The Bozeman Trail

The Bozeman trail

The Bozeman trail

“These are the old stomping grounds for Howard,” said Mike Penfold, OM’s Conservation Director. “We had a great time this trip.”

Mike and Howard spent three nights in a tiny camper trailer as they trekked across the Crow Indian reservation in search of traces of the 1860’s Bozeman Trail.

“This was the last gold rush trail in the US”

, says Mike. However, it was the first significant incursion of population in Montana and it was very dangerous.

Gold having been discovered in 1862, the trail was active from 1863-68, from Fort Laramy on the Platt River to the legendary Virginia and Nevada Cities, deep in Indian Country. Miners, immigrants, many with families and some unarmed, traveled from all over the continent to try their luck at striking it rich. Sadly, the gold ran out fast, but many of the miners chose to stay, having discovered the breathtaking beauty of Montana’s amazing landscape.

Howard, a Crow Indian, knows the territory well, having grown up on a horse and roaming the far reaches of the reservation as a boy. Often during this trail search, Howard told anecdotes about the families in the region, stories of hardships, of alcoholism, but also of treasured traditions, of chasing cattle and wild horses and of the freedom that comes from growing up in such a vast, open place.

The purpose of the trip, simply, was to find more remnants of the trail and the camping spots where the miners stopped so that it can all be documented on maps. In many places, the trail’s softened ruts are still visible. In some places, the old trail has been recycled for use as a newer road and is still in use today.

This work was started by Howard om the early 1990’s, stemming from his interest in history. As a youngster, Howard sat quietly and listed to the stories told by the elders of his tribe. Thanks to the latest technology, the story of the Bozeman Trail can be accurately retold to those of us with a keen interest in our past.

Read more on the Bozeman Trail in the November 01, 2014 Billings Gazette article “YelCo 52: Historic Bozeman Trail briefly cut across county’s ‘wildest looking hills“.