Small Town Spotlight: Montpelier museum honors Butch Cassidy inside a building he once robbed
MONTPELIER — Once the Bank of Montpelier, a stone-front building on Washington Street, is now a museum dedicated to the infamous bank robber who took some $7,000 from the bank more than 125 years ago.
The Butch Cassidy Bank Robbery Museum, owned and operated by Radek Konarik, boasts the bank’s original floorboards, front door and vault door. Also on display in the museum is a photograph of a man believed to be Cassidy — born Robert LeRoy Parker — taken in South America years after he had been reported dead.
Konarik initially took on the venture as a hobby, he said with a laugh. He quickly found out, though, that it demanded much more time than any other hobby.
He has devoted countless hours to collecting and curating artifacts connected to Cassidy, his gang and the Montpelier robbery. Many of those artifacts came from descendants, who he said still live locally. But some have come from much farther away.
The “My Dad” photo, believed to be Cassidy standing next to his car — displaying an Arizona license plate — was mailed to the museum from South America. There was no sender’s name or return address, Konarik said.
“That is the beauty of a place like this — there is a lot of mystery, and you, kind of, play detective,” Konarik told EastIdahoNews.com.
While playing detective, Konarik got in touch with an interested Arizona sheriff years ago to find registration information for the vehicle. Despite having Arizona tags, no registration information was ever returned.
“It’s another mystery,” he added.
As Konarik explained, much of the 800 block of Washington Street where the museum stands has been “frozen in time.”
“There is a story to every building,” he said.
Visitors can walk through the story the museum building has to tell. A story that involves one of this nation’s most notorious criminals, a sheriff’s deputy that used a commandeered child’s bicycle to pursue that criminal and his cohorts, and what at the time was the longest prison sentence ever handed out in Idaho — 35 years.
Beyond the opportunity to read press clippings from the event while wandering through history, the museum offers an annual opportunity to be a witness to the robbery.
Every year, on the Saturday that lands closest to the date of the robbery — Aug. 13 — Konarik and his museum play host to a reenactment of the robbery.
This year, the reenactment will take place on the anniversary.
For a town of around 2,000 people, Montpelier is home to several significant landmarks. Had it not been robbed, the Bank of Montpelier would have still hold considerable value as Idaho’s first chartered bank.
Big Hill Pass, a portion of the Oregon Trail that challenged many wagon trains, is just outside town. And less than a mile from the Cassidy museum is a monument marking the killing of Old Ephraim, the largest grizzly bear recorded in the United States — standing nearly 10 feet tall at the shoulders.
These landmarks, like Konarik’s museum, are tasked with attracting visitors to the town — beyond those stopping for gas and snacks on their way to Bear Lake.
According to Konarik, many visitors who come to the Cassidy museum travel far and wide — which is why interpretations are available in four languages.
“It’s been a success; we went from zero to hero pretty much overnight. I have thousands of people that come to the museum,” he said. “They spend money at the gas station, they spend money at the food places, so it definitely helps the community to survive the long winters.”
The museum is family-friendly, and admission to the museum is free. Konarik plans to keep it that way for as long as he can.
It is open through the summer months, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is located at 819 Washington Street in Montpelier.
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