The Western Heritage Center has approximately 6,000 photographs depicting life in the Yellowstone River Valley and the Northern High Plains. Scenes depicted in the photographs include businesses, transportation, events, public buildings, farming and ranching operations, American Indian people and events, and recreation. Many of the collections are focused on Billings, Montana, while others were taken in the surrounding communities of Reed Point, Red Lodge, Colstrip and the Musselshell Valley. Of special interest is a photograph album once belonging to the noted western artist, Joseph Henry Sharp. Unless otherwise noted, the photographs in the Western Heritage Collection are black-and-white.
Alfred Baumgartner Collection (WHC 1985.06)
This collection of 200 photographs documents early Billings from 1882 to 1940. An early Billings photographer, Alfred Baumgartner had a studio on Minnesota Avenue around 1910. In addition to studio photographs, the collection includes several outdoor scenes from the East Rosebud valley in the Beartooth Mountains.
Photo Caption: Crow Chief Plenty Coups, Baumgartner Studio, circa 1895 (WHC 1985.06.086).
Bob Fears Collection (WHC 2006.02)
Between 1907 and 1954, local amateur photographer Arthur Frank Salsbury took 225 photographs of important events and significant locations in Billings. Highlights in the collection include images of the 1940 Northern Hotel fire and downtown, neighborhood and airport scenes. Bob Fears is the son-in-law of Arthur F. Salsbury.
Photo Caption: Aftermath of the September 11, 1940 Northern Hotel Fire, North Broadway, Billings (WHC 2006.02.091).
Jensen Family Collection (WHC 2006.06)
Bill, Margaret and Larry Jensen were skilled photographers and magazine writers. This collection of 400 images depicts 1950s and 1960s wildlife and outdoor recreation in the Yellowstone River Valley and Yellowstone National Park and includes photographs of Charles Lindbergh taken in Billings in 1922 and the Billings Hillclimb in the 1930s.
Photo Caption: Officials gathered at the Billings Motorbike Hillclimb, late 1930s (WHC 2006.06.361).
Bruce and Pearl Cook Collection (WHC 2005.13)
From 1935 to 1955, Mrs. Pearl Cook took 80 snapshots of Yellowstone River region that include Red Lodge parade scenes, Red Rocks Reserve Trumpeter Swans, Billings Saddle Club activities, and Cook Transfer Company business operations.
Photo Caption: Nye Goes Nuts annual summer celebration, 1940 (WHC2005.13.16).
Don Baker Collection (WHC 2001.10)
This collection of 100 images focuses on Montana communities served by the Milwaukee Railroad Line in the Musselshell Valley north of Billings, including Vananda, Ingomar, Harlowton, and Roundup.
Photo Caption: Melstone Railroad Depot, Musselshell River Valley, circa 1925 (WGC 2001.10.17).
Genevieve Smith Robinson Collection (WHC 2002.24)
This collection of 225 photographs is likely the largest collection of photographs that depict Reed Point, Montana in the 1920s. Genevieve Smith Robinson’s book, The Golden Days of Reedpoint, includes many of the images in this collection and the stories they tell.
Photo Caption: Reed Point Trading Post, 1920 (WHC 2002.24.182).
James O’Rourke Collection (WHC 1999.20)
James O’Rourke II and James O’Rourke III owned auto dealerships in Livingston and Billings between 1910 and 1960. This collection of 88 photographs includes images from their business ventures, including close-up views of a Packard sold in the 1930s.
Photo Caption: James O’Rourke III is seen in the 1950s photograph, taken at Harley’s Shell Station in Red Lodge. At the time, it was still possible to buy an orange slushy and feed it to bear cubs, (WHC 1999.2007).
Senia Hart Collection (WHC 1990.37)
This collection of 170 photographs documents growth in Billings from 1882 to 1960.
Photo Caption: For only a month in 1957, the new Yellowstone County Courthouse stood side by side with the 1905 courthouse. The 1905 courthouse was demolished after the photograph was taken. (WHC 1990:37.138).
Virginia Snook Collection (WHC 2001.28)
Virginia Snook’s father, Earl Snook, was an art patron and business man. In 1932, Mr. Snook took photographs at the funeral of his good friend, Chief Plenty Coups. The funeral took place in Pryor, Montana. Mr. Snook also befriended and photographed the artist, Will James, who spent a great deal of time in Billings. These 100 photographs were a gift from the Estate of Virginia Snook.
Photo Caption: The artist Will James in Montana, circa 1930 (WHC 2001.28.40).
Walter Dean Collection (WHC 2003.08)
Walter Dean was a photographer and town booster who lived in Forsyth, Montana. His grandson, Peter Dean, donated this collection of 120 photographs which document the community of Colstrip in the 1920s and the development of coal strip-mining in that area.
Photo Caption: Inspecting the new coal mines at Colstrip, about 1925 (2003.08.53).
William (Bill) Rogers Collection (WHC 1998.23)
This collection of 88 photographs documents the townsite of Coulson and early Billings, as far back as the 1880s and includes images of people and places into the 1940s. Of special interest is a photograph taken of Calamity Jane in 1894.
Joseph Henry Sharp Photograph Album (WHC 1995.26)
In 1901, noted western artist, Joseph Henry Sharp, had a cabin studio built at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Under direction of President Theodore Roosevelt’s Indian Commission, Sharp painted several American Indians living in the area. This album holds 74 black-and-white images, taken between 1901 and 1909, of Sharp’s travels and Crow, Northern Cheyenne, and Blackfeet tribal members that would be depicted in some of Sharp’s paintings. In 1909, Sharp left Montana for Taos, New Mexico.
Photo Caption: Crow girl wearing an elk tooth dress, 1906 (WHC 95.26.03).
Ed Kopac Collection (WHC 1982.58):
This collection of 75 photographs, taken between 1930 and 1940, document agrarian activities undertaken at the Kopac Ranch and Campbell Farm Corporation in Big Horn County. Specific images include farm vehicles, equipment, and machinery of the dryland farm operations near Hardin.
Thrashing on the Kopac ranch, 1930s (WHC 82.58.31).