We are now in Montana, on our way toward Frederick, Colorado, where our new coach will be repaired. Parts are on order, and the big job should take a day or two for technicians to remove one of our slides, replace the metal tracks and bearings, check motors and wiring, etc. They will also repair our automatic jacks/leveling system which is on the fritz. We stayed at Malmstrom AFB for several days to find Your Faithful Correspondent a new computer. Commodore 64s are really hard to procure, so I settled for a new Toshiba Satellite laptop with Windows 8, a touch screen operating system. It is really cool, and based on my past history with Windows XP, this new system should take me only 5 or 6 years to figure out.
Speaking of history, one of my favorite subjects in American history was the Lewis and Clark Corps Discovery expedition back in 1804-06. For those who may be unfamiliar with this expedition, a team of 28 Army men (and one unofficial dog, a Newfoundland named Seaman) were tasked by President Thomas Jefferson to explore and map the recently acquired Louisiana Purchase, traveling from present-day Wood River, Illinois, to the Pacific Ocean. They were also to find a usable transcontinental route, study flora, fauna and natives encountered, and return safely. Along the way they picked up five civilians, including Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian woman and her husband, a French trapper.
The expedition completed a heroic and grueling journey across the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, most of which had never seen the footprints of a white man. We were fortunate to be stopping in Great Falls, Montana, where the Lewis and Clark Historical Trail Interpretive Center is located. While Suzanne was giving a phone reading in the coach, I spent a couple of hours at this excellent facility on the south bank of the Missouri River where the intrepid explorers had to portage 18 miles around a series of five cataracts (waterfalls). (This display of them hauling a wood canoe up a 75 foot cliff showed what a daunting and exhausting evolution it was, particularly in July sun and heat.)
During their trans-continental trip, Captains Lewis and Clark encountered hundreds of Indians, and managed to maintain polite, friendly relations with them all. (It’s unfortunate that many later travelers weren’t able to maintain that same relationship.) Only one man died on this epic adventure, probably due to a burst appendix. There were many close calls, mostly due to interactions with grizzly bears. On one occasion, Capt. Clark had shot an elk with his muzzle loading rifle and was attacked by a grizzly before he could reload. Barely making it to the river ahead of the bear, he stood in waist-deep water and fended off the bear with a pike in one hand, holding his rifle above the water with the other. (These were Real Men!)
The Interpretive Center had this well-executed display of a Mandan Tribe home; some of the interesting artifacts were the warrior’s shirt (deerskin and dyed porcupine quills);an antler rake and scapula hoe used by women to till plots of corn and squash (the men were probably out hunting, warrioring, trading lies and “counting coup” stories, and generally goofing off); a small bucket made of bison (buffalo) heartskin; and a beautiful basket made of box elder bark and dyed willow bark, woven in patterns on a willow frame. Sacagawea and the expedition’s interpreter George Droillard were instrumental in keeping in the good graces of the various tribes that Lewis and Clark met along the way, and added immensely to the sparse body of knowledge about these “original Americans”. Toussaint Charboneau, French trapper and Sacagawea’s husband, added some gastronomic diversity to the expedition’s somewhat limited cuisine, which consisted mostly of SEVEN POUNDS of meat a day, mostly deer, elk and bison. His recipe for boudin blanc, very similar to Cajun boudin, was to take a bison’s intestine (except the last six feet, which was neither safe nor pleasant to eat), then stuff it with a suet of kidney and shoulder meat, tie off the ends, rinse briefly in river water, and then fry in bear grease. Sounds so yummy!
Suzanne and I also got in a nice bike ride along the Missouri River’s River Edge Trail. Mostly paved for road and hybrid bikes, but part mountain bike single track, it runs along the south river ridge, with expansive views of the Missouri River, the several falls and dams, and the prairie stretching to the horizon, probably looking not too different than when Lewis and Clark stood on this spot in 1804. Here is Yours Truly, alongside the two captains and Sacagawea, gazing at the intimidating cataracts that temporarily delayed the Corps of Discovery’s previously rapid progress.
After departing Great Falls on Saturday, we drove through that part of Montana where Chief Joseph’s Nez Perce tribe made history with their 1,200 mile long fighting retreat and battles with the US Army after being forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in present-day eastern Oregon. His real name was Hinmuuttu-yalalat, or “Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain”. He was known as Young Joseph after his father, Tuekakas, converted to Christianity and was baptized Joseph the Elder.
We arrived at our campground in Hardin, Montana, to find the campground almost filled with a military travel club caravan; it was also the weekend of the 95th annual Crow Fair. The Crow Fair is the largest gathering of North American Indians in the country, and includes daily parades, a rodeo, and the largest teepee village in the world, with approximately 15,000 canvas teepees (buffalo skins being much harder to find these days). This event, appropriately (unless you are a Seventh Cavalry veteran), is sited next to the Little Bighorn National Monument, about 15 miles away from our campground. History buffs will recall that Gen. George Custer’s Seventh Cavalry met with one of its less happy moments there in 1876 when Custer decided to take on a much larger force of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
All 263 troopers and the flaxen-haired Custer were surrounded and killed by more than a thousand very angry Indians near the Little Bighorn River; the battle is usually remembered as Custer’s Last Stand. (Custer should have learned some negotiating and cultural awareness lessons from Captains Lewis and Clark!) These two paintings show the battle from both the Indians’ and Custer’s perspective.
Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day for the Crow Fair Rodeo, but we were in plenty of time for the campground’s daily ice cream social. Lest you think this is a trivial matter, you may be surprised to learn that My Lovely Bride has a secret craving for ice cream that is not well-known among her friends. She favors Magnum almond bars, but does not discriminate against other flavors or presentations; my specialty, Cherries Jubilee, is normally also well-received.
In closing, I would like you, Faithful Readers, to know that we do not always reside in campground scenic splendor alongside babbling brooks and with glacier and mountain views. Here is the view tonight, in Hardin, Montana, from our coach’s front window. The campground owner also mentioned that this site is particularly good for those guests who like to parade around naked (in their RV’s, at least) because there is nothing but a field in front of us. (I won’t go any further, to protect the privacy and reputations of the guilty and innocent alike, except to say that “Yes, we do dress for dinner.”)