Pleasant, mid-winter day
Warm winds decide to stay
Touch of spring thaws the air
Ideal life, not a care
Hidden, in frigid North
Cold destined to call forth
Prairie living unaware
Grass uncovered, and bare
Few cowboys work the range
Life will soon see big change
Barren land, overgrazed
Cattle wander, unfazed
Calmness warns of trouble
Winter’s wrath comes double
Arctic-fed winds stir up
Wet snow creates pileup
Haunting storm now arrives
Few cattle will survive
Blizzard smothers this land
Conditions, out of hand
Cowboys wait out fierce storm
Snow and cold, nasty swarm
Waiting, hours become days
Prairie, now winter’s maze
Cattle’s cries go unheard
Snow-blinded, vision blurred
Storm’s cruel hand, plays its cards
Life stops, prairie graveyards
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.
Feeling a bit like heaven
Blessed Big Sky, almost home
Paradise spelled as two words
Riding free, spirit’s train roams
Witnessing God’s creative touch
Mountains shaped by nature’s hand
Valleys carved out by rivers
Dreaming of this treasured land
Stirring up past memories
Iron horse roaring at top speed
Long ago, been here before
Coming home, spirits now freed
Flashing by Hi-Line’s vast farms
Cropland caresses these tracks
Golden fields of wheat ripen
Waiting for harvest’s comeback
Fading daylight turns to night
Darkness covers Montana’s peace
Town lights twinkle here and there
Thinking back to life’s past lease
Climbing through Marias Pass
Glacier Park saying good-bye
Big Sky’s wonder never fades
Ageless spirit, dropping by
God’s creation under the Big Sky
Treasured landscape covers this vast land
Immense prairies flow into mountains
Few places on earth looking this grand
Rugged backbone of the continent
Chiseled spine of the Rocky Mountains
Stray mountain ranges dotting the plains
Cascading streams flowing as fountains
Three distinct rivers form its headwaters
Mighty, boundless Missouri River
Eastward, collecting the Yellowstone
Precious mountain rains move downriver
White-tail and mule deer camp in thickets
Pronghorns graze in the midst of grasslands
Mountain valleys gather elk and bears
Ducks and geese pilot into wetlands
Frequently titled the Treasure State
Montana shines under its Big Sky
People flocking to witness its gems
You just might meet a Buckeye nearby
I could probably write something about my native state of Montana every day. It will always be a very special place to me. Watch out, you just might run into a Buckeye returning the the Big Sky.
Growing up under the Big Sky and spending about 50 years living there certainly makes me a citizen for life. This short feature will put the spotlight on how gold fever rushed miners and others into three different regions during the 1860s into the Last, Best Place called Montana.
During America’s Civil War, Montana seemed a bit more preoccupied with gold than war. Three separate gold strikes poured people into western mountain valleys overnight.
Each region was designated with a geographic name as well as the town which sprung up in the midst of gold fever.
- Grasshopper Creek in 1862 (Bannock)
- Alder Gulch in 1863 (Virginia City)
- Last Chance Gulch in 1864 (Helena)
Montana became a territory in 1864 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Congressional legislation into law. Each of these three gold mining communities would serve for a time as territorial capital.
Bannock (Territorial Capital 1864-1865)
This boom town started from Montana’s first significant gold strike. Along an unassuming creek, hundreds of miners made the trek into Montana. Today, Bannock is a ghost town, but a state park preserves the town’s structures.
These Bannack pictures (courtesy of Pinterest) show the exterior of a Masonic Temple and the interior of another building.
Virginia City (Territorial Capital 1865-1875)
One of the world’s largest placer gold strikes proved much richer than Montana’s first discovery along Grasshopper Creek. While Bannack declined, Virginia City thrived. Today, the town serves as the county seat of Madison County with the historic courthouse formerly being the territorial capitol.
These photos were taken during a summer, 2016 trip to Montana which included an opportunity to visit Virginia City. The Madison County Courthouse (formerly the Territorial Capitol) is on the left. Virginia City is a unique community with the 21st Century living alongside of the preserved historical district as shown in the photo on the right (the inside of a business as it looked back in the gold rush days).
Helena (Territorial Capital 1875-1889)
A forlorn group of prospectors decided to pan for gold. Their “last chance” before moving on proved to be the discovery which turned the region into a mad scramble of miners and businesses. The gulch later became a meandering avenue (the original Main Street) in Helena, Montana’s capital city when statehood became a reality in 1889.
The above images (courtesy of Pinterest) show the contrast of Last Chance Gulch from earlier times on the left with the modern walking mall of today.
Thanks for visiting as Big Sky Buckeye appreciates your readership. Stay tuned for future posts about the Last, Best Place of Montana.
I must admit that I have been feeling a bit homesick in thinking of my native state of Montana, where much of my family still lives. This poem and photographs share some past memories of experiencing these awesome wonders of the Big Sky state, and I look forward to visiting when Covid-19 finally takes a backseat.
Dreaming often of Montana’s Big Sky
Feeling more like an eagle, flying high
Revisiting wide open eastern plains
Watching combines harvesting ripened grains
Driving switchbacks on the Beartooth Highway
Topping amazing heights, wishing to stay
Floating the Yellowstone, like yesterday
Spending time with old friends, lasting all day
Scaling Baldy Mountain, there’s just one goal
Reaching the “M” without taking a roll
Fishing the scenic Madison once more
Joining Herb and his grandson, trout in store
Exploring limestone caverns underground
Enjoying mysteries, yet to be found
Walking the Bear Paw Mountains near Chinook
Learning Nez Perce history, without books
Motoring down the “Going to the Sun”
Chasing this highway to the setting sun
Flying over this amazing “Last Best Place”
Returning soon for another sweet taste
Growing up in Montana and spending about 50 years living there certainly makes me a citizen for life. This short feature will shine the spotlight on three questions about the “Last Best Place” called Montana.
Here are three questions which will be answered in a moment or two. Good luck with your responses. Bonus points are awarded for anyone who scores a perfect 100%, without searching on the Internet.
- What is the coldest temperature ever recorded in the lower 48 states of the United States? Where did it occur?
- What are the two most popular nicknames used for Montana? What is the background behind each name?
- What is the most sparsely populated county in Montana?
The coldest temperature ever recorded is -70F on January 20, 1954. The location was Rogers Pass, which is located on Montana Highway 200 along the Continental Divide at an elevation of 5,610 feet. The thermometer malfunctioned because of the extreme cold, and a laboratory tested the broken thermometer to make a final determination on how cold it was on that January night.
Montana’s two most popular nicknames are the Treasure State and the Big Sky Country. The Treasure State has gained a presence because of Montana’s rich gold and silver deposits. The Big Sky Country was popularized to promote tourism in the state. With permission of author A. B. Guthrie, the state acquired the use of his best-selling novel’s title The Big Sky. Guthrie’s writing was honored with a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1950.
Last of all, the most sparsely populated county (out of 56) is Garfield County. Depending on the population figures used, the statistics may vary just a bit. The county covers 4,849 square miles (of Montana’s 147,164) with an estimated population of 1,268, which equals an astonishing .261 people per square mile. For comparison’s sake, the state of Connecticut has a land size of 4,858 square miles, with a population density of approximately 738 people per square mile.
Thanks for your participation. Stay tuned for future posts about the “Last Best Place” of Montana.
Peace and solitude
Cross-country skiing beckons—
Three rivers join up
Mighty Missouri River—
Headwaters . . . God’s gift
Lone Mountain summit
Powder blowing all around—
Skiing the Big Sky
Pronghorn speeds away
Gentle breeze blowing
Rippling waves of amber grain—
Harvest time awaits
Dark thunderclouds form
Bringing devastating harm—
Escaping storm’s wrath
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 along 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. 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 to 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 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.