CENTRAL MONTANA MUSEUM
408 Northeast Main
Lewistown, Montana 59457
Here in the heart of Montana amidst the Belt, Highwood, Judith, Moccasin and Snowy Mountains, lies our home, a valley known as the Judith Basin. This area, which we proudly refer to as “Central Montana,” stretches westward to Arrow Creek, north to the Missouri River, and south/east toward the Musselshell River. Some of the west’s most notorious characters - Calamity Jane, Kid Curry and Charles M. Russell to name a few - either resided in or frequented the area. As luck would have it, there’s a place where much of the history of Central Montana has been preserved.
Welcome to the Central Montana Museum where the past lives on in the form of physical artifacts, displays and accompanying interpretation; a diverse collection of the local history books written by area residents; and educational media in electronic format. The Central Montana Museum is located at 408 Northeast Main Street in Lewistown, the geographical center of the state.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act and our museum will feature many photos and displays portraying the changes that resulted as many settlers from all walks of life came to this area and filed on homesteads. Towns and smaller communities sprang up all across the prairie and Lewistown evolved from a small trading post to become the main merchandise distributing center in Central Montana. In less than two decades, the immense grassland of central and eastern Montana was divided up into 320-acre tracts. Homesteading had the most significant impact on the growth and character of Central Montana and agriculture continues to be the driving force of the area’s economy today.
One of our newest displays at the museum is really the oldest! It is a full-scale replica of the skull of a Torosaurus dinosaur that was found in the Valentine area (approximately 65 miles east-northeast of Lewistown). More recent history of Central Montana is chronologically portrayed at the museum beginning in the 1870’s when the area was largely unsettled and buffalo roamed the open prairies.
We continually strive to improve the museum for the enjoyment of all who visit. In 2008, a ¾-scale old-fashioned city street display was added and in 2009, we began reorganizing the museum chronologically with the inclusion of interpretive information. To date, the following displays have been re-created: Native Americans, Fort Sherman, Carroll Trail, Reed and Bowles Trading Post, Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce, Fort Maginnis, Reedsfort, Janeaux’s Stockade, Metis, stockmen (cattle and sheep), mining (gold, sapphires, coal) and production of oil and gypsum, full-size schoolhouse replica, Croatian stonemasons, Central Montana communities and military. In 2010, even more exhibits were added including: freighters; stage coaches; Fergus, Judith Basin and Petroleum Counties; a wagon owned by James Fergus, founder of Fergus County; homesteaders; railroads; the Depression, dust storms and the Dirty Thirties; and the newest, a full-scale replica of a Torosaurus dinosaur skull.
At the appropriate time intervals, we’ve included displays of some of the area’s most notorious characters including:
Rattlesnake Jake Owens (outlaw)
Charles M. Russell (cowboy/famous artist)
Granville Stuart (cattleman/Vigilante leader)
Bertie Brown (moonshine entrepreneur/rancher)
Ed McGivern (fastest gun in the world)
Charlie Cooley (businessman/civic leader)
Jimmy Kaaro (circus performer/trick roper/animal trainer/lawman)
Jane Burnett Smith (bronc rider/stunt rider/author)
Another addition is the rotating family exhibit where one or more prominent pioneer families are featured each season.
The museum houses a variety of collections including: dolls, wedding dresses, fire arms, forts, fossils, historic replicas and dioramas, Indian artifacts, medical equipment and photos from St. Joseph’s Hospital, military, miniature town and tractors, office and printing machines, photos, musical instruments and many others. In addition, full scale replicas of a parlor, kitchen, creamery, telephone operator’s office; and a newspaper printing shop from years past are also on display.
Also on display are a wagon used by James Fergus, founder of Fergus County; a replica of a red river cart used by the Metis; and a Norden Bombsite.
The following educational electronic media are available for viewing, as well:
• A DVD demonstrating the quarrying and cutting of local stone used to construct many beautiful buildings in Lewistown by the talented and creative stonemasons who immigrated here from Bribir, Croatia. It was from their hard toiling and handiwork that Lewistown was molded and holds the proud distinction of being called the “City of Stone.”
• A very interesting video of the coal mining industry in Montana entitled “Against the Darkness.”
• Our latest DVD, professionally taped during 2010, features interviews with ancestors of some of the area’s most prominent people (James Fergus and Jimmy Kaaro) as well as accounts of the Rattlesnake Jake shooting, a history of the local schools, and other information.
The Reference Area offers a place to sit down and relax while browsing through our extensive electronic collection of historic photographs and local history books of Central Montana’s communities.
Our store, located near the museum entrance, carries a variety of books, memorabilia, musical CDs, videos and locally made products.
Our displays are ever-changing as we strive to make each visit unique and memorable. Please stop in to see what we have to offer and encourage your friends and acquaintances to visit our facility as well. The museum is open each year from Memorial weekend through Labor Day. The hours are 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., Monday through Sunday. Special tours can also be arranged during the off season by contacting Shirley Barrick at 406/535-9289.
Please stop in and explore the past; you won’t be disappointed!!!
The Central Montana Historical Association