Montana 2014 Part 1 – Day 38 – Miles City: The Range Riders

Thursday June 26, 2014, 6 miles (10 km) – Total so far: 1,719 miles (2,766 km)

The woman gives me a map of the museum. On it is drawn a bunch of little arrows in an incredibly complex pattern. The little arrows denote a path through the 11 buildings that comprise the Range Riders Museum. If you follow the arrows, you won’t miss a single thing. I look over the directions and then look back at the curator and the other volunteer. “Do you do a sweep of the building at closing, just in case someone misses an arrow”?

The museum began in 1942 in the small building we are in now. It has since grown with donations to include the officer’s quarters from old Fort Keogh, a schoolhouse, an old cabin, a machinery shed, and a whole bunch of other exhibits scattered throughout the buildings. Unfortunately, it is not a museum with interpretive panels and themed educational objectives. It is really just a collection of donations from the area. It feels more like you are walking through an antique store full of trinkets and old household items. There is a gallery of Charlie Russell paintings (arguably Montana’s most well-known western painter), some impressive arrowhead collections, a bunch of really cool old photos and a few dioramas that are narrated when you press a button. But mostly, it’s 11 buildings full of a bunch of old stuff without much interpretation. I do manage to follow that complex set of arrows all the way through the place, though. I’m a bit disappointed, however. I don’t end up learning much about the area – I just feel like I wandered through a bunch of old sheds out the back of someone’s property that needed cleaning out.

The town really does have an interesting history, however. Fort Keogh was constructed as a military outpost in 1876 after the defeat of Custer at Little Big Horn. In 1881, the railroad came through and Miles City became a major cattle shipping point. Herds of cattle from Texas were driven up here to fatten up on the rich grasslands then were shipped to Chicago via rail. There are many great old photos of cattle being driven down the main street. The transcontinental railroad arrived in 1907 and established a division headquarters in Miles City. This set off a homesteading land rush and Miles City grew quickly – it is evident in the downtown buildings which all seem to have sprung up in the early 1900s.

The town is still a major regional agricultural centre. There have been attempts at revitalizing downtown, but it’s pretty dead. All of the old signs for the many bars are interesting to take a look at though.

I round out the afternoon with getting some pictures printed at Walmart, visiting the post office and the library, and enjoying another DQ Smores Blizzard. I also chat with a local guy who has done some touring (Washington coast to here; plans for an Adirondacks tour this fall) and is pretty enthusiastic about my trip. He’d love to do a longer tour with his daughter one day – he’s even bought a tandem for them to ride – but he says she’s still a bit too young to really enjoy more than day rides. More storms roll through town again this evening.

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