Where in the USA is the CoCo Locomoto? travel blog

The Charlie Bair Mansion

The Barn

Photo of the car loads of wool

Information about Charlie coming to Montana

The sheep wagon

The family room

The kitchen where they spent most of their time

24-karat gold bathroom fixtures imported from Europe

The Alexander Homestead north of Lavina

Alexander Baby grave at old homestead 1912-1916

I can't believe it has been March since I blogged about the CoCo Locomoto's travels. Since our travels took us to Tucson in my last blog, where we were fortunate enough to get to see our son (who was in Tucson on business) have a great visit, as well as have a guided tour of his company's Tucson plant, we then drove to Scottsdale where we had a great long weekend with our oldest daughter Stephanie and her husband Mike. Took in a Mariner's spring training game with them as well as did some sightseeing around the area and got in lots of good visiting. Then it was on to Mesa where we spent time with friends and attended the huge Good Sam Rally with over 15,000 rally goers in attendance and the Arizona Opry which was a fun afternoon spent with friends while being entertained by a family of musicians...one of which played over 30 wind instruments. From there we met friends in Lake Havasu for a week of fun, food and sightseeing. One day driving to Laughlin Nevada for a great buffet and a little gambling (I was the only one of the four who came out ahead with a whole 5 cents) another to Oatman, AZ., an old gold mining town where we walked down the street with wild(?) burrows! We left our friends and started our northwesterly trek back to the Seattle area, stopping in Fresno to see family and on to Lodi, CA where we stayed for 2 weeks and participated in two rallies, one for Escapess and the other a Good Sam Sambroee. Heading back to Seattle, we stopped in Puyallup for a week and participated in an RV Show. Anxious to see our family we headed for Bothell where we spent the summer (well almost...although until July there wasn't much summer), parked in our son and daughter-in-law's yard. Talk about wonderful hospitality...plans are to do the same next summer. Getting to watch lots of granddaughters' softball and some soccer games, helping our oldest daughter landscapes her yard (which I love and really miss), doing some "daddy-do" projects for Kim and Steph, a day spent with Nicole, Halle and Christian playing tourist in Seattle along the waterfront, Pike's Place Market and the new Great Wheel and most importantly attend our beautiful granddaughter, Kelsey's graduation and getting ready for her Senior Prom, it was a great summer spent with our kids, grand kids and friends. We drove to Moses Lake for the Washington State Good Sam Sambroee and Mike and Kim made their annual Father's Day gopher and fishing trip to Montana sadly this year for the first time in several years without sons-in-law Jonathan and Mike. August 1st we headed to Montana to be here for Mom's memorial and Celebration of Life service. A beautiful day to be sure and surrounded by the love of many relatives and friends. We have been staying in Big Timber and Mike has spent some time out at the ranch helping my stepbrother on the cabin he is building there. Having a few days off while Kit was back in Seattle we have had time to play tourist (something we never had time to do when we lived here)! We drove to Martinsdale to go through the Charlie Bair Museum which has been open since 1996. Charlie Bair was one of the largest sheep ranchers in the world and at times ran 300,000 head of sheep. Several years he shipped 40 train car loads of wool from Billings to Boston. He came to Montana in 1883 as a conductor on the Northern Pacific Railroad reportedly with 14 cents and 7 apples. He purchased 320 acres of land just across the road from Mike's grandparents old homestead north of Lavina which he later sold to the current owners. He made his fortune (not from hitting a gold strike but from a device to thaw the tundra which he had invested in), in the Alaska Gold Rush, coming home with a million dollars in 1898. He seemed to have the "Midas Touch" as everything he did seemed to make money. He purchased the land in the Martinsdale area in 1934 and today the Bair Trust and Foundation still owns between 85-90 sections (square miles) of land. Charlie and his wife Mary had two daughters, Marguerite and Alberta. Marguerite married the ranch foreman later in life but Alberta never married and there were no heirs to their vast fortune. Both Marguerite and Alberta loved to travel and made 20 trips to Europe after WWII to purchase antiques which would be shipped back to the ranch. But before they could be placed in the house, it would have to be built onto to accommodate their new finds. The Bair Mansion, which started out as a very small modest home, ended up being 26 rooms including 6 bathrooms. While the daughters lived very frugally and spent much of their time at home in a modern 1950's style kitchen, the home is full of opulence. While being staunch Republicans they were told by their father to donate to both parties and were hosts to many dignitaries and Presidents. One of the bathrooms has 24-karat gold fixtures imported from Europe, Norwegian marble on the vanity, 24-karat gold door knobs entering the formal living room and many original pieces of art from Charlie Russell who had been a family friend long before he became a famous artist and a Native American Collection, much of which were gifts from Chief Plenty Coups from the Crow Reservation southeast of Billings, who was another dear friend of the family. Marguerite and Alberta decided early in their lives after their parents passed away that they wanted to share their wealth with the people of Montana and brought back antiques from the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries planning that upon their deaths, the Mansion would be given to the State of Montana to become a museum so everyone could enjoy the beautiful antiques and art collections from around the world. Understanding that most Montanans would never have the opportunity to see these beautiful things, they began to work with museum professionals, curators and conservators who provided guidance to help set up the mansion as a museum to be enjoyed by all. Not only were the sisters blessed with the forward thinking of setting up the museum, the Bair Trust and Foundation also donates to local hospitals and clinics, fund 8 full-ride scholarships each year to graduating seniors in Wheatland and Marr Counties, support the arts, as well as partner with Montana colleges with programs that teach students about ranching and agriculture. The Charlie Bair Museum is a must see on your travels through Montana but is especially amazing when you think it is located right outside the tiny town of Martinsdale which on a good day maybe has a total of 30 residents. Another day was spent driving to Mike's grandparents homestead north of Lavina, with a stop at the Lavina Cemetery where our parents, grandparents and many other relatives are buried. His grandfather came to Montana to homestead about 1908 and returned to Minnesota to marry the love of his life and bring her back to the hardships of being a bride on a Montana prairie homestead in 1911. Heading up the dusty gravel road Mike reminisced about his childhood in the area and whose place this or that was when he was growing up and the many trips back and forth to Lavina where they lived while he was in school. We were delighted to find the old house still (but barely) standing while all the other buildings had collapsed. Driving into the ranch on the trail, I asked what the little area to my left was and he was amazed to find that the site of a still born uncle born in the 1910's who had been buried there was still fenced in and covered with iris lovingly planted by his grandmother so many, many years ago. It was a day filled with nostalgia and memories of his childhood. Taking the north road close to the Snowy Mountains back to the highway we counted many, many broken dreams of the homesteads, buildings still standing, who settled in the area back then. We can't begin to imagine how hard life must have been back in those days so long ago.

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