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Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Lovell, Wyoming


JPG -- Picture of Devil Canyon. Rivers have always been man's highways. For more than 40,000 years in the New World, men have traveled and made their livings along rivers and streams. But the Bighorn River was too treacherous and too steep-walled until the dam tamed it, so for thousands of years men lived near the river but avoided navigating it.

JPG -- Picture of caves in Bighorn Canyon. In a similar way, the broken land here has challenged man's ingenuity, forcing him to devise advantageous strategies of survival. More than 10,000 years ago, ancient Indian hunters drove herds of game into land traps. These Indians lived simply, gathering wild roots and seeds to balance and supplement their meat diet. They made clothes of skins, baskets, and sandals of plant fibers, and tools of stone, bone, and wood. The many caves of the Bighorn area provided seasonal shelters and storage areas for these ancient men, as well as for early traders and trappers.

JPG -- Picture of horses in the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. Absaroke means "People of the large-beaked bird," in the Siouan language of the Crow. Their reservation surrounds most of Bighorn Canyon. Originally a farming people, the Crow split off from the Hidatsa tribe more than 200 years ago. They became a renowned hunting people, described by a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition as "the finest horsemen in the world." In the early 1900's they built an irrigation system at the mouth of the canyon, responding in their own way to the challenge of the land.

JPG -- Picture of Bad Pass Trail. Explorers, trappers, and traders found their way up the Bighorn early in the 19th century. The earliest was Charles Larocque who met the Crow at the mouth of the Bighorn in 1805; Captain William Clark passed through a year later. Jim Bridger claimed he had floated through the canyon on a raft, but later fur traders packed their goods overland on the Bad Pass Trail, avoiding the river's dangers.

JPG -- Picture of the Bozeman Trail. During the Civil War the Bozeman Trail led to the mines of western Montana by crossing the Bighorn River. Open from 1864 to 1868, the trail was bitterly opposed by the Sioux and Cheyenne, though the Crow remained neutral. The Federal Government was forced to close the trail in 1868 after the treaty of Fort Laramie. Fort C.F. Smith, now on private land, guarded the trail as its northernmost outpost. A simple stone monument now commemorates the Hayfield Fight, a desperate but successful defense against marauding Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. In this skirmish a small party of soldiers and civilian haycutters, working 5 kiometers (3 miles) north of Fort C.F. Smith, fought for eight hours until rescued by troops from the fort on August 1, 1867.

JPG -- Picture of Mason-Lovell Ranch. After the Civil War cattle ranching became a way of life here. Among the huge open-range cattle ranches was the Mason-Lovell (the ML), some of whose buildings remain. Dude ranching, reflected, in the remains of Hillsboro, enjoyed a period of popularity at the turn of the century.

JPG -- Picture of Yellowtail Dam's turbines. The Crow made the transition from hunter-gatherers to ranchers in one generation. They completed an irrigation system in 1904 after twelve years of labor and opened 14,140 hectares (35,000 acres) of land to irrigated farming. Water was diverted into the Bighorn Canal by a 129-meter (416-foot) diversion dam, moving 21 cubic meters (720 cubic feet) of water per second. Visit the Bighorn Canal Headgate, near Afterbay Campground, and other vestiges of the human past.

This resource is based on the following source:
National Park Service.  1996.  Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, 
     Montana/Wyoming.  National Park Service.  Unpaginated.
This resource should be cited as:
National Park Service.  1996.  Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, 
     Montana/Wyoming.  National Park Service.  Unpaginated.  Jamestown, 
     ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online.
     http://www.npwrc.usgs.govland.htm    
     (Version 22MAY98).

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