U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
Happy 13th, Pompeys Pillar!
As the saying goes, “history is being made every day,” but how many of us have the forethought to document our adventures, dreams or innovations? Over a hundred years ago, Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition anticipated the significance of his journey to the Wild West and was diligent in documenting his travels in a journal. Clark’s journal is a piece of history that links us with a different time and the BLM is privileged to manage the only other physical evidence Clark left behind, his signature on a sandstone pillar in central Montana.
In his journal, Clark named the pillar "Pompey’s Tower." Pompey was Clark’s nickname for young Baptiste Charbonneau, infant son of Sacagawea, the Shoshoni woman who accompanied the expedition and contributed greatly to its success. An image of Sacagawea carrying young Pompey adorns the United States golden dollar coin. Pompey means little chief in the Shoshoni language. The name was changed to Pompeys Pillar by Nicolas Biddle, who edited and published the Lewis and Clark Journals in 1814. To us, the site is now known as Pompeys Pillar National Monument, which is celebrating its 13th anniversary this January as part of the BLM National Conservation Lands.
But the importance of Pompeys Pillar National Monument does not rest on the significance of Clark’s signature alone. The monument is within the territory historically acknowledged as lands regularly used by the Apsaalooke, or Crow people. Many do not know that the Pillar’s name in the Crow language, Iishbiiammaache, is variously translated as “Where the Mountain Lion Lies,” “The Mountain Lion’s Lodge,” or “Where the Mountain Lion Preys.” Pompeys Pillar is at a strategic ford of the Yellowstone, and its remarkable appearance virtually guaranteed its place as a natural landmark for the native people of the Northern Plains through the region’s more than 11,000 years of occupation. In addition to the Crow people, Pompeys Pillar has been a landmark to numerous other American Indian people, including members of the Shoshone, Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Blackfeet and Salish tribes.
Pompeys Pillar has had a rich history since Clark’s visit in 1806. In the late 1800s the site became a tourist destination on the Northern Pacific Railroad. By the early 1900s, following the completion of the Huntley Project Irrigation District, the lands around the Pillar were growing numerous crops. In 1954, the land around and including Pompeys Pillar was sold to the Foote Family who, for almost forty years, promoted the site and established it as an international destination. As part of the family’s efforts, the site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965.
After almost a century in private hands, Pompeys Pillar was purchased by the BLM and established as public lands in 1992. Much of the grassroots efforts that supported and enabled the federal government to buy Pompeys Pillar came from local community members belonging to the Pompeys Pillar Historical Association. Now known as the Friends of Pompeys Pillar, this organization is one of the key supporters working in tandem with the BLM to manage, conserve, and promote the site.
Today, Pompeys Pillar National Monument is home to a beautiful interpretive center, trails and sidewalks that lead visitors along the Yellowstone River, and a boardwalk that not only takes you to Clark’s signature, but also to the top of the Pillar. Along with a great deal of community support, other organizations like the Boy Scouts and Montana Conservation Corps provide hours of service annually to the monument.
Pompeys Pillar encompasses world class history, nature and culture. A site definitely worth celebrating 13 years and counting as one of America’s true historic treasures.
|Last updated: 01-07-2014|
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