The Charles M. Bair Family Legacy
When Charles M. Bair came to Montana from Ohio, legend has it that he had "just 14 cents in his pocket…and seven green apples." * He parlayed that into an immense fortune and, along with his wife Mary and daughters Marguerite and Alberta, created a legacy of philanthropy in Montana.
Like many young men of his time, Charles Bair came to Montana in 1883 from Paris, Ohio to make his fortune. He began as a conductor on the Northern Pacific Railroad. He ran sheep on a small ranch near Lavina, Montana and on the Crow Reservation in Hardin (where he became a close personal friend of the last great Crow leader, Chief Plenty Coups), but he made his fortune in the Alaskan Gold Rush - not by working a claim but by investing in a ground - thawing device. He poured his earnings into in oil, mining, banking and real estate interests and he purchased the John Grant Ranch in Martinsdale. Here he had one of the world's largest sheep ranches, at times running 300,000 head of sheep. In addition, Bair was a key figure in oil and coal exploration, served as a director and founder of Midland Bank in Billings, was involved in many irrigation projects, and played an active role in Montana’s political scene. Bair counted among his friends artists like renowned Western painters Charles Russell and Bair and his wife, Mary, had two daughters: Marguerite, born in Helena in 1889, and Alberta, who born in Billings in 1895 in a brick home situated where the Alberta Bair Theater for the Performing Arts now stands.