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 Western Heritage Center Collections Summary

The Western Heritage Center cares for a collection of over 17,000 objects, including historic photographs, American Indian beadwork and artifacts, western art, including the James Kenneth Ralston Collection, architectural drawings, fire fighting equipment, Thomas Molesworth furniture, western tack, clothing and textiles, historic guns, advertising memorabilia and oral histories pertaining to the people and places of the Yellowstone River Valley and the Northern High Plains.


Crow doll, circa 1900. 87.18.17
1. Photographs 

Our photograph collection contains approximate 6,000 images that depict the ethnic and social history of life in the Yellowstone River Valley.  Included among images are businesses, transportation, events, public buildings, farming and ranching, American Indian culture, and recreation, with an emphasis on Billings and the surrounding communities of Reed Point, Red Lodge, Colstrip, the Musselshell Valley.  We also have a photo album that once belonged to noted western artist, Joseph Henry Sharp.  Recent acquisitions include photographs of Billings between 1907 and 1954, taken by amateur photographer, Arthur Frank Salsbury, and photographs depicting wildlife and outdoor recreation in the 1960s taken by Bill Jensen, a skilled photographer and magazine writer.

Coulson, along the Yellowstone River, 1882. 98.23.111.

2. Native American Collections Cecil Dunn Collection

The Cecil Dunn Collection features Northern Arapaho beadwork gifted to to Royal Balcom, who served as warden at St. Michael’s Mission at Ethete, Wyoming on the Wind River Reservation between 1910 and 1926.  This collection  includes a painted hide depicting the Eastern Shoshone Sun Dance painted by Charles Washakie, son of the Chief Washakie.  The Buffalo Bill Historical Center and the Smithsonian Institution also have painted robes by Charles Washakie in their collections.  View selected items from the WHC collection, courtesy of the Chief Washakie Foundation.


Northern Arapaho horn spoon. WHC 2000.17.12.

Wind River Shoshone painted hide, made by Charles Washakie, circa 1910. 2000.17.26.

Regional Native American Items

The museum features fine examples of the beadwork, clothing, and unique objects from Crow, Northern Cheyenne, and Nez Perce cultures.  

Chief Plenty Coups life mask, Crow, circa 1904. WHC 1991.80.01

3.  Regional Western Art Collection

The western art collection includes original paintings by Billings artists, Leroy Greene and James Kenneth Ralston and photographs by L.A. Huffman, a Miles City photographer known for his hand-tinted images of eastern Montana in the late 1800s. 

Painting by LeRoy Greene. Mrs Christian Yegen (WHC 78.83.05)

James Kenneth Ralston Collection

The J.K. Ralston Collection includes paintings that depict significant events in the Yellowstone Valley and elsewhere in Montana.  The artist’s cabin studio and its contents, and personal effects owned by the artist are all housed at the Western Heritage Center.


James Kenneth Ralston painting. 2005.02.021.


John Popovich and J.K. Ralston, consultants during the filming of Little Big Man, 1969. 2005.02.008.

4. Architectural Drawings

This collection features two well known 20th century architects, Chandler Cohagen and John Gustave Link.  Chandler Cohagen designed homes and businesses and renovated several historic buildings in Montana. About 500 drawings that highlight some of Cohagen’s best work are housed at the Western Heritage Center.

The museum houses a collection of original photographs from John Gustave Link, a prominent Billings architect.  Link designed several courthouses in Montana and Wyoming.   Link’s architectural plans and drawings are housed at Montana State University-Bozeman.


Masonic Temple, Billings, architect John Gustave Link. WHC 99.55.18.

5.  Fire Fighting Equipment 

This collection includes pieces of fire fighting equipment, large and small, from  firefighting efforts in early Billings.  Items include a hose cart, pompier ladders, pulaskis, alarm box, rubber bunk boots, a brass speaking trumpet and photographs.


6.  Thomas Molesworth Furniture and Regional Western Tack

This collection includes furniture made by Thomas Moleworth, an artisan from Cody, Wyoming, and western tack made by noted saddle-makers in the region, W.B. Ten Eyck and the Connolly Brothers of Livingston and Billings.

W.B. Ten Eyck stock saddle, Billings, Montana Territory, (Montana became a state in 1889).  Owned by George Kirby, who ranched at Kirby on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation (Montana) from 1889-1918 when he sold his ranch.  Founder of the Kirby Land Cattle Company, Kirby was interviewed in 1938 by a historian for the U.S. Congressional Records in Washington D.C. 82.87.
7.  Clothing and Textiles.

Collection of hand-made costumes, period clothing, and regional quilts from Yellowstone River Valley donors.

Brown long sleeve satin dress in the flapper style with round tan collar with white lace work.   Sleeves edged in tan and lace.  Underarm sleeves torn and long the seam line of one sleeve.  Collar frayed on the edges.  Snap is torn off of one cuff, circa 1928. 78.113.14.

8.  Guns and the Harry Frahm Collection 

Our gun collection includes an 1831 69 caliber Harper’s Ferry smooth bore percussion musket and 1873 Springfield carbine serial #201042 and several revolvers, target pistols and shotguns from the Harry Frahm collection. 


Nock muzzleloader, 10 gauge double barrel gun with metal breastplate and tamping rod.  Harry Frahm collection. 2002.35.03.
9. Yellowstone Valley Memorabilia

Our memorabilia collection includes advertising materials from local businesses.  Of special interest are the Walk Over Boot shop signs from the 1920s and a full-sized, horse-drawn Baker Transfer vehicle used into the 1950s.  Other items include jewelry, medical equipment, domestic housewares, historic maps, social group histories, tourist pamphlets, books of local interest, newspapers, family heirlooms, school yearbooks, cameras, clocks, farm equipment, mining equipment, family suitcases and rare books. 

Luggage tag, Yellowstone Trail, 1914. 99.20.01.

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