In 1893, Florence Lindstrand was one of the first Euro-American people born in what would become Musselshell County 18 years later.
“She used to see Indians riding up the river when she was a child,” said Gary Thomas, her grandson.
Longtime ties to the region have nurtured Thomas’ interest in the history of the area. He took that interest to the next level over the past year as a board member of the Musselshell Valley Historical Museum in Roundup. The museum has purchased 10 new interpretive exhibits.
The museum’s “Clovis to Coal: An 11,000-year Community Identity Project” is being developed by Livingston archaeologist Larry Lahren, owner of Anthro Research Inc., and his staff. The company has done similar projects for museums in Big Timber, Harlowton, Columbus and Malta.
“We try to tailor it to the local area,” Lahren said, even though much of the history is similar for the different Montana communities.
“What’s different about this one is having a public demonstration of stone tool making and atlatl skills,” Lahren said.
The public demonstration, by Bill McConnell of the Past Skills Wilderness and Tracking School in Bozeman, is scheduled for May, when the museum reopens and the new interpretive displays will be unveiled to the public.
“Bill actually lives with this lifestyle,” Lahren said. “He kills everything he eats with a bow and arrow with stone tips.”
Lahren and his staff build educational tools of a different type, creating displays for small museums. They’re never quite sure what they may discover hidden in the corner of the buildings as they explore them for artifacts to use in the displays.
“What happens is people donate stuff and nobody is really sure what it is,” Lahren said.
Historical high points
Thomas said he liked what Lahren had done at the Harlowton museum so much that he sought the support of the Roundup museum board and then helped gather donations to fund the $10,900 project. He even kicked in his own money for the panels that will measure about 2 feet by 3 feet.
Since the display is small, it picked some of the high points in the past 11,000 years of history in the area, beginning with early ice age humans and continuing on to the homesteading era, which brought Thomas’ ancestors to the Musselshell Valley.
“This is quite an undertaking,” he said. “It’s the biggest investment in the museum in a long, long time.”
The two-story museum has been located in Roundup’s old Catholic school since the 1970s. It includes an old log cabin from the 1800s that has been reassembled and furnished, as well as agricultural equipment, a blacksmith shop, sheep wagon and printing equipment from the town’s newspaper.
Many of the items on display previously bore no interpretation to explain their place in the area’s history, Thomas said. When Lahren and his crew went through the museum to inventory items, they found some artifacts that weren’t from the region, as well as some that weren’t authentic.
In addition to informing visitors, Thomas sees the new displays as a way for young students in the area’s schools to get more information for Montana’s Indian Education for All program.
Paying for the work has required the help of many individuals, groups and businesses. Thomas hopes that a few more dollars may flow in to add other panels, including one on the mountain man era and more details on the coal mining era. Donations for the work can be sent to the Musselshell Valley Historical Museum, 524 First Street West, Roundup, MT 59072.
Even without those additions, though, the new displays will be worth all the pancake fundraisers, picnics and potlucks it took to raise the money, he added.
“This will, in my mind anyway, put this museum on the map,” Thomas said. “It’s extremely professional.”