Learning on the Road – Pierre Wibaux Museum Complex
There are so many amazing things to find when you are speeding along the Interstate! My son, granddaughter and I recently traveled from Eastern WA to a family reunion in central Minnesota. Of course we drove and took our time while driving the 19 hours it was going to take to get to our destination. One of our favorite places on the trip, was this museum complex we found in the middle of Montana.
Needing a place to stop and stretch our legs, we followed a discreet sign off the highway that boasted a historical town. We took the exit and drove the 2 miles to the town looking for – we weren’t quite sure. Right as you drive into town, past the historic St. Peter’s Catholic Church and under the bridge you see a small park on the left and a neat old train car.
Turn towards the train car! Park and you are there!
The town of Wibaux (pronounced WEE-bow) was named after Pierre Wibaux. Pierre was from a wealthy family in France and had dreams of making his fortune as a cattle rancher/land owner on the plains of Montana. After successfully creating one of the largest herds of cattle in the world, he won the admiration and friendship of Teddy Roosevelt and fellow entrepreneur the Marquis de Mores. The Wibaux Museum Complex was created to celebrate his achievements and share a bit about early western living. The complex boasts several buildings that were restored and moved to this park-like location. The free tour (donations gladly accepted!) includes Pierre Wibaux’s restored office/residence, a livery stable, a school house, and a barber shop with the country’s very first indoor bathroom (I didn’t take pictures of the bathroom – I was too enthralled with the tub so if you want to see it, you are going to have to drive out there!). The rail car you see from the main road was part of a promotional train that spent two years at the World’s Fair in New York! It now hosts local artifacts from the town’s history.
This complex turned out to be just what our road-weary selves needed. A nice grassy area for the kids to run in, interesting artifacts placed where the kids could touch and carefully hold them – not kept behind tape or rope where they could only stare. They got to see how people lived in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. They were able to ask questions of the guide about what things were, and had fun guessing at others.
They got to see what an early schoolhouse looked and felt like! They got to experience the livery stable where a mock forge was setup with tongs to move pretend hot coals and see a covered wagon, a carriage and more. So much for them to walk around in and explore! It was this that made this museum such a WIN for us. They got to explore at their own pace and interact with many of the items. The kids got to make-believe that they were purchasing items from the local grocer or stocking up on items to take home.
The train contained more contemporary parts of history of Wibaux. Old movie posters from a movie theater they once had adorned part of a wall. Men who gave their lives serving in the many wars lined another. Artifacts found from early missionary trips (pre-Lewis & Clark) were in one case along with some donated native art. Paintings by a local town artist were displayed showing renditions of local buildings as seen on a specific date.
Obviously this stop was an educational dream! So much for us to learn from! What a wonderful treasure to find! We are going to learn more about Pierre Wibaux now that we are home. More about his family. We are also going to check out some of the machines we saw and learn more about them. The brochure we got from the museum talks about the ‘famed 1887 Winter’ so we are going to research that. We may even set up a small diorama about the ranch (my granddaughter was charmed by the miniatures in the toy dollhouse seen in the Wibaux home, so this activity would be something she would love)!
I hate to repeat myself, but I have to say there are treasures like this museum all over the country! If you are able to give yourself a bit of time and grace to not race from stop-to-stop, you can find these hidden gems.
If you find yourself driving Interstate 94, make sure to have lunch at Wibaux and check out the museum. You will be glad you did!