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Wyoming's Bradford Brinton Memorial & Museum

Posted by Dina Mishev on October 28, 2011
ranch house at Bradford Brinton Memorial & Museum in Big Horn Wyoming picture
Photo credit
Photo: courtesy Bradford Brinton Memorial & Museum
Photo caption
Brinton's ranch house opened as a museum in 1961.

Road Journals Blog—He had me with his giant American basswood, Ponderosa Pine, and red maples. “He” being the long-deceased farm machinery magnate and gentleman rancher Bradford Brinton. Brinton died in 1936, only 13 years after he bought the Quarter Circle A Ranch outside of Sheridan from Scotsman William Moncreiffe.

Despite spending only several months a year at this ranch, Brinton managed to make the place pretty special. There is the landscaping, of course, which didn’t mature in time for him to truly reap the benefits. (Today’s giant lindens are yesterday’s saplings.

There is also his eclectic collection of, well, almost everything in the ranch house. The house, with the exception of pink walls in the dining room, is almost exactly as it was the day he died. (Credit his younger sister Helen with the pink dining room.)

Wanting to honor her brother’s memory, Helen Brinton’s will established the Bradford Brinton Memorial & Museum in 1960; it opened to the public in 1961. This year, of course, is its 50th anniversary.

Brinton was a collector’s collector, amassing everything from historic documents to paintings, sculptures, antique religious texts, and even a lock of Robert Louis Stevenson’s hair. His collection includes more 5,000 books, among which is a sub-collection of nature texts with original illustrations by Audubon and Rick Brashers. (If you ask museum staff in advance, they’ll put on white cotton gloves and pull one of these books from the stacks in Brinton’s library.)

Among Brinton’s paintings and sculptures are works by Charlie Russell, Frederic Remington, Frank Tenney Johnson, Edward Borein and, lest you begin to think it’s all western-themed, a George Bellows lithograph of a Dempsey/Firpo boxing match.

Tucked in a corner of Brinton’s library are miniature wax portraits of Ben Franklin and English novelist Henry Fielding by Italian artist Jean-Baptist Nini. It’s one of the few portraits for which Franklin ever sat—and it’s in a corner of a personal library in the Wyoming desert.

It’s no wonder the Memorial & Museum won the 2010 Wyoming Governor’s Arts Award.

Walking through Brinton’s home shows that every room has treasures equal to the Ben Franklin mini. In a parlor adjacent to Brinton’s bedroom—which is accessed via a hallway with walls covered in hand-painted wallpaper—is a document signed by George Washington, an original Lincoln letter, and a land indenture agreement on parchment paper signed by William Penn in 1681.

Hidden among all these “biggies” is a little—relatively speaking—personal letter of thanks to Brinton by playwright Thornton Wilder (“Our Town”). Wilder, then an undergrad at Yale, was thanking the collector for supporting a playwriting competition at the university. Thornton won the award. (Brinton himself graduated from Yale with a degree in engineering in 1904.)

In addition to the permanent collection, which includes everything Brinton himself collected, there is a small gallery that does rotating shows. Summer 2011’s big shows includes works by Arizonans Allan Mardon & Ted Larsen—A Sharper View of the West (May 21 – Sept. 5)—and Observations, Interpretations and Imaginings (Sept. 10 – Oct. 30) with sculptures by Cody artist Linda Raynolds and paintings by Laramie artist Jon Madsen.

Underneath it all, the land itself is a work of art, with animals from black bears to bobcats, coyotes, porcupines, mountain lions, minks, beavers, and badgers scurrying about—they’re more regular visitors than full-time residents—and Little Goose Creek bisecting the 600-acre property. Pack a picnic and, after touring the residence, plop yourself under a giant Ponderosa or next to a lilac bush and rest, just as a gentleman would.

The Memorial & Museum is open daily 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. from May 21 – Sept. 5 with the exception of Sundays, when it opens at noon. From Sept. 10 – Oct. 30, the museum is closed Mon. – Wed. and open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Thurs. – Sat. and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $4 for an adult and $3 for seniors (over 62) and students (13 and over). Kids 12 and under are free.

This blog post was first published in October 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.