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Buffalo Jump center named for Brumleys

Havre Daily News/Nikki Carlson

Members of the Milk River Archaeological Society, H. Earl Clack Museum Curator of Archaeology John Brumley, third from left, and Wahkpa Chu'gn Buffalo Jump manager Anna Brumley, fourth from left, stand with the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors to cut the ribbon to Wahkpa Chu'gn's new interpretive center and exhibit buildings Saturdya morning. During the dedication, the Brumleys were presented with a sign for the jump's new interpretive center, that is being named in their honor as The John & Anna Brumley Interpretive Center, and the bison kill site was also recognized for its 50th anniversary in which Wahkpa Chu'gn was first excavated by John and the Milk River Archaeological Society.

Today, a modern interpretive center greets people at the Wahkpa Chu'gn Buffalo Jump. People can walk to the center from the parking lot adjoining the Holiday Village Mall.

They can admire the beautiful vista, and walk down the lengthy stairway to the site where Native Americans killed buffalo two millennium ago, and walk away with a real sense of history.

But as supporters of the buffalo jump learned at a Saturday celebration honoring the 50th anniversary of the modern-day discovery of the buffalo jump site, it wasn't always that way.

Toni Hagener has been a tour guide and active in the buffalo jump organization since 1964, three years after John Brumley — then a Havre High School student — found the site while hunting.

Hagener was chosen for her leadership role "because I was out of town and unable to refuse," she said, laughing.

There were some drawings of what people would like the buffalo jump to be some day, but for the most part there was a pathway held together by a few railroad ties. The path was covered with weeds and people walking through had to endure various critters.

"And, of course, there was no mall in those day," she said.

Some people wanted to tour the site, she said, but they needed encouragement.

"There was a shooting range just a little ways away," she said. Stray bullets would sometime pass by, she said.

"We had to reassure people that they were not going to get hit," she said.

Then came the rumor that a group that was doing excavation work a short distance away was going to discard its gravel into the buffalo jump.

Hagener recalled charging into the office of then-Hill County Commissioner Steve McFadden demanding that something be done to stop the desecration of the buffalo jump.

"Calm down, young lady," the commissioner told Hagener.

He told her that he had found creature remains on his Inverness farm and had often wondered about them. He wanted to help preserve the buffalo jump so others could learn.

Today, there is a brand new interpretive center, several buildings along the path to help visitors understand the buffalo jump, a lengthy stairway to bring people to the bottom the jump and an all-terrain vehicle for those unable to walk the stairs.

Saturday's celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the modern-day excavation and the dedication of the interpretive center was was a "big hoop-de-la affair for us," said Elaine Morse, who chairs the funding foundation for the buffalo jump and the H. Earl Clark Museum.

The opening of the interpretive center was the result of a "lot of years, a lot of work and a lot or persistence by a lot of people."

The center is in large part responsible for the 50 percent increase in tourists thus far this year, she said.

On top of that increase, some people come to the interpretive center, but didn't want to take the entire tour, she said.

Completion of the interpretive center is the result of countless contributions from people on the Hi-Line, she said.

"It warms my heart to see the community support that we receive, " she said.

She praised Youth Build, the job-training program for young people interested in the construction trades. Students from the program built the center, she said.

Brad Lotton of Lotton Construction donated work and materials, Jim Marshall did the mural, Vince Woodwick did paintings, Tyler Smith of Lakeside Excavation did a lot of work, she said, as she rattled off the names of people who volunteered or contributed money to the project.

"We have a better buffalo jump than any other, " she said. "We may not have a $5 million interpretive center, " she said, "but we've got a start. "


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