In the late 1990s, two Michiganders named Ken and Mary Miers came to Flathead Valley in the hopes of finding a place to settle down after their retirement. The history buffs took a guided tour of the Conrad Mansion during their stay in Kalispell. Almost immediately Ken, a firearm enthusiast, noticed that although the Conrad Mansion had been equipped with buffalo-horned rifle hooks, there were no original firearms on sight. This was peculiar considering firearms were so commonplace in the Old West. In fact, the Conrads designated an entire room, the aptly named “Gun Room,” to store the family guns and their guest’s guns.
The guide explained that while it was true Conrads had an extensive firearm collection, they had no record of the firearms’ whereabouts. That answer gnawed at Ken. To him, it felt like the Mansion was not complete; it was missing an important piece of its history.
Fast forward to 2014 where Ken and Mary have settled into life in the Flathead Valley. After falling in love with the Conrad Mansion, Mary had even taken a position as a tour guide. Over time, the Miers’ began exploring their new state and the couple traveled to Helena to visit the Montana Historical Society. During their tour, in a serendipitous moment, Ken saw an exquisite Burnside Rifle on display. The rifle had belonged to none other than Charles Conrad; Ken and Mary Miers had solved the mystery of the missing Conrad firearm collection.
The couple learned that for over 55 years, all twenty of the original firearms had been in Helena, in the Historical Society’s basement. Ken and Mary later learned that a Mr. Samuel E. Johns, owner of John’s Hardware had acquired the guns at some point between 1924-1941, and put them on display in his Kalispell store. Samuel passed away in 1959 and his son, Douglas Johns, generously donated the collection to the Montana Historical Society to help “preserve the spirit of the west.”
The events that followed the bringing the firearms home was a labor of love by Ken, Mary, numerous Mansion staff, and volunteers. The Historical Society owned the seventeen firearms and they did their due diligence in ensuring the firearms would be locked up safely and handled properly during their time on loan at the Conrad Mansion. After volunteer Dan Conner, installed the glass door and displays, the firearms were ready to come home.
In celebration of the return of the Conrad’s firearms, Ken reached out to Garry James, editor of Guns & Ammo Magazine and Philip Schreier, curator of the NRA’s National Museum. Garry and Philip came to Kalispell as guest lecturers for Mansion’s well-received “C.E. Conrad Family 19th Century Firearms” event in the summer of 2015.
The highlights of the seventeen-gun collection include a Henry Repeating Rifle, a Burnside Carbine, a Sharps Saddle Ring Carbine, a Colt Lightening Rifle, a Remington Percussion revolver, a Spencer Repeating Rifle, and a Spanish Mauser.
Thanks to Ken, Mary, and the Mansion’s staff and volunteers as well as the Montana Historical Society, the Conrad’s firearms are on display for at the Conrad Mansion.
Over the last few weeks, it seems that the whole world has been thrown into disarray. The anxiety and fear of the unknown brought on by COVID-19 has led many people to look to the past for answers and many historians are noting the parallels between the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic and COVID-19. In fact, during the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu, journalists compared their current pandemic to the Russian Flu, and in referring to the Spanish Flu said “public health service scientists believe is very similar to the epidemic of grippe which swept the county during the winter of 1889 and 1890.” Many at the time believed the Spanish Flu was “nothing new—simply the Old Grip or la Grippe, that was epidemic in 1889-1890, only then it came from Russia by way of France and this time by way of Spain.” Although the Russian Flu had a much lower death count than the Spanish Flu, people found comfort in using the past to survive their current hardships.
When the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic blasted through Montana, people were asked to stay home so as not to overburden health care workers. Ramshackle hospitals were built from closed school buildings and social distancing became the norm. Women with even the slightest knowledge of medical jargon were recruited as nurses, and volunteers began making masks by the thousands to prevents the flu’s spread. Montana saw its fair share of Spanish Flu and many Flathead Valley residents, often between the ages of 25-35, had been infected. Kalispell saw its first case of Spanish Flu on October 7th, 1918 and by December 1918, Flathead County recorded twenty-six deaths from Spanish Flu.
The Spanish Flu impacted the entire world. The heartbreak associated with its destruction may mirror our feelings today, but the beauty of studying history is the opportunity to look back and see not only the struggles of those who came before us, but their triumphs. Over 130 years ago, our community was founded by people who had embarked on the unknown. Those pioneers’ bravery, good sense, and willingness to help their neighbors shines through in the people of our town today. Our community stood strong in 1918 and we will stand strong as we navigate the next few months together. To quote the Montana State Board of Health in 1920, “Our memories of this and other epidemics should not fail. Let us hope that through preparedness in health organization and in the education of new generations we may prevent a repetition of the terrific losses which influenza has cost in the last three years.”
We know that the Conrad Mansion is a magical and peaceful place that represents the Flathead Valley’s pioneer roots for many here in the community. Although the we will be closed for tours until at least May 15th, we still love answering questions about the Mansion and the Conrad Family, so please email us, call us, send us a message on Facebook, or follow us on Instagram. We will keep you up to date on all things Conrad!
That being said, we would like to thank our community for all of its support in the past and we cannot wait to see everyone at the Conrad Mansion this summer.
From all of us at the Conrad Mansion, we wish you a healthy and happy spring!
 Spanish Influenza—What It Is and How It Should Be Treated.” The Daily Interlake. December 6, 1918.
 Harwell, Todd. S. and Holzman, Greg S.”’No More War, No More Plague’: The Spanish Influenza Pandemic Toll on Montana.” Montana The Magazine of Western History (2018): 27-44.
 “Records Indicate Epidemic Increasing.” The Daily Interlake. December 6, 1918.
 Harwell, Todd. S. and Holzman, Greg S.”’No More War, No More Plague’: The Spanish Influenza Pandemic Toll on Montana.” Montana The Magazine of Western History (2018):44.