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.