Meeting Four Indian Chiefs at Home in Billings, MT
My younger sister and I got to talking about our mother Helen’s archeological papers and artifacts. They are on display at the Museum of the Rockies, located in Bozeman, MT. My sister insisted that I write this story, as best I remember it. The true event of meeting the Indian Chiefs was in late 1958 or early 1959. This story is based upon the memories of an eight year old boy. Some details are fuzzy but true enough.
Helen attended St. Vincent School of Nursing, and got her RN in 1937. It was then that she most likely helped Oscar Lewis discover the Ghost Cave, as mentioned later. After the World War II, Helen left her job as “Rosie the Riveter”, at the P51 Mustang assembly plant in California. She and her daughter came back to Red Lodge, MT, where Helen lived until 1949. She then married Oliver in Billings. She lived in Helena from 1954 until 1958. She then returned to Billings with her husband Oliver, who had accepted a position as Yard Master for the Billings Yard of the Northern Pacific Railroad. They lived in the same house just east of Pioneer Park all of their lives. They raised three children. They helped raise seven grand children and five great grand children.
The three caves—Pictograph, Middle, and Ghost—has been home for humans for over 9,000 years.
Archaeologist H. Melville Sayre began scientific documentation of the cave’s contents in 1937. In the largest cave, a Works Progress Administration (WPA) crew documented 106 rock art images and numerous artifacts. Sayre brought in an amateur archaeologist, Oscar Lewis, and, with the help of WPA workers, they undertook a major excavation, uncovering tools, jewelry, animal bones, and hearths of ancient fires. Trained archaeologist William T. Mulloy replaced Sayre in 1940.
Helen attended St. Vincent School of Nursing and got her Registered Nurse diploma in 1937. Helen worked with Oscar Lewis on the excavation and helped discover the Ghost Cave.
Billings Archeological Society
Upon Helen’s return to Billings with her family in the spring of 1958 she helped found the Billings Archeology Club. She became its first President. She typed up the minutes on mimeograph paper so she could make copies for the members using a used machine she had bought and moved to the basement of her house.
I attended the first meeting with her and became its youngest member. Helen waited expectantly for Oscar Lewis to show up but he did not. I met Willard Frazier, the mayor of Billings. I liked him right away. He took an interest in me and asked me questions. I got to ask him questions too. Having recently arrived in Billings, I was curious what a Mayor did. I never bothered to study the matter further and learned what I know about being Mayor from my good friend Jay, back in the 90’s days of living in Stillwater, MN. I remember meeting lots of members of the Billings Archeological Society at its digs among the Crow Indian buffalo (bison) jumps, snow traps, trails, campsites, and such.
Four Chiefs Visit
Sometime later our home, located just east of Pioneer Park in Billings, Montana was visited by three Indian Chiefs who were there in person and a fourth Chief who was there in spirit. I have assumed all these years they were gathered to honor the work being done by Helen during her work with the Billings Archeological Society.
My younger and youngest sisters sat to my might. Oliver sat on the north edge of the table. Helen was on the northwest corner of the table. I sat at the southeast corner of the table facing west. The three Chiefs were sitting along the western edge of the table with the fourth vacant seat on the southwest corner.
Prior to sitting down, I watched one of the chiefs unwrap hid headdress containing a decorative band with hide loops holding beautiful eagle feathers in place. I was not allowed to touch anything but I could watch as he put on his headdress. By the time Chief completed putting on his eagle feather headdress, the other two Chiefs had completed their headdresses too.
After introductions I asked the Chief across from me why the fourth Chief’s chair was empty. He replied that the Chief was too far away to be there in person but was there in spirit. At the time I took the missing chief to be a lake tribe Chief from Minnesota but do not remember being told that. Perhaps the missing Chief was Lakota Sioux, under the presumption that the three seated Chiefs were Crow, Cheyenne, and Shoshone.
That is my personal recollection of the meeting. The events described may be corrected by a reading the Billings Archeological Society minutes.
Over subsequent years I read many books about making Indian clothing, tools, arrowheads, spear points, and so forth. I even broke Helen’s obsidian rock, hoping to make arrow heads. I found the work too exacting and abandoned the effort as taking too much time. Besides, my mind was already involved in reading books on falconry, mountain climbing, building cabins in the backwoods of Alaska, Maine, and Minnesota, riding with Magellan and Charles Darwin around the tip of South America.
Reading is about working with read words, wrapped up with visual images inside the brain. The more a human stores up by reading, the more they have to let out with their writing.
This story continues in another story titled “Oglala Lakota Sioux”.
This story continues with a plea to President Obama to visit the Oglala Lakota Sioux and Crow Indian tribes.