Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fort Benton, Montana

Friday morning, August 14, we drove a few miles north to Montana's birthplace, Fort Benton.

Here is what the river looks like just down stream from the fort. I saw paintings of Indians standing on bluffs overlooking the river at a similar place taking shots at steamboats passing by.

This is the Grand Union Hotel. It was built in 1882 and restored in 1999. I sure wanted to stay here but that will have to wait till the next trip.

This is the lobby.

This picture hangs next to the desk. It is Chief Plenty Coups. He was named chief of the Mountain Crow at age 28. At this time I had met Emily, the desk clerk, and my quip to her was that the haircut was still popular.

This is the hotel bar. That is Emily. She told me the original bar has been removed to a bar in Missoula, Montana.

Emily is Emily Bley pronounced Bligh. She said she had a famous last name but couldn't tell me who the original Bligh was. I recall a certain Capt. Bligh, but couldn't relate the history to her. Emily signed her name to a hotel business card for me. She was very nice and since the hotel was anything but busy gave me a walking tour of the ground floor. On a personal note she told me, and my brother and his wife, who had been shopping across the street at a kiosk run by some local Hetterites, about a proposal of marriage she received from a sixteen year old from this "clan". She was of an age with the boy and was manning a stall her dad had set up selling wares from his operation, I don't recall what exactly. The Hetterites are like the Amish. They wear distinctive dress and the like. So, he walks up to her booth and asks if he could please see her father. She asked why and he said he would like to ask for her hand in marriage. When she refused him the interview with her father the boy went away but came back a little later with his father, to strengthen his suit. I noted that this is exactly how such a transacton would have taken place in the 1700s.

Here is a frontal shot of the original (restored) Ft. Benton. Note the rifle slits.

I wish this had come out better.

The bull stands almost six feet at the shoulders and would have weighed about 2200 pounds. This grouping was originally gathered by the great conservationist William T. Hornady and were originally displayed in the Smithsonian in 1887 when it was feared the great bison would soon be extinct. We saw bison on this trip, grazing alongside the road near Glacier Nat'l Park.

A grizzly. Seems intent on something.

This is what he is concerned about, but not too much, I expect.

We visited a couple of old churches.

Our trip ended with a ride across the Missouri river on a ferry. We took the back roads back to Great Falls passing section after section of wheat stubble with an occasional uncut field in between.

No mention of Fort Benton, Montana would be complete without bringing in the story of the world famous dog, Shep. A Sheepherder's body was shipped back East for burial back in August, 1936. His dog witnessed this and every train arrival for five years till Shep himself was killed by a train saw him watching and waiting for the return of his master. It is a profoundly sad story, of course. Though I had heard of Shep, I didn't realise I was at the source of the story till I got there. An old guy I met on the bridge there over the Missouri river, now for walking only, made reference to it. His name is Gail, funny name for a man, he agreed (I asked him if it was spelled Gayle because one of my best high-school friends carried that name). Gail used to be superintendent of schools in Fort Benton. I wanted to share this sentimental and profound testament to love, to awakening spiritual awareness. It speaks volumes that a dog would display sentiments that we arrogate exclusively to ourselves as humans. And obviously, if you are inclined to such musings, it fills in a blank space in that template we might all be trying to grasp that could it be seen clearly would carry the meaning and purpose of life itself.

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