Jurassic Discoveries at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman

Jack Horner grew a dinosaur collection into one of the biggest in the country, but few know the story of the pioneering woman who co-founded the museum.
Dinosaur at the Museum of the Rockies. Courtesy photo

Dinosaur at the Museum of the Rockies. 

Covering more than 500,000,000 years of history, the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., is home to the largest collection of dinosaur remains in the nation, including the largest Tyrannosaurus skull ever discovered and a T. Rex thigh bone that contains soft-tissue remains. The Smithsonian-affiliated museum collections include more than 300,000 objects.

It’s also home to the Martin Children’s Discovery Center, which provides a fascinating look at Yellowstone. Geared toward infants through 8-year-olds, it is  a great spot for families. You’ll walk through a stone-like archway to enter that bears a striking resemblance to the stone archway at the North Entrance to the park in Gardiner, Mont. Kids can pump up a geyser, look through binoculars on a fire tower, fish at a miniature version of Yellowstone’s iconic Fishing Bridge and more.

Retired curator of paleontology Jack Horner spent 33 years growing the museum’s dinosaur collection into one of the biggest in the country. And he was the inspiration behind the lead character, Dr. Alan Grant, in all of the Jurassic Park movies. But few know the story of the pioneering woman, Dr. Caroline McGill, who co-founded the museum after she retired at age 76 from being a family physician in Butte, Mont.

A model of a Deinonychus attacking a Tenontosaurus in the Museum of the Rockies

A model of a Deinonychus attacking a Tenontosaurus in the Museum of the Rockies 

When McGill moved to Montana at age 32 in 1911 to work as a pathologist at Butte’s Murray Hospital, Butte had 275 saloons and a large red-light district. Stabbings and gunfights were regular occurrences. After two years, McGill left to earn her medical degree at Johns Hopkins, opening her own clinic when she returned to Butte.

It was at this point that she began collecting artifacts that eventually led her to found the museum. She received many smaller items in her collection from patients who bartered for her services, assembling a significant collection of porcelain from Chinese patients. She also scoured Montana’s second-hand stores for pioneer artifacts.

The museum opened as the McGill Museum Jan. 4, 1957. McGill was the museum’s first curator and continued to work with the museum until her death in 1959 at her ranch in Gallatin Canyon. To better reflect its expanding collections, the museum's name changed to Museum of the Rockies in 1965.

Living History Farm

Tinsley House

Tinsley House

The Museum’s Living History Farm (closed in winter) is a historically accurate working Montana homestead and features the Tinsley House, built in the 1890s. The Living History Farm’s costumed interpreters provide a rich understanding of life on a late-1800s Montana homestead through visitor interaction, daily activities, and ongoing programs.

More Information:
Museum of the Rockies
(406) 994-2251
Montana State University campus
600 West Kagy Blvd, Bozeman, Montana 59717

Hours change seasonally. Please check our website for current hours.

This piece was excerpted with permission from Road Trip Yellowstone by Dina Mishev.


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