images courtesy of Kitty Ann Quigley Taaler unless otherwise noted
Town Brochure Title Page, 1964
Read the Brochure
the entire 1964 Frontier Town brochure, please click on the
image above. It will open in a new window. From the collection
of Kennon Baird.
View of Main Street, 1960s
starting in 1946, by John R. Quigley (1915-1979) and his wife
Sue (1926-1998), Frontier Town was not only a noted summer tourist
attraction, it was a grand example of American folk art.
It was located
west of Helena, just east of the summit of McDonald Pass, with
a beautifully expansive view toward the Helena Valley. It
is now a private residence and is closed to the public. The
location may be seen on Google Maps and Google Earth by entering:
built the attraction almost single-handedly from boulders and
logs. He also added fine artistic touches, such as his expressive
wood carvings and intricate animated models.
his building and artistic talents, Quigley was a master of promotion.
He emphasized his "frontier" Montana upbringing (on
a ranch near Avon), and crafted an image of himself as a wild
mountain man, which was mostly true. John worked hard and played
Town was advertised and promoted widely. Some may recall the
log billboards which Quigley erected along Montana highways.
Frontier Town was a virtual museum of old west artifacts, collected
by Quigley over the decades.
Walter and Doris Marshall operated a summer theatre at Frontier
Town, utilizing a large rotating stage which John Quigley fashioned
out of logs. The Marshalls went on to open the Old
Brewery Theatre in Helena in 1954.
celebrities visited Frontier Town, and it was the go-to place
for a unique and memorable Montana experience.
John and Sue Quigley
Why is Frontier Town Closed?
people ask why Frontier Town is no longer open to the public.
The reality is that its days as an attraction have likely passed
forever. Making Frontier Town pay required a special dedication
that could only come from John Quigley and his family.
John's death from cancer in 1979, his daughter, Kitty Ann Quigley
Taaler and her husband Aavo, moved to Frontier Town from their
home in British Columbia and partnered with John's widow Sue
(Kitty Anns' Stepmother) in operating the attraction.
offers from the Taalers, in 1992 Sue Quigley chose to sell Frontier
Town to one Richard Pegg, who in 1994 auctioned off John Quigley's
extensive western antique, art and heirloom collection, destroying
much of Frontier Town's unique culture and character. Pegg had
continuing financial troubles, the resulting protracted legal
problems culminating in a neglected Frontier Town being sold
at a sheriff's auction in 2001 for $190,000. The buyer was Tom
Battershell, who has made Frontier Town a private residence,
working hard to protect and preserve the structures.
Kitty Ann Quigley Taaler in the 12/14/2005 Independent Record:
"The Tom Battershell family bought
a shell of a maintenance nightmare, Frontier Town. Aavo and
I could have bought Frontier Town, but there was no way we could
afford to work for years without income, bringing Frontier Town
back to it's old glory and it's Quigley reputation....Nobody
but the Quigleys, Taalers, and our generation of friends know
what the real old glory of Frontier Town was."
page is turned, but many warm memories of tha extraordinary
place, and the man who built it, still remain.
Quigley talks about the origins of Frontier Town. John spoke
with a classic Montana accent, so if you've never heard one,
this is the real deal. Recorded in the autumn of 1979, near
the end of Quigley's life. MP3 - 7:23:00.
OF KITTY ANN QUIGLEY TAALER
Frontier Town Story Begins With Quigley's "Lost Cabin Ranch"
Dude Ranch and Ski Lodge Near Avon, MT
Cabin was a combination dude ranch, hunting lodge and ski
resort opened by John and Marguerite Quigley (Kitty Ann Quigley
Taaler's mother) in 1933-34. It was located on the Quigley
Ranch about 15 miles north of Avon, Montana. Summer activites
for guests included horseback riding, fishing, hunting and
pitching in with the actual ranch work. Come winter, skiing
and sledding topped the bill, with skiers ferried from the
ranch to the slopes on a "caterpillar snow train",
which was essentially a huge wooden sled pulled by a bulldozer.
Cabin could accomodate eight to ten overnight guests. Guests
arriving via rail would be met at stations in Helena, Avon,
Deer Lodge or Butte. There was also a landing field at the
ranch for air charter and private planes.
Therewas a dining room in the lodge where "Wholesome,
well cooked ranch meals" were served, "...with fresh
meats, poultry, eggs, vegetables, fruits, milk and cream plentifully
Ranch closed for the duration of World War II. Even though he
was an avid outdoorsman, John Quigley suffered from flat feet,
which prevented him from enlisting in the armed forces. That
didn't stop him from contributing to the war effort; in 1942
John, Marquerite and sons Jack & Peter moved to south-central
Washington, where John worked on construction of the Hanford
Nuclear Facility. He was superintendent for the R. D. Merrill
and W. A. Carson construction companies, and also had a riding
academy in the Hanford area during that time.
returned to Montana in 1945, with John and Marguerite divorcing
that Lost Cabin Ranch was too far from a large population center
and good transportation to be a successful dude ranch, in 1946
Quigley purchased 40 acres of land on the eastern side of MacDonald
Pass from the McIntosh family of Avon, Montana. This marked
the beginning of Frontier Town, the project which would occupy
the remaining 32 years of John's life.
Frontier Town Construction
of 1947, Quigley pitched a tent on his new-acquired land, and
with some rudimentary tools, a team of oxen, a few well-worn machines,
and the invaluable help of Slim Wilson and Joe Alt, two old-timers
skilled in stone and log construction, he began work on Frontier
The Original Gate
John Quigley and Sue Whittier Were Married May 6 1950
The Quigley family, 1950
family at Frontier Town, 1950. John met Sue in Delray Beach, Florida
in 1949, while he was recouperating from complications of a ruptured
1950s Postcard View of Frontier Town
Early Color View
Town Entrance on US 12, 1960s
is Quigley's animated roadside attention-getter. Carved from
pine logs and powered by electric motors, it depicted a grizzly
bear about to attack a lumberjack and his dog. The figures jerked
mechanically -- the man raising his axe, the dog jumping, and
the bear lunging -- while a loud tape-recorded loop of growling
bear and barking dog sounds echoed across the mountains. How
could you not stop for that? Many thousands did.
TO HEAR THE ORIGINAL FRONTIER TOWN BARKING DOG SOUNDS
COURTESY OF KITTY ANN QUIGLEY TAALER
Lot and Two Blockhouses, about 1956
Lot with Enlarged Four-Blockhouse Gates, 1960s
Quigley and the Hand-Carved "Welcome to Frontier Town" Sign
of the Sign
"The Doghouse" near the front gate,
where admission to Frontier Town was collected, 1960s
Ann Quigley and Cousin Sheila Quigley Working the Doghouse, 1960s
Main Street Looking North, 1960s
Looking South, 1960s
Town Trade Tokens
were purchased upon entering and used for trade. Of course,
many were never used and were carried away as souvenirs. The
copper tokens, about the size of a half-dollar, were $1.00 each.
ashtray from Frontier Town, 1950s-60s. The gift shop was one of
the best of its kind, capturing the essence of knotty-pine Old
West tourist kitsch. Sue Quigley operated the shop, and it paid
a lot of the bills.
Famous Log Bar
attraction at Frontier Town was undoubtedly the 50-foot-long
split log bar, made in 1951-52 from a single Douglas Fir.
split the log during twenty below zero weather with a chain
saw. It took two days to accomplish. The bottom of the log
sits on stone pillars while the upper half is over head,
held up by log supports from the same tree. The bar top,
which has a mirror-like finish from sanding and polishing,
I did by hand. You will find two carvings in the bar top,
the first being two elk fighting over the female portion
of the herd. This I carved during the fall and winter of
1956, putting in more than 300 hours. The carving of a mountain
lion is on the lower end of the bar in front of the saddles
-- eight good riding saddles placed for bar stools. "
-- John Quigley
which way you were traveling from Frontier Town, you had to
descend a 6,000-foot mountain pass on a winding two-lane road,
so naturally you had a drink or two. The altitude helped to
boost the effects of the alcohol, which added to the fun of
had highly detailed animated Old West dioramas across the back,
which could be activated by inserting coins into metal boxes
on the wall.
at the front of the bar and look at the back bar. You'll
see an eagle soaring over the hills and lake and dipping
down among the trees. The eagle was made by me from a
small piece of aluminum foil, suspended from a silk thread
and operated by a small motor counter-sunk in one of the
you look at the miniature lake amidst a setting of snowcapped
mountains, you'll see a fisherman which I made by building
a wire form, covering it with beeswax and then carving
with small knives. If you look closely you may see tension
on his line and a definite bend in his fishing pole. From
this sparkling lake, supplied with water from a mountain
spring which bubbles up right in the center of it, you
can follow the water down the rocks, under a miniature
bridge and finally over a waterfall between two huge boulders.
From there it runs outside under the floor. This spring
water is ice cold. It is used in all drinks by placing
the glass under the waterfall. Easy touch, says the barkeep!
the back bar are panoramic, animated dioramas to give
an added feeling of realism and originality. One is the
buffalo kill which contains twenty-six buffalo and ten
Indians, all hand-made...
of rocks were sorted to find enough of the right composition
and color for the jump itself...
you watch the buffalo falling off the cliff your attention
is suddenly drawn to a little Indian high up on a rocky
pinnacle to the left of the pishkun. He is sending smoke
signals to warn other Indians that there are no more buffalo
animated Indian-war diorama contains 37 figures and 7
deer-hide tepees. These figures were made from metal,
because of the high voltage electricity used to make the
gun flashes as the whites and Indians deploy in their
gun battle. In the background you may see Indian reinforcements
going through their dance ritual.
stagecoach, which runs the full length of the bar, is
operated on a principle similar to real cable cars which
run on endless cables and turn on turntables." --
far end of the bar was a cozy nook with comfortable rustic chairs
in front of a warming stone fireplace. The stone steps leading
up to the restaurant were adjacent to the sitting area.
on that end of the bar was a small bronze sculpture of a cowboy
cooking with a
skillet over a tiny natural gas flame. If the bartender noticed
someone admiring the cowboy, he'd tell them to look very closely
at what he was cooking. When the subject peered into the little
pan, the bartender would trigger the cowboy to spit a jet of
ice-cold water onto the rocks in front of him, splattering the
face of the unsuspecting tourist.
Views of the Animated Back Bar Diorama
Town Bar, Early 1960s
to right are: Walter H. Marshall, John Quigley. The third man
from the right is early cowboy motion picture star Edward "Hoot"
Gibson. Sue Quigley is the barmaid.
celebrities visited Frontier Town over the years, including
Billy Graham (although he probably didn't saddle up at the bar).
Town Home Brew" beer label. Probably 1950s. Brewed by Kessler
Brewing in Helena.
Fireplace Nook at the End of the Long Bar
Steps Leading Up to the Dining Room
View of the Dining Room
Room Fireplace, 1950s
restaurant was also noted for its construction and decor. John
Quigley could be found tending this fireside, chatting with
diners and giving kitchen tours. The dining room suffered a
major fire in 1975, but was rebuilt.
Safe Used in the Montana Territory
Part of John Quigley's Huge Collection of Western Artifacts
is Scott Weaver, a longtime employee of Frontier Town. John
Quigley had a large collection of historical items and memorabilia.
Among them was this safe, said to be the first in Montana Territory.
One of many
rustic roadside Frontier Town advertising sings erected in Montana.
John Quigley saw promotional opportunities in almost every situation,
and the results were typically colorful -- and quite effective.
Here are just a few examples...
in a publicity photo captioned, "Quigley, the hard-bitten
mountain man, checks his gear before a ride."
movie star George Montgomery, John Quigley, and Montana author
A. B. Guthrie, 1954. They are gathered around a C. M. Russell
bronze sculpture, presumably at the Montana Historical Society
John Quigley shot and killed this bison. He had it mounted and
mechanized, and it was on the 1964 Montana Centennial Train, which
traveled to the New York World's Fair.
Bison on Parade in Helena
buffalo in a Helena parade, early 1960s. In the background are
Gertie's Drive-in, the Husky sign at McGaffick's, and the Montana
National Guard Armory.
Black Bear Shot Dead in Frontier Town Bar, 1962
the bear taxidermied and placed it in the Frontier Town bar, along
with a sign that read "Killed Where You Stand!".
log chapel at Frontier Town was completed in 1961. Although he
professed to not be a very religious man, John Quigley said that
building the chapel was his greatest achievement.
The chapel under
of Frontier Town, 1984
COURTESY OF KITTY ANN QUIGLEY TAALER
from a 1990 Sales Video
OF KITTY ANN QUIGLEY TAALER
an edited-down version of a sales video made in 1990 by a Helena,
Montana real estate agency to promote the sale of Frontier Town.
the narration and background music leave something to be desired,
this video gives us a glimpse of John Quigley's remarkable accomplishment
as it appeared in later years.
granddaughter, Taegan Taaler Walker, hosts a Facebook fan page
devoted to memories of Frontier Town. Go there by clicking the