such a peaceful place and then spoke about the remarkable endurance of small museums. “These places bore witness to our lives,” she said. “They help people know from their youth that they are not alone and their ancestors are standing by.”

Earl Bennett, a trustee of the Idaho State Historical Society, spoke about the importance of stories. “If you don’t have stories to go with the artifacts, you don’t have a museum,” he said. “What a magnificent job you have done.”

Then Chris Riggs of the Idaho Humanities Council presented Museum Director Lyle Wirtanen with a check. Lyle then spoke about the contributions of the Sisters, the gratitude the Museum holds for the award and the goals that the $10,000 award will allow the Museum to achieve. With Lyle retiring as director at the end of the year, many of the speakers took the opportunity to honor his work. “Lyle has brought the Museum to a significant new level of professionalism,” said Keith Peterson. 

Prioress Sister Clarissa Goeckner, in her address, said that Sister Alfreda “would be so impressed that the Museum, through its educational and cultural events gives a strong invitation to enter into conversations that will bring about reconciliation, healing and peace. I am referring to the ‘Diplomacy, Sovereignty and Spirituality Symposium’ with the Nez Perce tribe and the three annual conferences of history of the Chinese in Idaho…This award and recognition will only encourage us to continue in the direction of making connections, linking present with the past and giving service.”

Then Associate Museum Director Sister Mary Marge Goeckner recalled how the Museum began in an attic, then moved to the basement and eventually to its present building, that was built through the vision of the Sisters. She explained how Sister Alfreda worked with her students to build the collection and teach them about where they lived. “She would still challenge all of us,” said Sister Mary Marge. “She was a woman ahead of her time.”



raspberryRaspberry Festival

Raspberry Festival is our biggest annual fundraiser that attracts more than 3,000 visitors each year who come to eat, play and shop for unique, handmade crafts and gifts. The day event features fun activities for the whole family including a pancake breakfast, gourmet hamburgers, raspberry shortcake, jam and products, an Arts & Crafts Fair, live music, a Kids' Carnival, Quilt Show, hand-crafting demos, a Fun Run & Walk, Chapel tours, Museum visits and more. Learn more at the festival website.