The Montana Historical Society launched its first major online exhibit Friday.

Oak tombstone weathered gray

An oak tombstone with the raised inscription: "Sacred to the memory of Langford Peel, born in Liverpool, died July 23rd, 1867 aged 36 years. In life beloved by his friends and respected by his enemies. Vengence is mine sayeth the Lord. I know that my redeemer liveth. Erected by a friend."

“Appropriate, Curious, & Rare: Montana History Object by Object” features a mix of the museum’s prominent pieces along with some lesser-known items, with the entire exhibit showcased on the MHS website. The exhibit’s title comes from an 1876 publication in which the then 11-year-old Historical Society of Montana outlines its collection policy: “As this is the only cabinet of a permanent public society preserved for the whole Territory, it is hoped that whatever is appropriate, curious, and rare will be preserved therein, and no longer scattered abroad.”

“While each item is, in its own unique way, somehow outstanding, when considered together they help us better understand who we, as Montanans, are today, and how we got here,” outreach and interpretation program manager Kirby Lambert, who served as lead curator for the exhibit, said in a statement.

Since 1865, MHS has compiled thousands of artifacts, photographs and documents representing the history of the state and some of its most famous citizens. Among the featured objects are superstars like Charles M. Russell’s oil painting “When the Land Belonged to God,” as well as lesser-known objects like The Rev. Edwin M. Ellis' chainless bicycle, used to visit settlements across the state starting in the 1890s.

"Square and Compass" branding iron.

A "Square and Compass" branding iron. The brand "Square and Compass" was the first brand recorded in the first official brand book of the Territory of Montana, circa 1870 or 1871. 

“We are always looking for new ways to share the treasures we hold in trust for the people of Montana,” MHS director Bruce Whittenberg said in a statement. “And we know that not everyone can visit Montana’s Museum in Helena. This is one more way we’re making sure Montana’s stories can be accessed by Montanans from Yaak to Alzada.”

The largest object featured is the Lewis and Clark Bridge near Wolf Point. When it opened in 1930 it provided the only public access over the Missouri River for 350 miles, and MHS accepted ownership of the historic, three-span, Pennsylvania through truss bridge in 1998.

White Swan Robe

A Crow-painted pictographic buffalo hide depicting a polychromatic war record with 24 men wielding guns and lances and 11 horses. 

The smallest objects are pottery shards from the Hagan archaeological site. As one of only two permanent village sites excavated in Montana, the Hagan site is a National Historic Landmark north of Glendive. Artifacts from the site indicate that Hagan, settled sometime between 1550 and 1675, may be the key to a crucial turning point of a people with woodland roots as they transitioned to plains bison culture.

Launching a full exhibit online is a first for MHS, historical specialist Martha Kohl said.

“We’ve done some in a minimal way, but this is the first one with such a big debut,” she said.

The museum wants to judge the popularity of “Appropriate, Curious, & Rare” to determine the viability of future online exhibits, she said.

Nitrous Oxide Tank from Buffalo Dental Manufacturing Co., New York

A nitrous oxide tank from Buffalo Dental Manufacturing Co., New York.

MHS secured funding through the state Cultural & Aesthetic Grant Program for a book project, and saw fit to use some of that work to build the exhibit, she said. As part of a much larger project, staff started with about 250 objects on a spreadsheet, whittling it down based on type of object and geography, Kohl said.

To view the exhibit, visit the MHS website,, and follow the link on the homepage to the online exhibit.

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin


Natural Resources Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter / Assistant Editor for The Independent Record.

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