You've probably driven past the little museum at the top of Airport Road in Billings a hundred times. Maybe you've thought about visiting after dropping off a friend at the airport or maybe you've wanted to stop after arriving home from a flight, but were too tired to swing in. You really should. This hidden gem is a crammed full of Montana and Billings history.

Michael Foth - Townsquare Media Billings

The Yellowstone County Museum is much bigger than it appears.

My vehicle was the lone car as I pulled into the parking lot on a late afternoon in June. The airport cue was bustling, but things seemed a little on the quiet side at the museum as I walked thru the door. I was warmly greeted by Yellowstone County Museum Director Terry Steiner, a retiree with a passion for history.

Michael Foth - Townsquare Media

The museum is way bigger than it looks from the outside.

The little cabin is a deceiving facade. The building is actually around 5,000 square feet, nearly all of it is located on the lower level, Terry explained. As he flipped on the stairwell lights leading to the basement, I wasn't sure what to expect.

Michael Foth - Townsquare Media

Seriously, how did they get an old fire wagon in the basement?

Actually, there are two wagons. The one seen above, and a sheepherders' wagon in a different room. The hallways were a maze, filled with hundreds (thousands?) of local and regional historical items. All exhibits were well lit and placards provided detailed descriptions on most displays.

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Michael Foth - Townsquare Media

Make sure to check out the 1890 Ghost Dance exhibit.

One of the few exhibits that isn't directly connected to Montana is the Lakota Ghost Dance room, an impressive collection of clothing and other items originating mostly from the Dakotas. It's the largest public display of Ghost Dance objects in the world, on loan from Billings native Larry Williams. Other hallways and rooms in the seemingly endless basement contained beautiful examples of intricate beadwork from Crow and Cheyenne tribes, arrowheads, headdresses and more.

Michael Foth - Townsquare Media

You can really dig into Billings (and Montana) history.

The items seen above are from Billings' first official fire department, originally called the Maverick Hose Company. There's another display highlighting the Battle of the Little Bighorn and more exhibits featuring western guns, cattlemen and a truly impressive array of Native artifacts (like the Crow women's saddle seen below). My host Terry cheerfully answered my questions, without hovering.

Michael Foth - Townsquare Media

The cabin was originally located in downtown Billings.

The cabin was built by 1890's Billings big-wig Paul McCormick and was originally located where the TransWestern Towers are now. It was moved to its current location in the 1950s when the museum opened.

I enjoy history and I'm really kicking myself for not visiting the little museum by the airport sooner. It's free, with a donation box on the gift shop counter, and it's open Monday to Saturday from 10:30 to 5:30. I could show you more of the pictures I took of all the cool stuff inside, but I don't want to spoil it for you. Go check it out.

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