Frontier Town brochure cover, 1964. Built, 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 below the summit of McDonald Pass, and is now closed to the public.

John Quigley is shown above walking down Frontier Town's main street. Quigley built the attraction almost single-handedly from huge boulders and mammoth logs. He also added fine artistic touches, such as his expressive wood carvings.

Along with 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. Frontier Town was advertised and promoted widely. Some may recall the log billboards which Quigley erected along Montana highways.

From 1951 -54, 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 (see "Theaters" on this site).




John and Sue Quigley




An early 1950s view.




An early interior view, with John and Sue Quigley.




John 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. MP3 - 7:23:00.



John Quigley hoisting a stone into place.




Early view of the dining room.




An early color view of Frontier Town. Note that there is only one blockhouse; there would eventually be four. The keelboat in the pond was a reproduction of a Lewis and Clark Expedition boat, which was originally made for Helena High School's annual Vigilante Parade. It was later donated to Frontier Town (many thanks to Kitty Ann Quigley Taaler for the information).



Frontier Town entrance on US 12, 1960s. Shown is Quigley's animated roadside attention-getter. Mostly 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.





Frontier Town parking lot and expanded two-blockhouse gate, about 1956.




Frontier Town parking lot and enlarged four-blockhouse gates, 1960s.



In this ca. 1964 view, John Quigley admires the hand-carved "Welcome to Frontier Town" sign at the entrance. The design of the sign was similar to that of official State of Montana historical markers.




Frontier Town main street, looking north, 1960s.




Frontier Town main street, looking south, 1960s.




The Frontier Town jail.



Frontier Town tokens. These 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.


Souvenir 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.




The main attraction at Frontier Town was undoubtedly the 50-foot-long split log bar, made in 1951-52 from a single Douglas Fir.

"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. 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

No matter 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 your descent.

The bar had highly detailed animated Old West dioramas across the back, which could be activated by inserting coins into metal boxes on the wall.

"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...

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!

On 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...

Hundreds of rocks were sorted to find enough of the right composition and color for the jump itself...

As 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 coming...

The 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.

The 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." -- John Quigley


At the 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.

Mounted 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.




The saddle stools, date unknown.




Frontier Town bar, early 1960s. From left 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.

Numerous celebrities visited Frontier Town over the years, including Billy Graham (although he probably didn't saddle up at the bar).



"Frontier Town Home Brew" beer label. Probably 1950s. Brewed by Kessler Brewing in Helena.


Photo taken from the far end of the bar, 1950s. The old jukebox was one of the many curiosities and relics which Quigley collected and put on display.




Over the fireplace near the bar was this relief carving of charging buffalo, done by John Quigley in 1952.




Looking down the steps leading from the bar up to the dining room.





Dining room fireplace, Frontier Town, 1950s. The upstairs 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.







Frontier Town, 1950s. Pictured is Scott, 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.




John Quigley in a publicity photo captioned, "Quigley, the hard-bitten mountain man, checks his gear before a ride."


Montana-born 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 in Helena.




About 1960, John Quigley shot and killed this buffalo. He had it mounted and mechanized, and it was apparently on the 1964 Montana Centennial Train, which traveled to the New York World's Fair.




The Quigley 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.




Log Chapel at Frontier Town, completed in 1961. Quigley said that building the chapel was his greatest achievement.












John and Sue Quigley, 1960s.