Road tripping under the open southwest Montana Skies treats travelers to scenes of America the Beautiful. The historic town of Deer Lodge proved to be a captivating tourist stop, with many unusual historic attractions.
Deer Lodge area was settled by ranchers in the 1840‘s. The Montana Territory was also alive with outlaws and vigilantes to curtail the lawlessness; in 1871 the Montana Prison was established in Deer Lodge. The prison itself was built primary with convict labor, which I found quite amazing when viewing the beautiful outside architecture and walls. The outer wall extends four feet underground. Although many tried, no
inmate successfully tunneled under the wall.
Visitors can take a self-guided tour through the grounds administration building and the cell house. Guided tours are offered twice daily, call ahead for times. The cell house did not have running water until 1912 when a new cell house was built, again using convict labor. When walking through these cell blocks visitors can see that prisoners in Montana, before 1979 when the new prison was built in another location, knew they were in confinement, being punished for their crimes and not in a dorm with resort privileges. I am sure those prisoner gave some thought to not coming back here. They did have rehabilitation classes in the old prison, and using convict labor taught the men a trade. The displays show items used by the prisoners and items made by the prisoners. I was impressed with prisoner braided toilet paper, braided into a rope that could hold the weight of a man.
On the prison grounds the old theatre remains, it is in bad shape but you can still tell of the grandeur it once had. In the middle of the theater, the “Galloping Gallows” is on display. Built to be torn down and easily re-assemble, the mobile gallows was used thought-out the state including at the prison.
Admission to all the complex’s museums is included in the purchase of the Prison tickets. $15.00. Per Adult, AAA and Senior discount $12.00 Kids 10-15years $8.00, under 9 free. These museum and exhibits are all made available to us by the Powell County Museum and Arts Foundation, all without state or federal funding.
The Auto Museum is fantastic, do not be fooled by the limited street window space afforded it. The museum has more than 140 vehicles to marvel at. My favorite was the first electric car.
The Frontier Montana Museum has great collections of Pistols, rifles, spur’s and branding irons, as well as clothing from Wild Bills Wild West Shows and much more. The displays our presented with nostalgic western music, the perfect accompaniment. Original buildings from Cotton Wood City are there to explore, along with Milwaukee Railroad locomotives and the Last Spike Monument.
Yesterday’s Playthings is a collection of Kathy Jackson’s Redheads. They are a 40-year collection of Raggedy Ann Dolls, dating from 1915. There are other doll collections in the mix.
Discover the talents of the current Montana State inmates in the Montana Prison Hobby Store. You may not be in the market for a $400.00 belt, but the intricate handy work and unique items are a must see.
Deer Lodge has the only U.S. National Historic Site that is a working cattle ranch. The home and some of the 10,000 acres of Montana Cattle King Conrad Kohrs, now belong to the U.S. Government. Still a working cattle ranch it is also a tourist site. Visitors can learn about ranching by taking a 3-hour wagon driving tour stopping at a cowboy camp with a simulated branding taking place. Walking tours include a chuck wagon, blacksmith shop and cowboy talks. Check ahead for days and times. Free tours of the home are given daily. First built in 1862 as a trading post, with overhead sleeping quarters, it was purchased by Conrad Kohrs in 1866 and remodeled with an addition in 1890. The period furnishings were purchased by Kohrs German wife. Most everything has been preserved inside the home. What I consider really unique is the fact that this government owned business actually makes a profit. When visiting here you experience the beautiful, quiet and peaceful open plains of Montana.