Bear Paw Battlefield
By Alan Sorensen
A Havre High School history teacher has resumed a familiar second job. During April and May, Jim Magera is acting part-time head ranger at the Bear Paw Battlefield of the Nez Perce National Historic Park. In June, he'll assume the full-time duties until a permanent head ranger can be found.
"I enjoy it out there," Magera said. "I meet very interesting people and it's enjoyable sharing knowledge with the people. It's kind of like teaching school."
The head ranger position for the ravine battlefield where the Nez Perce ended their historic flight from the U.S. Army in 1877 is expected to be filled by early to mid-summer.
"I'm working on filling the permanent full-time position, but probably not until at least early summer," said Jon James, manager of the Montana units of the Nez Perce National Historic Park.
In a telephone interview from his office at the Big Hole Battlefield in southwestern Montana, James said the previous head ranger, Arthur Currence, resigned shortly after the position became a full-time year-round job.
Magera will be on site on Saturdays through May. In June, he'll begin working five-day weeks. A part-time worker will be hired to fill in during those times that Magera is off.
"We're going to have to be flexible this year," James said. "Jim Magera will work seasonally as his school schedule allows. He's going to work as best he can."
Magera said he plans to take some courses at Montana State University-Northern this summer, but that he and the part-time ranger should be able to manage.
"I'll be available and if they need a special tour they can call me and I can adjust my schedule to accommodate people," Magera said about his off-season weekend hours.
This will be his sixth summer as a ranger at the site made famous by the "I shall fight no more forever" surrender speech of the leader of the Nez Perce survivors, Chief Joseph.
"I think it's a real privilege to be out there again," Magera said. "I've done it since 1963 now I get paid."
James said he has taken applications from a couple of area residents interested in ranger jobs at the site. He said he also has identified a couple of area people who could qualify for employment at the site through the Park Service Student Career Experience program.
James said the law allows him to use what are called emergency hires, but that did not appeal to him.
The National Park Service is planning several events at each of the 38 sites along the historic trail in recognition of the 125th anniversary of the war. Two of the activities are expected at Bear Paw in October. The first is the annual anniversary observance by Nez Perce held in early October. The second includes probable panel discussions and a battlefield tour during the Montana Historical Society's annual convention scheduled in Havre in late October.
The National Guard and other groups also are involved in special plans for the anniversary year, James said.
James said the site will probably get some traffic this week and weekend. A Gathering of Native Americans event is being held on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation Wednesday through Friday, and Montana State University-Northern's Sweetgrass Society hosts its annual powwow Saturday.
"They like to go to the site and pay their respects when they're in the area," James said of American Indians who come from outside the area for the traditional gatherings.
James encourages any school or community groups wanting to visit or take field trips to the site to make appointments by calling Jude Sheppard at the Blaine County Museum at (406) 357-2590 on weekday afternoons.