In 1946, John 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.

Looking east toward Helena from the site of Frontier Town, late 1940s.

There were no blueprints for Frontier Town...


"Original & Only Plans on Frontier Town - J. Q. Sep. 13, 1947"
Pencil and ink on paper by John Quigley

The large separate lodge was never built, but the final configuration of Frontier Town was very close to the rest of the plan.

Detail of Quigley's plan, showing the stockade construction which became familiar to hundreds of thousands of visitors over the decades.

In December 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 Town.

A December 1947 view inside the tent that John Quigley and his helpers occupied during the first phase of Frontier Town's construction.

The trio peeled and skidded logs, but John had to shovel snow every day before work could start. Temperatures dipped to 40º below zero. In fact, most of Frontier Town's construction over the years took place during the harsh winter months; good weather was meant for trade, not building.

During the first winter, they completed construction of the northwest blockhouse, which housed the bar, and several of the little pioneer cabins which faced Frontier Town's Main Street. With the protection of what he had already built, Quigley stayed indoors during most of the next two winters, spending the time making tables and chairs. These consisted of three to six-inch thick polished log rounds, with log legs attached with wooden pegs.

Early construction: tourist cabins in the foreground, the first blockhouse and gate in the distance.


Winching rocks into place near the gate.


An example of John Quigley's interior stonework.

John Quigley hoisting a rock into place, 1960s


Clipping from an Independent Record feature on Frontier Town, Aug. 9, 1953



Although these next photos show construction of a later blockhouse, they illustrate the methods used in building Frontier Town's log structures...


Trimmed and peeled logs were hoisted aloft with the front-end loader...


...then muscled into place and secured by man-power, in this case by John's son Peter Quigley.


Another later view, showing the top framing of the fourth and final blockhouse.


Probably the first roadside sign for Frontier Town, about 1949. During the first few years, Quigley used the established "Lost Cabin" name along with "Frontier Town" in advertisements.


Clipping from an Independent Record feature on Frontier Town, Aug. 9, 1953


The first bar, 1948.

In those early Frontier Town years, John Quigley acquired a sled and a team of Alaskan Huskies. During the winter, he'd take the sled and team out and look for construction materials. In the spring of 1949, the team took John over a snow cliff located above Frontier Town. He suffered multiple fractures to his collar bone, a dislocated shoulder and separated ribs.

"I was in pretty tough shape that spring. Had to tend bar in a tin vest, but still seemed to be always getting the bones out of joint. So Slim Wilson used to pull my arm while I held onto the bar until my bones cracked back into place. I think it hurt him more than it did me -- he always turned white." -- John Quigley

Early photo of John Quigley tending bar.


Quigley became ill later in 1949, but put off seeing the doctor. When he was finally diagnosed, it was discovered that he had a ruptured appendix and peritonitis, a serious complication. His doctor effected a cure, but strongly advised John to take it easier.

John took his advice, and soon took a kind of "working vacation" to Florida's eastern shore, where he found employment at Delray Beach as a lifeguard, bus boy and bartender.

It was at Delray Beach that John met Sussan Whittier of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Their relationship was intense. John visited Sue and her parents, Mr. & Mrs. Olin Whittier, in Grand Rapids before returning to Montana for the winter.


On April 29, 1950, John Quigley dug his car out of a Frontier Town snowbank, and drove down MacDonald Pass to Helena. There, he mailed this airmail letter (on Florida stationery) to Miss Sussan Whittier at her home in Grand Rapids. In it, John explained to Sue what a tough life it might be for her if she married him and moved to Montana. The following transcription of the letter includes John's spelling and punctuation idiosyncrasies.

Friday 28

Dear Sue,

I have been here two days now. 10 above zero and snowing like hell. New drifts two and three feet deep. I have cleaned out the bar and lounge and live in the lounge. Have not been able to turn on the water yet as the snow is up to and over the eaves in the back where I have to turn the drain off. It is nice and cozy inside, but oh so lonesome.

I don't know what you would think of this sort of a life, it is a far cry from Delray, etc. I guess strictly a man's unless you were to become an outdoor girl. You would either love it or hate it and only the former would keep you happy. Sure I could paint you a purty picture of the future and all its possibilities, but what if its never to become any better than it is. Snow & cold, away from your family and friends, going without the things your friends have, living an entirely different life than you have ever known, plus looking at the same homely Irish face day in and day out. Putting up with all his peculiarities.

Sue you laughed at me when I told you what I could do, but I could never be satisfied in being only a cog in a wheel. Something the ordinary person could not do would be the only thing that would interest me. I have a kingdom of my own here, a thing of my own creation, a lifetime of desire and hope built into every part, which as small as it is I believe to have a future second to none, but there are a lot of hard times and tribulations ahead.

Sue, I am afraid. Afraid this is my last big try. If it fails I will be too tired to try again and will be inclined to take the lines of least resistance. A clerk, a salesman or etc. But in my heart I would be licked. I have been fighting from the time I was twelve years old and have a world of guts and determination left for this, but I'm afraid not for something new.

How then can you tell unless you yourself can be here long enough to see under the gay carefree life it seems to be. It could become a gilded palace to you if you liked everything about it as on the other hand a thing of discust.

The only thing in the world that stops me from coming back and marrying you right now is your future happiness. If you were to become unhappy after a year or two it would kill me and rather than take a chance I would die first.

I hate to ask you to go against your parents advice and I know how they feel, but how else will we know. I know doing anything else we would have no questions. But this project is different, you would just have to love it. I think you will but we can not take a chance on that because it would be all your future.

Remember a long time ago you gave me a look or two of discust well never again would I like to see that. and I intend you shall never have the occasion.

I have thought of writing too your parents but what can I tell them -- that my intentions are honorable. -- that as wild as I have been and the thousands of girls I have known their daughter is the one and only -- the one and only one I want to love for the rest of my life. -- that I want you to learn and understand my business to assure you of your future happiness before we marry which you your self would know by fall. (the last they may appreciate better than you)

With the same interests we would have the best corner stone for an enduring marriage possible. Without it all the pillars are under a stress and strain, depending on the props of chance to hold it up.

I don't know why I didn't try to explain to them when I was there but I guess I still wanted you to check over your old boy friends but I realize now that knowing me as well as you do they are out or of no consequence as far as we are concerned.

What can we do about your parents. Can you persuade them it is the right and senceable thing to do. I suppose it would be hard for them to see. But how else will you know. You know nothing about this sort of life except what your imagination has made up for you.

This is going to be a tough summer. I am going to get my as cheap as possible. Not going to run the cafe but have coffee & sandwiches. Concentrating on the bar. Spare time developing what I have and planning for next year. Hopeing to work out something definate on the dude ranch and wind up the summer with a little money to build more next year.

It has been a week since you wrote the last letter I have. I hope to have more than one when I go into town tomorrow. The car is drifted in and will have some time getting to the highway. Blizard conditions have been reported here for past three days and will continue for a few more and who knows it to be a fact better than I right here in the middle of it. Will enclose your $50.00 and how good it was to have it with the long detours I had. Your little note in the lunch brought tears to my eyes.

I love you Sue more than you have ever been loved before, because anyone without the hard knocks and aprehension I have would never have let you out of their sight.

All my love

P.S. The longest letter I have ever written.


Peter Quigley, Jack Quigley, John Quigley, Kitty Ann Quigley, Sue Quigley -- 1950.

Sue accepted John's proposal, and the couple were married in the Whittier family home in Grand Rapids on May 6, 1950.

They took a week to get to Montana, arriving in Helena on the day of the Vigilante Parade. Following Sue's first view of the colorful annual event, they headed west to Frontier Town. Even though the date was May 12, the road from the highway to Frontier Town was still drifted over with snow. John went up and hitched his husky Kiska to the dogsled and returned for his bride. They loaded Sue and her luggage on the sled, and she made a rather spectacular arrival at her new home.


Sue behind the first Frontier Town bar, about 1950. Sue was a major factor in Frontier Town's success. Her duties were many, including relief bartender, superintendent in charge of tourist rooms, hostess, and bookkeeper. However, her main business contribution was the operation of the large gift shop, which she built into one of the best in the West.

"Sue's was the best. She was able to sell, and with that my dad did his thing." - Kitty Ann Quigley Taaler

Sue Quigley by the Frontier Town pond, 1950.

Around 1957 , John lost the tips of three fingers on his left hand to an electric planer.

"It happened in the Spring. John sent Sue after the fingers. John had them put in plastic and kept them behind the bar. People would ask him, 'How did you do all this work?', and if he was in the mood he would thump his stumps on the bar and say, 'I worked my fingers to the bone.' Then he would pull out the fingers in plastic."

- Kitty Ann Quigley Taaler

John Quigley moving boulders, 1956.