The museum’s history hall shares the compelling stories that connect us with the Northern Rocky Mountains, illuminating our lives and those who lived before us. From early exploration through the mid 20th century, these exhibitions depict the cultural and social changes made by those who called this region home, including American Indians, fur traders, gold seekers, and white settlers.
Historical artifacts, photographs, murals, and pieces from the museum’s extensive collection will add to your understanding of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming’s past and the larger forces that shape our home states and nation.
A few cases in this exhibit were curated by a Montana State University Museum Studies class.
Beyond simply providing warmth, quilts can also preserve family memories, connect communities, and tell stories about the people who made or used them. By studying the materials, design, creators, and uses of historical quilts, we can learn about family life and cultural traditions. While some quilts are made for practical purposes, others are made to commemorate important events. Commemorative quilts are often given to family and friends who treasure the quilts and pass them down through generations. The movements of quilts share stories of ceremony, celebration, migration, marriage, birth, and death. Quilts have significant historical value as objects traditionally made by women, a group whose stories are less often told in traditional history. Quilts old and new continue to share stories and connect families and communities.
In 2020, Museum of the Rockies completed the Marlene Saccoccia Quilt Heritage Project. The museum’s collection of over 100 quilts has been thoroughly researched, cataloged, and photographed and is now available online at Montana Memory Project. This project was funded by Dr. Philip and Marlene Saccoccia and a grant from the Montana History Foundation.
Between 1850 and 1950, millions of dollars worth of minerals were extracted from Montana’s mountains and hills. Most of that ore was hauled to daylight through a labyrinth of shafts by small carts. Many of these small carts were either pushed by hand or pulled by horses and mules out horizontal shafts. Ore carts were also used in underground shafts as deep as 5000 feet below the surface. Without a doubt, the lowly ore cart remains one of the most important economic symbols of Montana’s first century.
Until the 1920s when trucks began to take over the movement of goods across Montana, the principal way of hauling cargo and produce over the roads was the horse-drawn draft wagon. With their produce in high demand, farmers across the West spent most of the winter hauling their crops to elevators, rail cars, and nearby military posts.
In 1898, F. Jay Haynes, Yellowstone National Park’s most celebrated photographer, founded the Yellowstone-Monida Stage Line. This stagecoach, and others like it, delivered travelers to the Park’s west entrance from the Utah Northern Railroad’s depot in Monida, Montana, near the Idaho border. The 70-mile trip lasted from six to eight days, depending upon weather and road conditions.
This wrought-iron rifled cannon was one of about 1,100 manufactured for use during the Civil War. The barrel of the cannon was machined, or rifled, with grooves that allowed the cannon to fire a 3-inch elongated projectile up to 2000 yards with great accuracy. When it accompanied a cavalry or infantry unit, the cannon would be attached to a limber, a two-wheeled horse-drawn ammunition box. In 1890, after Fort Ellis was abandoned, this Ordinance Rifle was left behind in Bozeman.
Aviation came to Montana with World War I. By the early 1930s, ranchers and farmers were building their own flying flivvers, often from kits or plans published in magazines such as Modern Mechanics. The historic solo flight of Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh, from New York to Paris in 1927, fired the enthusiasm of brothers Tom and Ben Helmerichs to build a flying machine of their own.
Equipped with a 65 hp aluminum V8 engine and a special low-ratio axle, the Olds Touring Car was ideal for hauling a full load of passengers and their baggage up and down the steep terrain of the West. Originally used to transport tourists up Pikes Peak in Colorado, the car was restored by its most recent owner, Joseph L. Cramer of Denver, and put on display at numerous antique car tours and shows throughout the intermountain West.
In the later years of the homestead movement, when more goods were available via rail, many homestead shacks were built of milled 2x4s covered with tarpaper. Heavy paper often covered the interior walls to keep out drafts and interior furnishings were minimal.
The 1930s House shows the style of living common to a family during that decade of depression and drought in Montana. The furnishings are a combination of old and new as would be expected in the home of a young couple establishing a household and a business in those depressed times.
Functioning as a family home and business enterprise, the rural filling station became a common sight in the northern Rocky Mountain region in the 1920s and 1930s. Despite the deepening economic depression that followed the stock market crash of 1929, gasoline sales continued to increase as more people came to rely on the automobile.
Historians, museum curators, and collectors alike are often faced with the challenges of identifying strange and obscure artifacts. Object identification takes hours of research, and sometimes that research all starts with a best guess.
These cases are full of mystery objects from the museum’s collections. Play the History Mystery Challenge and see if you can identify each object.