Downstream from the steamboat port of Fort Benton, the currents of the Missouri River find ways to hide a mystery from the night.
Montana Territorial Secretary, Thomas Francis Meagher, has disappeared late at night outside of Fort Benton. In the absence of the Territorial Governor, he is the acting governor.
What has happened to Meagher on this quiet evening on July 1, 1867?
Traveling by steamboat, Meagher appears to have fallen overboard. His body is quickly swallowed up by the Missouri River’s unforgiving waters, never to be seen again.
No one really knows what actually has happened, or better yet, they are keeping quiet about the dark happenings on this July night.
Meagher is known to be a heavy drinker. Is he killed in an accidental drowning when he mysteriously falls overboard?
Or did he succumb to suicide provoked by disillusionment with his shattered, personal dreams?
With many enemies, perhaps Meagher is murdered aboard this steamboat, and his body is forgotten as it conveniently floats far downstream in the swift currents of the river.
This “immortal” Irishman’s life is honored with a high degree of irony. In an unusual tribute for a relatively unknown man with a dubious past, a statue of him is erected in 1905 and placed on the grounds in front of the State Capitol in Helena. In the central region of the state, Meagher County is named for him.
Here are a few additional facts about Thomas Francis Meagher:
He is born in Ireland in 1823.
As an Irish nationalist, he participates in the Rebellion of 1848 and is sentenced to serve in a Tasmanian prison. However, he escapes in 1852, and eventually ends up in the United States.
During the American Civil War, he joins the Union Army as part of the “Fighting 69th” Irish Brigade. He rises to the rank of brigadier general.
Following the war, his dreams take him to the Montana Territory. In his future, he hopes to build an Irish-Catholic colony and pursue a career as a U.S. Senator.
The longest river in the United States is the Missouri River, and its headwaters are found in southwestern Montana near the town of Three Forks. The 1930s and the Great Depression held the Treasure State in its catastrophic grip, but economic relief was on the way.
The rest of the story takes place in northeastern Montana, not far from the communities of Glasgow and Nashua. Here the largest construction project in the state’s history would create a man-made lake covering 134 miles with 1,520 miles of shoreline. By far, this lake would be the largest in the state.
With the blessings of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, construction of the Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River began in 1933. This massive undertaking would finally see completion in 1940 as World War II was tearing the European continent apart.
Providing work for nearly 11,000 displaced people was the driving force behind the project. Several small towns sprang up near the construction area: Fort Peck, Square Deal, New Deal, Park Grove, Delano Heights, and Wheeler. Today, only Fort Peck and Park Grove remain.
Fort Peck Dam is the world’s largest hydraulic earth-filled dam. Dredge cuts in the area remind one of the searches for much needed mud and earth to be used in building the dam.
Here is a sampling of a few facts about the dam.
The dam’s length is about 3.5 miles, and Montana Highway 24 runs over it as well as the spillway.
The spillway is actually three miles east of the dam. The first cover of LIFE magazine (November, 1936) featured the mammoth spillway under construction.
Four diversion tunnels go under the dam to bring water from the reservoir to the hydroelectric power plant. Each is about a mile in length and 24 feet in diameter.
Fort Peck Lake provides six recreation areas, numerous fishing and boating access sites, and an interpretative center and museum (found near the power plant).
On a personal note, I had the privilege to know Joe Morin who worked on the construction of the dam. Here’s a quote of his, “Everybody knew what a massive project it was, but everybody was so thankful to have a job.” Joe’s work ethic would serve him well for the rest of his life, with most of it spent in Montana’s McCone County.
Montana’s PBS has produced a well-received documentary about the Fort Peck Dam. Even if one doesn’t have time to view the entire video, the first few minutes capture the magnitude and significance of this construction project to the people of northeastern Montana.
Here are links to the previous two posts featuring more Big Sky Treasures:
During my teaching career, I taught 25 years in the eastern prairie country of Montana. Today, many small farming communities struggle for survival while others such as the one in this poem live on only as memories.
Early spring foliage surrounds the tranquil setting of Walnut Creek in central Ohio.
Here is the massive spillway of the Fort Peck Dam in northeastern Montana. The dam was constructed in the 1930s as a Public Works Administration project to create jobs during the Great Depression. Life magazine’s first cover (November 23, 1936) displayed a photo of the spillway under construction along with an article about the boom towns which grew up around the dam site. (Click on this link to read more: Fort Peck Dam
An autumn walk discovers this “huge” hole in a tree trunk, perhaps created by a woodpecker and now providing a home for a nest. My camera enjoys making journeys to nearby nature parks such as Chestnut Ridge Metro Park.
My Bobcat Spirit lives on (Class of 1978). This collage of photos was taken inside of the Strand Union Building on the campus of Montana State University. The city of Bozeman and the MSU Bobcats will always be part of my memories.
Peeking through the shadows of the thick vegetation, bright sunlight captures a meadow filled with tall, lush grass. There are many scenes like this one to be found when walking the trails at Chestnut Ridge Metro Park near Columbus, Ohio.
Capturing the crashing surf along the beach at Ocean City, Maryland. This picture reminds us that God’s creation continues to thrive and bring us hope.
The village of Oxford offers a unique bed and breakfast experience on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The Oxford Inn combines warm hospitality, charming and simple rooms, and a delicious breakfast menu. A limited dinner menu is usually available on certain nights of the week.
A view up one of the peaks at Big Sky Resort in Montana. Big Sky offers impressive skiing conditions, and it rates as one of top skiing destinations in the U.S.
A restored car from yesteryear proudly shows off in the annual Labor Day Parade in Pickerington, Ohio.
Welcome to a Bozeman tradition, and one of Montana’s treasures. The small sandwich shop on the right is the Pickle Barrel, famous for its delicious sub sandwiches. This building used to be a barber shop before being renovated into a sandwich shop in 1974. The shop is located on West College Street across from Montana State University. If you visit, remember to retrieve a fresh pickle from the pickle barrel. Your sandwich will thank you.
An early morning sunrise awakens around a farm in central Ohio.
From an overlook along Interstate 68, one finds an impressive view of the Youghiogheny River, which creates a natural border between West Virginia and Maryland.
A picturesque Montana scene as the Yellowstone River flows eastward with a background of trees, hillsides, and mountains.
Near Westerville, the Hoover Dam provides the city of Columbus, Ohio and surrounding communities with much of their water supply. Completed in 1955, the Hoover Reservoir uses the water from Big Walnut Creek for a multitude of recreational opportunities as well.
The Madison River canyon is the site of a major earthquake which occurred in the Hebgen Lake area on a quiet summer evening in August, 1959. Pictured on the other side of the highway, one can still see the scar left on the mountainside when a quake-induced landslide tore away the face of the mountain.
Foggy conditions surround the giant sycamore tree at Walnut Woods Metro Park in central Ohio. This is one of my favorite places to walk, and adding fog to the mystery of the park is a welcome opportunity for my camera to capture.
A unique summer moment is captured with a praying mantis who is enjoying the sun while resting on the door of my automobile.
Long Wharf along the Choptank River at Cambridge, Maryland offers a fascinating bit of history. Pictured is the FDR Smokestack Memorial, and it is the honored resting place for one of the actual smokestacks from President Franklin Roosevelt’s Presidential yacht, the USS Potomac. The ship was equipped with two smokestacks, but one was covertly converted into a simple elevator to allow FDR (stricken with polio) to move his wheelchair between decks.
What do you think? Does this rebuilt cabin look ready for use? At least, there is a small pile of firewood and useful work table outside. The roof may need some work before the next rain. This scene was captured in Nevada City, Montana (located a “gold nuggets” throw away from its larger sister community of Virginia City in history-rich Madison County).
An early fall setting is captured at central Ohio’s Chestnut Ridge Metro Park. The landscape colors are beginning to change as images of the sky’s clouds reflect in the pond.
A peaceful and tranquil Hebgen Lake is captured in the late afternoon. The lake is created by a dam on the Madison River (dam is pictured in the background). Hebgen Lake is located in southwestern Montana, not far from Yellowstone National Park.
Walking along the beach at Ocean City, Maryland and finding an amazing and inspiring sand sculpture.
Chestnut Ridge Metro Park is one of gems in the park system surrounding Columbus, Ohio. The distinctive fall colors illustrate a dynamic presentation of God’s creative spirit.
Viewed from its western face, Sphinx Mountain is a well-known landmark in southwestern Montana’s Madison Range. With its elevation of 10,840 feet, the mountain brings an imposing presence above the valley below.
Autumn’s colorful scenery arrives at Walnut Woods Metro Park in central Ohio.
Southwestern Montana’s landscape offers the diversity of grassy valleys, wandering rivers, tree-lined foothills, and majestic mountains (still with a splash of snow in July).
An abandoned corn silo stands watch over a corn field which is ready for harvest in central Ohio, just minutes outside of Canal Winchester.
Following the highway between Ennis, Montana and Hebgen Lake, offers many venues for a photographer’s camera lens to capture. The entrance to the Mill Creek Ranch offers plenty of contrast with blooming sweet clover along the road along with the Madison Range of mountains in the background. Notice the snow still clinging to a few of the north-facing slopes (picture was taken in July).
The rising sun illuminates a small boat checking crab pots (traps) on the Choptank River near Cambridge, Maryland.
Late summer brings bright colors to the wooded areas of nearby parks in central Ohio.
A walk down the main street of Ennis, in southwestern Montana, offers views of some of the most unique storefronts anywhere. One can see and feel the passion of the community’s proud heritage and way of life.
A peaceful and tranquil garden is found late in the summer in the village of Lithopolis, which is located south of the Columbus, Ohio metro area.
A drive through the Hysham Hills along Montana’s I-94 offers contrast between the grasslands and ponderosa pines dotting the hillsides. The ponderosa pine is the state tree of Montana. This photo was taken about an hour’s drive east of Billings.
An April view of tranquil surroundings along Walnut Creek in central Ohio.
Pausing for a moment along Montana’s Madison River (between Ennis and Hebgen Lake), offers a scene of tranquility and beauty.
A massive American Sycamore tree is framed by surrounding trees at Walnut Woods Metro Park in central Ohio. The tree may be over a hundred years old, and it is a well-known landmark at the park.
Growing in Chestnut Ridge Metro Park in central Ohio, many hikers stop and admire this unusually shaped fruit growing above their heads. The pawpaw tree is a native tree to Ohio, and its fruit is a vital part of the food chain for many types of wildlife. The fruit offers a unique taste that is somewhere between a mango and a banana.
Just down the road from Ennis, Montana, visitors will find Virginia City as well as Nevada City. Both communities contain rich artifacts of history from the gold rush days of the 1860s and 1870s. This small cabin was probably moved into Nevada City, but it represents some of the housing found during the time period.
Blooming flowers announce the arrival of spring at Ohio’s Chestnut Ridge Metro Park.
In downtown Billings, the unique architecture of the Western Heritage Center stands as witness of the city’s rich and diverse history in the Big Sky Country. Built in 1901, the structure originally provided a home for the Parmly Billings Memorial Library.
Nature shows off her green splendor and sends peaceful vibes outward on an early June morning at central Ohio’s Walnut Woods Metro Park.
The Beartooth Mountains frame the background above a Montana valley. If one looks closely, snow is still hiding in the upper ridges of the peaks on a mid-summer afternoon.
The green, lush vegetation welcomes all to central Ohio’s Chestnut Ridge Metro Park where anyone feels in harmony with God’s creation.
Visiting a shop in Montana’s historic Virginia City, a person just might happen to find this fine gentleman offering greetings to all who drop in.
A foggy, misty morning outlines a beautiful framed image of a spider’s web between the posts on the Big Run bridge at central Ohio’s Walnut Woods Metro Park.
A roadside stop allows a moment to capture the scenic view along Interstate 15 in Montana between Great Falls and Helena. A highway bridge that was constructed in the 1930s is visible at the bottom of the narrow valley.
Arrival of flowers marks the return of spring to Ohio’s Chestnut Ridge Metro Park.
Montana’s Holter Lake offers many types of recreation for anyone with a boat. A small marina is shown (from the summer of 2018), and the lake is located near the small community of Wolf Creek.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is well-known for its outstanding array of wildlife from around the world as well as its animal conservation efforts. The “Heart of Africa” exhibit displays the African savanna as one might find it . . . filled with village life, giraffes, zebras, and so much more.
A final look back at winter as shown near Lone Mountain in the Madison Range near Big Sky, Montana. As one looks at the far peaks in the background, think of the snowmelt that will soon fill the raging whitewater in the Gallatin River.
Summer shadows greet any walker at central Ohio’s Chestnut Ridge Metro Park. This photo was taken from a trail through the trees into a grassy meadow.
This summer garden comes from Billings, Montana at the Moss Mansion, which is an historic house now maintained as a museum.
With winter fading away in favor of the spring season, thoughts will soon be thinking of beautiful wild flowers and rich green fields. This photo was taken last summer at Chestnut Ridge Metro Park in central Ohio.
My youngest daughter and her husband completed a winter hike into Hyalite Canyon south of Bozeman, Montana. The popular recreation area is located between the Gallatin Canyon and the Paradise Valley.
The Polar vortex and repeated snowstorms in central Ohio have made the winter of January-February, 2019 one to remember.
The beauty of western Montana is captured at Holter Lake, near the small town of Wolf Creek. The lake is a popular summer recreation destination as seen in this photo from late July of 2018.
These Canadian geese seem immune to the polar vortex and snowfall in central Ohio.
A February snowstorm moves over the summit of Lone Mountain in southwestern Montana. The Big Sky Resort occupies the mountain, which is well known for its first-class skiing in the wintertime.
Ohio’s winter blankets the ground with a fresh coating of snow. The Canadian geese on the pond don’t seem to mind winter’s arrival.
Pioneer Falls in the Spanish Peaks of Montana’s Madison Range is expertly captured by my daughter and her husband on one of their wilderness hikes.
An early autumn sunset dazzles and amazes as night arrives in central Ohio.
Central Ohio’s Chestnut Ridge Metro Park in full summer foliage.
My youngest daughter and her husband are avid skiers. They took this picture of Blaze Mountain in the Spanish Peaks of the Madison Range of southwestern Montana. They have skied the backcountry ski line a few times during the summer. The beautiful and long snowfield fills a small gully that runs down the northwestern face of the mountain. Skiers have to hike to the snowfield, but for an avid skier, it is well worth the effort.
A view of downtown Billings, Montana from this past summer. Notice the smoked-filled sky in the background; the smoke came from fires far from Billings.
From Walnut Woods Metro Park, the landscape has changed from the bright colors of autumn to the gray and barrenness of the coming winter.
Summer’s clouds create shadows that cover part of the vast countryside near the Little Bighorn Battlefield in southeastern Montana.
A nesting pair of Canadian geese prepare to make a new home this past spring.
Autumn’s leaves have fallen, and winter is on the way at central Ohio’s Chestnut Ridge Metro Park.
Soon the mountains of the Big Sky Country will be filled with snow just as seen in this scene from last winter near Lone Mountain at Big Sky, Montana.
An autumn sunrise illuminates the beauty of Ohio’s Walnut Woods Metro Park.
Ohio’s Chestnut Ridge Metro Park during mid-summer.
A late July view of the Gallatin Valley, just outside of Bozeman, Montana.
The images and traditions prior to the start of an Ohio State University football game. This photo was taken by my daughter who attended the game with her husband.
Traveling back to Montana, Phil and Phyllis arrive from back East. They’ve brought their teenage grandson along to fish the Gallatin River.
Staying at the Rainbow Ranch, they plan to fly fish right along the river, which runs adjacent to the property. The Ranch employs a fishing guide during the summer months. Bert knows all of the best spots to fish on the Gallatin, and he is always bragging about his fishing prowess. As he always reminds people, “experience counts.”
Complaining under his breath, Bert takes the trio of fishing pilgrims to the river. He always frowns upon city folks who come out to the Gallatin to fish. Mumbling under his breath, “All novices . . . they have no clue about fishing a river.”
Bert sets up Phil and his grandson, and they begin making tentative casts on to the river. Each has fished very little, and their inexperience offers a bit of amusement for Bert.
Meanwhile, Phyllis moves down the river a few paces from Bert. She shouts out to Bert, “I wonder who will catch the first fish?”
Bert replies, “A piece of ‘rainbow trout’ cake my dear!”
Bert begins to cast several times with little luck, not even a bite. He glances down the river bank at Phyllis, and reminds himself he has plenty of time to catch the “first” fish.
Phyllis spies a perfect hole in front of two rocks. She casts her first line perfectly into her chosen spot. Hmm, Bert didn’t even see her awesome cast because he is too busy with his own fishing.
Phyllis’ line goes taut. She has a “granddaddy” rainbow trout hooked on her line.
Bert looks over at her with dismay. Phyllis laughs and continues reeling in her prize catch. Calling over to Bert, she shouts, “Experience counts, you know.”
As she lands a hefty, beautiful rainbow trout in the tall grass along the river bank, she tells Bert more of her story, “I fished these same waters years ago as a little girl. My daddy taught me well. I practically grew up on this river.”
Bert realizes he has been had. If he does catch a trout today, it will likely taste more like crow.
A freak event of nature found Montana turned in a winter wonderland over a period of a couple of days. In the meantime, nearly all of the United States was enjoying the arrival of an early summer. At times, living under the Big Sky does require a sense of humor.
Montana’s Crazy Mountains stand as a sentry above the valley near the town of Big Timber. Nicknamed the “Crazies,” the wind always seems to be blowing. If you wish to read more about them, here is a link to the mountains.
This poem attempts to capture the daunting winter of 1886-1887 on the prairies in the Montana Territory when the Open Range’s cattle industry collapsed from its near annihilation. Russell’s artwork says even more than words can describe.
This poem is dedicated to the many lives which have come and gone along the tracks of the Great Northern Railroad from years ago. Perhaps you can feel the living spirit still riding the Empire Builder passenger train across the Hi-Line of Montana.