Statue of cowboy and horse a reminder of Western past

2014-08-23T00:00:00Z 2014-08-25T16:58:08Z Statue of cowboy and horse a reminder of Western pastBy SUSAN OLP The Billings Gazette

A statue of a cowboy and his horse that sits east of the Yellowstone County Museum has a history all its own.

The statue is of William S. Hart, a silent film-era star.

"He was the John Wayne of his day," said Blain Fandrich, a cultural resource consultant with Ethnoscience Inc. in Billings.

The statue, titled "A Range Rider of the Yellowstone," was dedicated in 1927. It originally sat farther east and closer to the edge of the Rims, Fandrich said, but was moved in 1938 because a flood in 1937 caused a rock fall.

Hart had come through Billings in 1926 for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

"And he was very impressed with the city of Billings," Fandrich said. "He liked the people here and the view."

So he commissioned and paid for the life-size statue of himself, standing next to his favorite horse. It was dedicated July 4, during a three-day celebration.

"A few months in advance to his coming to Billings, there was a film festival showing his movies and essay contests in the schools," Fandrich said.

The only uncertainty about the statue centers around the horse's name. A Billings Gazette story at the time called the horse Paint, he said. But further research revealed that Hart referred to a stunt horse he used in a lot of his movies as Fritz.

"So I'm pretty sure that the horse he's with in the statue is Fritz," Fandrich said.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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