O’Fallon Historical Museum: One BIG Reason to Visit

2020-09-22 18:22:31

We have one really big reason for you to visit the O’Fallon Historical Museum in Baker, Montana. In fact, it’s a world-record reason: Steer Montana.

Steer WHAT?

A steer – a neutered male bovine – named Montana.
Like most things in Southeast Montana, Steer Montana has a unique story. And, like any good story, it’s part fact, part fiction and 100% original. In fact, we could proudly add this to our “Only in Southeast Montana List of Quirks.”

You see, Steer Montana has a colorful past. He was born nearly a century ago on a farm in the Fertile Prairie community, just east of Baker. But what makes him so unique is his size. Steer Montana is BIG. So big that he is known as the world’s largest steer. In his prime this roan polled shorthorn weighed in at 3,980 pounds (that’s almost two tons), stood 5’ 11” tall, was 10’4” long. Perhaps most impressive was his 9’2” girth.

As the story goes, Steer Montana gained his massive stature to his diet of whiskey mash. You see, his owner, Jack Guth, operated a whiskey still during the Prohibition Era and Steer Montana benefited from the operation.Guth toured the country, visiting county fairs, carnivals and stock shows with Steer Montana as his attraction. Even after Steer Montana’s death at age 15, Guth had a taxidermist preserve Steer Montana, and they continued to tour, promoting with advertisements like this:

“The ferris wheel is taller (although not much), the merry-go-round is wider (although not much), but one of the “biggest” fair attractions… is Steer Montana, the 3,980 pound beef now showing on the street. If Steer Montana had a trunk he’d make a good sized elephant; if he had a tusk he’d make a good sized rhinoceros; if he had a smokestack he’d make a good sized locomotive. But he hasn’t any of the three, so he’s just a great big steer, the largest in the world.”COME VISIT THE WORLD’S LARGEST STEER!

Yankton Press and Dakotan, Yankton, South Dakota, 1935

Years later, Billings resident Don Foote purchased the renowned Steer Montana and displayed him at his “Wonderland in Billings.” Eventually, Baker business owner Bernie Heiser purchased Steer Montana for $5,000, brought him back to Baker and displayed him in Heiser’s Bar.

How’s that for a conversation piece?

Steer Montana’s final resting place is the O’Fallon Historical Museum. He is the most-photographed steer in all of Montana – likely in all of the West – and stands as a testament that we really are BIG out here in Southeast Montana.

History Nirvana

Like other museums in Southeast Montana, the O’Fallon Historical Museum tells the story of early settlers, especially the farmers and laborers, in the Baker area. In fact, you can stand inside a tar paper shack to envision how an early homesteader would have lived. Or study a reproduction oil derrick to understand the significance of the oil industry’s boom-and-bust that continues to influence Eastern Montana today.

In the Willard School, an original schoolhouse move from the Willard community, you can imagine what it felt like to study with a blackboard, books and all-classes-in one nearly a century ago compared to the digital tablets and online learning of today.

Jail Secrets

The main museum building was originally constructed in 1916 as the Fallon County Jail during a Montana’s “county splitting craze” and is the only building in Fallon County on the National Historic Register. The building incorporates the Craftsman ideals of simplistic and honest design. The sheriff and his family lived on the main floor with criminals – from locals “needing to sleep it off” to more hard-core inmates – living on the second floor.

Yes, things were certainly different a century ago.

Today you can still see the thick walls, steel security door and pass-through, where the sheriff’s wife would hand out meals.

Those who follow paranormal activity may interested in the lore about the sheriff who committed suicide in the home, the cool drafts staff sometimes encounter and other intriguing stories of the many prisoners who spent time within these walls.

Collections & Murals

The O’Fallon Historical Museum also boasts several unique collections including one-of-a-kind cameras, another of childhood toys, plus an extensive collection of one woman’s dolls. Rural communities are well-known for their patriotism and Baker is no exception. The military exhibit provides a detailed walk through history through uniforms, dress attire and related artifacts while the 1920s parlor exhibit represent the age of opulence even as homesteaders and railroaders chased the American dream across the prairies of Eastern Montana.

Several of the six buildings are decorated with murals that depict Fallon County’s history, giving the museum complex a unique flair. Expect to spend a few hours at this museum, which is open year-round, and be sure the ask questions. Staff love sharing the stories Fallon County.