- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

PHILIPSBURG, Mont. (AP) - Police work has come a long way since vigilantes imposed their justice in the mining camps and mountains and Missouri Breaks hideouts of Montana territory.

Now some of the oldest sets of handcuffs and billy clubs and police badges and guns ever carried or worn or swung or shot by sheriffs and others who sported badges in Montana can be found at the top of Broadway Street in Philipsburg.

The Granite County town welcomed its newest addition Tuesday at the grand opening of the Montana Law Enforcement Museum. Philipsburg is already home to the state’s oldest continuously operating jail and a museum that celebrates the area’s mining camp past.

“We think it’s going to be a great addition,” said Mayor Craig Sorensen.

The museum first opened at the old prison in Deer Lodge in 1987 but moved to the Holiday Village Mall in Great Falls in 2006. It closed five years later when rent got too high, and since then many of its items have been in storage.

Officials in Philipsburg and Granite County thought it would be a natural fit for their new emphasis on tourism and offered space in the old Taylor Knapp building at the top of Broadway Street.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox joined dozens of officials and police officers from across Montana who showed Tuesday.

Fox said the museum pays respect to the history and sacrifices of everyone who has served in Montana law enforcement.

“Often they have to deal with the worst aspects of human nature,” Fox said to about 100 people who attended the opening. “They witness firsthand the horrible things that people are capable of doing to one another and when their day is over, they are expected to go home and shift gears and be fully present for their families.”

Several items in the museum belong to Dan Hollis, a former Butte police officer who is a bailiff for Butte District Court and is on the museum’s board of directors.

They include the uniform Butte police officer Joseph Freshman was wearing on a Sept. 23, 1906, when a man robbed and shot and killed him near Main and Maryland in Butte. The bullet holes are visible in the uniform.

The museum also features an authentic John Dillinger “Public Enemy Number One” wanted poster from the early 1930s and a photo of Ruth Garfield, the first woman who served as sheriff in Montana.

Dan Smith, who is chairman of the museum, said Philipsburg answered the call when Fox and others began searching for new home for the museum.

“They were very excited to have us here,” he said. “It’s just an exciting little town.”

Butte-Silver Bow Sheriff Ed Lester said the museum is refreshing, especially at a time when police have been the subject of riots and unrest in several U.S. cities.

“In Montana I think we have been very fortunate. I think we are still held in high regard by the public,” Lester said. “But it’s hard to see police officers and sheriff’s deputies around the country taking a beating.

“Some of that has been self-inflicted because law enforcement has made some bad decisions, but overall I think 99 percent plus of the people involved in law enforcement are in it for the right reasons and this is a great place to appreciate that history.”

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Information from: The Montana Standard, http://www.mtstandard.com

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