Today, we travelled from Shelby, Montana to Williston, North Dakota. We spent a lot more time driving today, though we did take a detour to the Bear Paw Battlefield, part of the Nez Perce National Historic Park. The park, scattered over several sites around Montana, commemorates the flight of the Nez Perce and their ultimate surrender to the US Government at the Bear Paw Battlefield. It’s an uncomfortable thing to “commemorate.” In the pantheon of poor treatment to native peoples, the Nez Perce are near the top of the list. The few interpretive signs at the battlefield site do not hesitate to point this out. The park appears to be a work in progress at this time - it was just recently taken over by the National Park Service - with a mowed trail through the prairie grass and small metal stakes hammered in the ground wherever something important happened. Many of these stakes had offerings of flowers, fruit, hats, or other gifts placed around them.
The rest of the day involved passing through farm and ranch land (one sign proclaimed “Welcome to Beef Country”) and many small farming towns. A regular pattern developed: drive 70 mph for 10 or 15 miles, slow down to 45 mph, pass the “Welcome to <town name here>” sign, spot the grain elevator by the railroad tracks, slow down to 25 mph for another half mile or so, then speed back up to 70 mph leaving town. Most of the towns had a gas station and a grain elevator; a few were nothing but a collection of houses on the prairie; others had restaurants, several grain elevators, and a “Home of the State Champions” sign reminding travellers that their high school once won the Montana State Division B girls’ softball championship, or something similar. Those signs must drive folks from neighboring towns crazy! It’s a really different world, but we like it here. At the battlefield, we could hear the wind rustling through the grass, the air whistling by our ears, a few grasshoppers. There was nothing else to hear. The horizon stretches out forever; the fields never end.
Much of our journey today paralleled both the Great Northern Railway line (we saw the west bound Amtrak Empire Builder whizz by, along with several freight trains) and the Milk River, which provided enough water for a line of trees that broke up the view at times. There were plenty of cattle and sheep, and bales of hay everywhere.
In non-travel news, Kathy got an email from her sister’s husband announcing the birth of their son, Joseph Dean on Tuesday at 8:26 pm: 8 pounds, 9 ounces and 21 inches long. Baby and mother are doing fine.