Great Falls, Montana   Leave a comment

Day 25-26, starting early, we headed out to visit Portage Creek. Once Lewis and Clark got to this area, they discovered the “great falls of the Missouri” was a series of five scenic and unique waterfalls that cascade through a subtle prairie canyon that the water has carved from the prehistoric glacial clays. The falls encompass a ten mile stretch of river, beginning at Black Eagle Falls and culminate at the Great Falls, which was first witnessed by Lewis and his advance scouting party. Lewis was only expecting to see a single fall, which would have meant a one or two day portage (that’s when they had to unload the boats & transport the boats & cargo on land without the use of horses).

Today the five falls are known as Great Falls, Crooked, Rainbow, Colter, and Black Eagle Falls. They do not look the same today as dams have been put in to control the water flow. The water was much shallower than it is today.

Now: ……………………………………………………………. ……..Then:

We visited the area where their portage began and followed pretty closely where they had to go to get above the falls, passing an area where the Missouri River Bed “used” to be.

Clark laid out the 18 ¼ mile portage, making it as short and easy as possible. Hard ground, prickly pear cactus, heat, wind, rain, hail, and mosquitos sure didn’t help the men of the expedition. In order to transport all the canoes and baggage they had to make 8 trips, it amounted to 150 miles. It’s hard to believe they accomplished this task in 26 days. At the upper portage camp, they celebrated the 29th anniversary of our nation’s independence on July 4th.

We visited the Interpretive Center. I didn’t realize there were so many Lewis and Clark interpretive centers. But everyone is different and you learn something new every time!

Day 26, The C.M. Russell Museum was our first stop. Charles Russell was an artist from the late 1800s.

His work is very impressive. He had oil paintings, watercolors, bronze statutes, wax statutes, he does everything!

And he does it well! They even had on display letters he wrote to his friends over the years and in his letters, he had drawings. Look how they used to address the envelope. Only the name, city and state!

It was awesome. He painted a huge oil painting of elks and donated the painting to the Elk’s Lodge. Well, the Elk’s Lodge needed money, so it was sold. There is a plague listing all the people who bought a square inch of the painting and I can’t tell you how many names were on that plague, but there was A LOT.

At his studio, right next to the museum,

He painted an oil for the Governor, which is hanging in the State Capitol Building, which is so big that he had to raise the roof of his studio in order to paint it. Then they rolled it up to get it out the door & loaded it on a railroad car for transportation to Helena. He had a real funny sense of humor. When he did the painting, he put a wolf in it who looks like he is ready to attack the speaker of the house.

We ended our day at the Great Falls Heritage Center, where we saw the buffalo used in “Dancing With Wolves”

and viewing the People’s Buffalo Jump. Buffalo Jumps, and there are many of them, is where the Indians would trick the buffalo into jumping off the cliff so that they would be maimed and easier for the Indians to catch.

Many times it was the younger Indians, as young as 11 and 12 years old, who would dress up like a buffalo and start a stampede toward the cliffs. They would dress like buffalo , make sure the wind is blowing away in a direction that the buffalo would not smell them, get the attention of the head buffalo, jump off the cliff, but hang under the ledge and hold one until the buffalos came stampeding after them. By the time the Buffalo could see that there was a cliff ahead, they could not stop and would fall below. Sometimes the Indians would get so excited and the adrenaline would flow and would end up getting stampeded to death themselves.

Everyone was making real nervous hanging close to that drop…..


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