Friday, December 21, 2007

The Old North Trail

I noticed that the website now has the full text of Walter McLintock's The Old North Trail (1910) now online! This is a great read about the great prehistoric trail corridor called "The Old North Trail" leading from the Arctic North down to Mexico along the Continental Divide, which passes through Montana. Rather than one trail, it is actually a corridor, with at least two major tracks, one going through the foothills and the other along the edge of the open plains.

"There is a well known trail we call the Old North Trail. It runs north and south along the Rocky Mountains. No one knows how long it has been used by the Indians. My father told me it originated in the migration of a great tribe of Indians from the distant north to the south, and all the tribes have, ever since, continued to follow in their tracks. The Old North Trail is now becoming overgrown with moss and grass, but it was worn so deeply, by many generations of travellers, that the travois tracks and horse trail are still plainly visible.

"On Crow Lodge River, just across from our present camp, a lone pine tree once stood. It was a land-mark for people travelling north and south along the Old North Trail, because it stood upon the plain and could be seen from a long distance. Finally the Lone Tree fell, but two children took its place. They have grown large and now they mark the former course of the North Trail. The Indians still speak of the spot as the Lone Tree. In many places the white man's roads and towns have obliterated the Old Trail. It forked where the city of Calgary now stands. The right fork ran north into the Barren Lands as far as people live. The main trail ran south along the eastern side of the Rockies, at a uniform distance from the mountains, keeping clear of the forest, and outside of the foothills. It ran close to where the city of Helena now stands, and extended south into the country, inhabited by a people with dark skins, and long hair falling over their faces (Mexico). In former times, when the Indian tribes were at war, there was constant fighting along the North Trail. In those days, Indians, who wanted to travel in peace, avoided it and took to the forest. My father once told me of an expedition from the Blackfeet, that went south by the Old Trail, to visit the people with dark skins. Elk Tongue and his wife, Natoya, were of this expedition, also Arrow Top and Pemmican, who was a boy of twelve at that time. He died only a few years ago at the age of ninety-five. They were absent four years. It took them twelve moons of steady travelling to reach the country of the dark skinned people, and eighteen moons to come north again" (McLintock 1910:434-436).

I know some sections have been mapped and marked in Montana, especially up around Choteau and the Rocky Mountain Front country. And the archaeologists working for the Helena National Forest are reported to be familiar with portions of the trail. "The Bear's Tooth" near Helena is a landmark on the trail; it is better known today as the "nose" of "The Sleeping Giant" geographic feature visible from Helena.

Below are some sites mentioning the Old North Trail, and you can Google more:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Rosebud Battlefield Site

Rosebud Battlefield

This 3,000-acre Eastern Montana rolling prairie park preserves the site of the June 17, 1876, battle between the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians and General Crook’s soldiers. The Northern Cheyenne from nearby Lame Deer view the Rosebud Battlefield as sacred ground and hold ceremonies at the site honoring the warriors and the soldiers who fought and died there. In addition to the historic battlefield site, there are many other archaeological remains there: a the Kobold family homestead site, a buffalo jump dating back to 3,000 B.C., petroglyphs (in the sandstone walls below the jump), tipi rings, eagle-catching pits, and rock cairns. The land became a state park in 1978.

A big issue at the Rosebud site is the threat of the battlefield's destruction because of potential coal mining:

When Rosebud Battlefield was established as a Montana state park in 1978, it fulfilled a 40-year-long dream of rancher Elmer E. “Slim” Kobold to protect this significant site. Today, that dream could be threatened by the prospect of coal bed methane development.

Kobold, originally from Oklahoma, homesteaded the historic battlefield and surrounding hills, bluffs, and grasslands in 1911. Over the years, he became fascinated with his property’s rich history and worked to preserve and protect the significant battlefield and Indian artifacts.
In addition to battle sites, rock cairns, petrified stumps, and tipi rings, the area contains a buffalo jump. Located near the park’s entrance, the jump’s use dates to 3,000 B.C. Archaeologists believe it had one of the highest densities of prehistoric cultural habitation of any buffalo jump in Montana.

The park has other values. For decades, U.S. military scholars have visited Rosebud to study the battle strategy used by both sides. And Native Americans, particularly the Northern Cheyenne, revere the area, performing ceremonies and making offerings to their forebears.

Kobold understood that these and other values made the battlefield worth protecting. When mining companies found a rich coal seam under Kobold’s property in the early 1970s, he began an intense letter-writing campaign and teamed up with FWP to get Rosebud Battlefield designated in the National Register of Historic Places. A few years later, with constant urging by the tough old cowboy, the Montana legislature agreed to preserve the site, appropriating money from the Coal Tax Fund to acquire a large portion of the battlefield.

Now a new type of development threatens to disrupt the historic site. Because FWP only owns the surface rights of the property, the battlefield could be developed for coal bed methane by private interests who own or lease mineral rights. Trucks, generators, compressor stations, pipelines, roads, noise, wastewater, and dust could envelop the historic battlefield.

Recently, FWP has been working to protect the historic battlefield and archaeological sites by meeting with various organizations such as the National Park Service, the Montana Preservation Alliance, and the mineral rights lesee.

A proposed management plan for historic Rosebud Battlefield State Park was drafted by Montana State Parks with help from consultants and an advisory committee. The proposed draft plan, which was open for public comments Oct. 11-Nov. 16, was located the FWP web page ( as the Rosebud Battlefield Management Plan link.

Read more about the Rosebud Battlefield site at:

Researchers find artifacts after Montana wildfire

Researchers find artifacts after Montana wildfire
Missoula, Montana (AP) 11-07

Ammunition for firearms and a tool for scraping buffalo hides are among artifacts found by an archaeologist and a graduate student at the scene of a major wildfire near Seeley Lake, northeast of here.

The student, Anya Minetz, recently saw an oversize cartridge on ground blackened by the Jocko Lakes fire, which started in August and burned more than 36,000 acres. Minetz called for archaeologist C. Milo McLeod to take a look.

“That’s from a Spencer rifle,” said McLeod, who owns one of the Spencer guns, produced in the 1860s.

In an area just 70 feet long and 30 feet wide, McLeod and Minetz found 17 more cartridges, most with casings and rounds intact; an ax head inscribed with the name of the Douglas Axe Manufacturing Co. of Douglas, Mass., in business from 1836-1897; a pair of scissors or forceps; a whetstone; a bullet mold; and the 14-inch hide scraper.

McLeod works for the Forest Service and said that in more than 30 years of work on the Lolo National Forest, in which the Jocko Lakes fire burned, he has never found a site with so many artifacts related to the fur-trading era.

McLeod and Minetz, a University of Montana graduate student in forensic anthropology, noted the distribution of the artifacts, mapped and photographed them and completed a metal detector survey. Then they hauled the treasure to McLeod’s office at Fort Missoula.

“I believe we’ve recovered all the artifacts,” McLeod said.

He said it appears they were “just left” in the 19th century.

“In 1870, you don’t lose 18 unfired cartridges,” he said. “You don’t lose your ax, your bullet mold, your scissors, your hide scraper.”

McLeod and Minetz discovered artifacts in a likely camping stop – near a trail, on level ground, with water nearby. There was no evidence of a camp, however.

“We speculate that maybe a grizzly bear ran the guy off, killed him and ate him,” McLeod said.

Minetz researched “buffalo hide scraper” on the Internet and found a picture of one similar to that taken from the fire scene. The scraper pictured was produced by the Hudson’s Bay Co. in the 1800s. A Hudson’s Bay post operated in the Flathead Valley’s Fort Connah until 1871.

During November the artifacts went to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ tribal preservation office in Pablo. Consultation with tribal officials is standard after an archaeological survey on traditional tribal homelands.

McLeod and tribal representatives talked, but the tribes issued no immediate statement about the artifacts.

“We have a process that we use,” said Francis Auld, a tribal preservation assistant. “There is a Salish-Pend d’Oreille elders advisory group, there is a Kootenai elders advisory group. When things like this come around we tend to take the story, or the theory, and intermingle it to see if anybody has any kind of connection that they can maybe recall in their family line, or in several family lines.”

McLeod said the artifacts that he and Minetz found are “pretty neat, but I don’t want people to go out and try to find stuff and dig it up.” Archaeological sites on federal land are protected by law.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chapter One: I Become an Archaeologist

I enjoy blogging and thought it would be cool to start a blog on Montana Archaeology. There's information about, here and there, but I want to try and pull something together to help people understand just what a wonderful thing archaeology is and how cool Montana is when it comes to archaeology.

I should tell you a little about myself, and my connections to Montana archaeology. I was raised in Helena, which is in the heart of Montana's mining country. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, when we were out in the hills hunting or just looking around, there were lots of old miners' cabins and ghost towns, graveyards, heaps of rusting machinery, areas of torn up ground from placer mines, and tailings and mill structures. The hills were full of these old remains, and they stirred my imagination, wondering about all that had happened there, and about where the people had went.

I am also part Indian myself, and old man Eddie Barbeau down on Custer Avenue showed us how to peel tipi poles, tan buckskin, and set up tipis. We used to sit around, and he would tell us about the stone tipi rings around Helena, and about hunting buffalo. We would visit buffalo jumps and see artifacts and wonderful dioramas at the Montana Historical Society. I really miss those dioramas.

So between the mining landscape and the Indian traditions, I guess I never had a chance, but became fascinated by Montana's past, and the past in general. Some folks gravitate to history, and though I love books (ask my sagging shelves) my real love was for the actual places and "old junk" that lay out there, waiting to tell a story I was eager to learn to read.

To make a long story shorter, I ended up attending the University of Montana (after I graduated from Helena High in 1978) and majoring in Anthropology, with a minor in Native American Studies. In those days, Anthropology was still taught wholistically, and we had to learn all four subfields: cultural anthropology, archaeology, physical anthropology, and linguistics. I am something of an anachronism anymore, still oriented more holistically in my interests than a particular specialization such as faunal analysis or lithics.

Dr. Dee Taylor taught the "Archaeology of Montana" course at the time, and I enjoyed it a lot. I also took "Historic Sites Archaeology" from Dr. Carling Malouf. Both men are historic figures in the story of doing archaeology in Montana. They had lots of personal experiences to share with the classes. In the Historic Sites Archaeology class we went to Fort Fizzle; we actually did some test excavations at Fort Missoula and Fort Shaw. Dr. Tom Foor taught a class in anthropological statistics, and took us out to do some test pits, I think it was near a place called Owl Creek (maybe someone can correct me if I misremember that).

Well, after a period of being footloose, and introduced to "the life" by archaeo-classmate Dennis Pry I found myself following the archaeology trail as what is known as "a Shovel Bum" (aka in those less-than-PC days a "digro"). I worked for four years as a shovel monkey on CRM surveys and excavations for beans-and-bacon money through the states of Montana, California, Washington state, Maryland, Virginia, and North Dakota. The sites ranged from Archaic through the 1960s and every period of prehistoric and historic archaeology between. I was a CRM guy, and never worked on an academic site after the U of M days. Just an underpaid underclass, true to my roots :-)

I worked in Montana for Historical Research Associates (out of Missoula) and for Ethnoscience (the Deavers out of Billings). Sites in Montana I worked on included a survey in the Cabinet Mountains, a survey in Helena, an excavation near Bozeman, and monitoring in the Blackfoot River corridor.

Then in 1990, I snagged a job at the Helena National Forest (HNF) as a field archaeologist working for Gary Fairchild. I ended up that year getting a student internship position at the HNF, and if I would go back to college and get an M.A., I would get a job upon graduation. So from 1991-1995 I worked as an archaeologist for the HNF, mostly doing surveys and Section 106 work for proposed timber sales, mining operations, and land exchanges. It was a great job, and though the economy took a downturn and I didn't get a job when I graduated as was promised, there are no regrets and I count those years as some of the best of my life. The Helena area is full of excellent archaeological sites, both prehistoric and historic. I'll share some stories and sites later on.

After I got my M.A. in Anthropology from Iowa State University, where I took archaeology classes from Dr. David Gradwohl, Dr. Joseph Tiffany, and Dr. John Bower, I got intrigued with more about archaeology of the landscape, and got an M.L.A. in Landscape Architecture from Iowa State, under Robert Harvey and Tim Keller. Combining archaeology, anthropology, and historic and cultural landscapes was a good thing, and I started out by doing a landscape archaeology project at Gaines' Mill, a Civil War site in Virginia. Then I worked for the National Park Service as a historical landscape architect for four years, specializing in Native American landscapes and archaeological landscapes all over the southwest (I was stationed in Santa Fe) and then Alaska.

My last gig was in Hawai'i, for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, where I headed up the division for Native Rights, Land and Culture, and helped advocate for the preservation of Hawaiian sites and burials for three years. I've had some stuff published too, including some stuff about archaeology and native peoples.

Now I am an artist and adjunct faculty at the University of Montana, College of Technology, in Helena. Next term I am going to teach not only painting (I taught drawing this term) but also a new course, Introduction to Archaeology. So this blog in some ways, is not only a reminiscence, but a way to order my thoughts about Montana archaeology in particular, and to put some stuff online for students to consider and learn from.

I have met some great people doing archaeology in Montana, and all over, and I hope they say hello sometime, maybe leave a note on this blog as a comment.