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.