Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Alex Ross 

Jumping into the future

Changes are here for Brumleys and the Buffalo Jump

 

October 13, 2017

Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt

After 23 years of managing and improving the Wahkpa Chu'gn Buffalo Jump, John and Anna Brumley will soon no longer head the archeological bison kill site that, over the years, has become a magnet for local history buffs and tourists.

"It's been a joy. I really enjoyed it, I enjoy meeting new people," said Anna Brumley who is in charge of much of the day-to-day operations and promotion of the jump. "It's been the adventure of a lifetime."

For thousand of years, American Indians from different tribes would force bison off the cliff northwest of Havre to fall down into the valley below, where they would be killed and butchered.

When the Brumleys leave Havre to begin their retirement in Salt Lake City, it will mark the end of a 23-year period when the area located behind the Holiday Village Mall underwent vast improvements, became more accessible and attracted droves of visitors.

John Brumley's involvement in the evolution of the buffalo jump, though spans more than half a century.

In 1961, when he was 14 years old, Brumley was hunting rabbits when he stumbled upon several buffalo bones, a knife crafted from stone, arrow points and scrapers. He shared his findings at a meeting of the Milk River Archeological Society, then a new local group of archeology enthusiasts.

"And when they saw what I had found, they were very interested in it," Brumley said.

His discovery prompted the Milk River Archeological Society to do test excavationsm, unearthing more remains at the site and raising its profile among the larger archeological community.

The items found at the site, Brumley said, were not unique in and of themselves. However, Brumley said, his discovery began to provide insight into history in this area of Montana.

"And so what Wahkpa Chu'gn became was really important in determining what we know about archeology in the area," Brumley said.

Brumley went on to earn his master's degree and launch his own archeological consulting firm Ethos Consulting before returning to Havre in 1992 with his wife, Anna.

The site back in 1994, was far less developed in terms of its accessibilities.

"It was scary," Anna Brumley said with a laugh. "John said I was a wuss and he is right."

The five exhibit houses that sheltered the excavation sites were simple structures prone to water damage.

When people used to come for a tour they used to have to use the mall as a starting-off point, Brumley said.

She added that visitors would then be led along a path of railroad ties down a hill onto a system of narrow dirt trails surrounded by weeds.

Since they took over, John Brumley said, the Buffalo Jump with the help of the county and Bear Paw Development Corp. has been able to secure about $300,000 to make improvements to they site, including using grants and personal donations and money from the H. Earl and Margaret Turner Clack Memorial Museum Foundation.

Between 1999 and 2002, the site underwent a series of major upgrades, a record of the Buffalo Jump kept by the Brumleys says.

The projects included adding a paved entryway and trail system, an outdoor bathroom at the entrance to the site, a motorized tram to help the handicapped access the area and a ramp that led into one of the exhibit houses.

Exhibit houses were built going back to 1962. However the five houses were often prone to water damage.

In 2011, with money from private donations and the H. Earl and Margaret Turner Clack Memorial Museum Foundation, three of the five exhibit houses were either rebuilt or repaired, Anna Brumley said.

The two remaining houses were removed because it was too expensive to maintain them, she said.

John Brumley said that when they first took over management of the site, tourists would have to meet up with tour guides in the Holiday Village Mall.

In 2012, an interpretive center was built at the entrance to the site. Construction of the 32-foot by 12-foot building was funded with a a $66,000 Tourism Infrastructure Investment Program grant from the state and $34,000 in matching funds.

The building was built by participants of the YouthBulid Program, a vocational program that trains low-income youths in construction skills.

The center has served not only as a place where people can go to be taken on a tour, but an area where additional artifacts can also be displayed. The interpretive center was later officially named in honor of John and Anna Brumley.

Among the items on display is the skeleton of a fully articulated bison.

A grant, Anna Brumley said, allowed the bison to be mounted and placed inside the interpretive center.

Wahkpa Chu'gn, John Brumley said, is one of the few in Montana with such a display.

Not all the changes made to the jump have been related to construction or repairs. The nature of displays in the exhibit houses have also changed.

"They just started off as displays over holes in the ground and now they are very well formalized," John Brumley said.

The exhibits, Anna Brumley said, are cleaner and are accompanied by signs that provide information about the tribes and the process by which the tribes, who used the site centuries ago, used to kill, process, cook and use the bison.

Changes in the facility, management and appearance of the site have been accompanied by changes in how visitors experience the site,

Tours of the site have been given since the 1960s, Anna Brumley said.

Local history enthusiasts Eleanor Clack and Antoinette "Toni" Hagner used to give scheduled tours to school classes. In summers, tours would also be given every Tuesday and Thursday evenings, Anna Brumley said.

The tours differ depending on the audience, but often they have much more hands-on activity than they used to, Brumley said.

"We had done school tours from the very beginning, but when we first did them I just talked," she said.

Tourists get the chance to handle samples of bison bone or tools crafted from stone.

Students and other visitors also get a chance to see a demonstration of stone boiling, a cooking technique used centuries ago, in which heated rocks are dropped into a watery container. The method, John Brumley said, was used as a way to cook the bison meat.

The throwing of the atlatl has become a hallmark of a visit to the site. The atlatl is a spear thrower used hundred of years ago by hunters.

Anna Brumley said they were approached in 2003 by the World Atlatl Association asking the jump to host a competition. The competition was open to the public and the winner would be awarded a cash prize.

The contest only had 35 participants, Anna Brumley said. Throughout the years however, it has mushroomed in terms of popularity, and in the last competition 130 people took part.

The throwing of the atlatl has been incorporated into the tours.

People have responded to the changes made to the site and the jump has become a staple of the local tourist scene.

Last year the site received 3,352 people, shattering previous records. In 2015 the site attracted 2,722 and 3,046 the previous year.

School field trips make up a big slice of the visitors to the site. The jump's annual reports says that in 2016, 1,002 students and chaperones from 20 different schools flocked to the jump, an increase of about 286 from the previous year.

Anna Brumley said each year students from Lincoln-McKinley Primary School come to the site, but other classes come from as far west as Whitefish and east as Glasgow.

The jump has attracted people from well beyond the area or even Montana itself.

Documents from the Brumleys say that in 2013 the site had visitors from 39 states, as well as Canada, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel and the United Kingdom.

Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt

Although brochures exist advertising the site and the jump's official website that includes a virtual tour, the jump has always been limited in what it can do in terms of advertising due to a small budget for marketing.

Anna Brumley said that, more often than not, it is local residents who have told the out-of-town visitors about the jump.

In a matter of weeks, the Brumleys will leave Havre to begin a new chapter in their lives, but both admit they will miss it.

John Brumley said his family had moved to Havre in 1890.

"So I am kind of close to the community," he said.

"We'll be back to visit once in a while," Anna Brumley added.

 

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