The fact that there is even a museum in Libby speaks volumes for the character and generosity of the good people of our area. On June 3rd, 1978, The Heritage Museum officially opened its doors. It was the culmination of an idea put forth by a small group of citizens in 1973, looking to house the historical collection of Roy Porter. It was a remarkable cooperation of hundreds of people. An army of volunteers fell the trees, hauled
and peeled the logs, poured the concrete floor, decked the roof and built the exhibits. This was all done by a crew of volunteers. The museum is staffed today by a core group of ten volunteers with an additional ninety or so rounding the team out. The unique building is now one of Libby’s landmarks, and the community is very proud of this 12-sided log structure 130-feet wide in diameter.
Volunteer Laurie Mari smiled as she opened the doors of the interesting building. Upon entering the log structure, a whole world of local history and exhibits overwhelm the observer! Glass encased wildlife scenes are labeled and contain realistic habitat as well as museum mounts. Mammals, Wilson’s Phalarope, green winged teal, mink, owls, and waterfowl are set up tastefully for viewing. Huckleberry picking is featured in one exhibit. Railroad displays feature the history of Stone Hill, Stryker, and J. Neils Lumber company railroad lines. A small cobblers shop is simulated for the viewer. Libby History is recapped with a photo of the “new” bridge over the Kootenai River circa 1912 and a really neat exhibit on Libby’s all volunteer Fire Department begun in 1911. Another diorama highlights the days of steamboats on the Kootenai. It shows photos of the ”Annerly,” which in 1893 was the first steamboat for the North Star Company to run from Fort Steele, Canada to Jennings, Montana, and the “Kokanee,” which ran from Nelson, B.C., to Kaslo.
We can look into the history of our area Native Americans as we see a setup of handmade tools, clothes, and beadwork, some intricately designed. The next encampment setup shows a conical tule mat lodge and deer tanning tools. The Kootenai were called the “Deer Robe People,” partly due to their skills at brain tanning deer hides which made them white, soft, and pliable. A re-enactment of the Libby Miner press room, an early newspaper from 1892 shows editors Pace and Doyle hard at work. The history of David Thompson, a Scottish explorer and one of the great geographers of early explorations is illustrated. The dress of the “Voyageur,” some of the first explorers and fur traders, is highlighted. The method for making canoe paddles from birch and maple are explained.
One can almost picture David Thompson, travelling with French fur traders and explorers with names like Beaulieu, Mousseau, Lussier, LeCamble, and a Kootenai Indian guide named LeMonde. The Frenchmen added the term “Le Cabinet,” or the Cabinets to our mountain range for their resemblance to drawers or cabinets. Thompson’s state of the art land survey equipment of the day is shown, as are trading goods such as 100% wool “point blankets,” silver nose rings, brooches and armbands. These items along with red clay pipes from Pipe Creek clay, tinder rests, and strykers were surely traded at the post set up near the confluence of the Kootenai and Fisher Rivers around 1808.
Additional exhibits on early photography and the time honored traditions of early logging and mining in our area, really have to be seen to be appreciated! Rounding out the array of displays are fashion, souvenirs, and a history of 100 years of U.S. Forest Service Management of the Kootenai National Forest. A spectacular representation of early times in Kootenai Country Montana has been magnificently depicted in the award winning movie, The Revenant!
Take a trip into Libby’s History and Kootenai River Country’s unique museum and we are sure you will not be disappointed! The museum is located at 34067 U.S. Highway 2 in Libby, Montana. For more information call (406) 293-7521 or visit www.libbyheritagemuseum.org. General open season is June, July and August. The Museum hours are Monday-Saturday 10:00-5:00 p.m. and Sunday 1:00-5:00 p.m. Archives open by appointment and The Heritage Museum is a 501(c)(3) corporation run completely by volunteers. This donation supported entity appreciates donations.