Friday, January 19, 2007


Browning, Montana, is a kind of password that can get you “in” (I once got onto an “Indians Only” listserv by simply saying, “I’m from Browning.”) or “out” (I once received harsh treatment by an unemployment counselor who also assumed if I were from there, I must be Indian.)

This is a very early photo of Browning, probably about the time Bob Scriver was a boy there. The watertower is a reliable reference point. I think the highway must be the faint trace that passes between the nearest houses. Few, if any, of these houses still exist.

I can recognize this brick building, which still stands. Originally put up as a bank, it was the jail in the Sixties. I believe that the building furthest to the right is the Browning Mercantile, though that doesn’t seem to be what the sign says. Anyway, the water tower suggests that this is the town square, just across Willow Creek from Government Square.

This maypole dance, so Edwardian with all the Indian girls in white dresses, white stockings, white shoes, is taking place on the Town Square, I think. You can about tell the period from the cars. This is looking north towards Government Square. The early white settlers of the town, quite unlike the early trappers and soldiers, were very Anglophilic, to the point of imposing English ceremonies, colonial-style. In fact, the post-colonial dogma has still not made much of a dent and even defiant insurgents can be sentimental about such frippery as this.

Though this view doesn’t look much different from the row of emporia that includes the Browning Merc and the bank, it actually is perpendicular, a continuation of the town main street that goes on up into Government Square which one can see to the right of the photo. There has to be a bridge across Willow Creek, which I think is in front of those white government buildings.

Meanwhile, out on the highway is “Scottie” Scotland’s service station. In those days a car needed all the service it could get! In fact, a lot of work was done on them “roadside.” I suspect that this may be the land where the Scriver Studio and Museum complex was built -- now the Blackfeet Heritage Center.

This romantic photo was taken by me in the Sixties at dawn. I was on the hill where the schools are lined up, looking west towards the mountains. It just about sums up my first impression of the place -- complex, intriguing, historical.

Some people drive through, not stopping, and remark that the town is “so depressing.” Others are intrigued by what they take to be poverty, suffering, drunkenness, and lawlessness -- a few of them stop and try to be part of the action, or at least take photos of some colorful Third World person. Neither observer is really seeing what is there: story upon story upon story.


Rebecca Clayton said...

I'm really struck by the Maypole photo. When the folklorists started collecting British Isles "cultural remnants" from Appalachian musicians and storytellers in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, they also felt the need to "improve" their informants by teaching the little hillbilly children "real" British culture, like the Maypole dances. Now it looks like the Maypole dances and Morris dances were not ancient fertility rites handed down in secret by Druids, but rather old-fashioned courtly dances that persisted in rural areas after the rich urban folks moved on to the next big thing. Thanks for showing this. You never can tell where those cultural remnants will turn up next!

prairie mary said...

That photo impressed me, too. It seems as though one group of people will adopt another group's ideas and then forget they were imported. I see what I call "lenses" of ideas -- thick in the middle and thinning at the edges -- that form in places or around certain people. For instance, a missionary will impress those around him about a certain behavior -- then time goes on and leaves that idea behind. We had a teacher who was harshly criticized by a full-blood aide who disapproved of breast-feeding. She said, "Only animals would breast-feed." Clearly an idea that was imported from somewhere, but very emotional. The baby was not fed in public.

Prairie Mary