Management Questions and Answers with Bunny and Gary Miller
Gary and Bunny Miller of the Range Rider Museum, Miles City, MT were interviewed on consecutive days with Gary going first on an impromptu meeting from his easy chair while working the door. He was very honest about the fact that Bunny would be better at answering these questions but he was willing to try. The next day Bunny kindly sat down in a semi-formal environment and answered all the questions with specifics and anecdotal explanations. It was a very enjoyable experience with two engaging people, passionate about the museum, their community, and their family.
What processes fund the institution and at what percentages?
Gary stated that the door mostly funded the museum with some coming from donor endowments. Door profits are based on about 7000 people at 5 dollars per head. This translates to approximately 35,00.00 per year.
Bunny says that the door numbers are pretty accurate but that it is equal to their annual membership dollars. She also stated that they do have endowments from donors providing annual monies derived from a portion of the annual interest. Bunny said that she does write grants for specific funding but is not as active in pursuing grant money as she might. Memberships are individual at $50.00, family (4 tickets) at $100.00, business (4 tickets) at $100.00, and lifetime (4 tickets) with a plaque at $1000.00. She went further into explaining that the museum also rents out the Pioneer Memorial Hall for functions by private and corporate events with restrictions on hate groups or other entities deemed hostile or overly contentious. The Pioneer Memorial Hall also generates its own revenue every year through families sponsoring a relative(s) born before 1915 and from the area surrounding Miles City (150 miles plus or minus). The have between seven and twelve sponsorships a year. The sponsorships are $275.00 for an individual and $300 for a couple, which includes a photograph and biography rolled into a time capsule underneath the framed image. A ceremony inducting the new member is conducted and a copy of the biography is placed in a book where anyone may come to research the local pioneers. The immediate and naive question was posed regarding a seemingly dwindling supply of individuals. Bunny and Gary’s response was simple in that within the 150ish mile radius anyone may sponsor a family member(s) at any time posthumously or not so there are potentially many more sponsorships waiting to occur.
How involved are the board members with the operation of the institution?
Gary said that there are 16 board members and they are mostly involved with the process of accepting donations for artifacts/collections beyond a unspecific dollar value. Basically, he and Bunny are given the latitude to accept or deny donations as long as they are not of significant value although the exact dollar amount delineating ‘significant’ was not made clear. Aside from this activity the board is not involved with the operation or fundraising for the museum.
Bunny agreed that the board has only the capacity for helping determine high value donation agreements. She elaborated on the board by stating their only qualification was to be a member of the museum and be part of the agricultural community of eastern Montana. Board members are tenured for four years by vote and may re-enlist by four year blocks also by vote. There is a board president and vice-president who serve a two year term. The board is largely made up of people who are retired and recruitment of younger generations remains problematic.
What processes do you have for maintaining a volunteer pool and what level of involvement can they attain?
Gary said that they have between 3 and 5 on call volunteers who are all in their late 70s and early 1980s. There is little interest from younger generations and he suspects that this trend will remain.
Bunny agreed with this statement and we discussed this issue as systemic to many institutions, especially smaller ones.
What relationship does fundraising have to the mission statement?
Gary was unsure that there was any fundraising relationship to the museum’s mission. He was specific that there was not much real fund raising initiative other than to raise awareness and satisfy the community’s curiosity; therefore generating more donors.
Bunny also stated that there was not much fundraising by the museum although admittedly there are some funding issues that need to be addressed regarding facility maintenance.
How involved is the institution with social media?
Gary was blunt about the age and lack of computer skills from the staff, volunteers, and the board for anything more than Facebook.
Bunny explained that she and one of the board members posted to Facebook and that the museum received a web site and hosting for trade of a business membership by a local web hosting service. She admitted that the museum’s web presence would not exist if it were not for this relationship.
What museum collection software (MCS) is used and where is the data housed?
Is it stored on local servers, the cloud, and is there any backup? ie: M-Disc
Frequency of system back up
What kind of training do you have for staff and volunteers on the MCS?
Gary knew that there was a computer the museum used for e-mail, Facebook, and book keeping but was not sure that any museum collection software was being used.
Bunny asked about my familiarity with PastPerfect stating that was a new addition to the museum and that she and a museum member worked collaboratively on updating the collection, donor agreements, and memberships. She also said that they do participate in the webinars and work to stay as well informed of how to use the program. She stated that there was no other back up other than the hard drive on the one stand alone computer that the museum owned. (I suggested use of M-disc as an alternative to another standalone hard drive https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M-DISC )
How often do you update the collection policy if you have one?
Gary said that the collection policy was up to the discretion of the curators or the board in the case of large or expensive donations. He further stated that the donation agreements gave the museum complete control of the items donated permanently.
Bunny supported Gary’s statement and clarified that the museum was short on space and was not accepting donations at this time but might make an exception as approved by the board. She also said that the museum did not accept donations because the increase in insurance for these items would make the process too expensive.
What do you do with items to be de-accessioned?
Gary said that they sell items if necessary but there has been little need to deaccession artifacts in his tenure.
Bunny agreed since they have not been accepting donations for her tenure but felt that sale of specific artifacts would be a solution, as would donating things to other institutions if there was interest.
Does the institution have a long term and or short term strategic management plan?
How often is it updated, and who is involved? (staff, volunteers, the board…)
Gary and Bunny both stated that there was no strategic or long term plan and that she had agreed to a 15 year term as curator of which seven were complete. She felt that the long range plan at this point would be better suited to locating a successor. She elaborated that this position with the museum, although paid, was not enough to live on if someone had student loans and a family to support. She said the real perk was the fact there was a house that she and Gary were allowed to live in, on site, with utilities paid.
Could your institution operate as a ‘for profit’ business?
Gary and Bunny did not think it was possible at this point but might, with the cooperation of the board and a very proactive curator/director.
As an aside, Bunny said that the museum is a hub of cultural identity and draws about 200 students from more than 150 miles annually. The average grade of students is second grade but they get many different ages. In addition, the local college has its new faculty orientation at the Pioneer Memorial Hall allowing excellent visibility of the main hall and the sprawling old town exterior. This exposure facilitates visitation by new community members and initiates under informed locals. This is an amazing place to visit and would take a lifetime of exploration to see everything they have displayed. It is quite impressive and a great repository of unique and significant artifacts detailing the culture and history of southeastern Montana.
The Main Exhibit Room
The 153 year old doughnut. This soldier’s family returned to miles city for the 150th birthday of ‘doughnut’ from all over the country.
Curator and Director Bunny Miller began her tour with us just inside the front door to the right as we entered. We moved counter clock-wise.
Things trees grew around.
Things trees grew around.
Women used to brush their hair up to a 100 strokes per day and collect the loose hair. When they had enough items like this wreath were created with the hair.
This is a sample of some of the unique things that are housed in the museum. It is partially curios and partially historic and culturally significant items.
This is not the entire quantity of tobacco sacks that Mr. Gilmore smoked in his lifetime but only what he kept after deciding sometime in his later part of life that he should collect them.
Note vast differences in items being displayed in such a small space. It would take years to look at each individual item and some may have great stories behind them.
Even the ceiling is adorned with artifacts.
The donor overlooks his tractor display and the story in a 3 ring binder. Of note is the myriad of ranch brands burned into the walls of the main exhibit hall. In the beginning when the museum was being built any local ranch could pay $50.00 to have their brand burned into the walls. There are hundreds of them all over the building but most have been covered with displayed items. The late value of 1930’s dollars and the quantity of these brands shows the strength of the community’s support.
This is a working steam engine replica of a Case tractor and is referred to as a freelance traction engine.
More ‘tiger wood’ and its filigree.
The kids love the ‘white bat’ and delight in bringing the adults to look at the amazing animal…
…and we are glad it doesn’t require much care
Looking at the museum’s main entrance from the doorway of the Pioneer Memorial Hall. There are several flags with different numbers of stars. I should figure out when each one was current. Note the chairs to the left where visitors and the volunteers and curators can sit exchange witticisms, stories, tall tales, jokes or even serious conversation.
There is an amazing variety of things displayed all over the main exhibit. Another amazing anecdote from Bunny was about a school tour and the golden eagle. A young man of about six years who was wearing the boots, jeans, hat and big belt buckle asked to speak with Bunny quietly asking if she knew that having the eagle and hawks was illegal. Bunny reassured him that these were donated long before the law went into effect and so are ‘grandfathered’ to the museum. He immediately showed his relief by saying, “Good, I didn’t want you to go to jail.” Apparently some parenting goes very well.
The east end of the main exhibit just watches visitors quietly. There are many of these fine trophy animals throughout the museum.
There was quite a bit of this “tiger wood” furniture that came from an old jewelry store although one of the local taverns has some of this same material and design now serving as part of the bar. I will be forced to do further research when I come see my cousin next year.
The main exhibit room has quite a large collection of law enforcement paraphernalia like these shackles, the pistol belt, and including several pair of black jacks/night sticks. They look the same but were donated under the different names.
Original Miles City Exhibit
This is one of the main exhibits in the museum and has been designed as a life size diorama. It has almost a dozen different rooms including the ‘main street’ lined with saddles. It shows how Miles City looked as ‘Milestown’ in 1877.
Bunny Miller continued to take her time and explain how her grandfather’s community looked and felt in the late 19th century.
The stable room including a stuffed horse and all kinds of tack.
Bunny explained that her father and the board had a real problem saying no to local donors who brought pieces in to the museum. The Range Riders had many multiples of items such as these saddles. Not that the one in the foreground is an Army saddle. It has absolutely no concern for the comfort of the rider, which is typical even today.
The blacksmith and carpentry shop where horses and their equipment were maintained, fixed or built.
Two examples of women’s side saddles. One is highly ornate with colors and much use wear. It looks almost as uncomfortable as the Army saddle. Comfort over style?!
The saloon with an assortment of bottles (empty of course) including some highly ornate ones in the foreground. From the outside the building has the mannequin silhouette of a woman in the upstairs suggesting the more seedy side of the city; its prostitution.
Labeled ‘Quibs from a Generation’ but are more like colloquialisms or witticisms and some remain is use today.
Children love to ‘go to jail’ in the replica sheriff’s office complete with toilet. My nephew Reid has the perfect facial expressions for this place.
The gun store has its own exhibit room and has an interesting and eclectic collection of weapons. Some are real and some are not.
This gun looks like an old wheel lock shotgun and is made from parts of real weapons but should not be fired since its creator may have been less than careful about how it is assembled.
This is the music school and has a special place in Bunny Miller’s heart since she went to school there as a child. It is also significant to note that her grandfather Christian Barthelmess was also an accomplished musician.
Sayings from ‘the day’ posted “Lest We Forget” and clearly some still remain in popular usage.
The one legged cowboy’s spur is one of the many quirky items housed in Range Riders, however identifying all of them would take a lifetime.
The Heritage Center Exhibit
It is attached to the main exhibit hall and contains thousands of artifacts.
Bunny explained that so many fossilized items were acquired by the museum over the years that there was no way to display it all. With a little help from a local paleontologist the best examples of identifiable parts were assembled and displayed. The rest of the items unfortunately have no means for identification of part or animal so remain stored in an annex.
There are no labels on the items but some are easily identified and some are not. Mammoth, mastodon, dinosaur, and shellfish are all easy to spot.
The cousins were interested to learn that the teeth from mammoth and mastodon fall out after much use and are replaced by another set until all four sets have been used up then the animal dies of starvation or predation just like modern elephants.
There are several large collections of projectile points in different exhibits throughout the museum. They understand that there is no provenience for any of them but the donors took the time arrange and display them. The museum displays the arranged cases as part of the donor’s collection.
Pam and Lauren are awed by the massive quantity of projectile points displayed in the Clark’s Guns exhibit.
Ceremonial Funerary Objects
Collections in Collections
Sewing machines and spinning wheels.
Woodcutting tools most of which are handmade. The local community has many such collections from individuals who have amassed certain types of items and then donate them.
Local personalities from the collection of a local photographer who kept portraits of his customers as well as anyone who he could convince to sit and pose.
Transfer print china.
Furs and other ladies accessories.
The Milwaukee Road (The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad) roundhouse and iron works in Miles City. This local is significant because of its location at the confluence of the Tongue and the Yellowstone rivers just above the head water of the Missouri River. Steam Boats were common along with trains in Miles City.
There are several of these scale models of significant places or events in local history. This is of Chief Lame Deer’s Camp as it looked when General Nelson Miles destroyed it in 1877.
This is a model of Fort Keough at its peak. Keough was an officer killed with Custer at Little Big Horn. They departed from Miles City where General Miles had his camp. Range Riders Museum is located on the original site of Nelson’s camp.
The LO ranch as it looked at its peak around the turn of the century (1906). The LO is still active and only a short 80 some miles south of the museum.
My cousin and his eldest (Lauren) posing near another ranch diorama. He works on the old Fort Keough Property and graciously gave us a fabulous tour.
This is another example of eclectic collections. There are so many different types of artifacts in this image it is difficult to count.
Saddles show up throughout the museum and represent the Range Riders way of life.
Just one portion of the massive quantity of brands both displayed and just collected.
This image has at least seven different types of artifacts on display that have only minimal relationship to each other. Note huge pile of iron brands piled in the right corner.
The Range Riders collection of barbed wire is awesome. When I was in the Nevada State Museum they claimed to have the largest collection of barbed wire in the western United States. I know that this one is much bigger and likely more comprehensive. Montana had major issues with the closing of open range in the first three decades of the 20th century and it was closed using barbed wire. The first barbed wire was constructed locally by farmers who designed what they felt would work. Some of these examples represent that process.
Both shadow boxes are filled with samples and all have labels with design names and areas of probable use.
Some of these wires are duplicates of the other display but not the majority.
Fort Keough Officers Quarters
Three rows of gun cases house only part of the family’s collection. The finest examples of weapons were spilt between Bert’s two children and sadly one of them lost control of their portion. The other portion is desired by the museum and is in continued negotiation.
Some of these weapons were never used, collected in Montana or the United States but were from immigrants and collectors from all over.
At the end of the three isles are boxes filled with trophy animal heads stored and awaiting their turn to be displayed. Space is always the issue at Range Riders and so these magnificent specimens sit and watch visitors stare at the items of their destruction.
Charles Place with the second Pioneer Hall, born before 1930.
The nursing school’s memorial and an iron lung. My cousin was amused that the Doctor who used it conducted business from inside.
Medical vials filled with all kinds of apothecary and medicines.
An eye doctor’s kit. Unsure if this was an opthamologist, or an optometrist.
Boots and saddle with a dissected saddle catalog framed for display.
The Masterson Studio exhibit.
The second Pioneer Hall walls under the boot collection.
Bunny MIller’s Mother and father on the second Pioneer Wall. They were heavily involved in the operation of the museum after her grandfather passed.
Old school selfie in the mirror.
A Pioneer Home
It is ADA compliant but still an authentic home moved log by log to this location and restored to its simple glory. Not sure how I feel about wintering 25 below average temps in this structure.
Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients
The local federal cemetery replaced the aging headstones with gold inlaid engravings for these two heroes and kindly donated their original markers to the museum who maintain them proudly.
The Wagon Depot
The unfortunate part of this type of museum is that things are acquired and cached for some later display and this is a great example. There is no good answer for this, it just is…
One Room Schoolhouse
Potato planter in Montana. Well, it’s almost Idaho.