In a sense, our history goes back eons, to the time when the mountains in our backyards were being pushed up and carved out.
In another sense, it’s only 40 years old–dating to the time of the bicentennial, when a group of Dubois residents decided it to create a museum to document it all.
Forty years ago, in 1976, a group of Dubois villagers began to collect interesting artifacts, from vintage household items and old tools to remnants of Native American culture. They fretted about how to decide which items were worth keeping. They planted trees and shrubs, and made arrangements to move buildings such as an old post office and a forestry cabin to the site of the new museum on the main street.
“Possibility was discussed of acquiring some old cabins in the area and moving them to the museum,” read the very first recorded minutes of the Dubois Museum Association. Today, the Museum’s collection of historic cabins is one of its best features.
The result of these efforts is one of the best spots in Dubois. The displays reach from ancient geology to the history of a landmark guest ranch, with a long stop midway to portray the distant and recent history of Native Americans. The Museum also sponsors regular treks to the remnants of history hidden in the landscape nearby.
“My favorite part was the historical cabins that were brought in from around the area,” wrote a visitor last month on TripAdvisor. “They highlighted local historical figures and gave a great overview of the tie hack industry. Really worth seeing!”
“Great museum for a small town,” reads the most recent review on TripAdvisor. “It is small but a very nice surprise.”
I’ve never understood why everyone in town isn’t a member of the DMA, because the heritage of Dubois is so fascinating, so fragile and precious (and easily lost), and so crucial to our identity and future as a community.
There’s so much to preserve, document, and celebrate: The creators of the petroglyphs and sheep traps, the courageous Mountain Men, the hunters and trappers, indomitable homesteaders, the hardy and heroic tie hacks, the cowboys and painters and quilters.
In its cabins and its tiny main building (the prospect of a new and better one always seems to recede into the distance), the Museum somehow captures it all.
There’s often confusion about the difference between the administration of the Museum, which is owned and run by Fremont County, and the Dubois Museum Association, the volunteers who created it in the first place and still provide regular support. We pay for the purchase of important items such as cameras for documenting acquisitions and IPads for interactive displays, and we recently provided supplies and manpower to replace the rotting boardwalk that leads between those charming cabins.
We also sponsor a popular annual community event, Museum Day, in the middle of July.
Lately, we’ve also been carrying out oral histories of local residents. For instance, we videotaped an interview with centenarian Esther Wells recalling her life as a child and young wife homesteading up one of the mountain valleys, and another with Kip Macmillan as he recounted a childhood visit to the camp where German prisoners of war were serving as tie hacks during World War II. The originals are housed, of course, at the Museum.
If you haven’t seen the Museum lately, please visit. The exhibits change all the time.
If you haven’t thought much about supporting it, please consider joining the Dubois Museum Association. The dues are an affordable $10, although many people contribute more.
This Saturday, the Dubois Museum Association celebrates 40 years of serving the community, at its 2016 annual meeting at the Dennison Lodge. I am a proud member of its Board of Directors.
“You only need to sit in at meetings,” said my neighbor Dorothy when she asked me to replace her on the Board years ago. It’s been so much better than that, because we are a vital and dedicated group with a mission that we feel to be extremely important.
Our history is always there, but it isn’t permanent. It will only stay alive as long as we continue to pay attention to it.
Happy 40th anniversary, DMA! Here’s to a long and fruitful life ahead.
© Lois Wingerson, 2016
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