In Memoriam

George W. Rollins (1916-2014)

James Friguglietti and Norton H. Moses, May 2015

Historian of the American West

George W. Rollins, professor of history emeritus at Eastern Montana College (now Montana State University Billings), died in Billings after a prolonged illness on November 17, 2014. He was 98 years old.

Born in Cumberland, Wyoming, on June 2, 1915, the youngest son of Watson Loraine Rollins and Agnes Ray Rollins, he was raised in the small town of Lyman. He attended the University of Wyoming, graduating in 1938.

After receiving his BA, Rollins spent four years teaching in public schools, first at Kaycee, Wyoming, then at Logan, Utah. During the Second World War, Rollin’s career was interrupted by his work on the Union Pacific Railroad in Nebraska and then by his service in the US Army. From 1945 to 1948, he attended classes at the University of Omaha.

Seeking to complete his education, he then entered the University of Utah, where he received his PhD in history in 1951. His dissertation, “The Struggle of the Cattleman, Sheepman, and Settler for Control of Land in Wyoming, 1867–1910,” was written under the supervision of Leland H. Greer. The study was eventually published by Arno Press in 1979. Based on a wide array of primary and secondary sources, the thesis traced the decades-long conflict waged by the three competitors for the territory’s land, the rise and decline of the power of cattle barons under pressure from the sheepherders and farmers, and the Johnson County War of the 1890s, which involved active fighting among the parties and eventually intervention by the federal cavalry.

Among his other writings in the history of the West are his “Land Policies of the United States as Applied to Utah to 1910” (Utah Historical Quarterly, 1952) and his contribution, “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” to Lawrence F. Small’s compendium Religion in Montana: Pathways to the Present, vol. 2 (1995). Additional publications, consisting largely of book reviews dealing with such topics as Native Americans and land ownership, appeared in the Utah Historical Quarterly and the Western History Quarterly. His book reviews proved thorough, judicious, and positive. Between 1951 and 1953, Rollins remained at the University of Utah, serving as a teaching follow and history instructor. In 1953, he accepted a position as assistant professor of history at Eastern Montana College and rose to full professor there by 1957. His ­administrative abilities led him to chair the Division of Social Sciences and the Department of History, of which it had been a separate part, until 1974, remaining as its head for three years. He retired in 1981.

A lifelong Democrat, Rollins served as a delegate to the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention. He remained proud to have participated in the gathering that rewrote and updated an antiquated governing document that dated from 1889.

Rollins enjoyed a long and happy married life. In 1938, he wed Beverly Ruth Shields. They remained together for 65 years and had eight daughters, seven of whom survive. His second wife, Vera Timm, passed away in 2011.

A thorough gentleman, Rollins displayed a fair, pleasant, and helpful attitude toward the entire department. Under his leadership, its members maintained collegiality and avoided quarrels so that they could continue to be productive and successful in their work. Rollins is fondly remembered by those who served under him.

James Friguglietti
Professor of History Emeritus
Montana State University Billings

Norton H. Moses
Professor of History Emeritus
Montana State University Billings


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