Exhibits & Outreach » Current Gallery Exhibits

America's Mixtape: Music & Social Movements, 1920s-Present

March 1- June 3

Local students from Bruce Wendt’s West High class researched songs about social movements from 1920-2010 and chose one song to represent each decade. They researched the issues and found photographs and newspaper clippings, nationally and locally, that identified with their selected song. The following is their work.


The Real West: Farming and Ranching Families of the Yellowstone Valley

May 12 – August 19

The photographs and oral history quotes featured in this exhibition present a personalized view of farming and ranching in the Yellowstone River Valley from 1880 to the 1940's.  The thirty individuals featured in the exhibition experienced life in the Yellowstone River Valley as dryland and irrigated farmers, livestock ranchers, and homemakers.  Presenting their own reminiscences and family photographs, the exhibit provides a unique glimpse into the world of rural Montana during the first half of the twentieth century.

The photographs and oral history quotes originate from a two year oral history project of the Western Heritage Center, Billings, Montana.  From 1993 through 1995, the Western Heritage Center community historian conducted interviews with farming and ranching families of the Yellowstone River Valley.  The interviews focused on the region's history from 1880 to 1940.  Several of those interviewed allowed the Western Heritage Center to make copies of their family photographs.  These interviews and family photographs form the basis for The Real West: Farming and Ranching Families of the Yellowstone River Valley.


Coming Home: The Northern Cheyenne Odyssey 

March 1 – June 10

This exhibit focused on two bands of the Cheyenne, the Little Wolf Band and the Dull Knife Band and focuses on only a small piece of the Northern Cheyenne history. It begins in 1876 and continues through present day with the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

The exhibition is rare and unprecedented. It examines a most difficult and courageous time for the Northern Cheyenne people, the period from 1876 to 1884, and does so from the perspective of members of the Northern Cheyenne Nation. We focus significant attention on the events surrounding the Fort Robinson Breakout, a heroic act of escape from imprisonment on January 9, 1979, that ensured the survival of a sizeable portion of the Northern Cheyenne Nation. We placed the brave efforts of our relatives in the past within a human framework so we see their extraordinary actions, in the face of impossible odds, were the actions of real families and relatives and communities joined together to protect their loved ones, provide a homeland, and to secure Northern Cheyenne way of life for future generations.

This exhibit is presented in loving memory of Northern Cheyenne historian, filmmaker, and exhibit curator, Rubie Sooktis.


Echoes of Eastern Montana: Stories from an Open Country

This interactive exhibit will share stories of the people of the Yellowstone River Valley and Northern High Plains. Visitors can watch interviews, listen to amazing stories, read personal diaries, peruse family photo albums, copy favorite recipes, learn new Crow and Northern Cheyenne words, play interactive games, and hear local music.

People in communities as diverse as Wibaux, Colstrip, Laurel, Hardin, Forsyth, Harlowton and Billings tell compelling stories of sacrifice and struggle and offer lessons about leadership, home, and family. Come laugh at outrageous tales and discover the changing world of Eastern Montana.

Dude Ranch Lobby

The museum’s lower gallery has been made over to replicate the lobby of a 1930s dude ranch lodge.  Rustic western furniture, inspired by the designs of Thomas Molesworth, and a stone fireplace, provide the ideal setting to display paintings by James Kenneth Ralston, a regional artist inspired by the great stories of the West.


J.K. Ralston: Studio Cabin

James Kenneth (J.K.) Ralston (1896-1987) was a noted western artist who lived in Billings for many years.  In 1946, Ralston and his son built a log cabin to serve as the artist’s studio.  In 2005, the cabin was moved to the Western Heritage Center and the cabin’s interior was restored to reflect his working environment.  Ralston’s oil paintings and sketchbooks include scenes depicting his early years growing up on ranches and riding the range in Montana.  He relied on family heirlooms and collected artifacts to help him create accurate depictions of famous western events.  The Western Heritage Center merged with the J.K. Ralston Studio and now houses a significant repository of the famed artist’s letters, memorabilia and artwork. 

In Voice of the Curlew (J.K. Ralston Studio, Inc.:1986) Ralston is quoted as saying: 
"In looking back over the years, I must say the art game has been good to me.  It has been rewarding far beyond anything I ever dreamed of as a small boy living on ranch along the Missouri River.  Art was always the way I found to express myself and of the things that have meant so much to me and to my people.

I’m glad that the dice was so rolled out that to be a cowboy I was born.  I saw the curtain rung down on the last of the old time range business in Montana.  Like a lot of others, I hated to see it go.  Now it is history and I am very, very glad that I lived in time and to see and be part of it.

I have been drawing pictures as far back as I can remember and I have made it my life’s work to try and make the old west live on canvas."


American Indian Tribal Histories Project

The permanent American Indian Tribal Histories Project Exhibit provides visitors with an overview of Montana’s Native American tribes through maps, tribal flags and an explanation of their symbols, Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribal member oral histories and a chronology of the American Indian Tribal Histories Project, whose mission is to preserve and maintain American Indian tribal histories and culture.