Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Contours of the Land

For the last few days I’ve been posting a section of the Harrison Fagg Browning-Blackfeet Comprehensive Planning report that was called “Background,” and mostly consisted of history. It was competently (if diplomatically) written but merely scratched the surface.

It’s useful to accumulate bibliographies of such writing, both so a person can explore more and so facts can be checked. This is the bibliography used by the anonymous writer of “Background.” It was not written in proper scholar’s form.

“The Story of the Blackfeet” by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“Investigation of the B.I.A.” by the U.S. 82nd Congress.
“Blackfeet Withdrawal” from a U.S. Congressional Hearing.
“Annual Reports of Blackfeet Agents” by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior.
“The Story of the Blackfeet” by John Ewers, Smithsonian Institute.
“Blackfeet Crafts” by John Ewers, Smithsonian Institute.
“From Wilderness to Statehood” by James McClellan Hamilton.
“Ledger of St. Peter’s Mission” by Father Francis Xavier Kuppens, S.J.
“The Frontier and Midland, XII. No. 3” by Albert J. Partoll.
“Blackfoot Lodge Tales” by George Grinnell.
“The Old North Trail” by Walter McClintock.
“Material Culture of the Blackfeet Indians” by Clark Wissler
“The Social Life of the Blackfeet” by Clark Wissler.

This Harrison Fagg report goes on to discuss geology. The following is their line of organization and facts, with my notions interwoven.

1. The Blackfeet reservation “encompasses 1,525,621 acres.” That’s how many acres are within the formal boundaries set by treaty, but in fact much of the land doesn’t belong to any enrolled Blackfeet individual or to the tribe as a whole or to any business subsidiary of the tribe. Only recently a large chunk, until now owned by white lawyers in Cut Bank, was sold to a Hutterite colony. Much of the land belongs to the Farmers’ Home Administration because it was lost in default to a loan.

2. The reservation measures 52 miles at its longest (N>S) point and 58 miles at its widest (W>E). I’m fonding of remarking that his is roughly the size of the Serengeti wildlife refuge in Africa.

3. “From the timbered western boundary mountains, foothills and talus slopes [talus is the pile of rock that has fallen and slid off the side of the mountains], the rolling plains slope gently east and northeastward. The area includes some of the extreme eastern peaks of the Rockies, reaching to altitudes of over 9,000 feet. The slopes along the boundary are very abrupt, so that the average elevation a few miles inside the Reservation is approximately 4,500 feet. From this point, the topography consists, in general, of a rolling plain with a gentle slope toward the east and northeast, giving a minimum elevation of about 3,700 feet along Cut Bank Creek, on the Eastern boundary to a minimum of about 3,400 feet along the Milk River in the northeast. [Roughly the same altitude in Valier, just off the reservation to the SE.] Most of the reservation covers a transitional foothill area between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains.” [Thus it is an ecotone -- the transition between two ecologies which mingle, making the area rich in varieties of life. Some classify it as “prairie parkland,” meaning that prairie trees and grasses are interrupted by trees more typical of the timbered higher foothills.]

4. “Buttes are not uncommon. Some of them include Horsethief, Landslide, Headlight, Chalk and Rimrock Buttes.” [Horsethief is not on my topo map, but “Horsethief Rd.” is shown branching off to the west of Meriwether Road about halfway between Highway 2 and the Canadian border. That would put it between Red Buttes and Rimrock Butte. Landslide Butte (el. 4685) is also up that way, but northeast of Buffalo Lake. Chalk Butte is a bit to the south. The Chalk Butte road ranches off just to the north of Buffalo Lake and goes east and a bit south to connect to a complex of section roads north of Cut Bank. Headlight Butte is off the reservation, just north of these section roads. Just west of Cut Bank are the Squaw Buttes -- which doubtless need a new name -- and south of them, almost to the Birch Creek Border is Flag Butte.}

5. Though they are not mentioned, ridges are as important, maybe more important, than buttes because they mark the limits of watersheds. The Continental Divide is, of course, the biggest ridge, followed by the Hudson Bay Divide on the north side of which water drains to (natch) Hudson’s Bay. Milk River Ridge and Cut Bank Ridge come off the Hudson Bay Divide, as those who keep their eyes open will see when they drive from Browning to St. Mary. In the southeast corner of the reservation is Buffalo Ridge, made even more impressive because Two Medicine River runs close to it. This Ridge is full of oil wells and probably is named for another earlier oil strike in Minnesota.

6. Long broad flat areas good for raising grain are called “flats” and two of the most important are Birch Creek Flats, on the way off the reservation to Valier, and Seville Flats near Cut Bank on the way to Browning. These areas may be hot in summer and bitter in winter, but they respond to cultivation -- at least in wet years.

If one decided to explore, it would be necessary to cope with gravel roads which abruptly convert to gumbo when wet. “Gumbo” or caleche or bentonite -- which originates in volcanic ash and is commercially valuable in proper quantity and quality -- is one of the slickest surfaces possible and sticky besides. The great stone blocks of the pyramids were moved by slathering wet gumbo ahead of them which so reduced friction that a line of men could move a huge stone. If it rains and one is on gumbo, best to just wait.

If exploring back roads, before taking off check for:
1. A book to read while you wait. (Might be a guide to plants, animals, clouds or geology.)
2. Drinking water, esp. in summer. You may be there a while.
3. Flashlight in case it gets REALLY late.
4. Spare tire.
5. Make sure the gas tank is full.
6. Bug repellant.
7. Sunscreen.
8. Broad-brimmed hat.
9. Small backpack or fanny pack for collecting on side trips.
10. Camera.
11. GPS
12. Curley Bear Wagner, who will take you all over the rez to see historical spots and maybe feed you an authentic lunch. Check the phone book or inquire at the Blackfeet Heritage Center in Browning or maybe at the Blackfeet Community Center. DeRosier’s Sun Tours are also excellent and go into Glacier Park.

No comments: