By Gary Wilson
How do we define "local?" In the homestead days, Bull Hook Creek at the Milk River Havre would have been local enough for the area farmers with their horse-drawn wagons and early horseless carriages. Today, a two-hour drive still allows a person to listen to a Havre radio station or buy the Havre paper. And this is how local will be defined, give or take a few miles.
For a comprehensive history of our area, we could go back millions of years to the time of dinosaurs. But let's not be ridiculous, meaning I only know what I see in the movies: Godzilla, King Kong or Raquel Welch in skins, anyone?
A more contemporary view could begin with the Shoshoni (Snake) peoples who dominated this area and into present-day Alberta, because they possessed the horse for battle. They were forced south and west across the Rockies by elements of the Blackfeet Nation circa 1800 due to their acquisition of the musket from the Plains Cree and Assiniboin(e) peoples.
Later territorial battles occurred, especially when elements of the Sioux (Lakota) Nation moved into this area. The military had no such comparable battles in the Milk River country. The Gros Ventre tried to hold this country in spite of major population losses from disease and from war, especially once they were no longer allies of the Blackfeet.
Or we could begin with the Judith River Treaty of 1855 which defined the Indian lands, including the Blackfeet and their ally the Gros Ventres giving them northern Montana east of the mouth of the Milk River.
The Plains Cree also have a history in this country which goes back more than a hundred years along with the Crows and Metis (mixed blood). The shrinking of the buffalo herds added to this warfare with more tribes concentrated into a smaller area. The violence continued until the end of the 19th century, but the political fallout continues.
And later yet, the 1860 wagon trains that came west from Minnesota, illegally into the Montana Territory along the Milk River, south to Fort Benton, connecting with the Mullan Road to the Helena area gold fields.
Plus there were the first major trading posts, starting with Fort Browning (present day Dodson-Peoples Creek area) and later succeeded by Fort Belknap (present day Glasgow-Missouri River area). Fort Browning was closed because of the Sioux Nation's threatening presence to the local Indian peoples trying to collect their treaty goods.
The first Anglo military occupation came with the establishment of Fort Assinniboine in 1879, but the first substantial civilian presence began with the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway coming to Bull Hook Creek Bottoms in September of 1887, and on to Beaver Creek near Fort Assinniboine. There the railway's western headquarters was established. The railroad then continued south to Helena and Butte, connecting with the Utah and Northern.
The bottoms of the Milk River country had been a home to Indian and Metis peoples with its protective cover from the elements with groves of cottonwood and willow trees along the waterways. The surrounding hearty grasses provided food for the buffalo, deer, antelope, prairie chickens, sage hens, etc., and their predators, the grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, etc.
Now many whites, whether railroaders, train passengers, Diamond B teamsters et al, learned of this last frontier country, and some wanted to stay; plus the cattlemen south of the Missouri River were itching to move their cattle herd north.
The following year the inevitable happened, the reservations were scaled back. The Gros Ventres with their former enemies, the Upper Assiniboin(e), suffered little because they had already moved into the present-day Fort Belknap agency area, due to the scarcity of game in their former territory and the threat of virtual extinction by their enemies.
The railroad, now the Great Northern Railway, put section houses and water tanks every 10 miles along their right-of-way. These sites eventually became towns as the area opened to settlements.
The military reservation faded away, and the area filled up with ranchers and farmers. A part of the Fort became an agricultural research center to serve their needs.
Havre, formerly Bull Hook, grew with the prosperity of the railroad, which moved to the siding in 1891. The merchants supplying Fort Assinniboine followed, along with the coal miners, ranchers, farmers, and the red light district from Cypress on Big Sandy Creek. While electricity has replaced coal in homes, and the locomotives switched to diesel engines, agriculture and the railroad are still the bread and butter of our community.
The local book, Grit, Guts and Gusto, gives an excellent view of our heritage, and should be read by all. It is available for sale at the Havre-Hill County Library.
There are many "beginnings" in this country, and I will attempt to cover a few of them, knowing along with these beginnings are many interpretations, and the emotions that go along with them.
Ed. note This monthly column will present a thumbnail sketch of significant local historical events and how they connect to our current historical sites.