Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Face to Face with History in Great Falls Montana

The weather has been a bit stormy so it is wonderful to have some towny things to do.  I had planned a bit of time in Great Falls as I wanted to visit the Charles Russel Museum but I also just like to roam around to find what else there is to see and do.

Generally we arrive early in the day but some checking out the beautiful mansions in Helena helped us get a later than usual start so we arrived later in the day at Great Falls.

We first headed to the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center in Great Falls and arrived with plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful Museum.

There are many stops throughout the western states that give pieces of the Lewis and Clark history but this Interpretive Center weaves many of the stories together for visitors.  It has broad appeal and in my opinion a not to be missed stop for the casual visitor or the Lewis and Clark History buff.

                                          Meriwether Lewis                         William Clark

After many stops in Washington Oregon, Idaho and Montana we had gathered a great deal of  information about Lewis and Clark and had definitely learned the basics about Lewis and Clark.  I was still intrigued to learn more about how these two came together and also to learn more about their individual personalities that helped make their partnership so successful.

Their friendship was forged many years before the expedition when the two served together in the Military in 1793, when Lewis was in a Military Company commanded by Clark.  In 1801 Meriwether Lewis became a private secretary to President Thomas Jefferson.  In 1803 President Jefferson appointed Lewis as Commander of the expedition to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase.

Lewis selected Clark as his co-commander as he trusted him completely to carry on the command in the event of any emergency.   The War Department only authorized Clark as a Lieutenant.  Devastated by the news, Lewis could do nothing to rectify this slight to his friend.  Lewis and Clark never told the men of the expedition of the difference in rank and Lewis always treated Clark as his Co-Commander. 

        Lewis was serious, quiet and intense, while Clark was warm, outgoing and gregarious.

Lewis had gained much Military experience in his rapid rise from private to Captain in the Army and well as a great deal of practical experience with herbal plants and medicines.  Clark brought skills of map drawing, illustration and survey skills.  Their combined talents and respect for one another prepared them to become successful co-captains for the incredibly difficult task that they faced.

Both Lewis and Clark (as well of two enlisted members of the expedition) kept detailed journals documenting their travels.  The words recorded exceeded the number of words in the Bible.

As I roamed the displays of the visitor center I became far more fascinated in the human interaction of these two explorers than the details of hardship and locations of sites of their travel.

By far the most interesting exhibit at the center was a recreation of the canoe that they used while navigating the rivers and the "trailer" that they used to move it across land.   The display demonstrated the extraordinarily difficult task that faced the explorers in a way that words could never have expressed.

Displays with quotes from the diaries were particularly interesting. 

Meriwether Lewis...... Brief Glory - Mysterious Death

Following the Expedition, Lewis reported to Jefferson the findings of their travel, including the expedition maps, journals and collections.  Jefferson who was pleased with the results of the expedition, appointed him Governor of the Louisiana Territory.   Lewis spent the next three years embroiled in the politics of governing such a large territory.   On October 11, 1809 while on his way to Washington to settle a dispute regarding federal appropriations, he died of gunshot wounds , never having published his journals.

Jefferson and Clark believed Lewis committed suicide and most scholars today agree.  They point to Lewis' moods swings, frequent deep depression and his serious financial difficulties.  Other scholars and family believe he was murdered.  It remains unresolved to this day.

William Clark - Respected "Red-Headed Chief"

Following the Expedition Jefferson appointed Clark as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Louisiana Territory where he served for eighteen year.  He was known among the tribes as a fair and honest man.   After Lewis's death, Clark helps Nicholas Biddle to prepare a paraphrased edition of the journals that was published in 1814.  From 1813 to 1820 he served as Governor of the Missouri Territory.
Clark married Julia Hancock, (who he named the Judith River in Montana after).  Following her death in 1820 he married Harriet Radford.  He died at the home of his son, Meriwether Lewis Clark, in St. Louis in 1838.

 Clearly, the Lewis and Clark Expedition was the defining moment in the lives of these two explorers as well as the developing country. 

Near the visitor center is a Giant Springs State Park so we visited while we were nearby.
First recorded by the Lewis and Clark in 1805, it is one of the largest freshwater springs in the world, flowing at 156 million gallons of water per day!

We walked the cement path around the Springs and marveled at the surreal emerald green colors of the plants and bubbling waters.  As I walk this ground, I imagine what it looked like in the days of the Lewis and Clark Expedition before any development. 

We walked along the trail, and checked out the Giant Springs Fish Hatchery. 

There were no large tanks to be seen on the day we visited only the display tanks inside the visitor center.....it was a brief visit, the smells were overwhelming!

A evening walk along the rivers edge and we elected to stay and enjoyed a simple dinner that we prepared in the park.  SO handy to have everything you need....everywhere you go!!

 A road and a bike trail carriy you along the rivers edge to view the falls remaining after dam construction.

Low water levels are also due to summers heat exposing river banks. 

One of my main reasons for wanting to come to Great Falls would be our morning stop tomorrow.

But Sleep, Blessed Sleep Comes First......

Charlie Russell - Another Montana Favorite Son

I have always loved Charles Russell's Wild West Art.   It captured the interaction of old west characters without glamorizing the stereotypes of the Cowboys and Indians genre popular in his day.  

While I still had a sticks and bricks house I had a number of prints of Charles Russell's paintings and I was able to find a pic of one of them online to share with you.

"Camp Cooks Troubles"

The Museum did not allow interior photos which I honored but I was able to find a photo of one of the works of art that I found amazing.

It depicted a buffalo jump with the buffalo stampeding over the buffalo's broad back.

 Russell was a skilled artist with a talent for capturing both the early pioneer life and the Native American Culture  While he was not skilled in marketing his work, Nancy is generally given credit in making Russell an internationally known artist. She set up many shows for Russell throughout the United States and in London, creating many followers of Russell.

Charles Russell Art Studio

The museum is on the grounds of the house that he lived in with his family.  On the grounds is his studio which is undergoing renovation so it was not available for viewing at this time although you are able to go through the house.  I should like to see the studio one day.   .

On the day of Russell's funeral in 1926, all the children in Great Falls were released from school to watch the funeral procession. Russell's coffin was displayed in a glass sided coach, pulled by four black horses.  The coach is on display in the museum.

The buffalo is the treasured animal of the Montana Plains.

We will be leaving the Montana Plains heading to Glacier..... The flowers bid us goodbye.

Enjoy a song about Charles M. Russell sung by Ian Tyson from YouTube
Ian Tyson sings "The Gift" (Charlie Russell)


  1. An ecellent history lesson. Mariwether Lewis is from my home town and I have a real mixed feeling about the Lewis and Clark Expedition since it lead directly to the Manifest Destiny policy and that to the government's policy of genocide toward the Native Americans. For that reason I don't go to any of the historical spots celebrating it. But I surely do love that spring. So beautiful. Is the water warm?? That's quite an honor for Charlie Russel. Love those little tidbits.

  2. Lots of beautiful sites once again. I love the springs and how clear the water is with all its green plants