Hidden Treasures

Experiencing the hometown hospitality of Terry, Montana

Twenty-five years ago, a friend gave me Donna Lucey’s book, “Photographing Montana 1894-1928, The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron,” after my husband and I first moved here. After all these years, I wanted to see Cameron’s vivid images that captured the spirit of the people who had settled in this part of southeast Montana, in Terry.

On a recent Saturday morning, my husband and I made the pilgrimage to the town that had preserved and protected her images of early pioneer life. As we journey east on I-94, I marvel at the vast blue skies that stretch over a rugged and craggy landscape, and I find comfort that the Yellowstone River guides us along, always bordering the north side of the road.

After getting off the interstate at Exit 176, we drive towards the town of almost 600 people, established with the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1881 and named after General Alfred Howe Terry of the U.S. Army.

Prairie Unique

Prairie Unique is our destination. This shop, owned by Dale and Kathy Galland, is a gift and hobby shop in one. As we step inside, a woman’s voice shouts an enthusiastic “Hello!” With a bright smile, Kathy bounds out from the back. She greets us as though we were long-lost friends and immediately hands us a piece of caramel swirl saltwater taffy.  

The Gallands opened shop in 1995, becoming one of the first vendors to sell Montana-made products.

Kathy says, “We attended our first Made in Montana Tradeshow the year we opened and found such a wide array of extremely high-quality products made in Montana, and as we love Montana and its people, it was a no-brainer to handle the best Montana has to offer.”

Books authored by Big Sky writers are neatly displayed in the corner by the window. Open shelves feature ceramics from Patti Gettel of Moonstone Clay and Mountain Arts Pottery. Selections of culinary concoctions range from Huckleberry Haven jams and jellies, to Mimi’s Mustard and Dip, Arthur Wayne hot sauces and more. On the back wall, photographs of the Natural Bridges in the Terry Badlands, taken by Dennis Kaul, entice me to explore these nearby features.

I pause at the glass cases displaying handmade jewelry created by Macs Gems, Cool Water Jewelry, and RoseworksMT to eventually make my way to the next rooms with Montana children’s books, toys, puzzles and games.

I gasp as I step into the back room. Above the big table providing space for Dale’s upholstery work, my eyes are drawn towards the ceiling covered with radio-controlled model airplanes crafted by Dale. It’s a collection he started more than 50 years ago.

“Life is too short to not have fun,” Dale says.

After a childhood of farming with his family in Fallon, Dale attended college in Glendive at what he called the “Harvard on the Hill.” He returned home to farm, but an accident forced him to change careers. “I farmed until I screwed up my back. I was too hungry to work for anybody,” which led the Gallands to open a hobby shop in Fallon before later moving to Terry.

Prairie County Museum

We slip across the street to the Prairie County Museum, housed in the 1916 neoclassical State Bank of Terry building. Here, we’re greeted by long-time museum volunteer Glenn Heitz.

Glenn began his tour with an introduction to the life and times of Evelyn Cameron.

“Lady Evelyn Cameron willed her ranch and belongings to Janet Williams,” he says. Williams held Cameron’s prints — as well as nearly 1,800 glass plates, nitrate negatives and detailed diaries — in her house before writer Donna Lucey discovered them in 1979. Lucey eventually gained the trust of Williams, who later allowed her to look at Cameron’s photos. “She worked on her book in Janet’s basement,” Glenn says.

Next door, at the Evelyn Cameron Gallery, Glenn leads us to the famous photo of her wearing a long white skirt and standing on her horse, Jim. Story after story spills from Glenn as we walk by each photo. His excitement peaks when we reach the back room, where Cameron’s diaries are stored.

Our tour continues to an old steam-heated outhouse, the Burlington Northern train depot, and the original 1906 State Bank of Terry building.

Terry Super Valu

Afterwards, we slide into the Terry Super Valu market to grab a kuchen. On the bottom shelf in a back freezer, the German-inspired pie-like pastry flavored with raspberry, apple, strawberry and other fruits can be found stacked on the bottom shelf.

Owner Sharon Self, who bought the market with her husband Don 32 years ago, does all the baking. The original recipe for the kuchen came from the previous German owners. Sharon’s baked goods repertoire consists of “28 cookie varieties. Caramel chocolate chip, oatmeal chocolate chip, Snickerdoodles, Twix. I can bake 4- to 500 dozen cookies a week,” she says. 

Roy Rogers Bar Grill and Casino

Lunch came thanks to the Roy Rogers Bar Grill and Casino owned by DeAnna and Travis Anderson. They purchased the restaurant at auction in 2018. Immediately, they refaced the front, opened up the inside, and updated the kitchen and restrooms. A long bar anchors one side of the room with the opposite lower wall accented with corrugated metal and black-and-white photos of rodeo competitors hanging above.

After devouring the house salad with crispy chicken and ranch dressing, and my husband savoring his bacon cheeseburger, we were reenergized for our afternoon adventure.

Terry Badlands

Dale from Unique Prairie takes us on a shuttle three miles from town to the Terry Badlands, a designated Wilderness Study Area by the Bureau of Land Management. This beautiful, desolate landscape showcases spires, buttes, hoodoos, ravines and canyons. 

Kempton Hotel

Returning to town, we moseyed over to the Kempton Hotel. Built in 1902, the colonial style two-story white building sporting a prominent neon sign is a museum.

Upon stepping in, a Northern Pacific Railway Montana Roundup poster by Jessamine Spear Johnson greets us, along with other framed railway images. A wagon wheel couch with embroidered steer heads sits under a coin operated pay phone. Antique saddles line the stairway banister. There is history everywhere.

BD Bar

For dinner we drove 10 miles east to the BD Bar in Fallon. We walk into a bar with a live-edged wood counter bordered on one side by a knotty pine trunk. I order the hamburger steak from a menu, which consists of steaks, burgers and pizza. My dish came with brown gravy, Texas toast, a baked potato and a trip to the salad bar. The food was a perfect representation of a sign on the wall of the bar which read, “Gather for Good Food, Good Friends and Good Times.” 

Back at the Kempton Hotel

We return to a cozy room at the Kempton. Bryon Birdsall prints of landscapes with snowcapped mountains highlight the space. A yellow clapboard headboard soars over a queen-size bed with pillows and a quilt complementing the wall colors.  

In the morning, I find owner Russell Schwartz sitting at the “coffee table” downstairs. With two other guests, conversations range from antique automobiles and books to the current state of affairs. Schwartz shares stories with ease. He credited an old roommate who was a pastor “who would practice his sermons on me” at honing his craft.

After working in Fairbanks, Alaska, as a contractor for 42 years he returned home with his wife, Linda, to care for his mother. Fallon was his home and Glendive hers.

His grandmother had worked at the hotel and his father once wanted to purchase the establishment. In 1988, the Schwartzes were given the chance to buy one of the oldest continually operating hotels in Montana.

In two of the hotel rooms, shelves brim with rare books from his collection of 25,000 volumes.

As a young boy, his love of reading drove him to collect the Uncle Wiggily, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys series. He had read the entire Horatio Hornblower collection along with Patrick O’Brian’s famous Aubrey-Maturin series. “I have had a 50-year passion to collect books.”

Dizzy Diner

The Dizzy Diner is the popular stop for breakfast burritos or bowls, and breakfast sandwiches made with biscuits. Sadly, the day we ventured out, it was closed.

In 2001, mother and son, Pam and Rance Jones, bought the restaurant that had been owned by many people since 1960. Pam says, “We decided it was making us dizzy trying to keep track of who owned it and when, so the name ‘Dizzy Diner’ seemed fitting.”

As we continue toward home, after a quick stop at the interpretative signs erected by the Prairie Country Grazing District at the confluence of the Powder and Yellowstone rivers, my thoughts blur from all that I had experienced. What came into focus was the generosity shared by the proud keepers of history and hospitality in the small town of Terry, Montana.


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