Just a short one-minute walk from the Billings-Logan International Airport sits the small but mighty Yellowstone County Museum. From the outside, it might seem like your typical log cabin, but the place is a lot bigger than it looks—this 5,000-square foot building is home to many unique Montana gems waiting to be discovered. The Yellowstone County Museum (YCM) opened in 1956 and offers free admission as well as guided and self-guided tours. The welcoming and knowledgeable museum staff can take you on a journey through Montana’s storied history, winding from the past into the present.
We’ve identified eight rare finds that we think you’ll enjoy.
1. Historic Cabin where Teddy Roosevelt Stayed
The historic cabin serves as the museum’s entrance and gift shop. Built in 1893 by Paul McCormick, this building served as a gathering and entertaining point for McCormick’s larger homestead compound (the main house would have resembled an architectural style more in line with the Moss Mansion). President Theodore Roosevelt, a lover of the West and Montana specifically, was a personal friend to McCormick and a repeat visitor to the cabin, including to visit McCormick on his deathbed in 1921. Originally located on 31st and 4th in downtown Billings, the cabin was moved to its current location in 1954.
2. American Indian Ghost Dance
After decades of conflict, the Ghost Dance was a short-lived American Indian pacifist movement that spanned 1889-1890. It was based on ritualistic dances and was done in the hopes that it would result in the return of their ancestors, the settlers to forever leave, and the land to return to how it was before. The Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. has expressed jealousy over this collection, as their museum only has one Ghost Dance shirt. This collection, which features items mostly from the Lakota Sioux tribe, are on loan from Larry Williams [KM1] – a Montana born stock and commodity trader and author on the same topic – who acquired the collection through years of searching and buying. The collection features shirts, drums, children’s toys and artifacts that would have been used and created based on a ghost dancer’s vision.
3. American Indian Beadwork
The Yellowstone County Museum is also home to one of the largest collections of American Indian beadwork in the region. The artifacts are mostly from Montana area tribes, such as Crow, Cheyenne, Blackfeet and Lakota Sioux. Artifacts include everyday items ranging from necklaces and belts to leggings and saddles. Alongside this collection you can also view moccasins made from porcupine quills.
4. The Two-headed Calf: Charlie and Russell
You read that right—the museum is home to a taxidermied two-headed calf, named Charlie and Russell, after Old West artist and Montanan Charles M. Russell. While the actual calf only lived a few hours, the unique figure lives on at the Yellowstone County Museum. Stop by the gift shop and purchase a stuffed animal version of the calf, complete with “calf tags” (the ear tag ranchers give to their newborn calves) for each one.
5. Firearms Collections
The Yellowstone County Museum is home to a unique collection of individual firearms. The majority of the collection is made up of rare Winchesters from 1840-1930, Stevens Rifles, Springfield Trapdoor Rifles, and firearms from every major faction in WWI. Most of the firearms hail from Montana, and many have a fascinating story behind them. One of the guns is said to have belonged to a sheriff in the 1880s. That sheriff was chasing a band of horse thieves, but didn’t have a horse himself. So, he traded his gun for a horse from a stranger along his chase. That sheriff's gun now calls the Yellowstone County Museum its permanent home.
6. Connolly Saddle Collection
Connolly’s Saddlery has been in Billings since 1912, and the Yellowstone County Museum’s Western Room features a collection of historic saddles from the historic business. Take in this authentic local flare, and then you can head downtown to Connolly’s on 24th Street in Billings and to learn how the saddlery still creates modern models of these western classics.
7. 1901 Steam Engine Train
While at the museum, be sure to check out the 1901 steam engine on display. This model was one of the last of its kind ever built, and because it was never actually used, is the only one of its time with all the original parts. Had it seen action on the railroads, it would have been used carrying loads on an all-purpose train. This particular steam engine was made in Billings and has been at the Yellowstone County Museum since its opening in 1956.
Uncover the archeological history of Montana where you can learn about residents from thousands of years ago. Learn what people would have eaten and the tools they used at this model archaeology site. Check out rare replicas and original artifacts from excavations of the past and get a feel for what it would look like to unearth hidden clues into the lives of the Montana residents who lived 14,000 years to 2,000 years ago.
All this and more is waiting for you at the Yellowstone County Museum. The museum offers staples like these in their permanent collection, as well as an impressive rotating collection. It is a cannot-miss stop while in Billings.