Powell County Museum

Mining, wood carving and local history can be discovered in the Powell County Museum. You can gaze upon a beautiful salt and pepper display, breath-taking antique furniture and a mining display that will take you back in time to the days of hard labor and sweat.

The story of the Deer Lodge Valley unfolds as you step into the Powell County Museum. Experience what life was like in early Montana through displays and photos of the area.


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Old Montana Prison

Guided and self-guided tours lead you through the intimidating Cell House and into the chilling slide bar cells and black box of Maximum Security. See what it was like to live amongst the turreted stone towers and iron gates at the “Prison Life” photo exhibit, then view the galloping gallows, currently located in the Clark Theater.

Stout iron bars slammed shut and locked for the first time on July 2, 1871. On that day, Montana’s Territorial Prison in Deer Lodge incarcerated its first occupant.
Guards no longer occupy the turrets set in each corner of the The Wall. The thud of heavy footsteps marching along the topmost barbed-wire- enclosed walkway is no longer heard. Emptied of prisoners in the late 1970s, the buildings stand now as silent sentinels to justice, a museum complex dedicated to law enforcement. Now open to the public for most of the year, this museum presents a chilling, bleak glimpse at life behind bars. A pamphlet distributed by the museum interprets each building and how it was used. Guideposts state the facts in a few brief sentences.

Guns and shackles and restraints can be viewed behind mesh partitions, along with artwork prepared by former inmates, and lethal weapons fashioned from kitchen forks and simple tools. Daily log sheets, in glass cases, describe in detail how guards and prisoners alike spent their days. Permission had to be granted by state authorities to grow mustaches, and there were written guidelines as to permissible length and care.

One display shows sturdy work shoes with concrete soles instead of leather ones. These shoes, weighing 20 pounds each, were ordered to be worn by convicts thought to be potential escapees.
Convict labor built large portions of the prison compound. Over time, inmates fashioned 1.2 million bricks by hand for use in erecting the original 1896 cell house and other buildings. Stone was quarried nearby and hauled to the site. Convicts cut the timbers and dug the lime for use in cement.

Inside the cell blocks are corridors painted a drab industrial gray, a broad yellow stripe along the floor defining the prisoner’s walkway.
The basement shower room is cold and damp, a dripping spigot the only sound. Heavy metal doors in the solitary confinement cells block out all light and sound. These doors insulate the guards on duty inside steel mesh cages from the rage of the isolated men.turkeypete

Not all the memorabilia is without humor or humanity. Cell No.1 was occupied by Paul “Turkey Pete” Eitner. Convicted of murder and sentenced to life in 1918, Turkey Pete became a model prisoner and was placed in charge of the prison turkey flock. Losing touch with reality, at one point he “Sold” the entire flock for the sum of 25 cents per bird, beginning a new career as the prison entrepreneur.
Humoring his mental condition, inmates were allowed to print Eitner checks in the prison print shop and he was permitted to “purchase” the prison and run it from his cell. He “paid” all prison expenses and “paid” the guards salaries. At age 89, Turkey Pete died in 1967 after 49 years behind bars. At his death, Cell No 1 was retired from use. His was the only funeral ever held within the walls of the prison.

During its tenure, visitors entered the compound from Main Street, passing through arched doorways cut in the solid, high walls, into a small inner room. Here, a hole cut in the ceiling could open and the guard would pass down a key on a long rope. The key could open only the second door into the grounds of the prison.
Surrounded by chain link, steel mesh, brick, concrete and barbed wire, it is a relief to conclude the tour and step into the grassy center yard. Scratched into the bricks in one sheltered corner are names, dates and prison numbers, a reminder of men serving out their time.

A flagpole stands in the middle of the yard, the guy wires for the flag snapping against the post, the pulley mechanism clicking rhythmically in time. Wind whines through chain link fencing, trapping scraps of paper against the fence.


Montana Auto Museum

Too many to list, but too much to miss, is a visit to the car museum in the Old Prison. Over 150 cars are on display from classic Chevys and muscle cars to a Schacht high wheeler and a 1915 Trumbull Cycle Car. Listed by USA Today as one of the Top 10 Car Museums in the country (read story here), the Montana Auto Museum offers a splendid display of automotive history.

On your trip through time see a DeSoto Airflow, Model T’s, V-8 Fords, Chevy Bel Air’s, a Ford Mustang GT500 fastback ‘Eleanor’, and a Chevelle Super Sport. A 1915 Seagrave Fire Truck, a Diamond T logging truck, a Vincent Amanda Motor Scooter, a Detroit Electric Car from 1913, and a 1964 Chevrolet Corvette Show Car customized in 1989, are just a few that will make a motor head drool.

See old photos of camping and look at the Cozy Camp Pop-up Trailer from 1933, visit a rare 1886 Benz Motorwagen replica, a 1967 Amphicar and much more.

For an up-to-date list of vehicles on display in the Montana Auto Museum, please see the list on this link.


Yesterday’s Play Things

Montana’s foremost doll and toy museum features the collection of Harriet Free. Antique Jumeaus and reproduction dolls done by Mrs Free, play with mohair teddy bears, Jeri dolls in full-body porcelain, dolls of Lee Middleton and much more. There is a cabbage patch with children of cloth, porcelain, and composition with Lady Liberty overseeing her domain. Rotraut Schrott is represented with four full body dolls.

Dating back to 1835, the collection of doll carriages, prams, and a bed are in pristine condition. Furniture, dishes and accessories round out the displays.

The Curator and crew have spent countless hours revamping old cases, bringing in new cases and decorating all to show off this great collection.

The Model Railroad fan is not neglected. A collection of rolling stock, engines, carriages and wagons, is displayed at the rear of the museum, together with a non-operational model railroad layout.

Also in the collection is a case full of antique Hot Wheel Cars. Toys of yesterday are on display for all to enjoy a trip down memory lane.


Frontier Museum

“God created man, but the Colt made him equal” is the title on one exhibit case in Frontier Montana Museum. This is the largest collection of handguns, spurs, chaps and all the cowboy collectibles between Cody and Calgary.  Old Desert John’s Saloon treats visitors to the most complete whiskey memorabilia collection in the United States. Housed in the Old Montana Prison Mule Barn, these exhibits shine in the ambiance of end-grain wood block floors and real tin ceilings.


What can one say about a museum that displays the items actually used by the American cowboy, rancher, frontiersman and women during the opening and growth of the American West. The items on display are the real items used during the period of 1829 to 1900, not the props seen in the western movies.

There are over 300 handguns and rifles on display. Some people look at guns as a weapon of destruction. In actuality, the gun is an engineering marvel and in some cases a work of art.

During the 1829 to 1900 period, there were over 10,000 gun dealers and manufacturers in the United States including the father of interchangeable parts, Eli Whitney. When one thinks of guns, it brings to mind the romantic famous or infamous individuals of the American West, i.e. Jessie James, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, and may others.

In addition, the museum displays hats, a large spur collection, many varieties of chaps used on the frontier, horse bits, saddles, – those items a cowboy took pride in owning, and in many cases, the only items he owned.

What would the growth of the American West be without representation of the Native American, the Plains Indians, The Sioux – a French word for fierce warrior, the Cheyenne, and other tribes. There is a representative collection of bead work, animal skin clothing, weapons and more of the Native Americans.

The items on display represent Don Cappa’s lifetime collection. So, come see us at the Frontier Montana Museum in Deer Lodge, Montana and relive the west as it was!!





Exhibition: Yellowstone Park Official photographer “Haynes”

Date of Exhibition: May 15th, 2017- October 5th, 2021

Time of Exhibition: Museum Hours

Location of Exhibition: Frontier Montana Museum

Cost: Museum entry fee

Contact Person: Melanie Sanchez, Curator

Contact Info: (406)-846-3111 www.pcmaf.orgcurator@pcmaf.org

Summary of Exhibition:

The Powell County Museum and Arts Foundation in Deer Lodge, MT is proud to present the upcoming exhibition “Yellowstone National Park’s Official Photographer’s; Frank and Jack Haynes”. The exhibition will consist of a series Haynes artifacts, field cameras, signs, photographs, booklets, down to a close replication of Haynes’s studio. The Powell County Museum and Arts Foundation is proud to present this exhibition by a generous contributor from Montana.

Haynes Inc. was established in the Park in 1883, it operated shops in camp grounds, hotels and lodges and general stores in the Tower Fall area in Yellowstone Park. Haynes catalog of pictures books and pictorial souvenirs as well as reference lists of Haynes pictures in various forms and sizes of Yellowstone and other western subjects. Haynes Inc. operated eleven picture shops in Yellowstone Park from 1883 till 1962 with the death of Jack Ellis Haynes. Jack Ellis Haynes son of Frank J. Haynes inherited his father’s business in Yellowstone in 1916 and continued as official park photographer until his death in 1962.

J. Haynes, Hayden Valley, 1887
Today tourists can enjoy the winter wonders of Yellowstone National Park in snow coaches and stay overnight in cozy warm lodges. But in the Nineteenth Century, the very idea of winter travel in the park was so foreboding that the first winter trip there was led by an arctic explorer.
Lieutenant Frederick Schwatka, who earned his fame exploring the frozen reaches of Alaska and Canada in 1878-80, led a group of a dozen men from Mammoth to Norris Geyser Basin in two days beginning on January 5, 1877.  Schwatka fell ill at Norris, but Yellowstone photographer F. Jay Haynes and three others continued on to the upper geyser basin and Yellowstone Falls. On their return trip, they were stranded on Mount Washburn in a blinding snowstorm for 72 hours.
Here’s how F. Jay Haynes’ son, Jack Ellis Haynes, told the story in 1920.


In January, 1887, the first successful winter exploration of the Yellowstone region was made. Lieutenant Frederick Schwatka of Arctic fame headed the party consisting of several eastern men, F. Jay Haynes, photographer, and a corps of guides, packers and assistants. Their outfit consisted of astronomical instruments, photographic equipment, sleeping bags and provisions which were drawn on toboggans; the party used Norwegian skis and Canadian web snowshoes, but the snow was so light that they sank readily and the toboggans were exceedingly difficult to draw. It took three days to cover the twenty miles from Mammoth Springs to Norris Basin; and the temperature the first night at Indian Creek was 37° below zero.
Unfortunately Lieutenant Schwatka fell ill at Norris and was unable to proceed. Mr. Haynes, desirous of obtaining a collection of winter photographs of the Park, employed two of the sturdiest men of the Schwatka party, and with Edward Wilson, a government scout, resumed the journey.
The toboggans were abandoned and this party packed their equipment and provisions on their backs—each man carrying about forty-five pounds.
Norris Basin was a gorgeous sight. Craters heretofore unnoticed by these men familiar with the Park in summer, steamed conspicuously. The foliage was heavily laden with ice near the steam vents and geysers, producing all the fantastic forms possible to imagine; while the entire basin resembled a vast manufacturing center. Tall trees buried in the snow appeared like bushes, and the general aspect of the country was completely changed; the average depth of the snow being about eight feet. The steam rising fully two thousand feet from the geysers at Upper Basin could be seen from the Lower Basin. The beautifully colored walls of the Grand Canyon were masses of pure white. The north half of the Great Fall hung in immense icicles 200 feet in length. An ice bridge fully 100 feet high was formed at the base of the fall, coming up to the spray line (about one-third the height of the fall.) The brink was frozen over and was hidden in an arch of ice a dozen feet thick.
Thousands of elk were seen on the exposed ridges of Mount Washburn. The trip over Mount Washburn was one of most unusual hardship and privation; a blinding snowstorm which lasted four days overtook the party of four. During this entire time they wandered day and night without shelter, provisions or fire before reaching Yancey’s ranch, an experience that nearly cost them their lives. The circuit covered was about 200 miles, and the thermometer ranged from 10° to 50° below zero during the twenty-nine days of the trip.


— From Jack Ellis Haynes, “Winter Exploration in 1887,” Haynes New Guide and motorists’ complete road log of Yellowstone National Park. J. E. Haynes: Saint Paul, 1920.  Pp. 134-137.


Original Haynes Studio, Mammoth Hot Springs, 1884


Haynes Studio, Mammoth Hot Springs, 1898


PCMAF is a local, non-profit membership organization in Deer Lodge which operates the Old Montana Prison as a museum. PCMAF also oversees and operates the Montana Auto Museum, the Frontier Museum, Yesterday’s Playthings, Cottonwood City, the Powell County Museum and the PEN Art Gallery as part of the Old Prison Complex.

The Old Prison Complex brings approximately 50,000 visitors to the region annually to experience the 19th century prison fortress and learn about 140 years of Montana correctional history. Visitors also have the opportunity to view changing art exhibitions and remarkable collections of antique autos, firearms, dolls and toys, historic clothing, furniture and household items and numerous other artifacts related to regional history.