By Tom Cook 

Ralston Mural 'Return Of The Raiders' Resurected At Montana Historical Society


Montana Historical Society Director Bruce Whittenberg shows off the new mural where it will be displayed in the Montana Homeland Gallery. (Submitted)

Like the subject of his large mural, noted Montana artist J.K Ralston's "Return of the Raiders" has found its home at the Montana Historical Society after a long and winding journey.

The 15-foot long mural was unloaded after being restored by John Hartmann Preservation in Carlisle, Penn., and immediately installed in Montana's Museum in the Montana Homeland Exhibit. The mural was commissioned in 1953 by Joe Swindlehurst for his Empire Savings and Loan Bank in Livingston. His son, also Joe, and daughters Beverly and Jean donated it to the Montana Historical Society in memory of their parents Joe and Pearl.

"This is a beautiful mural by J. K. Ralston that has deep ties to Montana history. We thank the Swindlehurst family of Livingston for making this a gift to the people of Montana for all to enjoy," MHS director Bruce Whittenberg said.

Joe said his father, who knew Ralston, proudly displayed the mural at the entrance to the bank for his customers to enjoy. "As a little kid, I was in awe of it. It was large and wonderful and depicted Indian life," young Joe said. "I spent many hours studying that mural."

The mural depicts a Crow war party returning from a successful raid, having stopped to put on their finest clothing before entering camp and showing off their success and displaying some trophies of their victories. The camp depicted was said to be below Livingston on the Yellowstone River sometime around 1850.

The Ralston mural being unloaded in front of the Montana Historical Society after its trip from being restored in Pennsylvania.

After the original bank building was sold, the mural was rolled up and stored and has now been restored to its original grandeur.

Ralston was born in 1896 in Chouteau and spent his early adult years as a cowboy in eastern Montana. He was a prolific artist and specialized in topics of the American West especially of cowboys and Indians. After serving in World War I, Ralston took over his father's ranch, The Roman E, near Culbertson.

He opened a studio in Billings in 1935 and died there in 1987. He was awarded the Gold Medal by the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1978, and his log cabin studio and a large collection of his art work is on display at the Western Heritage Center in Billings.


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