Big Sky Treasures #8

One of Montana’s most treasured gems resides in Glacier National Park.  Founded in 1910, the park sits along the Rocky Mountain spine of northwestern Montana with the Blackfeet Reservation nestled to its east.

With over 700 miles of trails, the park fulfills any hiker’s paradise.  Trails range from easy (Trail of the Cedars), to moderate (Avalanche Lake), to strenuous (Grinnell Glacier).  A variety of wildlife populates the park with over 70 types of mammals and over 260 avian species. 

With nicknames of “Crown of the Continent” and “Backbone of the World”, Glacier National Park provides quite an experience with some of America’s most exceptional natural wonders.  Mountains, scenic vistas, rivers, lakes, and glaciers wait to be captured by any photographer’s camera.

Lake McDonald stands as one the hallmark sights to visit with its crystal-clear waters and mountainous surroundings.

Lake McDonald (courtesy of Pinterest)

The Going-to-the-Sun highway presents an incredible automobile journey, second to none. 

One of the grandest hotels in the park is found at Many Glacier Hotel, which is located along Swiftcurrent Lake.  It has been open since 1915, and was designed as a series of chalets.  When one looks at its two-story structure, it is easy to believe that the location might be Switzerland instead of Montana.

Built in 1936, the Swiftcurrent Fire Outlook offers quite a view.  One feels almost like standing on the top of the world.

Swiftcurrent Fire Outlook (courtesy of Pinterest)

Grandparents Love Story (Episode Two)

From 1939, a scene of downtown Billings, Montana. This is the eventual home for a young couple moving to Billings about three years earlier. (courtesy of Pinterest)

Grandparents Jim and Marge experienced a love story that began in their teenage years.  Little did they know where life planned to take them in the years to come.

In 1911, Jim was born in the tiny town of Marmarth, North Dakota.  The small community of about 800 was founded as a railroad town along the Milwaukee Road line.  The transcontinental railroad traveled from Chicago, Illinois to Seattle, Washington.

When Jim was an infant, his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio.  He excelled academically and athletically during his school years.

Born in 1912, Marge already lived in Ohio when Jim moved there.  Eventually their lives intersected during junior high school.  Her father was a Cleveland native while her mother was born in Belfast, Ireland.

With their love blossoming, Jim and Marge were married in 1928.  Jim pursued his career goal of becoming an engineer with his studies at the University of Akron. 

Sadly, the arrival of the Great Depression crushed Jim’s pursuit of a college degree.  With money very tight, Jim needed to pursue a different career.

In 1936, Jim, Marge, and their first-born son traveled to Billings, Montana.  Jim had been hired to work for a wholesale and produce grocer.  Working for the Gamble-Robinson Company for 40 years, Jim eventually became the general manager of its Billings office.

When World War II arrived, Jim accepted his responsibility and served with distinction in the U.S. Army until being honorably discharged at the war’s end.  Meanwhile his young family endured without him being at home. 

Marge and her three young children managed to make life as pleasant as possible during Jim’s wartime absence.  Unable to drive a car, Marge used other means for transportation.  Rationing of vital commodities during the war made for useful transactions because Marge traded her gasoline ration cards for other ones. 

Billings was growing, but it still had the feel of a smaller, close-knit community.  Neighbors helped out each other.  Church was a center of worship and fellowship for the young family as well.

When Jim returned home, the family continued to live in Billings at the same home.  As childhood sweethearts, Jim and Marge experienced quite a life journey, which took them from their former homes in Ohio to a lasting one in Montana. 

This story recalled the start of my mother’s family.  Being the middle child and only daughter (born in 1938), Martha started a family of her own with the birth of her first child in 1956 (Richard).  Eventually the family would number five sons and one daughter.  

Previously, the story of my paternal grandparents was published.  In case you missed it, here is a link:  Grandparents Love Story (Episode One).

Destiny Calling

Mighty Yellowstone

Accepting her role

Endless, flowing river

Onward journey, its goal

 

Creation’s design

Starting near Yount Peak

In and out of mountains

Deepest canyon she seeks

 

Marked with persistence

Tumbling over falls

Upper, Lower, Tower

Energy never stalls

 

Currents running free

Leaving her alone

Man forsakes building dams

Nature’s free-flowing zone

 

Destiny calling

Joining up as one

Big Muddy’s faithful mate

Yellowstone’s cherished run

 

During its 692 mile journey, the Yellowstone River journeys from the depths of Wyoming’s Absaroka Mountains and Yellowstone National Park into Montana.  Upon merging with the Missouri River just across the North Dakota border, these two mighty rivers become one.  The confluence is located near Ft. Buford and Ft. Union historic sites.  

Trivia’s Facts and More (10/8)

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This informative post will be posted on Saturday along with my usual writing.  You are invited to participate with the opening question.

Brain Teaser Question

Bonnie’s father has five daughters but has no sons.  Four of the daughters are named Chacha, Cheche, Chichi, and Chocho.  What is the fifth daughter’s name?

a) Chuchu

b) Chochu

c) Chuchy

d) Chochy

e) none of these

(answer found at the end of this post)

Featured Facts

Montana’s history began long before being admitted to the Union on November 8, 1889, as the 41st American state.  Nicknamed the Treasure State and later the Big Sky Country, many people and events helped to shape its future.

Some interesting facts about Montana:

  • Yogo sapphires, which are known for their clear, cornflower-blue color, are only mined in Montana.
  • Montana’s meaning is rooted in Spanish–it means “land of mountains.”
  • Ironically, only about one-third of the state is mountainous.  The remaining two-thirds consist of primarily prairie grasslands.

Many political figures from Montana made history far beyond its borders.  In the election of 1916, Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973) was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  She became the first woman ever elected to Congress.

Mike Mansfield (1903-2001) represented Montana in the U.S. Senate from 1953 to 1977.  He also served as Senate Majority Leader from 1961-1977, which is the longest tenure ever.

Answer to Brain Teaser Question

None of these.  The fifth daughter is Bonnie herself.

Grandparents Love Story (Episode One)

From 1939, a scene of downtown Billings, Montana. This is the eventual home for a young couple moving to Billings about 20 years earlier. (courtesy of Pinterest)

Grandparents Herman and Annie experienced a most unusual courtship.  Little did they know where life planned to take them in the years to come.

Herman was born in 1890 in Brainerd, Minnesota.  He moved to North Dakota in 1911, then to Forsyth in eastern Montana.  In 1916, as Europe filled with the winds of war, he arrived in Billings, Montana.  He had been hired to be a mail carrier.

Annie was born in 1895 on a small farm in Harlon County, Nebraska.  Not even a blizzard dared to delay her birth.  Her early schooling was spent in a sod school house.  In 1915, her family moved to Leavenworth, Washington where she finished high school, worked in a photo shop, and was employed as a staff operator by the Great Northern Railroad.

Both of their unassuming lives intersected along the railroad tracks of the Great Northern.  Herman was traveling to Fort Lewis outside of Seattle on a troop train.  He was being trained to serve in the American army which was shipping troops to Europe during World War I. 

Along the rail line, many young ladies passed out slips of paper with their name and address.  Herman received one from Annie.  Later, he sent her a card, and thus began a courtship by correspondence. 

The two of them met briefly at Fort Lewis before Herman shipped out to France.  Upon returning safely from the war, Herman met up with Annie to be married in 1919.

They moved to Billings where Herman still found his mail carrier job waiting.  Together they raised a large family of six sons and two daughters.  Ultimately, the siblings witnessed the blessing of 32 grandchildren.

Taken from the front of the house along Jackson Street, the family home (built in 1920) as it looks today. Nearly all of the large trees have been removed. (courtesy of Pinterest)

This story recalled the start of my father’s family.  Being the youngest child (born in 1935), Jim started a family of his own with the birth of his first child in 1956 (Richard).  Eventually the family would number five sons and one daughter.  My youngest brother became the final grandchild when he was born in 1967.

Big Sky Treasures #7

From World War II, fearless U.S. Navy aviators piloted the SBD Dauntless dive bomber. (courtesy of Pinterest)

During World War II, countless men and women served unselfishly to preserve freedom and a democratic way of life.  From a small Montana homestead came one of these true heroes.

Born in 1914 under the clouds of the Great War (now called World War I), Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa was born in eastern Montana where his family was operating a small farm.  While the homestead site and local post office (Paris, Montana) disappeared long gone, certain memories will always remain.

Following graduation from Circle High School (McCone County in Montana), Vejtasa attended classes at both Montana State College (later renamed Montana State University) and the University of Montana. 

In 1937, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy with the intention of becoming an aviator.  In 1939, he earned his wings at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida.  His first carrier assignment was with the USS Yorktown.  In 1942, he was assigned to the USS Enterprise.

Lieutenant Vejtasa pictured with his 4F4 Wildcat fighter. The Japanese flags displayed on his aircraft represent downed enemy aircraft. He ultimately earned ten. (courtesy of Pinterest)

Vejtasa’s heroic duty as a carrier pilot earned him three Navy Crosses.  He was the only American naval aviator to be awarded medals for both dive bombing and aerial combat. 

On May 7, 1942, Ensign Vejtasa earned his second Navy Cross at the Battle of the Coral Sea.  Flying a SBD Dauntless dive bomber from the USS Yorktown, he successfully attacked and aided in the sinking of a Japanese aircraft carrier.

On October 6, 1942, Lieutenant Vejtasa earned his final Navy Cross while flying from the USS Enterprise as a fighter pilot.  In the Battle of Santa Cruz, he and other pilots provided air cover for the carriers Hornet and Enterprise.  Facing intense dogfights with Japanese fighter planes, he remained cool under fire.  With courage and precision, the lieutenant shot down seven enemy aircraft. 

Captain Vejtasa remained a career officer in the U.S. Navy, and he continued to serve his country until his retirement in 1970.

The following video captured memories of combat as shared by Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa.  He described his experiences from the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Just Because

This post is filled with more personal memories of my native state of Montana.  Enjoy the photographs and poetic verses.  

The Madison River later joins the Gallatin and Jefferson rivers in forming the headwaters of the mighty Missouri River.

Breathtaking land of mountains

Framing endless prairies

Photographer’s dream

 

Never to be forgotten

Visiting roadway stops

Old West

 

Missouri River’s dramatic headwaters

Madison, Gallatin, Jefferson

River trio

 

Richest Hill on Earth

Echoing from Butte

Copper Kings

 

Time eternal stands still

Scenic Big Blackfoot

Fly fishing

 

Flowing waves of grain

Ready for harvest

Golden Triangle

 

Bear Paw, Tobacco Root

Land’s shining mountains

Explorer’s gems

 

Gold and silver’s motto

Oro y Plata

Treasure State

 

Two Dot, Wolf Creek

Hidden on maps

Smallest towns

 

Forgotten back country byway

Terry to Brockway

Badlands wilderness

 

Snow covering mountain peaks

June’s special gift

Spectacular surprise

 

Feeling absolutely, totally free

Timeless Big Sky

Open invitation

 

Visiting “Last Best Place”

Montana each summer

Just because

   

Early June photo of the snow-capped Crazy Mountains just outside of the community of Big Timber.

Returning Home

Photo by Kerry on Pexels.com

Retreating from urban scene

Tasting sweetest land of peace

Montana’s scenic prairie

Rejuvenating new lease

 

Returning home at long last

Embracing much simpler ways

Montana’s dry farming life

Waking to morning’s fresh praise

 

Laboring in nature’s soil

Farming begins at sunrise

Montana’s fields now planted

Waiting for harvest’s lush prize

 

Walking in tall grass so green

Unearthing life’s inner core

Montana’s rural anthem

Fielding life’s daily chores

 

Photo by Magdalena Krekels on Pexels.com

Big Sky Treasures #6

One of Montana’s most enduring legacies has been the appearance of “3-7-77.”  One might ask, what is this? 

Right off the bat, the number might resemble a date (March 7, 1977 or March 7, 1877).  Does anyone really know?

Historians are not on the same page with the meaning of this number, but most agree that the symbol was first used by the Vigilance Committee of Virginia City, Montana in the 1860s.

In southwestern Montana during the early 1860s, gold fever surpasses the nation’s Civil War in its importance.  Even before the Montana Territory is created in 1864, the lure of gold is bringing hundreds and later thousands to the future Treasure State.

Three early gold discoveries set in motion the migration of fortune hunters into the areas of Grasshopper Creek, Alder Gulch, and Last Chance Gulch.  Unfortunately, the undesirables often accompany the miners into the territory in search of appropriating gold dust from their rightful owners.  Yes, highwaymen and robbers lurk in the shadows, waiting to strike.

In the Bannock and Virginia City areas, robberies continue to be a problem, and eventually miners and others feel a need to create their own methods of policing with quick justice. 

In February, 1864, justice comes at the end of a hangman’s rope for 21 villains, including Sheriff Henry Plummer in Bannock.  The sheriff is presumed to be working outside of the law in cooperation with a gang of criminals, who have been successfully robbing gold shipments from the mines.

Let’s return back to “3-7-77” and see where this investigation goes.

A few quick questions come to mind:

  • Is the symbol a warning to other robbers and highwaymen?
  • Could it be a command for certain roughnecks to leave town?
  • Do the numbers represent the dimensions of a grave (3 feet by 7 feet by 77 inches)?

Whether used as a warning, code, or cipher, the symbol of “3-7-77” remains pretty much a mystery.  Is it just some type of secret vigilante code or something more?

Some historians feel that the Freemasons were quite involved in the organization of the Vigilance Committee.  In Bannock, the first lodge meeting takes place in 1862 with “three” founders present.  Perhaps “seven” Freemasons organized the Vigilance Committee.  At the same time, Mason #77 (last name Bell) died from the fever.

Could the use of “3-7-77” have been a vigilante warning to outlaws to get out of town in 3 hours, 7 minutes, and 77 seconds?

In nearby Helena, were occasional roughnecks sent out of town with a $3 ticket on the 7:00 a.m. stagecoach to Butte by order of a secret committee of 77?

Again, much is left to speculation because many Freemasons were opposed to vigilante actions and were never excited about publically displaying secret codes such as “3-7-77.”

Over time, the symbol of “3-7-77” has been painted on doors, walls, fences.  Some suspected criminals, who were caught and hanged, were discovered with a note attached to their clothing with “3-7-77.”

In modern times, “3-7-77” remains visible in one way that many Montanans see frequently.  In 1956, the Highway Patrol adopted the symbol as a tribute to the vigilantes, Montana’s first police force.  The emblem on their uniform shirts proudly displays “3-7-77.”

Fewer Montanans know that the Montana Air National Guard uses the symbol on their flight suits.

The meaning of “3-7-77” will be debated for years to come, but one truth is clear.  The early gold rush days in Montana create an environment ripe for robbers and outlaws.  Without any type of organized law enforcement in the 1860s, concerned citizens find a way to take action with the formation of a Vigilance Committee. 

Big Sky Treasures #5

Gracing the Treasure State with a magical oasis, Columbia Gardens will always reign as one of Montana’s past gems.  Now forgotten along with the “richest hill on earth,” Butte’s utopian paradise hearkens back to its mining past.

Copper ruled Montana from the underground mines of Butte to the State Capitol in Helena.  The ore from copper-rich veins even reached across America to influence the nation’s capital.  Many knew of Butte, America (the city liked to say). 

Businessman and mining magnate, William A. Clark, welcomed an opportunity to gift the mining families of Butte as well as to pave the way to his election as U.S. Senator.  He bestowed a magnificent park with every imaginable attraction; while at the same time, he purchased a significant vote in the Montana legislature (U.S. Senators back in the day were elected by each state’s legislature until the 17th Amendment allowed for their direct election).

Built in 1899, Columbia Gardens would eventually grow to cover 68 acres in the city of Butte.  Admission would always be free, and concessions and rides could be purchased for a small price.  Over its lifetime, the park would never generate a profit.  The “richest hill on earth” always paid the bills.

The park became well-known outside of the Treasure State when President Theodore Roosevelt visited in 1903.  Thousands would continue to enjoy Columbia Gardens for almost eight decades.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the major Columbia Gardens’ attractions:

Grand Pavilion:  Big band music and dancing

Sports Stadium:  Baseball home for minor league’s Butte Miners

Roller Coaster:  Multiple stories high (built in 1906)

Zoo:  Featuring Montana’s wildlife

Various Rides:  Ferris wheel, mini train, carousel, bi-planes

Visitors also enjoyed walking the well-maintained grounds.  The immaculate park shined as a garden for the ages.  Every week one day was set aside as a “Children’s Day” with the emphasis on just plain ol’ fun.

Butte’s slow demise from its greatness as the “richest hill on earth” caved in as the 1970s approached.  In 1973, Columbia Gardens closed for good.  No longer would summers be filled with the excitement of another season at the park.  Copper’s riches had built the park, and now they would take it away.