Exhibits & Outreach » Current Exhibits

The Biggest Game in a Small Town: Photographs of High School Football in Montana and Wyoming by Morgan Tyree

August 25 – December 30

Photographer Morgan Tyree, of Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming, has traveled the remote two-lane highways of Montana and Wyoming to document high school football games in small town America.  Tyree has traveled from Wibaux to Noxon, from Lima to Sunburst, and in the past two years, he has photographed football action in Bridger, Wilsall, Harlowton, Denton, Belt, and Reed Point, Montana.  In Wyoming, he recently travelled to Upton, Meeteetse, and Burlington.  Morgan Tyree is passionate about football and photography. His photographs document a rite of passage on autumn weekends for families in rural Montana and Wyoming.

The Southsiders

June 23  – December 30

Billings was founded as a railroad town in 1882. The tracks, placed through the center of town, split the city into two halves. The north side of the tracks was chosen as the location for Billings’ depot which was quickly followed by the first four major churches, large hotels, the Parmly Billings Public Library, Billings’ City Hall, and the Yellowstone County Courthouse.

With civic development focused on the Northside, the Southside became home to the majority of early ethnic groups and industrial development, including the sugar factory. The neighborhoods developed a unique community centered on religion, family, and social groups. They saw everyone south of the tracks as Southsiders.

From Here to There: The Mapping of Montana

June 23 – December 30

Get close to a series of original historic maps detailing the changing face of Montana.  Starting as rough guides describing how to travel around mountains and along rivers, to maps directing us to Idaho and Montana’s gold fields in the 1860s, to maps showing the most traveled wagon roads through Montana Territory, maps have changed the way we see and travel across the Northern Plains.  The exhibit features the 1859-1860 Raynolds Yellowstone River Expedition map, Yellowstone Kelly’s original hand drawn map of 1878, and an 1882 plat map of Billings when it was still part of Custer County.  The G.K. Warren map of the United States, mapping possible routes for transcontinental rail lines from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, is one of the most important maps of the American West in the 1860s.  Join us in this unique perspective of Montana and the American West.

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.

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.