Visit to the Museum of the Mountain West

Monday we visited the Museum of the Mountain West, just 2 miles East of Montrose heading towards Gunnison. Some of our other Aussie friends had been on the Saturday afternoon when they had some other activities going on at the Museum.

I think we might have scored going Monday as we had a personal guided tour by Mr Richard E. Fike. He runs the Museum and has been personally collecting all the artefacts and acquiring others and buildings since he was 4 years old. He opened his first Museum in his home at age 8. He is an archaeologist by trade, teaches at University's and has written many books.

He is “a walking museum” with the knowledge that he imparted along the way. I was truly in awe and amazed at this mans lifetime of experiences.

Now all of this is to the best of my ability to tap away fast enough on here as we went along, so I hope I got things right and can do it some sort of justice. Or just get there yourself! 🙂

We enjoyed our tour with a couple from Iowa. Along the way we met Greg, who usually restores wagons and carriages, and Susan, who is working a summer job before attending college and has helped in the restoration of the piano and stool that are in the early 1900's house they are currently restoring.

We started in at The General Store. A facade has been added to this once horse stable. When it was acquired the bottom row of logs had rotted from the horse manure but was carefully moved to site and restored.


The Granary, would not have had a facade originally. You would be able to see the 4×2 timbers on the outside and the facing lining would be on the inside walls only. That way the rain would run down the outside and dry but would not cause damage in the cavity.


The top door in the wall inside was where the grain went in and the small door at the bottom was where you got it from. You can just see it in the picture through the rest of the gear. This room is filled with old machinery, butt stocks being worked on, pistol frames, like it could be a gunsmiths workshop.


All these buildings would be in landfill if Richard hadn't saved them. The brick building saloon was built reproduction. It represents the Clipper Saloon.


The bar was up in Telluride and made by Brunswick. In the 1920's was used when you could only sell soda pop! Then the bar was placed in the Clipper Saloon in Telluride. It was burnt during a fire but has been restored, one pillar is charred in behind at the end of the mirrored back wall and underneath the bar top still has around 2″ thick charring. That just goes to show how solid some furniture and fixtures were back in the day.


Lee Wung was a Chinese laundryman in the 1880's. Story goes that a prostitute walked in one day and passed out. Mr Wung went and grabbed a business man from across the road to help and he told him, as a joke, he'd killed her. Mr Wung fled, never returning or retrieving any of his belongings. The businessman who told him this was fined $20 for mischievous conduct, around $400 today. This building holds the history of laundry.


The next building was a Chinaman's house. It used to be situated approx 8 miles south of Montrose. It was moved to its current location piece by piece.

In the very early days they would sleep on a mat and later they would have had cots. On and in the cabinet are many dishes and bottles excavated from various sites of Chinese presence. On top are Soy sauce bottles (l), dried vegetables jars (m) and whiskey (sake) bottles to the right.


We didn't go into the next one, but it was a Tack house.

Then came the sod house from Gunnison, every piece numbered by Richard, dismantled and put back together piece by piece. Using Adobe soil from the Adobe Flats that surround Montrose.


The school was from Uncompaghre, built in 1880's and opened in 1890. You weren't allowed to enter until the teacher rang the bell to say class was in. So as Richard unlocked the building he rang the bell for us to enter. The cloak room was where you hung your coats and your lunch pail when you came to school. Children would be assigned tasks like placing wood on and stoking the fire and getting water.


Of course some of you may know that there were no lady teachers until the Civil War and then they were made sign contracts not to get married during their tenure. You could 'spark' once a week or twice if you went to church. That means to date.

Barns and schools were painted red so they could be found in a snow storm and at the time was the cheapest paint to acquire. Of course maintenance was required as reds and blues quickly faded over time.

The teacherage used to be located up near the Fairview school and later became a milk drop off for farmers. Notes on the walls from the farmers to keep track of what they'd dropped off still remain on the brickwork today.

Inside are items of furniture that would have been similar to a teachers quarters, her curling iron ready to be heated over the kerosene lamp and of course – a copy of the contract she would have to adhere to.


Next it was into the 1909 house that is currently undergoing restoration work. The back section of the house was added in 1928.


The piano is Coromandel timber native to India and Sri Lanka (side note, from days of Captain Cook and later mining history, New Zealand also has a huge coromandel timber history) and more than likely would have two candelabras where the oval shapes are on the front, otherwise how else would you read your music as you entertained of an evening?


Next came the station house, probably would have had bunks in it for more than one conductor and rail workers.

The next little building was bought in a yard sale! Built in 1936, again carefully taken down and pieced together again, fitted out in period style.

The green box car over behind the railway platform was used in the film making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.


The church was brought in from 6 blocks south of Montrose. When first moved (and due to changes over the years) the windows were not period correct and it had no steeple. Eventually the steeple was added and from generous donations of time and money the windows have been reproduced in proper stained glass with the Lutheran symbols.

The old stove has been restored with its 32 pieces of nickel. The square grand piano from the mid 1800's was donated and is awaiting restoration.


Into the Depot next and there are all sorts of photos and movie posters that are all of films (mostly westerns) that were/partly filmed in Colorado. Yes even part of Crocodile Dundee 2.

The old style game machine is a gem. You looked into the sight and saw a negative picture, when you pulled the trigger a mechanism inside would poke a hole in it. Then it would dispense the picture with a hole where you 'shot' it.


The carriage house arrived in 3 trailers and then they had to figure out how to put it back together. Jack Dempsey heavy weight boxing great used to train in the top of it, (in its original location)

Built originally in 1895 most of the artefacts in the carriage house were salvaged and dug up from the original site. It has a 16 ft high, balloon frame. When the building was taken down, unfortunately, the square nails were sold off for scrap metal. Fortunately photos were taken of the inside and they were able to put it back together.


Back to the main building! This houses a whole little street of shops.

First up we were taken round the end to the Miners Delight Saloon.

Just outside of this is a fascinating piece of firearm history. It's one of those 'if only the walls could talk' pieces. The Colt was excavated from Richard building a two story office building in Ridgeway. The site was originally a saloon establishment and during the excavation of the basement revealed an old bathroom. The Colt was found buried in poop, so you can imagine the damage this and urine has had on it. Also found were penis syringes and a number of bottles etc. (the syringes you ask? What was their use? No idea, was having enough trouble keeping up but believe you me, my curious mind will need to find out!)


The Miners Delight Saloon – a reproduction of a saloon from a photograph of the Leadville saloon. The porch roof is not original but was from the True Grit movie building.

There were no batwing doors in saloons until they were introduced in the movies and bars were often across the windows because it would cost $1 to replace a pane of glass and workers normally only earned around 8cents an hour. So your drunken escapades could become quite costly if you weren't cautious!

The bison head was from a bar in (1889) St Luis. Back in the day of the railroads, it could take almost 8hrs for a train to wait for a herd of buffalo to cross the tracks.

Richard has his grandfathers 1908 pool table in the Saloon.

The 1858 bar is from a Nevada/Utah border ranch. Richard found it while researching and writing a book on the pony express. He did excavations and assisted in restoration to some of the pony express stations.


The pride of the museum a violin combination pianola (I didn't catch exactly what it is called) – 44 miles of wire and uses spark and 3 motors to run it. Last played on an English cruise ship but came from Chicago.


One of only 6 left in the world, the electric derby would play for a quarter and you would bet on which horse would come in first!


Next the vertical Music Box, made in Germany around 1889, the bells in it are very rare. A beautiful piece!


I have placed a short video of each on our Facebook page. They were pretty special.

There are 3 dentist offices, 2 set up from 1885. There would have been no running water, no electricity and their furnishings were dark and drab until sterilisation came in in 1915.

All false teeth until the First World War were rubber. Then later became Bakelite and so on. How do you reckon I would have gone getting my teeth fixed back then and if the dentist had been interrupted whilst using his pedal dentistry equipment?


Onto the drug store and the counters shown in the photo are from 1929, the ceiling pressed tin in the drug store was actually from a whore house in Cumberland, Wyoming.


Frozen Charlotte's – for a penny you could by a China doll. For a nickel you could get one with movable arms. Frozen Charlotte came about from a little girl wanting to show her dress off, she didn't wear her coat in winter and her arms froze to the seat rest. (So the story goes)


Look at all the prescriptions filed!


Bitters for medicinal purposes. More alcoholic content than whiskey. A lot of these bottles were found under old Mormon homes Richard had excavated.


All these postcards are collectible the Lucitania one is worth around $350.


Schmidt was his grandfamilies name and they had the store in Nebraska.

His grandfathers pendulum clock hung in the store and is made of pressed cardboard. It took him a while to restore it back as every time his grandfather painted the store the clock got a touch up as well. The post office was across the road from the store. As things got replaced the older items were stored in the basement and as Richard grew up he took them for his collection and Museum.


Abliah Johnson was a doctor in 1885 and bought the first woman doctor to Colorado in 1892.


An 1885-1910 rotating cabinet houses the bullet puller from civil war, bone saws and a skull drill.

The waiting room for patients, where you may be offered a cookie and played the gramophone to drown out the noise behind the curtains in the doctors office.

The gramophone was found in a pig pen getting covered by manure. Also a short video of this on Facebook.

The millinery shop was in Montrose, 1906, In the store window here is Richard's great, great Aunt's 1869 baby bonnet.

The final room houses items of Chief Ouray (pronounced u-ray) of the Ute Indiana. He was known as the white mans chief.

There is Butch Cassidy's saddle and chaps (Richard knew Butch Cassidy's sister and had been regaled by her stories of her brother).

There are also firearms and civil war ones that Richard found during an archaeological dig at the site of Little Big Horn battle. His knowledge is just incredible, I can't keep up!


The Kentucky flintlock at the top of this particular showcase is Bat Masterson's father or grandfathers.


The little green bottle found in Doc Hollidays room, the neck was broken off but the next pic shows what it would have been like.


Have you heard the whole Hatfield and McCoy's story? Or aware of them? The saddle below is one of the Hatfield's saddle.


Into the Dry Goods Store and to me of particular interest was his grandmothers dress. Apparently his grandmother and mother cut off the bottom to repurpose, the bodice was placed in the box it is still in today. The hair pieces in the show case are human hair and the braids in the bottom front were his grandmother's who owned the shop.


A quick last look at the 1923 mortician and doctors office. There is a machine that can produce anaesthetic and flick the switch in reverse and can suck all the fluids from the body. I guess you would want to make sure the doctor was on the ball that day!


Richard's collection is extensive, his knowledge even greater and I do hope that one day someone will take as much care, pride and historic attention to all that exists here.


On this day in history

Kat xo

For more pics I will have them up on the Facebook page some time soon



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