The first Frontier Town bar, 1948.



Detail of the back-bar, 1948.



Sue Quigley behind the original Frontier Town bar, early 1950s.



John Quigley tending bar, early 1950s. Patron unidentified.



A second bar, 1950s. The exact location this bar occupied is now unknown.



The 50' long bar, made from a single huge Douglas Fir tree split down the middle, was undoubtedly the main attraction at Frontier Town. It featured real saddles for seats and a large three-dimensional diorama across the back bar, with numerous little figures and models which guests could animate by feeding coins into handy mechanisms. Featured "shows" were a soaring eagle, a model stagecoach which ran the length of the back bar, an Indian buffalo-jump with smoke signals, and an Indian war dance -- complete with snapping and popping sounds of tiny rifles.

Water for mixed drinks came from a natural mountainside spring which John Quigley piped through part of the diorama, forming a waterfall. Unfortunately, only a small number of diorama photographs are known exist.

At the north end of the bar was a cozy and popular fireplace nook, near the stone steps leading up to the dining room.

Also at that end of the bar was a small bronze sculpture of a cowboy cooking a meal over a tiny gas-flame campfire. When a curious visitor peered into the cowpoke's frying pan, a bartender would remotely tigger a jet of ice-cold water to shoot from the cowboy's mouth, splashing first against a flat rock, then into the face of the victim.

In short, the scene at the bar was always action-packed.


"Construction of the saloon was done in the winter of 1951 and the spring of 1952. From that time on (and with many more future plans) I have worked out the various carvings, dioramas, model animals, stagecoaches, covered wagons and figures to be found throughout the bar. The bar itself it made of Douglas Fir, fifty feet, six inxhes long; it weighs six tons and contains twenty-five hundred board feet of lumber. I 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."

" [There are] eight good riding saddles placed for bar stools. Hanging from the bottom of the bar to the floor are cowhides tanned with the hair on. And on the walls are other hides; buffalo, bear, wolverine and beaver."

1950s Views of the Long Bar

The Animated Back Bar Diorama

"Stand 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 ceiling logs. The eagle flies 271/2 miles each day; a total of 10,000 miles per year, someone tells me.

As 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!"

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

"On the hillside to the right of the lake you'll see a herd of eleven elk. Farther up among the cliffs are five mountain goats, watching. Elsewhere on this diorama you may find such animals as a deer, horses,bear,bobcats, and mountain lions. Everything was carved and molded into perspective, that, in viewing them, you have the impression that you are overlooking spacious Montana scenery -- both nearby and miles away."

"The trees on the back bar-76 in all—were carefully selected and cut out of the tops of juniper trees, then treated in a solution of fcrmaldehyde and glycerine as a preservative. They were then dipped in paint. The trunks and limbs were hand-painted to give them their natural look. (In the prairie regions of Montana you will find sagebrush and thistle which has been treated much the same way to enhance its natural look."

Views of the Animated Back Bar Diorama

Arrow Shot by Expert Archer Howard Hill, 1954


Back Bar diorama, animated model stagecoach on track, and Indian village.




North End of the Long Bar

Fireplace Nook at the End of the Long Bar


At the north end of the bar was a a small sculpture of a cowboy cooking a meal over a tiny gas-flame campfire. When a curious visitor peered into the cowpoke's frying pan, a bartender would remotely tigger a jet of ice-cold water to shoot from the cowboy's mouth, splashing first against a flat rock, then into the face of the victim, like the young fellow seen in the photo below...

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




The top label was applied to the neck of the bottle. Frontier Town's "Home Brew" beer was produced by the historic Kessler Brewing Company, located on Helena's west side.

John Quigley Carves the Bar Top, 1956

"You will find two carvings in the bar top, the first being two elk fighting over the female protion 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."

Quigley's elk carving, 2003.


Doorway and Steps Leading Up to the Dining Room


Looking Down the Steps

Dining room, 1951 postcard view.


Independent Record, Aug. 9 1953


Dining Room crew, 1955




Dining Room Fireplace, 1950s

Exterior Views of the Dining Room

Balcony Railing Tragedy, 1961

Mr. and Mrs. Smidt died of their injuries. Tom Tobin and Marc Buterbaugh recovered. Buterbaugh brought suit against Frontier Town.

Frontier Town Summer Theatre, 1951 - 1954

Doris and Walter Marshall began producing plays -- mainly melodramas -- at Frontier Town in 1951. In 1953, "Helena, Unlimited" - a not-for-profit organization spearheaded by past Chamber of Commerce President H. S. "Hi" Dotson - purchased the run-down Capital Brewery building on West Main with the intention of converting it into a summer playhouse. Using volunteer labor, the Marshalls oversaw the cleanup and renovation of the Brewery, and produced several plays there in 1954. They also continued to produce shows at Frontier Town in '54, but in 1955 they began focusing solely on the Old Brewery Theatre and The Bandit Players.

The stage at Frontier Town was a heavy, rotating affair, built of logs by John Quigley. It was located in the upstairs dining room. Above is a photo of Sue Quigley and Helen Quigley Price in front of the stage, early 1950s.


Letter from Walter Marshall to John and Sue Quigley, 1953

Producter/Director Doris Marshall, ca. 1949

1975 Dining Room Fire

John Quigley rebuilt the dining room. The large stone over the fireplace was split by the heat, and didn't look the same after the fire.