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Montana Historical Society Museum, Helena

Located by the State Capitol in Helena, the Montana Historical Society Museum is an essential travel experience when exploring the state’s culture and history.

The museum records the story of the Montanan people, with exhibits preserving the region’s archeological, historical, and ethnological artifacts.

What is the Montana Historical Society?

Established in 1865, the Montana Historical Society has worked as a team to preserve the culture and stories of the Montanan people for over 150 years.

According to the group’s official about page, the Montana Historical Society’s mission is to preserve the region’s past, share its stories, and inspire exploration to provide a greater vision for the Montana of tomorrow.

Montana officially recognized the Montana Historical Societies’ efforts of preservation in 1969, and the group was declared as the official state Archives and “the repository for state agency records of permanent value.”

What is there to see at the Montana Historical Society Museum?

see at the montana historical society museum
Image: Roger Wollstadt

Over the Montana Historical Society’s 150+ years of operations, they have unearthed and acquired a wide array of artifacts from throughout the state and surrounding geographical regions.

At the Montana Historical Society Museum, these artifacts come together to tell the stories of Montana’s geographical landscape and the people that call it home.

Today the museum is home to four permanent exhibits, specialty and traveling exhibits, and a massive collection of archived exhibits that feature thousands of preserved artifacts ready to be explored online.

The Mackay Gallery of Russel Art

This long-term exhibit explores the diverse catalog of Charles M Russell (1864-1926). Known as the “Cowboy Artist,” Charles M Russel was a celebrated artist and illustrator who created many well-known pieces throughout his career, reflected in the 2,000-foot gallery that this exhibit occupies.

Visitors to the museum can explore his techniques through various mediums, including major oils, pen and inks, watercolors, pencil sketches, illustrated letters, bronzes, and sculptures.

While it is said that Russel produced over 4000 pieces of art throughout his lifetime, approximately only 80 are presented in the gallery at any given time.

Art on paper and sculptures are frequently rotated to highlight themes concerning other temporary exhibits, provide opportunities to explore themes throughout his entire collection, and help with the general preservation of all of his pieces.

Neither Empty Nor Unknown: Montana at the Time of Lewis & Clark

Neither Empty Nor Unknown is a full-time exhibit that explores the flora, fauna, and the Native nations that occupied Montana long before the first western explorer reached its breathtaking landscapes.

The exhibit features tapestries of landforms and regions that encapsulate the breadth of Montana landscapes and explores the depths of the communities that lived there.

Additionally, each area explored in the exhibit once would have played a critical role in the discovery and contacts of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The exhibit provides first-hand quotes and observations made by these monumental explorers while also analyzing the spiritual and economic importance each site held to the Native peoples that once occupied the lands.

Montana Homeland

Another long-term exhibit, Montana Homeland explores the state’s “People and Environment” and analysis what Montana life was like throughout history.

The presentation focuses on the way people interacted with one another—how they lived, worked, played, raised families, built communities, and how adapted.

The Montana Homeland Exhibit analyzes how the state’s early communities developed to form the Montana of today by exploring how they interacted with their environment.

Through artifacts, the exhibit shows the traditional ways in which people acquired food, shelter, and clothing and the methods by which the people traveled and transported their goods across the land.

The exhibit features many tools and mechanical apparitions people used and developed throughout the state’s history.

Visitors to the museum can see first-hand how the small farming communities of Montana grew into full-fledged modern cities.

Big Medicine (1933-1959)

Appearing only once in approximately 5 million births, white bison are historically extremely rare and are considered sacred to many Indian peoples.

So, when a white bison calf was born in the national Bison Range of Montana’s Flathead Reservation on May 3, 1933, the moment was celebrated by both Native Americans and the people of Montana.

Weighing 1,900 pounds and standing six feet high from the hump and twelve feet from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail, Big Medicine was considered a massive achievement in the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ efforts to restore the bison population on their reservation.

Beyond the reservation, the famous White Bison began to garner attention on the world stage as a symbol of the restoration of species native to North America.

Due to this importance, in the 1950s, the Montana Historical Society arranged with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes that Big Medicine would be moved to the state’s museum to be permanently preserved upon the bison’s death.

However, with the heightened attention he received, Big Bison lived to the old age of 26. Due to his extended lifetime, his hide was already very worn and depleted by the time the bison passed away.

Big Medicine died in 1959, at which point he was moved to the museum where he still stands today as a permanent exhibition.

Travelling Exhibits

The Montana Historical Society Museum has over 50,000 artifacts in its archives, not all of which can be presented in its facilities full-time. As such, the society sends out many of its artifacts to be displayed in exhibits across the state.

Two exhibitions currently on tour include Montana’s Native Warriors exhibit and the I Do: A Cultural History of Montana’s Weddings exhibit.

How to visit the Montana Historical Society Museum

The Montana Historical Society Museum operates Monday- Saturday and is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Entrance admission fees are as follows;

  • $5 per adult
  • $1 per child
  • $12 per family

Alternatively, guests can combine their museum fee with a pass to the Original Governor’s Mansion Tour for the following rates;

  • $8 per adult
  • $1.50 per child
  • $19 per family

Call the Montana Historical Society at (406) 444-2694 or visit their site for more information regarding your visit to the Montana Museum.

The museum can be located at 225 North Roberts, Helena, Montana, for those who would prefer to drop by the head office.

Conclusion

As Montana’s official state Archives, the Montana Historical Society Museum is an essential travel destination when visiting the State Capital of Helena.

Chronicling the state’s evolution from untouched landscapes to modern communities through historical, archeological, and ethnological artifacts, the museum preserves the lives of everybody that once called Montana home.

Plan a trip to the museum to explore all the exhibits the Montana Society offers. Guided tours are available, and visitors should check out the museum’s schedule ahead of time for any upcoming events the staff has scheduled.

 

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