By Adam Houseman
The Bear Paw Mountains provide an alluring backdrop for Havre. For some, they provide hunting grounds. For others they provide a scenic drive. But for Jerry Hayes, they are a classroom full of history and solitude.
Hayes has been taking students from Havre High School and area schools on tours of the Bear Paws for 10 years. Hayes' tours are full of historical information and wonderful stories.
Hayes was born in Chinook and raised in Havre. He joined the Marines in 1953 and returned to Havre in 1956 to go to Northern Montana College. He was the captain of the Lights football team in 1957.
He taught at Box Elder School from 1990 to 2000, and has been subbing at several Hi-Line schools since then.
In addition to teaching math, English and history, Hayes also coached football at Box Elder, Glasgow and Joplin for a total of 38 years. Hayes has 118 wins and 98 losses in his coaching career.
Some of his greatest enjoyment comes from giving tours of the Bear Paws. He is familiar with Indian legends and the history hiding around each corner of the rolling mountains.
"The stories more than anything give the kids, especially the Indian kids, a chance to attach to their culture," Hayes said as he started our tour. "And it gives me a chance to attach to mine."
Hayes begins each tour with a story about Saddle Butte. According to Hayes, the butte was formed on a very wet day when the earth was very soft. A giant buffalo was trying to run to the top of the mountain and it kept slipping and sliding down, creating the badlands that Havre rests in. Finally, after several attempts, the buffalo reached the top of the butte and was so mad it sank its horns into the soft earth and plunged out a giant section, creating Saddle Butte.
Hayes said the buffalo was so mad it just lay down and died. Then he turned around and pointed to the western edge of Havre to what some people call buffalo rock.
"The kids like these Indian stories," Hayes said as he climbed back in his car. "It keeps them entertained."
Most of Hayes' knowledge came from Havre High School history teacher Jim Magera. Hayes and Magera have done several tours together with Havre High students over the past 10 years.
Hayes said he likes taking the students on tours because they have a wealth of questions for him.
"What are those buildings, Mr. Hayes? What are those buildings?" Hayes points at an old homestead as he imitates a student.
The students get really excited to go on trips with Hayes. Some of Hayes' students have been on the trip several times.
"I've had kids from Box Elder that have gone four times. One time when we were about to leave, a kid who had gone four times already asked if he could go again," Hayes said. "That kid said he learned something new every time."
Hayes tries to keep the students entertained while teaching them about their community. He tells jokes.
"You know they are going to make round bales illegal after the first of the year?" he said, pointing to a round hay bale. "The cows aren't getting a square meal."
After making the journey through the Bear Paws via the Sucker Creek Road and the Hungry Hollow Road, Hayes and his students usually stop for lunch in Cleveland, but not before learning what Hungry Hollow is named for.
"It gets its name because the ranchers that lived out here would harvest all of their own food, and by spring, they would be getting awfully hungry," Hayes said.
In Cleveland, they stretch their legs and get something to eat at the Cleveland bar.
"Last May we brought 65 kids out here. They ate 95 burgers and must have drank 120 pops," Hayes said, chuckling.
Hayes makes one last stop on the way back to Havre the Bear Paw Battlefield.
A few years ago one of the kids said, "I'm gonna walk this whole thing barefoot in memory of my fallen soldiers."
"The next year all the kids did it, boys and girls," Hayes said.
Sometimes Hayes takes people on private tours, with friends or with his dog, Augie.
"Her name is Augie, I named her that because she was born in August. It's going to get noisy, Aug," Hayes said, interrupting himself as we approached a cattle guard in the road. "If I don't tell her, she'll jump and get scared."
Hayes' tours are full of information and sometimes a fib or two. He likes to tell the story of the legendary side hill gougers. According to Hayes, the side hill gougers are old cows that have longer legs on one side of their body than the other. These cows walk around the steep mountains in one direction, leaving what look likes steps in the mountainside.
"I told my wife's friend that once, without breaking a smile," Hayes said, laughing. "She took a whole bunch of pictures and I just know she went home and told everyone in Seattle about the side hill gougers."
"People are often surprised when we get done with a tour at the amount of history that is up here," Hayes said. "There is somethin' in them-thar hills."