Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

Long-Term Exhibits

Charles M. Russell and His Friends, Charles M. Russell, Oil on canvas, 1922, Montana Historical Society, Mackay Collection, X1952.01.10The Mackay Gallery of Russell Art

This 2,000 square foot exhibit gallery features the art of Montana's "Cowboy Artist" Charles M. Russell (1864–1926), celebrated artist and illustrator. This exhibit is comprised of approximately 80 art pieces, including major oils, watercolors, pen and inks, pencil sketches, bronzes, sculptures, and illustrated letters. Art on paper and sculptures are regularly rotated for preservation, to provide an opportunity to explore various themes in Russell's work, and to highlight themes in related temporary exhibitions.

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

Generations Passed, John Potter, Oil on canvas, 2006, Montana Historical Society Collection, 2006.40.01Montana in 1804–1806 was neither empty nor uncharted wilderness. Its flora and fauna, and its Native nations will be featured in this exhibit as the tapestry through which the thin thread of the Corps of Discovery is woven-often unseen-beneath other, vibrant patterns. Landforms and regions will be featured which represent the breadth of Montana landscapes and the depth of its living communities. Each of the areas featured figured prominently in the discoveries and contacts of the Lewis and Clark Expedition thereby providing quotes and observations from the explorers. But these sites were also spiritually and/or economically important to Native peoples and serve as a vehicle from which their life-ways and culture can be interpreted.

Montana Homeland

1930's Rural Electrification kitchen in the Montana Homeland Exhibit.Under the theme of "People and Environment," this exhibition examines what life was like in Montana's past. Montana Homeland focuses on how people lived, worked, played, raised families, and built communities, and how they adapted - to each other and to the world around them—in this place we know today as Montana. The exhibit explores the ways people interacted with the environment, and how their everyday activities reflected that interaction. These activities include the ways people obtained food, clothing and shelter; the tools and mechanical systems people developed to make life easier; and the ways people traveled and transported goods across the land, from the earliest individual families to the modern city.

Big Medicine (1933–1959)

Big Medicine exhibit on the 2nd floor mezzanine

White bison are extremely rare, historically appearing only once in every five million births. To many Indian peoples such animals are sacred and represent great spiritual power. Consequently, the May 3, 1933, birth of a white buffalo calf on the National Bison Range on Montana's Flathead Indian Reservation was greeted with celebration and wonder. The birth was a crowning achievement of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes' efforts to recover a population of bison for their reservation. Named in recognition of the sacred power attributed to white bison, "Big Medicine" held great significance for the people of Montana, both Native American and non-Indian. For this reason, in the early 1950s the Montana Historical Society made arrangements to ensure that, upon his death, Big Medicine would be moved to the state's museum and permanently preserved for future generations. Because he had some pigmentation - blue eyes, tan hooves, and a brown topknot - Big Medicine was a white buffalo rather than a pure albino. At his prime, he weighed 1,900 pounds, stood six feet high at the hump, and measured twelve feet from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. Although his fame spread worldwide, Big Medicine spent his entire life on the National Bison Range where he received special care that enabled him to live much longer than bison normally do. As a result, however, when he died in 1959 his hide was in poor condition, and in many places, almost hairless. Consequently, his advanced age will forever be reflected in the worn appearance of the mount.