High Noon Program: SARAH BICKFORD and VIRGINIA CITY

AUTHOR TO DISCUSS “RACE AND THE WILD WEST” AND THE STORY OF SARAH BICKFORD AT WHC

Dr. Laura Arata, Assistant Professor of History at Oklahoma State University, will deliver a presentation on “Race and the Wild West: Sarah Bickford, the Montana Vigilantes, and the Tourism of Decline, 1870–1930,” at the Western Heritage Center on Thursday, June 16 from 12 – 1 pm.  The program is part of the High Noon Lecture series and is free to attend.  Arata specializes in public history and the history of race and gender in the American West.  This program is sponsored by Gene and Ann-Marie Wade.

WHC Community Historian Lauren Hunley commented, “Dr. Arata’s work is really ground-breaking, and tells a fascinating story of a Sarah Bickford, who was born a slave, came West while still a teenager, and settled in the booming town of Virginia City, MT. Eventually, she inherited her husband’s shares of the Virginia City Water Company, and became the sole owner in 1917. In the last ten years of her life, Bickford actively preserved and promoted a historic Virginia City building best known as the site of the hanging of five men in 1864.”  That building is still part of historic Virginia City. This is the first biography of Bickford and is an important addition to Black and Women’s history in the American West.

For those who cannot attend in person, this program also will be broadcast through Facebook Live on the WHC page (https://www.facebook.com/WesternHeritageCenter/), and will be available through Community7 public television (access through www.ywhc.org/museum-programs/lecture-series/).


The WHC is located on 2822 Montana Avenue, and is open Tues-Sat, 10 am – 5 pm, with admission fees of $5 or less.  A ground floor, ADA-accessible entrance is located on the west side of the main entry stairs.  The WHC now offers free admission for SNAP recipients through Museums for All, and free admission for active military & families through Blue Star Museums. Information on other discounts, accessibility, exhibits, and upcoming programs can be found at ywhc.org or by calling the WHC at (406) 256-6809.

  • Posted on: June 16, 2022

MSU Billings Powwow

After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Montana State University Billings’ Powwow returns on April 1 & 2 in Alterowitz Gym on MSUB’s university campus. The theme for the 2022 Powwow is Resilience Celebration. Powwow grand entry begins on Friday, April 1 at 6 p.m. and will continue Saturday, April 2 at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. The Powwow host drum is Black Lodge White Swan, from Washington, Master of Ceremonies is Lawrence Baker from Four Bears Community, North Dakota, and Arena Director is George Abeyta, from Fort Washakie, Wyoming. Head Woman Dancer is MSUB student Madisan Chavez, and Head Man Dancer is MSUB student George Reed, both from the Crow Tribe

Free Native American cultural community events will take place throughout the week leading up to the Powwow. In partnership with the Rocky Mountain Tribal leaders, individuals can prepare for the Powwow by making drum tobacco and prayer ties on Wednesday, March 30 from 6-8 p.m. in the Student Union Building. On Thursday, March 31 from 4-5 p.m. at MSUB’s Native American Achievement Center, individuals can make their own smudge kits and learn about the sacred practice of smudging. On Saturday, April 2 MSUB and the Native American Development Corporation will host a 2K and 5K Fun Run. Participants will meet at the roundabout by the Billings International Airport on top of the Rims. Registration starts at 8 a.m. and the race begins at 9 a.m

MSUB’s Powwow is free and open to the public. Contest entrance fees are $5 for individuals six years of age and older. For more information about the Powwow, visit thePowwow webpage or contact Sunny Day Real Bird at sunnyday.realbird@msubillings.edu.

  • Posted on: April 1, 2022

Featured: Retrospective: Downtown Billings

Featured Blog:

Billings Gazette


August 13, 2020
by Billings Gazette

Montana Avenue, 1883

The 2600 block of Montana Avenue as it appeared in 1883.

Downtown looking north, 1895

Downtown is seen, looking north along North 27th Street, in 1895. The old First Congregational Church can be seen in the middle of the frame.
Western Heritage Center

Downtown looking west, 1900s

The downtown area is seen from the bell tower of the old Yellowstone County Courthouse in the 1900s. St. Patrick’s Co-Cathedral can be seen in the distance at left, and Lincoln School can be seen to the right.

Downtown looking east, 1900s

The downtown area is seen from the bell tower of the old Yellowstone County Courthouse, looking east, in the 1900s. In the foreground is North 26th Street.

Downtown looking northwest, 1900s

The downtown area is seen from the bell tower of the old Yellowstone County Courthouse, looking northwest, in the 1900s. The old First Congregational Church can be seen in the foreground.

Downtown looking southeast, 1900s

The downtown area is seen from the bell tower of the old Yellowstone County Courthouse, looking southeast, in the 1900s. The street in the foreground is Second Avenue North.

Downtown looking southwest, 1900s

The downtown area is seen from the bell tower of the old Yellowstone County Courthouse, looking southwest, in the 1900s. To the right in the background is what was then the “new” YMCA building.

Downtown looking south, 1900s

North 27th Street is seen from the bell tower of the old Yellowstone County Courthouse in the 1900s.

Broadway near railroad tracks, 1910s

The Billings Chamber of Commerce building sits atop a rail car near the intersection of Montana Avenue and North Broadway in the 1910s. Across the street is Chapple’s Drug Co., which occupied a portion of the Belknap Block between North 27th Street and Broadway. Every building pictured has since been removed.

Billings Gazette building, 1910s

Prior to the construction of the current Billings Gazette building, the Gazette was located at the corner of Montana Avenue and North 27th Street. The IXL Building Complex, as it was known, occupied the northwest corner of the intersection.

Midland National Bank Building, 1910s

The Midland National Bank Building, located at the corner of Montana Avenue and North Broadway, was home to a variety of businesses in the 1910s. Among them were the Wanamaker Basement Store, Toomey’s Drug Store and the Leitzke-Cross Sign Co. The latter was the source of controversy when this photo was taken, due to the sign depicting a nude woman (based on the Paul Chabas painting “September Morn”) at the corner of the building. The corner is home to a parking garage today.
W.E. Baker

Montana Hotel, 1910s

The Montana Hotel, at 2223 First Ave. N., was originally located seven blocks west at the corner of First Avenue North and North 29th Street. At that time, it was known as the Cottage Inn.

Brown Oil service station, 1920s

The Brown Oil Company station at 101 S. 29th St. is shown in the 1920s. The station was eventually removed.

North 26th Street, 1920s

The Billings Tent and Awning Company and Perkins Studebaker dealership were located on the east side of North 26th Street between First Avenue North and Second Avenue North. Most of the block was later demolished to make way for a motel, known today as the Best Western Clocktower Inn, and the restaurant space now occupied by Stella’s.

Clark Hotel, 1920s

The Clark Hotel was located on the northwest corner of Montana Avenue and North 29th Street. It was built in 1903 and demolished in 1968. The location is home to a parking lot today. The Losekamp Building, to the right of the frame, is still standing, housing the FarWest Gallery and Western Pawnbrokers.
Western Heritage Center

Former Big 4 Second-Hand Store, 1930s

Men stand atop the former Big 4 Second-Hand Store at 2922 Minnesota Ave. sometime during the 1930s. The store moved to 2716 Minnesota Ave. and operated until at least the late 1950s. The original building was torn down and replaced with a one-story brick building.

North Broadway looking south at Second Avenue North, 1930s

The intersection of North Broadway and Second Avenue South is shown in the 1930s. A lighted sign was suspended across the street for a number of years, directing patrons to the Babcock Theatre. Other businesses along Broadway at the time included the original Northern Hotel (far background, left), Acme Hotel and its theater (background, left), a bowling alley (right) and the Red Cross Drug Store (foreground, right).

First Avenue North, 1964

First Avenue North is seen looking east from about North 29th Street in 1964.

Fourth Avenue North and North 27th Street

The intersection of Fourth Avenue North and North 27th Street is seen from the roof of the Billings Gazette in 1977. The Silent Knight muffler repair shop to the right was replaced by Midas in the 1980s, while the Mobil service station across the street was replaced by MasterLube. The house in the right background was removed, allowing for more parking at the Battin Federal Courthouse.

Silent Knight Muffler Service, 1975

A Silent Knight Muffler Service garage is shown shortly after closing in 1975. The shop was located at the corner of Montana Avenue and North 30th Street, a location now home to Sunrise Studio and Art Gallery.

First Avenue North looking west, 1976

First Avenue North is seen, looking west near North 26th Street, in 1976. The Bonanza Lounge, Best Western Ponderosa Inn and Sambo’s Restaurant can be seen to the right.

First Avenue North looking east, 1976

First Avenue North is seen, looking east from North Broadway, in 1976. The General Custer Motor Hotel, left, had its sign removed and name reverted to its original name, The Grand. The Northern Hotel and Crystal Lounge are still in business.

North 29th Street, 1978

North 29th Street is show, looking north, in 1978. A short-lived downtown McDonald’s location can be seen to the left, in a location that is now home to Montana Vintage Clothing.
LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff

Broadway looking north, 1978

Broadway is seen, looking north from the railroad tracks, in 1978. The former Babcock Hardware Store, left, is vacant today, once housing Billings Hardware and Colborn’s School Supply Store. The Babcock-Selvidge Building, right, was home to Sears for a number of years until West Park Plaza was built. It is home to commercial space today.

Second Avenue North, 1978

Second Avenue North is seen from North 29th Street in 1978. Cole’s Department Store can be seen to the left, as well as the Hart-Albin sign. Sigman’s Furniture, center right, later moved to another downtown location on North 29th.
LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff

North Broadway looking south, 1978

North Broadway is seen, looking south, in 1978. The Fox Theater, right, was later renovated and renamed to become the Alberta Bair Theater. The Midland National Bank, left, later became First Bank Billings before being covered in glass. Today it is US Bank.
LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff

Downtown Billings, 1980

Downtown Billings is seen from the Sheraton Hotel shortly before its completion in 1980. In the lower-right corner is a former Big Bear location on North 29th Street.
BOB ZELLAR/Gazette Staff

First Avenue North looking east, 1980

First Avenue North is seen, looking east from the unfinished Sheraton Hotel, in June, 1980. The Lobby Lounge can be seen to the right. It was destroyed by fire in 1997. BOB ZELLAR/Gazette Staff

North 27th Street, 1980

North 27th Street is seen from the unfinished Sheraton Hotel in June, 1980. The building complex on the northwest corner of the intersection with Second Avenue North was demolished in the 1980s to allow for a City Hall expansion. First Bank Billings, in the background, was covered in glass windows and later became US Bank.
BOB ZELLAR/Gazette Staff

Second Avenue North and North Broadway, 1981

The intersection of Second Avenue North and North Broadway is shown in September, 1981. The Babcock Theatre complex is visible to the right, with a mid-century facade that was later removed to show the original brick structure. The east, west and south sides of the Stapleton Building, at the end of the block, had the white paint removed to expose the underlying brick. The Diana Shops salon can be seen to the left, in a space now occupied by Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters.

Corner of First Avenue North and North 29th Street, 1981

The northeast corner of the intersection of First Avenue North and North 29th Street was home to Corral West Ranchwear in 1981. Other businesses in the complex included Kasper’s Photo, Al’s Cleaners and a barber shop. Most of the complex was torn down, leaving a large space now occupied by a parking lot.
LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff

Montana Avenue and North Broadway, 1982

North Broadway is seen from Montana Avenue in 1982. The building housing the former Cook Travel location to the left was demolished, and the location now serves as parking for Western Security Bank.
LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff

First Avenue North and North 29th Street, 1985

North 29th Street is seen from First Avenue North in 1985. The building that was home to Sigman’s Furniture, left, is today home to the Yesteryears Antique Mall. The building to the right has since been demolished for parking.

Norwest Bank and Sheraton Hotel, 1990

Norwest Bank and the Sheraton Hotel are shown in 1990. The Norwest Bank building was originally home to First Northwestern Bank and was the tallest building in Montana when it was completed in 1976. Today it is home to Wells Fargo. The Sheraton Hotel was completed in 1980, becoming the tallest load-bearing brick masonry building in the world (a title that it still holds). The hotel became known as the Crowne Plaza Hotel Billings after it was purchased by the InterContinental Hotels Group in 2006.

Retrospective: First Interstate Center

Construction progresses on the First Interstate Center in September 1984.
Check out our retrospective gallery of the construction of the First Interstate building.
2014 was the 30th anniversary of its construction.
BOB ZELLAR/Gazette Staff