Log #55c To Montana

September 5, 2012 in Log Series 50-59, Logs by Series, Series 55, The Logs

Whitehorse, Yukon

Sept. 5, 2012

Hi Folks,

We are waiting here back in Whitehorse for the insurance settlement to be finalized. We are hoping for a write off cheque and to purchase another trailer we have found here which we would be happy to buy. The insurance company sounds cooperative so far. I will keep you posted on our progress.

This log gets us into Grasslands national Park in southern Saskatchewan, down into Montana to a couple of forts and back up into south west Sask. for an interesting trip along primitive ranch roads to Fort Walsh.

I hope to update my website with this log shortly and will have many more pictures on it as well. I have already updated my Log #55a and b with some added text and many interesting pictures. I would suggest you might want to look at them even though you may have the original logs.

All the best,

Aubrey

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Log_55c_Another_indignant_prarie_dogLog_55c_Missouri_breaks_geographyLog_55c_Missouri_River_winds_around_the_Missouri_BreaksLog_55c_Montana_settler_meeting_house_and_schoolLog_55c_More_Missouri_Breaks_geographylog_55c_Non_opening_bridge_across_the_Missourilog_55c_Pelt_press_outside_of_Fort_BentonLog_55c_Road_closedLog_55c_Rolling_hills_of_Grassland_National_ParkLog_55c_Sunset_at_GrasslandsLog_55c_Texas_gate_signLog_55c_View_from_our_campsite_in_GrasslandsLog_55c_Vivid_fields_of_rape_seed_cropsLog_55c_Missouri_Breaks_at_Fort_BentonLog_55c_Large_scale_silosLog_55c_Bison_in_open_rangeLog_55c_Buffalo_in_GrasslandsLog_55c_Cattle_on_the_roadLog_55c_Closed_local_grain_silosLog_55c_Crenelated_tower_at_Fort_Assiniboine

Log #55c To Montana
Whitehorse, Yukon
Aug. 31, 2012

We headed due south from Swift Current, planning to return there in a little over a week to enjoy their Canada Day (I still prefer “Dominion Day”) celebrations with a country fair, Canada Day Parade and a rodeo. In the meantime I wanted to drive the Trails of 1885, to follow the historical development of the Northwest Resistance (the Riel rebellion), and the trials and tribulations of the Indian groups that fled to Canada, including those fleeing the U.S. cavalry after the Battle of the Little Big Horn and the Nez Perce who had their lands taken by the 1863 treaty, called by the Indians the “Thief Treaty”, and were also fleeing the U.S. military. This trip did not follow the chronological sequence of these historical events, but covered much of the relevant geography.

In addition there was also the Old Forts Trail, the forts that were involved in settling the Prairie Provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. On the way south we went through agricultiural lands with dramatic fields glowing yellow with rape seed.

                                                                         Log_55c_Vivid_fields_of_rape_seed_crops

Before going into Montana we stopped at Grasslands National Park near the U.S. border, a large beautiful park of, what else…. grasslands. This is a very sparsely populated part of Saskatchewan just outside of the hamlet of Val Marie.  The entrance sign was fine, but some people might have been put off by the warning sign.

.Log_55c_Entrance_sign         Log_55c_Warning_sign_at_Grasslands_(2)

The rolling hills and grasslands were spectacular in their vistas and simplicity. See the pictures below of the grasslands and the view from our campsite. The sunset was spectacular.

Log_55c_Rolling_hills_of_Grassland_National_Park                    Log_55c_View_from_our_campsite_in_Grasslands

Log_55c_Sunset_at_Grasslands
Here we saw hundreds of prairie dogs, gophers and ground squirrels, burrowed into the fields and popping up indignantly to look around at us interlopers.

Log_55c_Indignant_Prairie_Dog           Log_55c_Another_indignant_prarie_dog

We also saw our first bison (buffalo), freely roaming the plains, but in small isolated groups of three or four, as opposed the thundering herds of thousands even as recently as 160 years ago, when they were the main resource for the plains Indians.

Log_55c_Bison_in_open_range            Log_55c_Buffalo_in_Grasslands

In town before we left the area, we had to try their bison burgers. Mmmm, quite tasty, better than beef! We then went to the local grocery store just down from the restaurant and bought a half dozen frozen bison burgers.  In the town I took a couple of pictures of the closed grain silos, as grain collection is being consolidated by the large conglomerates into fewer but larger railhead industrial silos (seepictures below).

Log_55c_Closed_local_grain_silos         Log_55c_Large_scale_silos

It was only 16 km to the U.S. border, over endless rolling prairie farms and grasslands. We went along to a Wal-Mart in Havre, then out next day to the area museum and Fort Assiniboine. In the museum we had a good talk with the volunteer host, who told us much of the history of the area and the treatment of the Indians. Fort Assiniboine was a bit of a disappointment as there were only a couple of buildings left, and the rest of the area was an experimental farm. Established in 1879, it was the largest military fort of its time in Montana, with over 100 buildings and housing 750 troops in up to ten companies of cavalry, including the Tenth Cavalry, and infantry, the 24th and 25th Infantry, all-black units. This force was to deter gunrunners and bootleggers as well as patrol the area, to keep it safe for settlers, monitor the Indian bands and patrol the Canada / U.S. border. Part of their mandate was to ensure no Indian bands escaped to Canada. The crenelated tower of the officers quarters was designed to giove the Indians and settlers an indication of permanence.

Log_55c_Crenelated_tower_at_Fort_Assiniboine                    Log_55c_Fort_Assiniboine

Further down the highway we went to Fort Benton, a much more interesting trading post and town of the same name on the Missouri River. Started as a trading fort in 1847, it is strategically located on the upper Missouri River at the eroded cliffs, and river valleys cutting through the plateau known as the Missouri Breaks, on the winding river. See pictures below of the geography of the area.

Log_55c_Missouri_Breaks_at_Fort_Benton      Log_55c_Missouri_breaks_geography     Log_55c_More_Missouri_Breaks_geography

It became known as “The World’s Innermost Port”. It was the terminus of river travel several thousand kilometres up the Missouri for goods, trappers, miners and settlers heading for the northwest from as far away as New Orleans, St. Louis, Memphis and Kansas City. The Lewis and Clark expedition made an important decision when going through the area, to follow the Missouri River rather than another river, just downstream of Fort Benton, which would have taken them northwards instead of westwards. The bridge crossing the Missouri at Fort Benton is the farthest upstream ships can go, as the bridge does not open and the water further up is too shallow for river traffic.
log_55c_Non_opening_bridge_across_the_Missouri
The trading fort itself is well reconstructed, and the town has a beautiful river walkway with historical sign posts along the route.  See below the levered pelt press used to bale the pelts for shipment. This town is highly recommended.

log_55c_Pelt_press_outside_of_Fort_Benton

After a couple of nights, we returned to the Wal-Mart in Havre, and on up to Fort Walsh in south west corner of Saskatchewan. The trip to this North West Mounted Police fort was … interesting. We were in a very sparsely populated area of the province. The paved two lane highways became roughly paved narrow two lane roads, then one lane roads going through large cattle farms. We were following our GPS, but started wondering when we went through ranchers’ Texas gates and along gravel tracks that were still outlined on our GPS. We saw cattle on both sides of the roads. They were not fenced off from the roads, but wandered alongside and on the road in several places. They lazily moved off as we went by, but I was hoping none of them would try to charge us.

Log_55c_Cattle_on_the_road

We were beginning to have our doubts about the GPS, and were considering turning back to find another route. Finally we came to another Texas gate, (a grill across the road that animals are rightly afraid to step on as they will break their legs)

Log_55c_Texas_gate_sign        Log_55c_Grills_for_the

followed by a very steep hill going down so abruptly that I could not see the road beyond the crest. On the fence was a sign saying “Road Closed”.

Log_55c_Road_closed

But according to the GPS, Fort Walsh was just ahead.

I stopped and got out to look down into a very deep valley, with an equally steep hill going directly up the other side. We would have to backtrack ten or twenty kilometers to find another road. In addition, there was no place to turn the car and trailer around. I took a second look at the hill and walked down it a bit to identify any washouts or potholes. None were evident. It was dry dirt and some gravel but there were no especially deep ruts or dips in the track. OK, I decided to go for it. We edged carefully across the ribs of the Texas gate, and slowly came over the crest of the hill, straight down and then straight up. I went down very slowly in first gear until near the bottom, then put the car into second gear and picked up a bit of speed for the steep ascent. I didn’t want to be stopped on the uphill run and risk spinning my wheels of the sand and gravel. Up we went, faster than we went down, to reach the top of the other side to find PAVEMENT! Yahoo, we made it.

Log_55c_Deep_valey_we_drove                   Log_55c_Down_into_the_valley_we_went
I saw the sign at the top of the road, saying again, “Road Closed”. We turned left onto the two lane paved road, which soon became a one lane paved road. I thought, “Oh no, not again!” However we were relieved to see a sign for Fort Walsh 2 km ahead.

More in the next log about the interesting history of Fort Walsh, the NWMP inspector James Morrow Walsh after whom it is named, and his impossible task of supervising 5000 Lakota fleeing from the U.S. Cavalry after the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. I consider him a tragic figure for his attempt to help the Indians and the perfidy of the Canadian government.