Gearing up for Spring

Much is happening here at the Daly Mansion.  Plans are being made to get the arboretum and the Mansion in tip top shape for touring guests, we are preparing to host The Montana Weavers Association’s Montana Treasures Show, the trees are tapped for our famous Mansion syrup, and Daly artifacts such as original art work are coming back to the Mansion for exhibit.  Come join us as a volunteer and/or a guest!

April Johnson-Managing Director


Recently I had the good fortune to be contacted by Jennifer Ogden at Victor School – she and her art class are working on a fascinating project, dubbed ‘Heyday’ by one of the students. It is a depiction of the making of a photograph, back around the 1890’s, of Marcus Daly’s stable and jockey crew from his world famous Thoroughbred breeding and training operation at the Bitterroot Stock Farm. What intrigues me most about this project, is that concept of a heyday. All that went into the building, the buying, the remodeling, the planting of shade trees and crops, and creation of the enormous enterprise that was the Bitterroot Stock Farm is epitomized in this fleeting image that the students are brilliantly transforming onto panels, for ultimate display at the Fairgrounds.  Marcus Daly’s true passion flowered for just a limited time before his early demise, and over the scope of his whole amazing career, this glorious operation of the elaborate horse farm was the heyday. The students are changing up the image in their own ways, even including Mr. Daly himself in the painting, which is stupendous. He was not quite finished on the day I was there, and I was so curious to see the look in Mr. Daly’s eyes, which were not painted yet. I bet they would be twinkling with delight, though that sounds hard to capture. We will have to see the unveiling at the Fairgrounds – I can’t wait!

Student artists in the studio with the panels

Every instinct in my body said, “Don’t do it.” I had just started a new job, and I had been invited to go on a bus trip with 40 people I did not know, through the icy wastes of north central Montana in late October. First of all, I don’t take buses. The last time I was on a bus was in New York City in 1982, when pub crawls were the order of the day and we had to save cab fare for the forthcoming libations. Second, as the new guy in the gang, I would be the object of intense scrutiny and would have nowhere to hide.  Plus, what could there possibly be to see in Fort Benton? I am here in the most beautiful valley of all of Montana, and they want to take me. . . where?

The 40 people in question were the deciding factor. A few months earlier, my mother-in-law came to town. I had been meaning to take a tour of the Daly Mansion for years, and this was the perfect opportunity. I called to see what the hours were and when we should arrive. The brightest, cheeriest voice you could imagine was on the other end of the line, and so we determined to head on down. There were additional phone calls, and more questions before we finally made it to the Mansion, and each time, the various people answering the phone had this quiet joie de vivre that was really unusual. We arrived for our tour and our ticketseller was again, cheerful and professional. The tour guide we were assigned, all dressed in period garb and beckoning to us to come inside as we walked down the leafy lane, was the most marvelous interpreter and story teller that I had encountered in a very long time – we were enthralled and hanging on her every word, such an interesting tale of the many generations of Dalys ensued.

Months later, I found myself taking on the Executive Director position at this marvelous place, and I knew that the reason it was so incredible to visit was the existence of these 40 people and their fellows (about 80 total) – the Daly Mansion Volunteers. If they wanted me to come along on a journey, I would go.

The bus shimmied and rocked over craggy passes and through windswept valleys, but I took no notice – I was having fun! This was the perfect way to get to know a whole busload of people dedicated to making history live for others and to have fun doing it. These were my kind of people.

And, I must say, they really know how to plan a sightseeing trip. We stayed in an amazing hotel called the Grand Union in Fort Benton, and Fort Benton turned out to be full of really interesting stuff.  Here I am with the Hornaday Buffalo, the actual animal used as the model for the emblem of the US Department of the Interior:He has been on display in the Smithsonian since Teddy Roosevelt’s time, and only recently returned home to the Fort Benton museum just miles from where he roamed the plains.

And I must briefly describe one more thing about this fantastic trip without giving away too much, for a visit to the Bair Family Museum is almost as marvelous as the Daly and I do not want to wreck it for anyone planning a visit. The best part about it for me was watching our Daly Mansion Volunteers absorbing and analyzing the technique of the skilled docents at the Bair house. This is why our tours are so good – the tour guides really work hard at it.

Charles Bair struck gold in Alaska sometime in the late 19th Century. He settled near Harlowton in Montana, literally in the middle of nowhere. He had a vast holding of land with 300,000 head of sheep at one point, and the family built a lovely home there. It is an unassuming structure that you might see on a cul-de-sac in my native Pasadena, albeit extra jaunty with bright tourquoise trim on white shingle exterior.

The two daughters of Charles Bair lived a very comfortable life, touring Europe and filling the home with an impressive collection of antiques, never weighed down by the demands of a typical farmstead existence. They sponsored the fine arts in nearby Billings, and were close friends of Charles Russell, local legend and probably the greatest cowboy artist of all time. You could easily picture them together in the wood paneled sitting room with adjoining bar. Some of the most charming and intimate details on display were Russell’s hand-jotted notes with one-of-a-kind illustrations thanking the girls for dinner. But those things anyone can see in the Russell Museum in Great Falls. The Bair house is full of surprises that you won’t see anywhere else, like a gold-plated commode in the powder room. These were mighty interesting people, the Bairs. My two favorite things were 1.) that they saved Alberta Bair’s rig, a Coupe de Ville, and 2.) that one of their favorite lambs had a place in her heart: Alberta's rig

Couldn’t you just feel the leather on the steering wheel, and the plush velour on the headrest as you roar through the countryside with Alberta on the way to the opera in Billings, or over to the Russells’ place for cocktails?

And this little fellow, he stole my heart, too.Family Favorite

The Margaret Daly Memorial Arboretum and Botanic Garden has just become a member of the American Public Gardens Association; we are one of only two in the state of Montana. As a part of the APGA, the Daly Mansion can now offer a free full year subscription to Better Homes and Gardens, to all who either join or renew at the Daly Mansion from March 15 – June 15 this year at the individual membership level ($35) or higher. The way it works is that when we receive your membership payment any time between March 15 and June 15, we will send you the free subscription card, which you fill out and send to Better Homes and Gardens (postage included).

If you are already a member and your renewal does not come up until later in the year, we can just add a year to the end of your membership. And coming soon, you can renew your membership or make a donation of any kind online at our website, dalymansion.org. Stay tuned!