Public Programs

The Montana Historical Society hosts regularly scheduled public programs on a wide variety of topics relating to the Treasure State’s history and culture. Most programs take place on Thursday evenings (excluding holidays and a summer break). The Friends of the Montana Historical Society sponsor public programs the third Wednesday of each month, September through May (excluding December), and an annual March Lecture Series in celebration of Women’s History Month. Every fall the Society holds its annual Montana History Conference. Exhibit openings, curator tours, and family programs also enliven the year.

Public Programs for October 2015

Thursday, October 1, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. Presence of the Past Program Series—Cromwell Dixon. On September 30, 1911, 19-year-old Cromwell Dixon became the first person to fly over the Continental Divide when he flew from the state fair in Helena to the small community of Blossburg. In observance of Dixon’s feat, ten-year-old Spokane resident Jeriah Bye will present a program on a three-quarters-scale replica of Dixon’s plane that he is building. Following Bye’s PowerPoint, Bob Ohnstad, pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church in Clancy, will share a brief overview of the young pilot’s life and a detailed look at the eight days he spent in Helena for the 1911 State Fair.

Thursday, October 8, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. Presence of the Past Program Series—Helena, City of Gold. Filmmaker John Wheeler will be on hand to show and discuss his 1972 award-winning promotional film, Helena, City of Gold. Catch a glimpse of what the capital city was like on the eve of Urban Renewal and learn what made this film so notable to viewers at that time

Saturday, October 10, 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.Second Saturday at MHS. Sponsored by the Helena Community Credit Union, Second Saturday features free admission all day long and drawings for door prizes. Free admission is also offered at the Original Governor’s Mansion, 304 N Ewing, where tours begin on the hour at noon, 1:00, 2:00, and 3:00 p.m.

Saturday, October 10, 1:00 p.m. Join author Tag Rittel and publisher Dale Burk for the capital city premiere of Blacktail Cave and Bear Stories. In 1946 Tag was a youngster and he discovered one of the most amazing archeological finds in North America, a cave whose inhabitants date back to the Ice Age, maybe earlier. Tag has spent his lifetime exploring and mapping the cave—which is located northwest of Wolf Creek—and its five miles of passageways. Since the 1960s, has been the site of extensive scientific investigation. Over the years he discovered lots of bones and some stone artifacts, and when he opened the ranch to dude ranch vacationers, he started taking them on tours of the cave wonders.

Thursday, October 15, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.  Presence of the Past Program Series—Ships of the Desert on the Mullan Road. MHS Interpretive Historian Dr. Ellen Baumler will tell the surprising tale of the use of camels in Montana and the American West during the 1800s. For a brief period, camel trains carried supplies to mining camps via the Mullan Road. This strange tale began with the misperception of the Far West as the Great American Desert. Believing that camels could carry mail and supplies between the east and west more efficiently than horses or mules, the U.S. Army imported the first camels from Turkey in 1856. When the Civil War intervened, the army abandoned the experiment. Private companies took up the idea. How “ships of the desert” came to plod over the Mullan Road and why the experiment failed forms a peculiar, little-known chapter in the timeline of the Northwest. 

Wednesday, October 21 , 10:45 a.m.–12:00 p.m.Friends of the Montana Historical Society Program. Was territorial Montana the violent frontier typically portrayed in popular culture, or was the public violence of highwaymen and vigilantes an aberration from a more settled culture that developed between 1864 and 1889? MHS photograph archivist Jeff Malcomson will answer that question in his presentation, Homicide in Territorial Montana: A Violent Frontier?

Thursday, October 22, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.Presence of the Past Program Series—Archives Trivia Night. Taking their cue from popular Pub Trivia Nights, the staff of the MHS Archive program will host an Archives Trivia Night. Attendees will form teams and be quizzed on Montana History Trivia (with a focus on materials in our archival collections). Winners will get bragging rights and a “fabulous prize”! All participants will have a good time testing their Montana history chops and enjoy a “cold one”….root beer of course!

Friday and Saturday, October 23–24. 6:00—8:00 p.m., Lewis and Clark Courthouse at 228 Broadway. Halloween Ghost Tour. Meet the Spirits of Helena's past on a haunted walking tour through the Courthouse/Original Governor’s Mansion neighborhood. Meet at the back of the Lewis and Clark Courthouse at 228 Broadway where tours will leave approximately every 10 minutes. Cost is $10 for adults, $5 for youth 6–12, and free brave youngsters 5 and under. Refreshments will be provided. Proceeds benefit the restoration efforts of the Original Governor’s Mansion Restoration Society.

Thursday, October 29, 5:00 – 6:00 p.m.Book discussion—Strong Women. As part of the Lewis and Clark Library’s Big Read program devoted to Charles Portis’ classic western novel, True Grit, join in a discussion of strong women. Who is a strong woman in your life? What do you think of Mattie's strengths and weaknesses in True Grit? How does she compare to the girls and women of today? Come explore these questions and more right before Mary Jane Bradbury's presentations on one of Montana's strongest women, Nancy Cooper Russell.

Thursday, October 29, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.Presence of the Past Program Series—Kid Gloves and Brass Knuckles: The Life of Nancy Cooper Russell. If any Montanan ever had “true grit,” it was Nancy Cooper Russell. Wife of Montana’s famed “Cowboy Artist,” Russell was a woman ahead of her time. A self-taught businesswoman with an innate ability to take charge, she helped turn a rambunctious cowboy into one of America’s most highly acclaimed western artists. In a performance that brings Nancy to life, interpreter Mary Jane Bradbury will share the story of how the couple met, describe the world of art into which Nancy propelled them, and tell tales about the artists and celebrities the Russells befriended as they traveled from Montana to New York City, and eventually to a growing California suburb called Hollywood.

The Montana Historical Society's Research Center offers a variety of Programs on an ongoing basis. A list of topics is posted here.

To arrange speakers for your group or organization, or other questions regarding public programs, contact Kirby Lambert at 406-444-4741 or

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