6/19/12 – Today was the third day of long, hard driving. I met a wonderful librarian with her two month old son in front of the Butte, MT library. To me, she represented the new wave of young pioneers re-inhabiting and re-inventing Butte. Too bad the library wasn’t as beautiful as the rest of the city. The small town of Anaconda (1/2 hour west of Butte) is home to the epic Hearst Free Library. Anaconda was home to one of the Heart Family’s most productive mines and Phoebe Hearst wanted to give back to the community that had enriched her family (as well as build a monument to the Hearsts). This stunning building contains wonderful artwork, an Audubon portfolio reproduction and lots of William Henry Jackson photographs of Yosemite and the Middle East. Here is an example of an outsized library endowed by a benefactor in a town that had seen better days. Such a contrast with Butte. Bozeman was a big unexpected hit for both of us. It is a delightful combination of college students, new age folks, outdoor recreation people, artists and cowboys. The modern, well used library fit perfectly into this eclectic prairie town. We quickly photograph the Carnegie Library in Livingston and then drive to Billings. I know that Billings had a wonderful Carnegie that was being replaced by a new library. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived it had been completely eliminated with a large, plain looking library in its place. The town had a large Native American presence and seemed to have a large poor population. As we left we saw a sign with the title “The Meth Heads Dictionary” referring to the scourge of meth addiction that plagues much of eastern Montana. Hardin, MT is on the edge of the Crow Indian Reservation. The outside of the small library had a classic look which stood out in the mostly Indian community.
Our next stop was the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, home of Custer’s Last Stand. The afternoon light cast long shadows from the headstones at the National Cemetery. As Walker and I climbed the hill to the Last Stand site the combination of wind and light produced a strange dream-like mood over both of us. The emotional weight of what happened here reminded us of the Antietam Battlefield National Monument we visited last summer in Maryland. Reluctantly leaving we cross into the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. We drive through the very poor communities of Busby, Muddy and Lame Deer feeling a little awkward in our car witnessing such poverty. In Lame Deer I photographed a haunting mural called Meth Genocide while Walker went over to some Cheyenne kids on ponies and mangy dogs swarmed around us. We left the Reservation and came to Colstrip MT. I had seen photos by David Hansen on the effects of strip mining and the beginning of this little town. Here was the reality.
Finally, we arrived in Miles City, MT around 9:30. It was just getting dark and only a smoking room was available at the motel. We quickly drove past the chain restaurants into the small downtown hoping to find something open. We lucked out finding a good Chinese restaurant next to a loud cowboy bar in the historic Olive Hotel. Walker practiced his Chinese with the amazed, young Chinese woman who waited on us. Even though we came from different cultures we all felt foreign here. I brought over a good Red Lodge, Montana beer from the bar and during dinner Walker and I marveled how far we had traveled over the last three days. We made Miles!