Missoula. . . Missoula . . . My Home Town – Aug. 10-26, 2013

Since we first visited Missoula in April, 2011, we’ve claimed that Montana is our favorite state and Missoula is our favorite city in the U.S.  There’s an asterisk on that:  Not between October 15 and April 15. 

We went there this year to rest and enjoy waking up with a view of the Bitterroots.   We went there because friends live 50 miles away, both north and south.  And we went there to commune with our favorite animals at the National Bison Range.

But the relaxation was tempered.  Several weeks earlier, I received an order for a large number of Nantucket baskets.  There was no way I could wait until we reached Florida to produce them, so I set up a workstation and spent most of our 17 day stay weaving away.  It really didn’t matter; being in the ambiance was the most important part.

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Delivering water to quench the Lolo fire

There was another reason for sitting tight.  A forest fire was raging in the Bitterroot Valley, as close as 25 miles from us.   Ash and thick haze blocked our view for most of the time, turning day into . . . well, see picture!  I drove down  to the Travelers Rest State Park in Lolo — the last Lewis & Clark bivouac before crossing the Rockies in 1805 and a key stop on their way back — to replace my tattered tee shirt.  I was blocked for an hour by fire-fighting helicopters hauling giant water buckets aloft to dump them.  As our visit went on, the fire became more contained, and Dot was able to head south past the fringe of it to visit our dear friend, Susan Buchard, in Hamilton.

The Bison Range is within Lake Missoula.  It existed during the Ice Age, and when the glacial dam that held the Lake broke with cataclysmic flooding, the cascading water traveled all the way to the West Coast, carving out the Columbia River Gorge — and many other of today’s geologic features both east and west of it.  The 22 mile white knuckle drive through the park gives you an opportunity to stare into its depths.

One other event brought a mixture of joy and tears.  We chose August 22 to hold a birthday party for all four of our Schips.  It was that date two years earlier that we lost Teddy, my heart dog, in nearby Bozeman.  It was truly a celebration for our four travelers and our five angels.


On To Helena — August 3-9, 2013

On our three year Journey, we didn’t include a stop in Montana’s Capitol.  We went through it as we traveled from Great Falls to Bozeman, but our prime focus at that time was on our beloved Teddy Bear Onyx, who breathed his last in Bozeman at age 15.  So we made up for it by spending a week there this time.

Helena is a lovely, fascinating city.  Our first adventure involved the Last Chance Gulch Train.   We departed from the city’s historical museum in a 100-plus foot Choo-Choo on wheels.  Recognizing that our train was half again longer than a semi-truck, we were amazed as our driver deftly wound us through the streets of the city for an hour, giving us sense, pointing out landmarks and regaling us with tales.  Most of all, she increased our thirst for more.

The “last chance” appellation refers to the miners who worked the city’s gold claims and provided so much heritage that Main Street is Last Chance Gulch!  As a bonus, our train trip entitled us to freebies along the way as we explored the shoppes along the Gulch.  A stroll down Last Chance Gulch gave us a chance to eye the many emporia, along with the street art, that we had rolled past on the trolley. The last of the three pictures below,  taken further down the street, shows the Gulch in an earlier time!

MT Hist Mus (2)Now it was time to search out the treasures to which we’d been introduced.  We started with Montana’s Museum, from whose doorsteps our loco-tour had departed.  Outside the front door is a larger than life metal sculpture, Herd Bull, by Benji Daniels.  Nearly 25 feet across from horn tip to horn tip, it was built from scrap sheet metal and represents both the vast importance (size) and tragic destruction (skeleton) of this classic American symbol.  When we first arrived for the trolley ride, a class field trip was using it as a jungle gym!

There were five galleries within the Museum.  One celebrated Charlie Russell, a nice refresher for us since it had been two years since we visited Russell’s home and gallery in Great Falls.  Eighty works ran the gamut from flat and 3D art to his illustrated letters.

The permanent collections also included a series of exhibits that chronicled life in the territory, dating back 12,000 years and bringing us into the 20th century.  Neither Empty nor Unknown is an exhibit chronicling the life of the six Native American tribal groups that Lewis and Clark met – or often failed to meet because of the region’s vastness and because he was traveling the rivers while they were off hunting!  The first three pictures are a sampling of more than a dozen describing the Native American nations.

There was heavy emphasis on L&C; the Corps was there, nearing the headwaters of the Missouri, in the summer of 1805.

The journey continues as Montana emerges, experiencing hard times and boom years.

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Big Medicine

On the upper floor stood Big Medicine, a white bison born on the Flathead Indian Reservation on May 3, 1933. Named in recognition of attributed spiritual powers, he epitomized the importance that such births meant to the Native Americans. Not a true albino, he had blue eyes and a brown hump.  When he died in 1959, he had exceeded the average life span by one third, at which point his coat was well worn and retained that way in preser-vation.  At one time, he was the second most popular attraction in the state –after Yellowstone National Park!

St. Helena’s Cathedral dominates the landscape.  It has a congregation of about 1,700.  Financed in large part by Thomas Cruse, a local gold miner/philanthropist, the Cathedral’s cornerstone was laid in 1908.  Built of Indiana limestone instead of Montana sandstone, it actually took until 1924 to complete.  But the dedication was on Christmas Day 1914– five days after Cruse’s death at 78.  His was the first funeral to be held there.  Over the succeeding years, most recently in 2002, it has repeatedly undergone restoration and renovation.  Repairs necessitated by a series of earthquakes in 1935 took three years to complete.  At this point, pictures will be better than words.

The Capitol sits on an expanse directly across from the Natural Historical Society.   Construction, of sandstone and granite, began in 1899, and the major financial resource was . . . Thomas Cruse!   It was designed by Frank Mills Andrews, and it was completed in 1902.  Like so many others, received wings on both sides in 1909 and 1912.

You enter under the dome, and the rotunda is impressively decorated by artwork representing the four forces creating the state:  Native Americans, gold miners, cowboys, and explorers.  Straight ahead is the Grand Stairway.  The first landing honors two people with statues:  Wilbur Fisk Sanders, lawyer, Civil War veteran, forceful prosecutor and one of Montana’s first U.S. Senators; and Jeannette Rankin, leading voice for women’s suffrage, and first democratically elected woman (U.S. Representative, 1916-1918) and lifetime advocate of women and peace.  Her first vote in Congress was against entry into W.W. I.  She did not survive re-election then, but she was returned to the House in 1940 and cast the only dissenting vote against our entry into W.W. II.  Hallways to either side lead to the Governor’s and the Secretary of State’s offices.

Continuing up the staircase, one reaches a mezzanine that heralds Montana’s favorite son, Mike Mansfield, longest serving Senate majority leader in history,  and his wife Maureen.   The legislative and judicial functions are found at this level.  The room to the east has had three lives:  Senate Chamber, Supreme Court Chamber and Meeting Room.  The opposite room was originally the House Chamber and now houses the Senate.  The much larger rooms in the added wings hold the House to the west and the Law Library to the east.  The Court now has its own Judiciary building elsewhere in town.  A statue of Thomas Francis Meagher, a former governor of the Montana Territory and commander of the Irish Brigade in the Civil War, was added to the front lawn on July 4, 1905,

Throughout the building are depictions of all the elements that have created Montana’s unique character.  As in the Historic Society, considerable attention is paid to the Corps of Discovery.  It’s culminated, in fact, in the piece de resistance: a painting by Charles Russell in the House Chamber, so large that Charlie had to raise the roof of his studio to complete it.  It’s entitled Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead Indians at Ross’ Hole

Montana’s Original Governor’s Mansion was built in 1888 as a private residence.  The state bought it in 1913, and it housed nine chief executives and their families until a new (ugly modern) mansion was built in 1959.  It had a variety of uses for the next 20 years until 1980, when it became an established city tourist asset and was restored to its 1913 image.

After a two week rigorous ordeal to portage the nine Great Falls in the steaming July heat, the Corps continued upstream through a cavernous section of the River half way between the Falls and today’s Helena.  Limestone cliffs towered almost a quarter mile above them and extended right down into the deep water.  Meriwether Lewis’s fascination with this geography was one driving force back to the Helena area for us. In his journal, Lewis wrote,  “I shall call this place:  Gates of the Mountains.   We were not about to miss the experience of taking a tour boat ride through it.

The boats leave from Upper Holter Lake and  provide a ninety minute, slow moving, vividly described journey down through Gates of The Mountains and back.  Our captain deftly approached the passage from four or five different directions so we could envision how it might have looked to the expedition 208 years ago.  He tirelessly explained geographic features, flora and fauna along the route.  He offered to put folks ashore at the Meriwether Picnic Area, one of the very few spots in the stretch that a boat could land (and where L&C likely camped).   It was near this area, in Mann Gulch in 1949, where a raging forest fire caused the worst disaster in smoke-jumper history — thirteen men were lost.  Again, our captain narrated a description of the disaster that was a virtual mise-en-scène.  We were also driven in close enough to see petroglyphs left by inhabitants prior to L&C.

We made a last trip downtown to visit the Great Northern Town Center.  We knew it was a boutique-y outdoor shopping center, but it also promised a L&C commemorative trail, and anything attached to The Expedition intrigues us.  We got there before the shoppes opened and the carousel started to turn, so we walked the esplanades with few others.  It was filled with plaques that told snippets of the L&C story along a “river” in the pavement.  It’s also interspersed with sculpture.

Gt Northern Ctr (25)The Town Center exhibit  that really peaked our interest was a clay frieze entitled Entrepreneurial Spirit of Helena, created by Seattle artist Kristine Veith in 2003 caused a stir when first unveiled.  It took me a trip through Google to identify all of the images portrayed, and what a collection! They include  Alan Nicholson, developer of the Town Center;  Lewis; Clark; Sacacawea; Thomas Cruse; Jeannette Rankin and Wilbur Sanders.  Bishop John Carroll builder of the Cathedral and founder of Carroll College in the first 20th century decade is there, along with Thomas C. Power, merchant and first Senator; three representative Chinese laborers; and  Archie Bray, brick maker and philanthropist whose Foundation for Ceramic Arts thrives today.  A large figure of “Helena” is in the center, representing the city’s name, applied by the many Minnesota miners from St. Helena.  But there’s more.  There are three brothel dancers in the montage.  Josephine “Chicago Jo” Hensley, an Irish immigrant lass who worked her way west from NYC on her back, moved to Helena and opened a “house” in 1867.   Her business grew exponentially; she owned four major establishments and partnerships in many other businesses in the city.  Her death, in 1890, prompted a huge funeral and many tributes.

And still more.  When the work was first unveiled, it was rumored that one of the dancers was a spittin’ image of Montana Governor Judy Martz, then in office as the State’s female top executive. Veith denied even knowing what the governor looked like!

So that’s Helena.  So much more than we expected.  I’m still not sure we gave it full justice!

Hardin: The Little Bighorn Battlefield — July 30-August 2, 2013

We had given short shrift to eastern Montana during our three year Journey and we’re making up for it now.  But since we were still unable to schedule completion of the Dinosaur Trail, that simply means that we’ll have to come back again.  At least we’ve now been to both ends.

Crow Agency, MT is the actual location of the Little Big Horn Battlefield, but we parked our rig about 12 miles away in Hardin.  It is a very small town (pop. 3,600), but it has a super qualified truck facility that found out why we were running on only three of the dually wheels on our truck instead of all four!

On The Journey in 2011, we’d bypassed the Little Big Horn site because the bulk of its antiquities, we learned, had been moved to a federal climate-controlled Arizona warehouse because conditions at the site were inadequate to protect them.  We didn’t realize, however, that the heart of the site couldn’t be moved.  Thus, the visit this year.  We spent two days there.

On Day 1, we took a tour of the visitor’s center – a quick experience since it was minimized and what you really want to see is out in the field.  We listened to an impassioned half-hour lecture from a ranger who was so into it that he could have kept us entertained for hours.  Then we took a one hour tour with Apsaalooke Tours through the center of the action with a Crow Indian guide (the Crow Federation has an exclusive license to run these tours).  I will leave the recast of history to the scores of treatises on the subject, but I will share some pictures and a few sights of wonder.

The road is on a rise that allows one to see down into the field where over 5,000 Native American families were camped – the target of Custer’s mission.   You pass named skirmishes along the way that resulted from Custer’s segmentation of his force:  Lame White Man Charge, Greasy Grass Ridge, Medicine Tail Coulee, Sharpshooter Ridge, among others.

The path runs five miles south to the Reno-Benteen Battlefield where the fateful day actually began.

Then it returns to Last Stand Hill.  We left the tour bus there and continued on foot.

In 1879, a wooden memorial was the first to be placed on the field.  Two years later, Lieutenant Charles F. Roe and the 2nd Cavalry built the granite memorial that marks the top of Last Stand Hill (above).  Marble markers locate the spots of the fallen soldiers, while granite markers denote Cheyenne fallen.

The Native American Memorial, completed in 2003,  honors the Lakota, Arapaho and Cheyenne losses.

A horse cemetery is also marked.

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Custer National Cemetery

Walking back down the Hill, we passed the Custer National Cemetery, adjacent to the Visitors Center.  It is not the burial place for the victims here; many of those were returned to their homes back east.  Custer’s remains were buried a West Point.  Now closed to new graves, the cemetery contains the names of many frontier soldiers as well as members of all forces through most of the subsequent wars.  There are approximately 4,500 graves in all.


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Lori Piestewa’s Memorial

One notable name is Pfc. (posthumously Spec.) Lori Piestewa (White Bear Girl), the first Native American to be killed in a foreign war.  Lori, a Hopi, is buried in Tuba City Arizona, but there is a memorial to her here, shown at right.  She was one of the brave soldiers involved in the Iraqi attack in 2003 during which she, Jessica Lynch and Shoshana Johnson were taken captive.  Lori’s head wound caused her demise shortly thereafter.


When we went back for a second look on Day 2, we also went to the adjacent Custer Battlefield Museum, a private facility located in the town of Garyowen, MT, the only town within the battle site, near the location of the mass Native American camp.  It houses a wide collection of artifacts from the battle and from the history of the opposing sides.  Out front is a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, reputed to be the only such site outside of Arlington Cemetery.  It was dedicated on the 50th anniversary of the battle and contains the remains of a soldier under Reno’s command.

The Museum proudly houses a collection of the photography of David F. Barry (1854-1934), whose portraits of Sitting Bull, Gall and many others on both sides are world famous.  But tourist cameras are strictly prohibited.

This ended our sojourn through the history of the Little Big Horn.  But there was more to see  “in the neighborhood.”  The first trip was less than desirable because I opted for shortest rather than fastest route and wound up on dirt road for more than half of the 50 miles.  The reward at the end was worth it.

One of the very few exact locations known to be reached by the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery is Pompey’s Pillar.  Rising 150 feet above the Yellowstone with a full acre footprint, this sandstone butte sits 25 miles east of modern Billings. A stele at the summit identifies it as being just under 3,000 feet elevation from sea level.  It is a well-documented landmark, named by Capt. Clark after Sacacawea’s son when he and his part of the expedition traveled back toward North Dakota in 1806 to link up with Capt. Lewis.  In fact, he carved his name and the date on its wall about half way up on the north side.  A snaking stairway leads you to the signature, where chatty volunteers love to swap stories with those of us who’ve explored the whole Trail.  That signature was somewhat protected in 1882 when the Northern Pacific Railroad installed a grate over it, , but it was not until 1954 that the current shield was put in place.  Meanwhile, the curious have had a field day of scratching their own graffiti at the site.

Declared a National Historic site in 1965, it was in private hands until 1991, when it was acquired by the BLM.   They manage not only the landmark but an informative museum in the Visitors Center that opened in 2006.

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Do you see the image?

A ranger who accompanied us between the signature location and the summit pointed out an image in the rock wall.  Native Americans called the Pillar “the place where the mountain lion lies,” and the image we saw might have been the reason.  I didn’t find it immediately, but when he highlighte it with a laser pointer, it became clear.



I made the return trip the long way on roads that were all paved.  And I’m doubly glad I did, because I got to visit Rosebud Creek, scene of at least two significant moments.  In chronological order, Wm. Clark and party passed through here after visiting the Pillar.  His documentation of the region was a major impetus to the subsequent fur trade that overran the area.  In fact, buffalo hunters took over 40,000 buffalo pelts in the 1870’s and ‘80’s, seriously affecting the Native American food chain and causing uprisings.  That, in large part, led to the second Rosebud moment.  On July 18, 1876, General George Crook fought a fierce battle with Crazy Horse and his Sioux/Cheyenne friends.  Despite being supported by a force of Crow and Shoshone, history will say that Crook left the field defeated and withdrew to his camp in Sheridan, Wyoming.  He decided to sit out the Little Bighorn campaign eight days later, and historians have a lot to say about that decision.

But we still weren’t done.  The Big Horn County Historical Museum opened in 1979 east of Hardin.  Originally 22 acres, expanded to 35 and added a new museum building in 2012.  Over the years, 24 authentic historic structures from throughout the county have supplemented the site’s original farmhouse and barn, each containing exhibits of the era. The new museum building includes a gift shop, research library, archives and offices.

Sadly, we only had a brief time left — only enough to skim the main museum building before heading back to camp to pack up for departure the following morning.