Category Archives: Helena

Thomas Cruse: Prospector, Banker, and Rancher

Thomas Cruse

Life of a

Montana Pioneer

Marysville and Helena


John H. Sandy


Thomas Cruse

Born, March 18, 1836, County Cavan, Ireland
Died, December 20, 1914, Helena, Montana, U.S.A.

  • Prospector
  • Mine Owner
  • Rancher
  • Banker
  • Philanthropist

In 1894, Joaquin Miller described Thomas Cruse as a man who “has the highest confidence and good will of his fellow citizens. He is a man of too much solid sense to be injured by his prosperity, and he understands making a laudable and judicious use of the things of this world which it has been his good fortune to acquire.” Further, Miller would go on to say, he [Cruse] is “a devout member of the Catholic Church.”

Thomas Cruse
Thomas J. Cruse, early Montana pioneer. A man of honor and good will while caring for family and friends. Photo courtesy Montana Historical Society.

From the time Cruse arrived in Helena in 1867 until he discovered a rich gold bearing vein in 1876, he made a living digging for gold along Silver Creek and other nearby lands. Some gold was found, buy only enough to meet regular daily expenses. Such was the life of most prospectors who worked placer deposits in the valleys and mountains around Helena.

From his earlier prospecting experience in other parts of the West, Cruse knew that the gold found in streams and valleys at lower elevations came from higher up in the mountains. He noticed that gold found in the sands and gravels of Silver Creek near Helena was associated with the mineral quartz. Find a vein rich in quartz, then gold was in reach.

With this clue in mind, Cruse searched the mountains above Silver Creek to find a mineralized zone rich in quartz. After toiling many months in the field, he found the source of the gold, the Mother Lode. On July 9, 1879, he filed a patented mining claim for a 20.25 acre parcel located northwest of Helena in T12N, R6W, S36, Lewis & Clark County, and opened a gold and silver mine. Cruse named the mine Drumlummon, after his home parish in Ireland.

As often the case, words passing over the Atlantic from the old country undergo a change in spelling. In Ireland, Cruse’s home parish is spelled as one word, Drumlumnum. Back in Helena in 1879, the recorder at the office of mining claims wrote down the name as spoken, two words, Drum Lummon. But in years to follow, common usage became one word, Drumlummon.

Drumlummon Vein
Transverse Section of Drum Lummon Mine. Surface of mountain runs from lower left to upper right. Quartz Lode rich in gold and silver below black line. From the surface of the mountain, Cruse dug a 345 foot tunnel (double horizontal lines) to reach the quartz lode. Illustration (slightly edited for this post) from 1882 report for Montana Company, Limited. Courtesy Montana Historical Society.
Drummlummon Mine Profit
Cost and profit from Drum Lummon Mine, April 1880 to August 1882. Mine owned by Thomas Cruse. Illustration from a report for the Montana Company, Limited. Courtesy Montana Historical Society.

Over time, the Drumlummon Mine yielded a bonanza of gold and silver worth millions of dollars. By 1913, the Drumlummon had produced $15,000,000 in gold and silver, with 60% of the value coming from gold (Knopf 1913, 69).  A booming mining town sprang up near the mine: Marysville, Montana.

In 1883, six years after the discovery, Thomas Cruse sold the mine to a company formed by investors in England for $900,000 in cash, plus 100,000 shares of stock valued at $600,000 (Spence 1959, 192). In total, Mr. Cruse received $1,500,000 from the sale. The amount of $1,500,000 calculated in current value is $41,655,737.

From ownership of shares in the company, Cruse earned additional cash from profits generated by the mine. Even more cash was received from the sale of shares. Sale of the Drumlummon Mine made Cruse a very rich man, with more wealth than anyone can imagine for back in those days.

For old prospectors the urge to gain profit from discovery of gold never fades. In the years after sale of the Drumlummon Mine, Thomas Cruse’s interest in gold mining continued. From 1883 to 1907, he acquired several more patented mining claims mostly in the vicinity of Marysville. In 1883, he filed a claim for the North Star Lode (17.93 acres); in 1889 a claim for the Tommy Lode (19.82 acres); and in 1896, a claim for the Bald Mountain Lode (40.29 Acres). Still more claims were filed at other times.

Extracting gold and silver from ores is an imperfect process. Some precious metals from the Drumlummon Mine ended up in the tailings. Thomas Cruse wanted a solution, and he searched for ways to improve the process. On October 17, 1898, he submitted a patent application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with a title “Method of Extracting Gold and Silver from Their Ores.” On April 3, 1900 the application was approved and Cruse was awarded Patent No. 646808. While not educated as such, Cruse had the mind of a mining engineer.

Cruse understood economics well. He diversified his holdings. In  1885, he acquired the Montana Sheep Company (later renamed N Bar Ranch) near Lewistown. Over several years following the purchase, Cruse bought more land and expanded the ranch. With thousands of  acres of grazing land, the ranch supported a huge herd of cattle and many sheep.

In 1887, Mr. Cruse launched The Thomas Cruse Savings Bank in Helena. By all accounts, the bank, located on Main Street, was a very successful enterprise, even surviving the nation’s financial crises of 1893 when the price of sliver had collapsed and the economy descended into ruin.

Cruse Bank Helena
Ad for The Thomas Cruse Savings Bank placed in 1892 in Helena Independent a historical newspaper in Helena, Mont. Shows bank officers, interest rate offered on savings, bank hours. The bank operated from an address at 36 N. Main St., Helena.

Cruse also tried his hand at drilling for oil in the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains in Carbon County near Red Lodge. Nine (9) dry holes were drilled in 1889-1890, before giving up on the venture.

Thomas Cruse Ranch
Thomas Cruse (seated on right) on a visit to N Bar Ranch near Lewistown. Photo by John White, circa 1898. Photo courtesy Montana Historical Society.

Mr. Cruse lived in a mansion at 328 N. Benton Avenue in Helena. In 1900, Cruse shared his home with a few relatives along with hired help. In addition to his daughter Mary Margaret, age 13, the household included, Mary A. Cruse (niece), Frank H. Cruse (nephew), William J. Cruse (nephew), Mabel Lockman (maid), Rose B. Sheehey (governess), John Niehuser (servant), Robert H. Holmes (coachman), and Sam Toy (cook). Mr. Toy was a native of China.

By 1910, Mr. Cruse was alone in the mansion, except for the presence of two servants, Emma Olson and Anna Olson, ages 28 and 35, both born in Minnesota and of Norwegian ancestry, who attended to his daily needs.

Cruse Mansion Helena
Thomas Cruse’s Mansion, 328 North Benton Ave., Helena, Mont. The mansion was demolished in 1963. Photo courtesy Montana Historical Society.

Beyond his amazing prospecting ability and business acumen, Thomas Cruse is probably best remembered for philanthropy. Indeed, the Catholic Church of western Montana was a huge beneficiary of Cruse’s generosity.

The Cathedral of Saint Helena, constructed during the years 1908-1914 in Helena, Montana, owes its existence in large part to Thomas Cruse. During a time when money was scarce in Montana, Mr. Cruse gave $5,940,554 (measured in today’s value) to the Diocese of Helena for site acquisition, building the exterior, and finishing and furnishing the interior.

Cathedral Saint Helena MT
Cathedral of Saint Helena, Helena, Mont. Construction 1908-1914. In 1913, Thomas Cruse donated $3,139,194 (current value of money) to the Diocese of Helena to finish and furnish the interior of the Cathedral. His total donation was $5,940,554 (current value of money). Photo courtesy Megan Lane Photography, Helena, Mont. MeganLanePhotography dot com.


church Helena, Mont.
Cathedral of Saint Helena, Helena, Mont. Photo courtesy Sandy Archives.

No major endeavor is complete without some drama. In January 1909, Bishop Carroll announced that a party who wished to remain anonymous had come forward with a pledge of $100,000 to help build the Cathedral. To win this prize, members of the Helena community had to match with another $100,000 on or before Easter Sunday 1909. A fund drive to reach the match was successful. Many non-Catholics gave.

The name of the anonymous donor of the first $100,000 was never revealed. It’s reasonable to speculate that the first $100,000 (current value, $2,881,500) was another act of generosity by Thomas Cruse. This was likely the case as others in the Diocese of Helena at that time did not have a sum so large to donate.

On more than one occasion, Bishop Carroll publicly gave thanks to Mr. Cruse and others. The magnificent Cathedral of Saint Helena, Gothic Revival in style and modeled after the Votivkirche in Vienna, Austria, still stands tall and proud, reaching toward Heaven in the sky above Helena.

On a personal side, a slice of Thomas Cruse’s life reads as a tragedy. In 1886, after less than one year of marriage, his wife Margaret (Carter) Cruse, age 25, died. Years later, his only child Mary Margaret Cruse died at the young age of 26 in 1913.

As the years passed and a new century began, Cruse started to think of about his mortality. He had accomplished much in life and he wanted his memory to live on in Helena, the community he helped to build and loved, after his passing.

By 1910, he had reached the age of 74. The window of his life was closing. In 1913, he contracted with Link & Haire Architects of Billings and Butte to design a magnificent family mausoleum to be placed in Resurrection Cemetery in Helena. After the design of the mausoleum was completed on August 5, 1913, construction began. In a few months, the new mausoleum was competed.

With construction finished, Cruse placed the remains of his wife (Margaret) and daughter (Mary) in the family mausoleum, both disinterred from Saint Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, a pioneer cemetery, on Townsend Avenue. Wife and daughter would rest in eternal peace in the elaborate monument Cruse had just built in Resurrection Cemetery.

As if by Divine design, Thomas Cruse died on December 20, 1914, at age 78, a little more than a year after his daughter Mary died. The Cathedral of Saint Helena, built with many cash donations from Mr. Cruse, was formally dedicated by Bishop Carroll, a few days later, on Christmas Day, December 25, 1914. On the following day, December 26, a funeral Mass was held at the Cathedral for the departed Thomas Cruse. Cruse would now follow his wife and daughter on their journey to Heaven.

Thomas Cruse mausoleum
Thomas Cruse Family Mausoleum, Resurrection Cemetery, Helena, Mont. Constructed of marble and rising 43 feet above ground level, the mausoleum is a fitting symbol for a family’s great life, lived during early days in the Montana wilderness. Photo courtesy Carroll Van West.

The many accomplishments of Thomas Cruse are well documented. About his character, less is known, through this side of the man can be inferred from the broader picture of his life. Clearly Cruse was an ambitious, hard-working, man. That he would toil for months digging by hand with primitive tools through 345 feet of solid rock to reach a gold-bearing quartz vein deep in the side of a mountain northwest of Helena is hard to comprehend. A lesser man would never have thought of, much less undertaken such an arduous task.

A credit to his background as an Irish-Catholic immigrant of little means, Cruse gave generously to charity once he became rich from gold and silver mining and other business ventures on the Montana frontier. At the same time, as might be expected of a rich man, he lived in a large, beautiful home. In a brief biographical account, one writer said that Cruse visited New York City often and stayed at the city’s finest hotel. Another account says Cruse spared not a dime at his wedding celebration in Helena in 1886. By 1900, and earlier he was well-known figure in Montana. In a “Local and Personal” column on June 19, 1908, the Billings Gazette newspaper reported, “Thomas J. Cruse, a banker of Helena, was a Billings visitor yesterday.”

A part of Cruse’s life is a mystery. After his wife died in 1886, after less than one year of marriage, why did he remain a single man for the rest of his life? Following her death, his complete energy appears to have been directed to business dealings. Perhaps, coming from a life of near poverty, the urge for wealth consumed his life. Then again, in deep sorrow from the death of his wife, he may have completely reordered his attention, this being an unconscious way to lessen the pain and thoughts of his lose.

A footnote: Bishop Carroll is a person of particular interest who figures into the life of Thomas Cruse. Sure, Cruse was a rich man, but Bishop Carroll was always ready ask Cruse for more cash every time he needed money for building the Cathedral of Saint Helena. When the Bishop asked, Cruse handed over a check. Was Bishop Carroll aware of other people he could reach out to for donations or was Cruse just a soft touch? Or perhaps Cruse’s donations were  really a willing commitment coming from the heart and soul of a man who wanted to please the Almighty.

Adding in another layer of the unknown, in 1914, after Bishop Carroll was done scrambling for funds for the Cathedral, he found more money for the Diocese of Helena to buy a magnificent mansion at 720 Madison Avenue in Helena’s Mansion District. Did Cruse buy this house in the final months leading up to his death on December 20, 1914? After the purchase, the mansion on Madison Avenue became a residence for Bishop Carroll and the chancery for the Diocese. Perhaps, this is confirmation that Thomas Cruse was really pleased with the good work Bishop Carroll had just done in building the Cathedral, and the home on Madison Avenue was a gift to Bishop Carroll, a way of showing gratitude for a job well done.

Home of Bishop Carroll
The mansion at 720 Madison Avenue, Helena, Montana, was purchased by the Diocese of Saint Helena in 1914. This was the home of Bishop John Carroll from 1914 until his death in 1925. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The story of Thomas Cruse is a tale of rags to riches. For those with an interest in this amazing man, this Web page offers an abbreviated timeline of his personal life and business pursuits in Montana.

– A Timeline of the Life of Thomas Cruse

1856 emigrates from Ireland to American, time in New York. (TC, age 20)

1863 moves to California and spends some time in Nevada and Idaho. (TC, age 27)

1866 arrives in Virginia City, Mont. (TC, age 30)

1867 arrives in Helena, Mont. (TC, age 31)

1876 makes discovery of rich gold deposit in mountains northwest of Helena Mont., near present day Marysville. (TC, age 40)

1879 files patented mining claim (Drum Lummon Lode) on July 9, 20.25 acres Lewis & Clark County northwest of Helena, Mont. (TC age, 43)

1882 reaches agreement with Joint Stock Association, London, to sell the Drum Lummon Mine for $900,000 in cash and as a part of the deal Cruse received 100,000 shares in stock valued at $600,000. The sale, finalized in February 1883, gave Cruse a total of $1,500,000 (current value, $41,655,737). (TC, age 46)

1885 buys Montana Sheep Company (renamed N Bar Ranch) southeast of Lewistown, Mont. (TC, age 49)

1886 donates a site for Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Marysville, Mont.

1886 marries Margaret Carter at Cathedral of the Sacred Hearts, Helena, Mont., on March 2. (TC, age 49)

1886 buys a mansion from T.C. Power located at 328 N. Benton Ave., Helena, Mont. (TC, age 50)

1886 daughter Mary Margaret Cruse born on December 27. (TC, age 50)

1886 wife Margaret (Carter) Cruse died in childbirth on December 27, at he age of 25. (TC, age 50)

1887 founded The Thomas Cruse Savings Bank, Helena, Mont. (TC, age 51)

1889 drills for oil in the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains in Carbon County, Mont. (TC, age 53)

1903 after Rt. Rev. John B. Brondel (first Bishop of the Diocese of Helena) died, Cruse paid for all his medical and funeral expenses, as the Bishop was a poor man having only $5 to his name

1905 donates $25,000 (current value, $720,135) to buy site for new Cathedral of Saint Helena.  (TC, age 69)

1909 donates $28,000 (current value, $806,820) to Building Committee Fund for Cathedral of Saint Helena. (TC, age 73)

1911 donates $27,000 (current value, $750,246) to build one spire for the Cathedral of Saint Helena. (TC, age 75)

1913 sells N Bar Ranch (TC, age 77)

1913 Mary Margaret Cruse, daughter, dies on November 22, age 26.  (TC, age 77)

1913 donates $119,850 (current value, $3,139,194) to finish interior of the Cathedral of Saint Helena. (TC, age 77)

1913 donates $10,000 (current value $265,594), through his niece, Mrs, H. M. Rae, for purchase of the pipe organ

1914 donates $10,000 (current value, $258,565) for 15 bells for Cathedral of Saint Helena, inscribed “in memory of Mary Margaret Cruse by her father, Thomas.” (TC, age 78)

1914 Thomas Cruse dies on December 20 (U.S. Census data and other publications indicate age 78, but official Certificate of Death, Lewis & Clark County, Mont., records death at age 80.  (TC, age 78)

1914 Thomas Cruse funeral Mass, Cathedral of Saint Helena, on December 26. (TC, age 78)

1914 Thomas Cruse interred, Thomas Cruse Family Mausoleum, Resurrection Cemetery, Helena, Mont. (TC, age 78)

1963 Thomas Cruse Mansion at 328 N. Benton Ave, Helena, Mont., demolished.

Community Recognition

  • Cruse Park, Helena, Mont., named for Thomas Cruse
  • Cruse Avenue, Helena, Mont., named for Thomas Cruse

 Learn More – Read

Cruse, Thomas. Method of extracting gold and silver from their ores. U.S. Patent 646808 filed October 17,1898, and issued April 3, 1900.

Darlington, John. The Drum Lummon Gold & Silver Mine, Montana: Report. London: Waterlow & Sons Limited, Printers, London Wall, 1882.

Day, Victor. The Cathedral of Saint Helena. Helena, Mont.: The Standard Publishing Company, 1938.

Graetz, Rick and Susie. Helena Capital Town. Helena, Mont.: Northern Rockies Publishing, 2004.

Grosskopf, Linda A. On Flatwillow Creek: The Story of Montana’s N Bar Ranch. Los Alamos, N. Mex.: Exceptional Books, 1991.

Jackson, W. Turrentine. “The Irish Fox and the British Lion: The Story of Tommy Cruse, the Drum Lummon and the Montana Company Limited (British).” Montana the Magazine of Western History 9, no. 2 (Spring 1959): 28-42.

Knopf, Adolph. Ore deposits of the Helena mining region, Montana, Washington, D.C.:  U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 527, 1913.

Miller, Joaquin.  An Illustrated History of the State of Montana. Chicago, Ill.: Lewis Publishing Co.,1894.

Searles, Daniel. “Story of the Drumlummon Mine.” The Butte Miner (1 Feb. 1903): 13

Spence, Clark C. “The Montana Company, Limited: Case Study of an Anglo-American Mining Investment.” The Business History Review 33, no. 2 (Summer 1959): 190-203.

Wren, Patrick J. “Thomas Cruse: Forgotten Man of Montana.” Master’s thesis, Carroll College, 1959.

Marysville, Montana
Today Marysville, Montana a ghost town. Still a few people live in the area and commercial activity is part of the community. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Chad Thompson. Courtesy U.S. Air Force, Malmstrom Air Force Base, Great Falls, Mont.

For Research on Thomas Cruse

The Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena has a treasure trove of documents relating to the life and business affairs of Thomas Cruse. All are part of The Thomas Cruse papers, 1879-1956.  This document in on the Internet:
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Best Museums


Montana has many wonderful museums. Collections cover a wide range of “subjects.” There are art museums, paleontology museums, and even a mineral museum and an old car museum. But most of the museums focus on local/regional histories. One museum in Helena does a fine job on covering the history of the whole state.

The great variety and scope of the state’s museum collections is amazing, given that so few people live in Montana and its cities are not large when compared with most other states.

Most certainly it is never possible to even scratch the surface if you are interested in seeing all the museums, as there are too many to visit even with countless trips to Montana. However, regardless of the towns or cities on your travel itinerary, an excellent museum will likely be nearby to entertain or educate.

For the best part, museums will give you background information for understanding and enjoying the things, architecture, cultural history, natural history, events, and creative endeavors that you will experience during your travels in Montana. Essentially many museums are there to showcase the state’s history, explain and interpret why it has developed as it has. In addition, some museums focus on the wonderful things and activities Montanans are currently engaged with on a regular basis.

Two museums, particularly, are outstanding. The Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming just across the Montana state border, southwest of Billings. Both museums have huge, wonderful, and carefully curated collections.

The collections in Helena are large in scope and character ranging from original C.M. Russell paintings to the story about first peoples, the Native Americans. Subject matter covers mountain men and fur traders, mining and prospectors, early pioneers and the settlement of the state, natural history, wildlife, conflicts with native Americans, and more are all here.

Historical Society Museum MT
Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena. Photo courtesy State of Montana News Room, Montana dot gov.

Buffalo Bill who was a world-famous showman in the American West in the late 1800s is the central thread of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, near the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park. But there is a whole lot more. This museum is really five separate thematic museums under essentially under the same roof covering: western art, culture of the plains Indians, firearms, natural history, and the man Buffalo Bill.

Museums Cody WY
Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. Photo courtesy Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

The separate museums all have a name: The Whitney Western Art Museum; Plains Indian Museum; Draper Natural History Museum; The New Cody Firearm Museum; and the Buffalo Bill Museum. Every collection is world-class. Separately and together, these museums rival museums in much larger cities around the country. As a bonus, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West has the resources to put on major special exhibitions. In 2020, the museum showcases 100 years of the Cody Stampede and the Equestrian West, for example.

Not widely known, the Montana Historical Society Museum has a magnificent, non-circulating, research library on Montana history which is open to the public. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West also has a special library centered on topics which support the mission of the museums. This library may be open for people doing advanced research. Always inquire before you go.

Montana’s history is, in some ways, alike that of Wyoming; as such, the museums in Helena and Cody can be viewed as complimentary. Of Course, Wyoming has Buffalo Bill while Montana has C.M. Russell, both geniuses who came out of the same era, days when Wyoming and Montana lands were on the western frontier.

Both states played a central part in the glorious story of mountain men and fur trading in the early 19th century. But Montana alone can lay claim to a huge part of the famous Lewis & Clark Expedition that explored the great Northwest in 1804-1806. Plus, Montana had the precious gold and silver and the men and women who sought to gain riches from the earth.

Visit Montana’s museums, one or more. Amazing rewards await those who chose to come by for a few hours or more. It should be noted that the Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena is run by the state and open free-of-charge. Donations accepted. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody is a private operation. Visitors pay a fee to enter. Generally, $19.50, or less, depending on the age of the visitor. Seniors get a small break and for children free.

Both museums have extra-nice stores that sell books, art prints, and a variety of souvenirs. Your purchases at these stores help to fund the good deeds of the museums. Money earned is used on maintenance and to make the museums ever better.

Art Montana publishes an excellent directory of all museums in Montana, listed by city. Choose museums in the list, then a city, and pick out a museum to visit.

Horace Greely once said, “Go West, young man.” A wiser man might have said, “Conquer the West y’all, visit a Montana museum.”
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Montana Starbucks


Many folks like to stop for a cup of Starbucks coffee when traveling or on a vacation. There is often more than one Starbucks store in most larger cities. Stores can vary in size depending on the location and some stores can look a little different from other stores even in the same city.

Starbucks store
Inside a Starbucks store. Photo courtesy

Starbucks serves tasty coffee and more: Featured on their Website this week: creamy, all-new, iced coconutmilk drinks and Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino Blended Beverage. Always something new at Starbucks. Yum!

Starbucks stores in Montana are modern as the chain arrived here later than in many other cities. Stores are easy to find, on or near major streets, in every city. Just look for the mermaid. A few favorites:

Billings: Starbucks at 910 Grand Avenue (close to downtown)

Bozeman: Starbucks at 1122 West Main Street (close to downtown)

Kalispell: Starbucks at 10 North Main Street (in the heart of downtown)

Missoula: Starbucks at 5260 Grant Creek Road (just off the interstate highway)

Butte: Starbucks at 2307 Harrison Avenue (south of downtown area)

Helena: Starbucks at 1300 Prospect Avenue (close the state capitol)

Great Falls: Starbucks at 1000 10th Ave. South (south of downtown)

All are in convenient locations. Enjoy!

KEYWORDS: latte, mocha, coffee, Starbucks, cappuccino, restaurant
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Snapshot of Helena


Helena (pop. 31,429) is Montana’s state capital. The city is quite small, so it is easy to get around, even for first-time visitors. Tourists generally do not flock to Helena like they do other hot spots such as Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks and cities and towns near the parks.

Helena is defined by Last Chance Gulch, the main street through  downtown. Why go there? Last Chance Gulch is lined with many historical building dating back to the late 1800s. Architects and common folks will marvel at the beauty of these old buildings, many built with stone.

Fun on Last Chance Gulch in Helena. photo courtesy of Helena Chamber.

On the Gulch or near the Gulch, on side streets, are some of the city’s best restaurants and hotels. For upscale dining, try On Broadway and Lucca’s. More casual dining is found at Bert and Ernie’s. The Parrot Confectionery, on Last Chance Gulch, is a must-visit old-time establishment, serving malts, mild shakes, chili, and other delights. Plus, the Parrot makes home-made chocolate candies that are in a word, the best.

Two hotels stand out on or near Last Chance Gulch: DoubleTree by Hilton Helena and the Great Northern Best Western Hotel. Both hotels have or are near excellent dining for guests and the public.

As for attractions, the Montana Historical Museum near the state capitol is outstanding. The museum has displays and artifacts covering the early days of Montana’s history. The museum also includes a wonderful art gallery which has many original pieces by famous artist C.M. Russell. The museum is open 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. weekdays and Saturday, closed on Sundays and holidays.

The state capitol is open to the public. The building is magnificent, a genuine treasure for such a small town. The capitol is open 7:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. weekdays and 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. weekends.

Read more about Helena and the Ranchland region.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

The Parrot Confectionery in Helena


Chocolate candies, malts, and milk shakes are as good as motherhood and apple pie some may suggest. Combine this with special ambience and an old-time atmosphere, complete with booths and counter stools, and you have the Parrot Confectionery on Last Chance Gulch in downtown Helena, Montana.

Parrot Confectionery
Favorite eatery in downtown Helena, Montana. Image courtesy The Parrot Confectionery.

The Parrot makes over 100 kinds of home-made, hand-dipped chocolates and caramels. Want a bowl of chili, they have it. This place will stir old memories and, as if on a time machine, take you be back to the 1950s and 1960s. The Parrot is way cool, Do NOT miss the Parrot during you next stay in Helena. MTbest™
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy

Favorite Montana restaurants


Red Lodge dining
Dining room of Carbon County Steakhouse, Red Lodge, Montana.


Being a large city, Billings offers many great dining options. Bistecca at the Granary has the best food and atmosphere in Billings. The Granary’s bar is special and a delightful place to have a seat even if you only order a Coke. The Granary is open for lunch and evening dining and located in a quiet neighborhood on Poly Drive.

The City Vineyard is on Grand Avenue in far west Billings. This place is exceptional. Don’t miss!   Sandwiches, salads and soups, desserts, and more. Try the “create your own meat and cheese board.” Great selection of Montana craft beers and wines are served.

City Vineyard sells a very large selection of quality wines. Deer Creek Field Medal cheese from Wisconsin and other treats found here too. Next door and adjoining City Vineyard is the City Brew Coffee shop. This is a very, very nice coffee shop. MTbest™

Harper and Madison is another top eatery in Billings. Pastries, desserts, sandwiches, salads, and locally roasted coffee are on the menu. Great breakfast menu. This restaurant is very popular with locals and is located near the hospital-Billings Clinic area north of downtown area. The setting is in a local neighborhood. Open Tuesday thru Friday (7:00 am – 2:00 pm), and Saturday (7:00 am thru 1:00 pm. casual surroundings. Great Harvest Bread is always another good choice.

Bratwursts, schnitzels, apple strudel and many tasty German foods are on the menu at Oktoberfest German Restaurant on Grand Avenue in west Billings. The food is authentic German. The restaurant’s owner is from Stuttgart.  MTbest™

For an extra nice atmosphere and good prices dine at Jake’s restaurant downtown. For yummy seafood and ribs, try Montana’s Rib & Chop House on Majestic Lane in the far west end of Billings.  Don’t miss McCormick Café’s sandwiches and fresh-baked goods.  McCormick Cafe is on Montana Avenue downtown.

Meatloaf sandwiches just like you mom used to make are on the menu at The Fieldhouse restaurant in downtown Billing on Montana Avenue. The Fieldhouse has many other delicious foods too: Burrata (Benton’s ham, crouton, flathead cherry, sage); Lamb Bolognese (with orecchiette pasta, herbs, pecorino, shaved fennel salad); and many more savory temptations.

The 406 Kitchen & Taproom has a great location on north 27th Street, not far from downtown, the airport, and area colleges. On the menu Famous 406 nachos, halibut sandwich, are many more tasty delights. The atmosphere at 406 Kitchen & Taproom is very average but the kitchen has good hours of service.

The Burger Dive in downtown Billings is a favorite for a quick bite in casual surroundings. Great Harvest Bread is always another good choice.


To find dining in Bozeman, head for Main Street. Western Café on east Main Street is a favorite of locals. It’s easy to understand why.  A Western Breakfast Sandwich (large biscuit, egg, cheese, ham and sausage OR bacon) cost all of $6.50. Management at The Nova Cafe claims to serve “the best breakfast in town.” Too boastful? Well go and find out. Starbucks coffee is served on west Main Street.

Don’t miss the Baxter Hotel. This establishment features Ted’s Montana Grille and the Bacchus Pub.  As you leave the Baxter Hotel pick up some fine chocolates and other gourmet treats at the La Châatelaine Chocolat Co.

Plonk Wine Bozeman on east Main Street has, what else, a great selection of premium wines. Top shelf red is a bottle of 2014 Mommessin Monopole Grand Cru Clos de Tart, Morey St-Denis, only $495. More budget friendly is a 2016 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, $42.  Cocktails served too. Plonk serves tasty cuisine, often prepared from products sourced from local farms and ranches. Beef tartare and pan roasted chick breast are favorites on the menu. A special ambience makes Plonk Wine a most satisfying experience.

Blackbird Kitchen is a Bozeman dining place on everyone’s list of top restaurants. You know the cuisine great when management advertise “happy local organic wood fired casual dining.” On the menu: goat shank, beef sirloin, spaghetti and meatballs, and a large selection of delicious pizzas. Find a super wine list here. If your taste is birra, order Kloster-Andechs Weissbier Heil or Propolis Brewing Spruce.

bisl offers another fine dining experience in Bozeman. As with Plonk Wine locally sourced ingredients are used when possible. Montana Short Rib and Scallop run about $31. Enjoy your meal with wine or beer, carefully selected from local, national, and international sources.  bisl is on east Main Street.

Italian cuisine is the regular fare at Blacksmith Italian restaurant. The Open Range is another restaurant with great reviews. Dining at the Bay Bar & Grille is convenient while shopping at the Gallatin Valley Mall. Other good dining options are:  Squire House, Urban Kitchen, South 9th Bistro, and Seven Sushi.


Missoula restaurants and bars are tops. Most of the best restaurants and bars are concentrated along a five-block section of Higgins Avenue, a major north-south artery though the downtown area. The Shack Cafe is a good choice for breakfast, lunch and evening dining. For fresh pastries, breads, and desserts, don’t miss Bernice’s Bakery.

The Iron Horse Brew Pub sells every beverage imaginable, plus has good food, especially sandwiches. The Iron Horse Brew Pub rocks even on weekdays. Tasty sandwiches and veggies are served at Worden’s Market and Deli. Tamarack Brewing (downtown) is a popular sports pub with a low-key, dining experience on the upper level.

The Pearl Café is open for upscale dining. Try the “Boneless trout with Dungeness crab,” cost a mere $29. The menu at Caffe Dolce lists house-made pasta, pizza, salmon, lamb burger and more. Wines are from Italy, France, and Spain.  Red Bird at 111 N. Higgins offers upscale dining.  Scotty’s Table has tasty delights, local meat, produce, and grains for an exceptional dining experience.

Plonk Wine Missoula on Higgins Avenue has, what else, a great selection of premium wines. Top shelf red is a bottle of 2009 Domaine Clerget Echezeaux Burgundy, only $320. More budget friendly is a 2013 Tangent Grenache Blanc, Edna Valley, $32.  Cocktails served too. Plonk serves tasty cuisine, often prepared from products sourced from local farms and ranches. Alaskan halibut, $32. and grilled local bone-in park chops, $25., are favorites on the menu. A special ambience makes Plonk Wine a most satisfying experience.


Great Falls has many good dining spots. Tops is the Celtic Cowboy in the Hotel Arvon in downtown Great Falls. The Celtic Cowboy is a pub and restaurant. On the Menu for breakfast try “Scotch Eggs” for $9  or Irish Porridge (Irish oatmeal) $6. For lunch try their Celtic Burger (ground bison or elk, with cheese, tomato, and slaw) $15. A favorite for dinner is Irish Whiskey Glazed Salmon, $24.

On the pub side, the Celtic Cowboy offers about 35 craft beers made in Montana. Go for a craft beer or to dine, the Celtic Cowboy is an amazing place. MTbest™

Dante’s Creative Cuisine has a nice atmosphere and, according to management, offers “casual [dining] elegance in the heart of Great Falls, Montana.  Perfect steaks and prime rib, delicious seafood entrees, southwestern specialties and delectable desserts make us hard to resist!” On the menu, Manicotti Italiano, $18.95, Chicken Milano, $19.95, Charbroiled Salmon, $28.95, and Grilled Ribeye, $29.95. A great selection of wine, beer, and spirits here, too.

Wheat Montana Bakery and Deli makes delightful sweet baked goods, soups and salads, and sandwiches. Made from the best Montana ingredients. Great Harvest Bread is always a good choice. JB’s Restaurant is a family dining restaurant near major shopping areas and the city’s main mall.


Restaurants are plentiful in Helena. Those who like superior Italian cuisine and good wine dine at Lucca’s on Last Chance Gulch.  Exceptional service here.

For other upscale dining, try The Wassweiler Dinner House & Pub.  Pan Seared Salmon with creamy goat cheese couscous, tomato, mushroom, sweet corn, spinach, and lemon caper beurre blanc is on the menu at $34. Drive a short distance west of Helena on U.S. Highway 12 to arrive at the Wassweiler.

For a good wine selection and splendid cuisine, many dine at On Broadway near the downtown. The Brewhouse Pub & Grille in the Great Northern Town Center, a few blocks north of the downtown area, is very popular.

The Parrot Confectionery, located downtown on Last Chance Gulch, opened in 1922 and serves famous chili, malts, and milk shakes. Best of all you can try over 100 kinds of home-made, hand-dipped chocolates and caramels. This place has an old-time atmosphere, sort of like out of the 1950s. A neat spot if you have a sweet tooth.

Try Steve’s Café for the best breakfast. For tasty coffee, tea, baked treats, and lunch in Helena try Hub Coffee on Last Chance Gulch downtown. Great Harvest Bread is always a good choice.  The Grub-Stake, a few miles north of Helena on I-15, is an interesting hang out for locals.


For upscale dining in Kalispell, try Jagz Fine Dining. A full pound center cut ribeye, char-grilled and topped with bourbon onion sauce goes for $32.95. The Desoto Grill is wildly popular too. The Desoto Grill serves BBQ, sandwiches, desserts, and beer. A smoked chicken sandwich, $12.25. Banana pudding, $4.75. Yum!

The Montana Club restaurant is in the downtown area just off Main Street. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  For this reason, the Montana Club is a good choice. Sometimes it’s hard to find a restaurant that serves breakfast.


The Carbon County Steakhouse on Main Street has a wonderful dining atmosphere and cuisine is first-rate. A large wine selection is served. This is upscale dining Red Lodge, so don’t look at prices on the menu.

Locals and visitors enjoy tasty cuisine at the Carbon Fork Restaurant in downtown Red Lodge. Try their Huckleberry ice cream for dessert, so good. There’s a lot to love at the Carbon Fork.  Foster & Logan’s Pub & Grill on Main Street is another spot to have a good meal. A special at Foster and Logan’s is a Folo’s Dog, a 1/4 pound all beef hot dog with extras for only $7.95.  Bogart’s serves a variety of Mexican food.

For a tradition pub atmosphere, go to the Snag Bar. A beer at the Snag goes for $3.00, a burger $8.00. A pool table and a few video gaming machine attract some visitors to the Snag Bar.

The Rock Creek Resort (1-800-667-1119) is located a few miles south of Red Lodge on U.S. Highway 212. The nearby Old Piney Dell Restaurant and Bar is a favorite dining spot for locals. The restaurant has a very rustic  setting, along the banks of Rock Creek.
Copyright © 2020 John Sandy