Steel Sentinels

Fort Keogh has a new herd of horses. They’ve taken up residence near the Rocking MC Welcome sign just off the interstate before entering Miles City from the west.

These animals, like their compatriots, soak up the sun, nuzzle one another and pass the time by grazing. Their straw-colored manes and tails shift in the wind as they greet weary travelers. 

But don’t be fooled; if you look more closely, these creatures are crafted from steel, springing from the hands and the imagination of Montana artist Jim Dolan.

Dolan says that when he went to register in the Fieldhouse at Montana State University in Bozeman back in the 1960s, “The ag department line was shorter than the art department line,” and that is “not too far from the truth.”

So he ended up with a master’s degree in agriculture and a tendency to pick up pieces of scrap metal and make them into little art projects.  Gradually, the art projects got bigger, until he tackled his first massive metal sculpture, taking 6,000 pounds of huge chain and turning it into a draft horse nicknamed “Rusty,” who became a mascot at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman.

Dolan also had friends who used their ag degrees, including Mark Petersen, now Research Leader for the Livestock and Range Research Laboratory at Fort Keogh, who invited Dolan to come to Miles City and maybe set up something on the wide-open spaces that belong to the fort.

Dolan had made a previous remuda of similar horses that he set up near his home in Three Forks. While those horses are blue with black manes and tails, the herd of 21 horses that are temporarily visiting in eastern Montana are chocolate brown with beige manes and tails. A herd of 21 horses - including 19 with moving heads and five that are on pivoting platforms - are grazing around the Rocking MC sign west of the city.

The pivoting platforms and other mechanisms allow the animals to move with the wind and appear almost lifelike.

On Monday, when the ground was dry enough to support the weight of the horses - about 600 pounds each - and the equipment to set them up, Dolan and three Fort Keogh employees, Phil Smith, Eddie Arnoldt and Clint Parsons, hauled the horses out to their temporary home to set them up.  Despite the weight of the animals, Dolan and his helpers, including a small forklift, were able to get the horses set up before lunch.

The horses are for sale and will only be displayed in Miles City until around the first week of June, long enough to welcome visitors through Bucking Horse Sale weekend.  Then they will roam on to a permanent home.

But don’t worry. Dolan’s sculptures can be found throughout Montana, especially in the area near his home. A friendly bear and a flock of oversized geese fly into the Belgrade Airport. Rusty still greets visitors at the Museum of the Rockies, and a herd of blue horses grazes on a hillside near Three Forks.