Exhibits & Outreach » Presentations

Western Heritage Center historians are available to give presentations to your club or community group.  Local programs are availible for $50 (please call for a quote if travel is required).  Please contact Elisabeth DeGrenier at 406-256-6809 or elisabeth@ywhc to check availibility.

Available Programs include:

A Western Heritage Center Overview

Since 1971, the Western Heritage Center of Billings has been a leader in collecting, preserving and sharing the stories of the people and places of the Yellowstone River Valley and the northern High Plains. This presentation discusses the museum’s development and its role in collecting, preserving and sharing the stories of the people and places in our region.

Fighting For Women’s Rights: Hazel Hunkins Hallinan of Billings

Hazel Hunkins Hallinan, 1908 graduate of Billings' High, was one of the most influential feminist leaders of the 20th century.   As a young women, she was arrested several times for protesting in front of the White House in the cause of gaining national suffrage for women.  Still active in women’s rights issues into the 1970s, she was described then, at age 87, as a “tiny greyed-haired woman with a feminist vocabulary, a notorious arrest record, and a surprisingly sharp tongue.”  Learn her amazing story through personal photographs, memoirs, and national headlines.


Photo: Courtesy the Library of Congress.  Hazel Hunkins, 1917, in front of the White House.

American Indian Tribal Histories Project 

A powerpoint slide program that shares the American Indian Tribal Histories Project's role in sharing the history and stories of the native people of the Montana.

Pieces and Places of Billings History- Part I and Part II

In this presentation, Joyce Jensen identifies and describes many of the landmarks, markers, monuments and historic sites in the Billings area. Jensen is the author of several books about Billings history and is volunteer coordinator of the Western Heritage Center.

Dedication of the James Webb memorial, North 27th Street, Billings.

We Weren’t Supposed to Feed Them: The Story of German and Italian POWS in Montana

Many German and Italian soldiers captured in Europe and North Africa during World War II were sent to prisoner of war (POW) camps in the United States. Some of those prisoners came to Montana to work in the sugar beet fields. At the time, sugar was a very labor intensive crop and important to the war effort, as sugar was used to make alcohol needed for ammunitions and rubber. Sugar beet crops were easier to increase than sugar cane crops. Information for this program is taken from oral histories, letters, newspaper articles, and gifts left behind by the POWS.

POW camp, Billings, November, 1944.

The Louisiana Purchase: Why We Are Now Americans

President Jefferson established an American presence in the West. Montana could have easily been an English, Spanish, French, Canadian or perhaps even Russian territory. Jefferson wanted to buy one town—New Orleans. Instead, he purchased a land, the Louisiana Territory, that doubled the size of the United States. Shortly after the 1803 land purchase, Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explored and mapped the northern reaches of the new Territory.

This fascinating program from historian Joyce Jensen discusses the Mississippi River, the town of New Orleans, why President Jefferson wanted to buy New Orleans, what sorts of shenanigans happened during talks in France, and why the purchase happened.

Public Domain Image from Wikimedia Commons
Thomas Jefferson Portrait by Charles Willson Peale

A Yellowstone Valley Photographic Journey: Historic Photographs from the Collections of the Western Heritage Center

To introduce the photograph collections of the Western Heritage Center, our historian has selected 50 favorite images from over 6,000 photographs. These images highlight historic trends, the ever changing landscape, extraordinary moments in Yellowstone River Valley history and notable personalities including Chief Plenty Coups, Calamity Jane and western writer and artist, Will James.

Rehberg Ranch, Billings, 1940s. Elton Sheidecker photograph, WHC Collections.

J.K. Ralston: History on Canvas

This presentation highlights the life and work of James Kenneth Ralston, also known as J.K. Ralston, a Montana artist who drew on historical research and then depicted life in the old West through his painting, drawing, poetry, sculpture and stories.

This presentation features Ralston’s sketchbooks, family heirlooms, and the artifacts collected to aid his depictions of famous western events. Ralston’s cowboy paintings and drawings evoke memories of his childhood days and range riding in Montana. The J.K. Ralston studio cabin, built by Ralston and his son in 1946, was recently moved to museum grounds and the interior restored to reflect his working environment. The Western Heritage Center is a significant repository of the famed artist’s letters, memorabilia and art work.

Life By Comparison: The Stories of Frederick and Parmly Billings

This program resulted from a year-long exhibit at the Western Heritage Center that shared insights into the lives of Frederick Billings, namesake of the city of Billings, and his eldest son, Parmly. Frederick, President of the Northern Pacific Railway, invested in the nascent city of Billings, and, after retiring to his family estate in Woodstock, Vermont, sent his son, Parmly, to oversee his business interests in Montana. Letters, diaries, music of the times, and photographs from the Billings Family Archives of Vermont and music bring the Billings’ family story to life.

Parmly’s letters offer a revealing, and often hilarious, study of life in Billings and the Yellowstone Valley in the 1880s. These letters give a glimpse into his daily life in the West and the complex relationship that existed between him and his father. There is a universality, like a Greek tragedy, to the story of Parmly, who was essentially sent to Billings to prove himself and whose untimely death came as a mortal blow to his father. 

A Meeting By The River: The First Crow Agency, 1869-1875

This presentation tells the story of the first Crow Agency, located east of present-day Livingston, and conveys the dynamic relationship between the Apsaalooke or Crow Indians, their tribal allies and enemies, fur trappers, fledgling entrepreneurs; and United States Government. Highlights of the presentation include an explanation of 1873 Judith Basin treaty negotiations, speeches given by Crow leaders and lifestyle differences between the Crow and newcomers to the region. The descriptions of Indian agents posted on the Crow Reservation from 1869-1875 provide a rich contrast between federal leadership styles and cultural concerns.

First Crow Agency, Mission Creek, 1872. William Henry Jackson photograph is shown overlaid on present landscape, east of Livingston. Photograph by Kevin Kooistra.

Ghost Signs: A Sign of the Times

Ghost signs are the hand painted advertisements lingering on the sides of historic buildings and rock faces. They reveal different periods of occupancy, provide a sense of continuity to public spaces, and become a part of a community’s memory. Learn how different means of transportation dictated the location of advertising and how signs were attached to buildings. The presentation includes some of the more impressive ghost signs in the Billings and the Yellowstone River Valley. Many of the images are from the Western Heritage Center permanent collection.

McCormick Seeds and Feeds sign, Montana Avenue, about 1930, Western Heritage Center.

The Railroad Shapes Our Towns

The railroad impacted planning, design and settlement of the Montana and this presentation illustrates the continuing presence of railroads in and impact upon Billings and other Montana towns.

Billings plat map, Custer County, 1882. Western Heritage Center.

To the Best of My Ability: The Legacy of Senator Mike and Maureen Mansfield

This presentation shares the story of Senator Mike Mansfield and his wife, Maureen, two of the most influential Montanans of the 20th century. This unlikely couple, a gangly Butte miner with an 8th grade education and a sophisticated college graduate and school teacher, forged a partnership over six decades that “brought quiet dignity to public service.” (The Missoulian, 1999).

Mike Mansfield represented Montana in the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate from 1942 to 1977. He served as Senate majority leader for 16 years and was the United States Ambassador to Japan during the Carter and Reagan administrations.

Natural and Other Disasters in Billings History

Keen memories and saved photographs recall times when disaster has struck. Take in a sampling of photographs from natural disasters that have befallen Billings, including floods, blizzards and tornados. This presentation, based upon local newspaper accounts, photographs and oral histories, also includes other calamitous events such as murders and plane crashes.

Yale Oil July 26, 1935. Arthur Frank Salsbury Photograph, Bob Fears Collection, Western Heritage Center

Flood of June 1937, Grand Avenue, Billings. Arthur Frank Salsbury Photograph, Bob Fears Collection, Western Heritage Center

We’re Making History: Billings First 125 Years

This presentation is a condensed version of the Western Heritage Center exhibit, “We’re Making History: Billings’ First 125 Years,” It celebrates Billings rise from humble beginnings as a railroad town and irrigated farming community to one of the largest cities on the northern High Plains. The presentation discusses the community’s early beginnings when the Minnesota and Montana Land & Improvement Company incorporated the townsite and explores the growth of the city nicknamed the Magic City and the Midland Empire.

Transportation History of the Yellowstone River Valley: Historic Trails Contemporary Travelers

This presentation features the people who built the trails across the Yellowstone River region.

Yellowstone Trail, 1915, Western Heritage Center.

Holiday Greetings from the Western Heritage Center

This presentation highlights holiday stories, greeting cards and photographs from the Western Heritage Center permanent collection.

Architectural Styles of Billings’ South Side

This presentation is a photographic presentation of South Side architecture, including commercial structures and residences, embodies the progression of architecture in the West over the last century. Architectural styles range from frontier town false fronts and elaborately detailed Queen Anne buildings popular in the late 19th century to the simple designs of post-WWII cottages and popular ranch designs of the 1950s. The presentation highlights the beautiful historic designs and detailing found in Billings’ oldest neighborhoods and acknowledges the contributions of the South Side community to our city’s history.