Fifty Year Odyssey:
Tracing the Location of the Conrad Family Firearms
For more than fifty years, the Conrad family firearms might as well have been on another planet. In 1974, when the Conrad Mansion Museum was established, staff had no idea of their whereabouts. It was only through a 2008 serendipitous visit to the Montana Historical Society in Helena that their location was confirmed.
A reconstructed timeline tracking their journey begins when the Conrad family moved into the Mansion in 1895 and the firearms were hung on buffalo racks in the third floor Sky Office. Charles E. Conrad died in 1902, his wife in 1924 and his son, Charles Davenport, in 1941. Sometime during 1924 and 1941, the firearms left the estate.
Enter Samuel E. Johns, an early Flathead Valley pioneer and businessman. In 1931, Johns and his son, S. Douglas, opened Johns Hardware on Main Street in Kalispell.
Over the years, the elder Johns amassed a huge gun collection containing many pieces of historical significance and hung them in his hardware store. The Conrad family guns eventually became part of this collection.
When the elder Johns died in 1945, he left the collection to his son. In accordance with his father's wishes, in 1959 after the hardware business closed, S. Douglas Johns delivered the collection to the Montana Historical Society to preserve Montana pioneering history.
The Conrad Family Firearms
home again on the buffalo horn racks. (2015)
Kalispell's Johns Hardware (1931-1959)
undated photo courtesy of Museum at Central School
Fifteen years after the Conrad firearms left the Flathead Valley, the fate of the Conrad Mansion remained uncertain. Finally, in 1974, the city agreed to accept the run-down property. Restoration began in 1975, while the location of the Conrad firearms remained unknown to the Conrad Mansion Museum staff.
Fast forward to 2010 when the keen eye of a Mansion Museum volunteer found a Burnside rifle on display at the Montana Historical Society. The caption read: Belonged to C.E. Conrad of Kalispell, Samuel E. Johns Collection. Gift of S. Douglas Johns. Through much diligence, the Montana Historical Society identified 17 firearms originally owned by Conrad.
After almost five years of negotiations, the majority of original firearms were brought home on loan to the Conrad Mansion Museum and put on display in 2015. The original Burnside Percussion Carbine remains at the Montana Historical Society; the displayed Burnside is on loan by a local individual. To complement the original Conrad Collection, two Spanish-American era firearms on loan by a local individual are also on display.
Remington Percussion Revolver