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Relive the Stories: Trace History in Southeast Montana

 Donnie Sexton

Relive the Stories: Trace History in Southeast Montana

The history of Southeast Montana runs deep through the buttes, badlands, rivers and canyons that make up the varied landscape of the region. Stories of the many people who called the area home date back centuries – and all make Southeast Montana what it is today. Experience the rich history of the Old West alongside the traditions of the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and other Plains Indian tribes. Follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark while reliving the days of homesteading and ranching on the prairies. And we can’t forget about those dinosaurs who called the area home millions of years ago.

The region is full of museums, battlefields, state parks, national monuments, historical societies and more just waiting to share stories from years gone by. And while you’re exploring out here, you may just create your own story in Southeast Montana.

Preserving the Past

More than a dozen museums are spread across Southeast Montana, preserving stories of the past. Start out east where you’ll find the stories of dinosaurs who roamed the land long ago. Visit the Frontier Gateway Museum, Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum  and Makoshika State Park Visitor Information Center in Glendive, or the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka – several of which are members of the Montana Dinosaur Trail.

Photo: Nathan Satran

Spend several days in the Billings area to get a feel for how settlers lived during the turn of the 20th century at the Moss Mansion. Don’t miss the “museum on the rims,” the Yellowstone County Museum with a large collection of Ghost Dance items that tell stories of the American Indians in the late 1800s. And don’t miss the exhibit of weapons from the days of Calamity Jane and Jesse James downstairs. Just 20 minutes from Billings you’ll find the Huntley Project Museum of Irrigated Agriculture for a better understanding of the homesteading and farming techniques used in the late-1800s and early-1900s.

Check out the history of coal mining at the Musselshell Valley Historical Museum in Roundup, and how the one remaining mine in the area continues to operate. Take the backroads for a scenic drive and head to the Rosebud County Pioneer Museum in Forsyth and check out the large steam engine and collections from the families of Forsyth and Rosebud County.

Photo: Nathan Satran

A Landscape of Historical Treasures

The history of Southeast Montana wouldn’t be complete without the battles that shaped who was living on the land. The Battle of the Little Bighorn, memorialized at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, is perhaps the most studied battle on U.S. soil. Here you will learn about the warriors and soldiers who fought as Plains Indian tribes tried to preserve their way of life. To learn about the events leading up to this battle, both the Reynold Battlefield National Monument and Rosebud Battlefield State Park offer a glimpse into what led to the battle on June 25- 26, 1876.

Inscriptions give us a look into the way people communicated and told stories thousands of years ago, and Southeast Montana is full of those reminders. Pictograph Cave State Park outside of Billings features pictographs dating back to the days of Cleopatra. Explore the art – some of which dates back more than 2,000 years – and try to interpret it yourself. Or, head out to Medicine Rocks State Park near Ekalaka, where nearly 15,000 inscriptions tell stories of the past. Look closely at the weathered sandstone rock pillars that look like Swiss cheese for a better understanding of the Indian hunting parties that used to gather and practice “big medicine” years ago.

Plan out your route now to visiting the history of Southeast Montana with the help of this map, which includes more locations to trace the stories of the bygone days.

Travel Alert: Please check with each location before heading out, as not all may be open or have reduced hours, and make sure to adhere to all local guidelines including wearing masks and practicing social distancing for the safety of residents and visitors alike.

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