Range Riders Museum, Miles City, Montana

Range Riders

 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.

  1. 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.

Range Riders Museum Main Exhibit Room
When you come in and register the museum wants you to place a pin where you came from. There is a world map on the reverse side where there are quite a few pins as well.
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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. 

  1. 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.

  1. What museum collection software (MCS) is used and where is the data housed?
    1. Is it stored on local servers, the cloud, and is there any backup? ie: M-Disc
    2. Frequency of system back up
    3. 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 )

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Does the institution have a long term and or short term strategic management plan?
    1. 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.

  1. 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.

Range Riders

The Main Exhibit Room

Original Miles City Exhibit

The Heritage Center Exhibit

It is attached to the main exhibit hall and contains thousands of artifacts.

Range Riders

Fossils

Projectile Points

Ceremonial Funerary Objects

Beaded Moccasins
These moccasins are interesting because of the bead work on the soles. They are not meant for walking anywhere other than the afterlife. It is unclear how these funerary artifacts were acquired.

Collections in Collections

Dioramas

Saddles

A Link to Texas

Brands

Barbed Wire

Fort Keough

Fort Keough
General Nelson Miles, for whom Miles City is named was responsible for General Custer who left to the Little Big Horn while MIles was away on business. The camp was posthumously named for Captain Myles Keough and then became a western frontier fort. https://www.nps.gov/libi/learn/historyculture/capt-myles-keogh.htm

Fort Keough Officers Quarters

Fort Keough Officer's Quarters
This is one of only three buildings remaining from Fort Keough and the other two are on the USDA Range and Livestock Research facility that inhabits the old military compound. This building is partially restored (left side) and has plans for restoration of the right side. They were duplexes.

Gun Collection

IMG_0463

Charles Place with the second Pioneer Hall, born before 1930.

Charles Place and the Second Pioneer Hall
Charles Place houses a second Pioneer Hall that is for anyone who was ranching within 150 miles and born before 1930. This is the first year that no more open range existed in Montana. Bunny Miller’s parents are both on the walls of this monument. Charles was one of the original museum founders and wanted to start the second Pioneer Hall. There are several collections in this exhibit but is still overwhelming in its expanse.

A Pioneer Home

Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients

The Wagon Depot

Range Riders

 

One Room Schoolhouse

The One Room School House
The cousins had been on the tour for over two hours at this point and the youngsters were still engaged and loving it. Yay, history!

Outdoor Exhibits

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