Lodge Grass High students, from left, Ashton Old Elk, Ferlin Blacksmith and Deallen Little Light stop with their horses on the top of small rim at the Grapevine Creek battlefield this week. (David Grubbs/Billings Gazette)
The first interpretive project ever to take place at the Fort C.F. Smith site in southern Montana took place this week as part of a collaboration between the Crow Tribe and the National Park Service.
The site — now deonated only with a stone and metal marker — was built by the U.S. Army on the Bozeman Trail along the Bighorn River to protect people traveling to Virginia City’s gold camps, Brett French of the Billings Gazette writes here.
“Anywhere else in America, this would be a really big site,” says Col. Berris Samples, leader of the Lodge Grass Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, who brought Crow students there this week. He also took the students to the site of the Grapevine Creek battle between the Crow and the Blackfeet.
The sites, on the Crow reservation, are typically closed to anyone other than Crow tribal members, but because of a collaboration with the Junior ROTC group, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area staff was able to accompany the group and give presentations to the students. (Watch a video of the day’s events, here.)
“This is the first interpretive program ever given at the site of Fort C.F. Smith,” Chris Wilkinson, chief of interpretation for the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, tells French.
Wilkinson told the group that the fort — the most isolated along the Bozeman Trail — was built in 1864 to protect white emigrants from raids by the Sioux and Cheyenne:
Chris Wilkinson, chief of interpretation for the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, speaks to Lodge Grass students about Fort C.F. Smith on Tuesday near the site where the flagpole once stood. (David Grubbs/Billings Gazette)
“Your ancestors, the Crow Nation, were stuck in the middle of this,” Wilkinson told the JROTC students.
Without the help of Crow Indians acting as scouts, mail carriers and providing food to starving soldiers in the winter of 1867, Fort C.F. Smith might not have lasted two years.
“I do not believe there is any greater example of hospitality to the U.S. Army,” Wilkinson said.
“Why do I tell you this today?” he asked rhetorically. “By celebrating your legacy, you are following in your ancestors’ footsteps and extending hospitality. We thank you for allowing us to visit your sites.”
At the site of the Grapevine Creek battle, where the Crow defeated a Blackfeet band, students raised a tepee.
Theo Hugs, who retired last year from the Bighorn Canyon NRA, tells French that the interaction between the tribe and the National Park Service is long overdue.
“I think the kids need to know their heritage,” she says.
Tags: Apsaalooke, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Blackfeet, Bozeman Trail, buffalo post, Cheyenne, Crow Tribe, Grapevine Creek Battle, Gwen Florio, National Park Service, Native American news, Sioux, U.S. Army, Virginia City