History is an important part of the present and the future. By looking back we not only can learn from the mistakes of others, but we can also learn where we came from. The Pioneer Museum of Valley County has worked tirelessly over many years to preserve the local history.
A generous gift that came to the museum from the estate of Lee Niedringhaus a few years ago has allowed the museum to expand. He left $400,000 to the museum in his passing. Mary Helland said that he held a lot of respect for the local museum and had even presented history a few times in the past.
His path to Valley County started when he came across several family photos and a history of relatives that no one in his family knew about. He started to do some digging and found his ties to the Valley County area; he is the great-grandson of William Niedringhaus. His research started around 1997. His research led him to complete a book, “The N Bar N Ranch.” The book describes his family’s history and ties to Eastern Montana.
They were a wealthy family that patented graniteware, a valuable cookware in the rough and wild west. The cookware survived the harsh traveling conditions and didn’t rust and wear out like tin did. The family was told to invest in the cattle industry and they ended up settling a ranch up here.
Through his research he met Helland, they became friends and she ended up writing a story about Frances Parker. Her article ran next to his in Montana, The Magazine of Western History in the spring 2010 edition. Her subject was tied to the same ranch that Niedringhaus was tied to. Parker wrote romance stories and was married to a man, nearly 20 years her senior, who managed the ranch. Helland spent time guiding Niedringhuas around the land and explaining the history to him.
The two remained in contact and visited many times. Helland explained that his ranch pay books could be tied to 300 different names in the area.
It came as a suprise to the museum to find they were going to receive a portion of his estate. Helland said that Niedringhaus probably wanted to reciprocate all the support and effort in his historical interests. He was grateful for the community being interested.
When the museum received the funds they knew they wanted to expand because space has been an issue. They’ve had to turn down some items because of lack of space. The additional building will go to the north of the museum and will be around 50 by 100 feet. She said that they hope to replicate a homesteader experience, where visitors might pick out an identity that can really tell the story of the homesteaders who came here.
The groundbreaking will take place soon as the building permit has already been approved. The contract was awarded to Daryl Carney, and the hope is to have it finished by the end of summer.