Feature Article: Billings Tour: Attractions, History, & Scenery
Article 1: This Date in History: February 7, 1975
Article 2: Discover Montana
Article 3: Lewis & Clark Expedition: Sacajawea Gives Birth
Billings Tour: Attractions, History, & Scenery
Since the American West’s early days, Billings has hosted a cast of famous figures: Custer, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill, Crazy Horse, Lewis & Clark and others. To follow Billings’ official beginnings as a city, you only need to follow rivers and railroads. After Lewis & Clark finished their historic expedition across the West, numerous explorers began pushing westward along the many wild rivers, laying railroad tracks as they went.
The Northern Pacific Railroad followed the Yellowstone River, and trainloads of people followed soon after. Just a mile upriver from an established trans-shipment point on the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers was a valley surrounded by Rimrocks and mountainsan ideal place for a settlement. And so Billings, the “Magic City,” was born.
Today, you’ll still find glimpses of yesterday throughout the valley. With mansions, museums, galleries and many other historic sites, this city never forgets its past.
Your tour starts at the Billings Chamber Visitor Center where you can get loads of good information on the area. The tour covers nine miles and about 25 minutes of drive time, but you will want to allow at least four hours to stop at every site along the way. Turn right out of the Visitor Center parking lot and head northwest on 27th Street toward downtown. Turn right on Montana Ave. approximately three blocks to…
1. Union Depot. The arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1882 signaled the real beginning of the private town of Billings, named for the President of the railroad, Frederick Billings. This depot, built in 1909, replaced the first temporary station. From here continue on northeast and bear left on Main Street and follow Main to…
2. Metra Park. This is the host to events such as rodeos, ice shows, sporting events, concerts and large trade shows. The grounds are the site of Montana’s largest event: MontanaFair. Immediately past Metra Park you will turn left to begin winding your way up the rim. You are on…
3. Black Otter Trail. This is a scenic drive which climbs Kelly Mountain, and follows the edge of the Rimrocks where it descends to the valley. Black Otter Trail is named after a Crow chief who was killed here by a Sioux war party. One of the first things you will come upon is…
4. Boot Hill Cemetery. This cemetery marks the only remains of the original river town of Coulson (1877-1885). Many of its occupants met with violent deaths, including Sheriff “Muggins Taylor,” the army scout who first carried the news of the Custer Battle to the outside world. Continue on the trail to…
5. Yellowstone Kelly’s Grave. Yellowstone Kelly, who lived from 1849 to 1928, was the epitome of a frontiersman, army scout, dispatch rider, and hunter. At his own request, he is buried on Kelly Mountain overlooking the Yellowstone River, where he lived his most interesting days. Five mountain ranges can be viewed from hereclockwise from the southeast: the Big Horns, the Pryors, the Beartooths, the Crazys, and the Snowys. Continue up the trail to the airport.
Directly across from the airport is…
6. The Peter Yegen Jr. Museum. This museum houses many artifacts of early history. In the basement is an authentic Roundup Wagon and a diorama featuring pioneer life. Outside you’ll find No. 1031, the last Northern Pacific Steam Engine operated in Billings. There’s also a lifesize statue, the “Range Rider of the Yellowstone,” depicting the days of the open range. Open Tuesday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays 25 p.m. Turn left out of the parking lot and catch the turn back down the Rimrocks. Follow this back to 27th Street. Bear right toward downtown. As you enter downtown you will find on your left…
7. The Yellowstone Art Center. This premier museum in a four-state region exhibits western and contemporary art from nationally and internationally acclaimed artists. Leave the museum and continue southeast on 27th Street for a block to 3rd Ave. North. Turn right here and go one block to…
8. The Alberta Bair Theater. This performing arts theater opened in January of 1987. It is now the largest performing arts theater between Minneapolis and Spokane. It is also home to the Billings Symphony, Community Concerts and the Fox Committee for the performing arts. Leave the theater again on 3rd Ave. North heading southwest to Division Street. Turn left here. On your right will be …
9. The Moss Mansion. Built in 1901 for the Preston B. Moss family, the elegant home was designed by H. J. Hardenbergh, architect of the Waldorf-Astoria and Plaza Hotels in New York City. It was purchased in 1987 with original furnishings from the estate of Melville Moss. Tours are available March through October and at Christmas time. When you leave the Mansion, continue south on Division to Montana Ave. Turn left here and go to N. 28th Street. Just across the intersection to your right is…
10. The Western Heritage Center. This regional museum was originally built in 1909 as the Parmly Billings Library, and is named for the son of the founder of Billings. Exhibits change every six weeks (themes include saddle makers, steampower, quilts and western art). This museum is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Partially reprinted from Billings Chamber of Commerce brochure, excerpted from “The Ultimate Montana Atlas & Travel Encylcopedia.”
This Date in History: February 7, 1975
UFOs and Unsolved Mysteries
In 1975, something strange was brewing across the Midwest, and it was about to strike Montana’s Cascade County. For weeks, farmers and ranchers in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota had filed reports concerning the recent mysterious deaths of their range cattle. As the numbers rose to more than 200 cattle, investigators stepped in to try and determine the source of the problem. But investigators had no luck. The cattle exhibited no evidence of a struggle, there was no blood or debris anywhere on site, and there were no traces of any other animals or humans in the area.
Montana ranchers, hearing the news of their Midwest counterparts, counted themselves lucky at first. But on February 7, 1975, three Cascade County ranchers filed complaints about the recent deaths of healthy range cattle. No signs of foul play were evident similar to the Midwest reports, and Montana authorities were left searching for an answer.
To this day, no one has been able to offer an adequate explanation for the mysterious 1975 events. However, some people believe that extraterrestrials are to blame. Interestingly, UFO sightings and reports did increase signficantly across America at the same time that the cattle killings occurred.
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Lewis & Clark Expedition: Sacajawea Gives Birth
Excerpt from Lewis’ Journal Entry: 11th February Monday 1805
about five OClock this evening one of the wives of Charbono (Sacajawea) was delivered of a fine boy. it is worthy of remark that this was the first child which this woman had boarn, and as is common in such cases her labour was tedious and the pain violent; Mr. Jessome informed me that he had freequently administered a small portion of the rattle of the rattle-snake, which he assured me had never failed to produce the desired effect, that of hastening the birth of the child; having the rattle of a snake by me I gave it to him and he administered two rings of it to the woman broken in small pieces with the fingers and added to a small quantity of water. Whether this medicine was truly the cause or not I shall not undertake to determine, but I was informed that she had not taken it more than ten minutes before she brought forth
Reprinted from “The Journals of Lewis and Clark” edited by Bernard DeVoto