Step into Montana history:
The sprawling Bair family ranch house is a visual record of memories that began when Charles M. Bair came west as a conductor on the Northern Pacific Railroad, made his fortune in the Yukon Gold Rush, and became one of the largest sheep ranchers in the world. Eclectic art and furniture gathered in New York, Portland and Europe by daughters Marguerite and Alberta fill the 26-room, 11,000 square foot home. The 7,300 square foot Charles M. Bair Family Museum sits adjacent to the Bair family home and features large galleries that house original paintings by Charles M. Russell and Joseph Henry Sharp, Edward S. Curtis photogravures, Native American artifacts and rugs, and a range of works by European and American artists.
The Bair family collection represents a major cultural and historical legacy of Montana, and celebrates the unique interests of this visionary family. The mission of the Museum is to perpetuate the historic and artistic significance of this legacy through scholarly, educational and historic exhibits and programs. The museum focuses on the history and art of the Bair family and the family's impact and place in Montana and the West.
Admission: $5 adults, $3 seniors and $2 children.
Services and Amenities: The Bair Barn features a display of family photos, sheep ranching history and family memorabilia. The Museum Gift Shop offers unique items including books by Montana authors, baskets, jewelry, and pottery. Outdoor patio picnic area. Handicapped accessible. Vehicle and bus parking. Public restrooms.
Charles M. Bair came to Billings, Montana from Ohio in 1883 as a conductor on the Northern Pacific Railroad. He entered the ranching business in 1894 near Lavina and later moved permanently to Martinsdale. Although he became a successful rancher, Charlie Bair made his fortune in the Alaska Gold Rush. Over the years, he invested in mining, oil, and real estate to supplement his extensive ranch holdings, becoming one of the largest sheep owners in the world. At one time, Charlie was running as many as 300,000 sheep.
On the eve of a new century, Charlie Bair and his family found themselves financially and socially positioned to affect their home state positively on a number of fronts. Almost two decades of hard work, combined with the overwhelmingly lucrative outcome of the Klondike excursion, allowed Bair and his family to travel, purchase art, and to experience many opportunities in ever-widening social and political circles. It was during this time that Charlie Bair became great friends with Charles Russell, Joseph Henry Sharp, J.K. Ralston, and Will James. For many years, he and his family made substantial contributions to Montana and the West. The years between his birth in 1857 and his death in 1943 encompass the story of a quiet but competitive, ambitious, and enormously generous pioneer, father, citizen, entrepreneur, and philanthropist who had left his mark on the West. Charlie Bair, the King of the Western Wool Growers, was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City in 1975.
The Bair home was built around an old homestead house, finished in 1936, in time for Mr. and Mrs. Bair's 50th Wedding Anniversary. Bair's daughters, Alberta and Marguerite, who were the last to live in the house, purchased many of the antiques and works of art on their frequent trips to Europe. and Joseph S. Sharp collected by the family adorn the walls of many rooms, while the original work hangs in the museum.
The eclectic Bair collection blends the cultures of Europe and Montana. The Bair sisters decorated their home with French furniture, English silver, western paintings, Indian artifacts and Chinese porcelain. A collection of Paul Storr Silver fills the formal dining room that also contains a Duncan Phyfe table along with an 18th century British sideboard. The home is a monument to beauty, hard work and good fortune.