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History of Pompeys Pillar


Pompeys Pillar was part of the original 1803 Louisiana Purchase. It was in the public domain until the mid-1800s when a treaty made it part of the Crow Indian Reservation. A later action removed the area from the reservation but gave Crow tribal members the first right to homestead the lands. In 1955, the Foote family purchased the property.

After the 1989 tourist season, rising insurance costs forced the Footes to close the area. In December 1989, interested groups and citizens, along with public agencies including the Bureau of Land Management, formed an action group to explore ways to protect the site and get it back into public ownership. These efforts culminated in November 1991 when BLM purchased the site and surrounding land. BLM spent the next several months preparing the area for public visitation, making improvements needed to ensure public health and safety, and constructing a modest, temporary visitor contact station and a boardwalk to access the Pillar. The site was reopened to the public in May 1992. The action group formed in 1989 evolved into the Pompeys Pillar Historical Association; it assists BLM in managing the area by providing a cadre of volunteers at the site.


 Historic photo of "Clark's Trail"This historic photo shows "Clark's Trail", which served as the only access to William Clark's signature and the other historic etchings and drawings found at Pompeys Pillar before a starway was installed in the early 1990's.

Steamboat Josephine
With the discovery of gold in western Montana and the homesteading elsewhere, the first large-scale incursion of European-Americans underway. The Yellowstone River served as a major transportation corridor, bringing trade goods and supplies as far as Billings, Montana, about 25 miles upstream from Pompeys Pillar. In 1875, Captain Grant Marsh, pilot of the steamboat Josephine, became the first to raise an American flag on the summit of Pompeys Pillar.

1873 Campsite of Army and Surveyors
The middle and lower Yellowstone country was filled with troops during the middle 1870s. The third transcontinental railroad survey expedition made its way through the middle Yellowstone Valley in 1873. On March 15, 1873, this group of about 375 civilian surveyors and more than 1,500 cavalry and infantry troops, including 10 companies of the 7th Calvary under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, camped at the mouth of Pompeys Pillar Creek, across the Yellowstone from Pompeys Pillar. On the morning of March 16, 1873, American Indians who had worked their way into the brush at the base of Pompeys Pillar fired on the troops.

Northern Pacific Railroad and Pompeys Pillar Railroad Station
The Northern Pacific Railroad was completed in 1882 and provided transportation through the Yellowstone River Valley. Passengers stopping at the Northern Pacific Railroad station a half mile south of the Pillar routinely visited the Pillar to view Clark’s inscription. In 1882, the Northern Pacific Railroad decided to protect Clark’s signature by covering it with a heavy iron screen.

Homestead Era
By the late 19th century, the agricultural potential of the rich Yellowstone River valley had become apparent to settlers, land speculators and Congress. Although much of the Yellowstone Valley, including Pompeys Pillar, lay within the boundaries of the Crow Reservation, legislation directed the Crow tribe to cede the Yellowstone Valley. The lands were settled shortly after the turn of the 20th century when the Huntley Irrigation District was established.

Historic Graffiti
In addition to William Clark’s signature, Pompeys Pillar is marked with over 5,000 of other etchings and drawings. Fur trappers of the early 1800s, military expeditions, railroad workers, and early settlers used the sandstone as a registry of their passing.


 
Last updated: 10-24-2013