6/20/12 – Miles City surprised us. It was a wonderful little town with a lot of history. I even have some long lost relatives here. According to family lore the first pioneer child born in Montana was my ancestor Johnny Quinlan. Later, he either became a horse thief or a lawyer depending on which story you believe. One branch of the family settled in Deer Lodge, MT where my mother was born and the other settled in Miles City. I kept scanning each new face hoping to see some familial connection. . The beautiful Carnegie Library here had a awful addition added almost completely obscuring the original. Even the red brick of the Carnegie was painted brown to match the addition. What were they thinking? The head librarian took me on a great tour showing their attempts at slowly stripping away the addition to reveal the hidden Carnegie library. She also showed me the amazing Montana Room with its stunning collection of L.A. Huffman photographs. Huffman was an excellent local photographer during the end of the frontier era. Several books have been produced on his work and the Montana Room displayed an impressive collection of his original photographs. The tiny town of Terry, MT was also home to a famous photographer – Evelyn Cameron. She was a Montana pioneer from England who raised horses with her husband. To supplement their income she sold her photographs of the area to the local community. In doing so she created a fascinating record of the beginnings of Terry, MT and the final days of the settling of the American West. The library here was also tiny, austere and ultimately beautiful. I think that the library in Glendive, MT used to be a bank with a drive up window. The Google Street View of it made me cringe. But the reality and its context were fascinating. It had grain elevators in town, remnants of the frontier and also a Canadian feel to it due to the proximity to Canada. The Wiboux, MT library was old and beautiful but the lighting was not good. Just as I was turning to leave a young woman dressed in a punk/goth style stood in front of the library drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette. We talked for a while and her presence in the photo made for a great contrast between the old and new in Wiboux. Crossing into North Dakota we photographed the tiny town of Beach. Simple and beautiful would best describe it. We stop at a truck stop and exult in the incredible open space all around us.
We finished the late afternoon and evening in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. “ I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota” Roosevelt said. His life here challenged this former New Yorker and sharpened his interests in nature and conservation. Later, he became one of the earliest Presidents to actively protect the environment by establishing several National Parks. This park is dedicated to his memory and his work. It is an overlooked national gem and we were overwhelmed by its beauty. As we drove and hiked through the park we were enveloped by this strange but fragile landscape. The perfect air, temperature and light instilled in us a sense of peaceful ease. After four days of hard charging we needed this. Frequently we encountered large, lumbering buffalo; small, perky Prairie Dogs and big-racked Elk. We hiked steep bluffs that gave us an impressive 360 degree view of the land and sky. At certain places we almost felt like we could fly off the steep ledge. At the Wind Canyon overlook we watched the sun set over the sculpted cliffs and the Little Missouri River. As we looked down on buffalo tracks in the river we imagined dinosaurs walking through this timeless landscape. Later, we dined at the local bar in Medora. Our waitress was from China and another was from Russia. We had a long, fascinating conversation with the Russian about traveling, Putin and politics. This multi-national, college-aged work force is common in or near many American National Parks. Despite the sometime poor wages and working conditions the Russian woman had come here three times. Our conversation with her was one of the best we have had so far.
CHEYENNE RIVER INDIAN RESERVATION
6/21/12 – It was a real struggle to get out of bed but we had miles to go. We passed the 2,000 mile mark near the tiny town of Amidon, ND. It takes pride in being the smallest county seat in the nation. It also has the Prairie Library, now closed. With a darkening sky as a backdrop this simple white building exuded the character of this harsh but beautiful land. Near the border of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation we visited the almost all-white town of Faith, South Dakota. Relatively prosperous and very tidy we saw almost nobody on the streets. The library contained the simple beauty of this place. East of Faith we entered the Reservation. Though this is one of the poorest parts of the US this farmland area did not seem destitute. Eagle Butte, SD is the center of this area that is almost all Indian. Here is where we saw real poverty. It also contained the incredible Dakota Club Library. In the 1930s, Eagle Butte was an all-white town. A group of civic-minded women started the library in an old pioneer sod house thatwas later covered in rock. The very helpful librarian was Northern Cheyenne and came from Lame Deer, MT but had gone to college in Rutgers, NJ. The old library was closed and the new one was in a windowless metal building. The outside of the old was sadly covered with graffiti. The new library had two computers but only one was working. This was the only internet connection for a town of 3,300 people whose annual per capita income was $5,000 a year. With a 70% unemployment rate It was simply too expensive for people here to pay $40 a month for the internet, let along buy a computer. While I photographed, Walker walked around town. He saw three guys smoking crack, a guy passing out in the middle of the Main Street and a kid getting arrested for drinking alcohol in public. Two drunk guys aggressively asked me for money. When I politely said no they wanted my camera. This was all in the span of one hour. Life seemed rough for many people in Eagle Butte. The Christian mission belting out Bible songs on Main Street hopefully would provide some solace for the people here in need. Despite all this people seemed genuinely friendly towards us, especially the young. After driving along a long and spectacular dirt road we finished photographing in Timber Lake, SD. According to the librarian the relations are pretty good between the Indians and whites in this mostly white town. The library was severely beautiful, like the land itself. We ended the day in Mobridge, SD. We walked along the wide Missouri River at sunset, ate dinner at a real 1970’s style restaurant, downloaded photos, blogged and then collapsed into a deep sleep.