Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fort Benton Montana

The American Fur Company started doing business at the current site of Ft Benton, Montana in 1847. Prized buffalo robes came into the store brought by Plains Indians, who desired many of the items the traders had to offer. This is the trading room used for that purpose. Most of the Indians here were taller than the Europeans that operated the trading activity, so the traders went so far as to build a raised platform they could stand on behind the counter!

In early June, of 1805, Louis and Clark arrived at the confluence of two rivers about 10 miles downriver from here and climbed an overlooking hill to decide which branch to take to find the great rapids spoken about by the Indians and the sought after passageway to the Pacific Ocean. Clark took an expedition up the right fork and Louis, the left. For 5 days, they traveled seeking the great falls. Louis' route was chosen as the correct route.

Ft Benton is a small town full of colorful history. One of its blocks became so rowdy and lawless, it had to be surrounded by the US Calvary to settle things down to a more or less civil atmosphere. At that time, it was known as "Bloodiest Block in the West," where six shooters were openly displayed on the top of every poker table. Twelve of the thirteen business on the block were saloons, dance, halls, of brothels.

This 1888 bridge still spans the rushing Missouri. Pedestrians may stroll out and sit on benches or watch the river flow along the Louis and Clark route. Oscar was surprised by the old squeaky board which sagged as we walked past.

In 1887, this artful display of buffalo collected from Montana went on display at the US Smithsonian Museum. They remained there for 70 years before being displaced by other exhibits. In 1996 they returned to Montana and are now on display in Fort Benton at the Hornaday/Smithsonian Buffalo and Western Art Gallery - an impressive sight.
The mountains are close and the skies are enchanting at Ft Benton. The Wonder Egg looks right at home as the sun paints the clouds with ever changing hues.

To be continued . . .

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


2000 years ago, the Besant people chose a steep cliff overlooking a running river as a fine spot for chasing buffalo off the precipice so they could kill and harvest them for sustenance. The Avonlea people repeated the activity around 1250 years ago, followed by the Saddle Butte peoples around 600 years ago.

The site is now a well run archeological and educational endeavor where you may imagine the frenzied activities that occurred many years ago between man and beast. To facilitate the kill, ancient people built corrals to keep the wounded buffalo from getting away during the slaughter. They thought if one escaped, it would tell the rest of the herd about the trap and the buffalo harvest would end.

Distinct layers of bone may be seen in the vertical walls of the dig. Looking at the density of bones you sense the vast number of buffalo that met their demise here.

After the tour, Judy and I pose near a pint sized buffalo used as a target for modern hunters as they attempt the ancient method of hurling an atlatl for hunting big game. Hold still, now . . .

Eons have passed and erosion has softened the descent from the heights. The bucolic valley by the river has only begun to unfold the events that helped to sustain the ancestors of these lands.

To be continued . . .

Monday, July 18, 2011

North Dakota to Montana

Lake Sakakawea State Park is located close to where Lewis experienced one of his worst, and perhaps his most embarrassing accidents. Apparently, Lewis spotted some fat elk on a willow bar, so he and the ever popular fiddle-playing Frenchman, Pierre Cruzatte, loaded up their rifles and struck out to replenish the meat supply. Unfortunately, Pierre had one eye, and was extremely nearsighted. He wound up mistaking Lewis, who was clad in brown buckskin, for an elk and shot him in the butt. Lewis had difficulty sitting for the remainder of the trip.

Lewis seems to be pointing out the direction towards real elk on the front of each and every fire pit at the park.

Departing the area, we stopped at a store to replenish supplies and couldn't resist parking next to another Casita in the parking lot. Steve and Judy were surprised as they walked out of the store and found all the Eggs next to their newly purchased trailer (on the left side of this gaggle). A very nice couple, I'm sure we'll be meeting them at rallies down the road.

West of Williston, ND is the Fort Union Trading Post. Lewis and Clark made camp near there on April 25, 1805 and noted this location would be good for a trading outpost. Two decades after the expedition, the American Fur Trading Company established Fort Union,where a brisk trade in animal hides took place from 1828 to 1867.

One of the well preserved, knowledgeable, traders still works at the post and is more than happy to entertain questions from today's modern travelers.

Outside the fort, a grouping of tipis (local spelling) represents an encampment of Native Americans who would have come for trading with the white man on the Upper Missouri River.

Luckily, we had our tipi inspectors, Judy and Wayne along to check out the structures. They pronounced them to be in perfect condition.

With the visit to the trading post, we passed another state line and entered big sky country, Montana . . .

Lewis and Clark documented Indian civilizations that had wandered over these lands on their journey. What they failed to note, were the long, long, long ago inhabitants that were there before. At Peck Dam, there is an exhibit to these earlier inhabitants. This one would have thought Judy and Al were no more than an afternoon snack.
It's a good thing they didn't meet in person!

The scariest thing we've run into is a small, furry smiley thing that appears in my car.

To be continued . . .

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Indigenous Influences

On a windswept hill, overlooking the mighty waters of the Missouri River, stone sentinels watch the passage of time. A closer inspection shows the grave site and monument to Sitting Bull, a Lakota Chief whose life took a circuitous path in regards to his relationship with the white man. Read about this enigma of a man and his complex history here.

Visitors have left an interesting assortment of tokens at the base of his monument . . .

Nearby, a obelisk rises high above the land as a tribute to another Native American, one who became an instrumental part of the Lewis and Clark expedition. On November 4, 1804. Sakakawea and her child joined with the explorers on their westward journey. The sight of a squaw with her child traveling with the white men showed them as a peaceful expedition and helped ease their passage through the western territories. At times, Sakakawea also pointed the way as she recognized the lands of her people from her past.

When he commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition, President Jefferson was keenly aware of civilizations already existing in the far reaches of the western lands. He charged Lewis with annotating the location, size, and disposition of tribal peoples and establishing peaceful relations with the Indian tribes they encountered. America's history with our indigenous tribes has been filled with errors over the centuries. High up in North Dakota now, as we wake up during this phase of the rolling rally, we turn on the radio, hear the sound waves of authentic tribal music, and are reminded deep roots of this land's past inhabitants and their connection to the present.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Nebraska to North Dakota

On the road like this, we'll often camp in out of the way areas that have limited broadband, so blog posting can be sporadic. The "Road Less Traveled" has beauties and wonders to be seen and not missed just 'cause of a lack of modern conveniences. Thanks for understanding . . .

We were advised not to miss the display of the river's strength at Gavins Point Dam, between Nebraska and South Dakota. The stopover was certainly worth the effort. With the water's relentless determination to head downriver and more to follow, the Corps of Engineers let loose the floodgates in an attempt to manage Mother Nature.

After the photo op, we joined the parade of vehicles across the Gavins Point Dam into South Dakota.

Speaking of parades, here's an Egg Parade departing Pease Creek S.R.A, heading upstream.

The evening found us nestled amongst shade trees and wide open grassy areas at West Whitlock SRA. I've never seen so many boating enthusiasts at one park. Boat ramp parking was overflowing with empty boat trailers as folks were out enjoying the water. My kayak was not to be outdone and made two launches during our visit here.

Lewis and Clark halted for dinner just north of here on October 6, 1804. They noted an abandoned Arikaree village consisting of 80 octagon-shaped lodges covered with earth, placed close to each other and surrounded by a picket fence.
The Arikaree lodges would be much like this one found at the West Whitlock SRA. Here's an outside and inside view.

Further upstream, near Washburn, ND is the best interpretive center we've come across thus far. Don't miss it if you're in the area. Excellent gift shop, film, and artifact displays, as well as a room full of George Catlin prints from 1844 which captured the essence of Native American life in this period.

Desiring to stay at Cross ranch SP, we detoured due to flooding and stayed at the Sanger Boat Landings campsites. While not sterling, they were very adequate for our needs and a sight better than this local homestead . . .

To be continued . . .

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ionia Volcano

We crossed into Nebraska near Sioux City and set up camp at Ponca SP for the 4th of July weekend. It's a lovely park, full of families with small children, some of which established a dog walking service for campers. Oscar enjoyed that. Above, Wayne has hung the official rolling rally banner and is ready for the 4th of July. The other three Eggs are camped nearby.

Judy & Wayne stand at the very edge of a 200 ft cliff called the Ionia Volcano. On Aug 24, 1804 L&C described bluffs that appeared to be on fire "where no man could bear his hand in the earth at any depth." At that time, the river flowed up against the foot of the hill. It is believed that iron pyrite decomposition came in contact with water and the resulting heat ignited other combustible materials.

The Sioux City Public Museum has scaled replicas of a keel boat and pirouge like the ones used by Lewis & Clark. The museum recently moved from this cool old mansion into a modern facility right downtown.

The museum has an informative short movie about Sioux City's history. I found the Corn Palaces used to draw tourists to be a unique touch . . .

In Sioux City, this 100-foot obelisk, marks the final resting-place of Sergeant Charles Floyd, Jr., who was the only casualty during the long expedition. Sgt Floyd died from a ruptured appendix on Aug 20, 1804 and was buried on a nearby hill with full honors.

While we were out playing tourist, Oscar was out making new best friends. Here's his latest BFF, Mr. Buffalo.

To be continued . . .