Historic Trails Research Road Trip

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Posted by Beej ( on 19:44:20 07/23/17

July 16th, 2017, I carried out a research unit I've been trying to pull off since early June, when I first contemplated the snowy Absaroka-Beartooth mountain wall. The road up the Chief Joseph was open, so I took the recently plowed out road through Cooke City.

This time, thanks to a paleontology-archaeology conference at the new Worland Museum, I was able to kick off my researches from Greybull on the Bighorn River. So let's turn our minds back to the thrilling days of yesteryear, in Spring of 1860, when Captain William Raynolds,James Bridger, and Ferdinand Hayden set off May 24th from camp on the Popo Agie to ascend the Wind River and try to break into Yellowstone from the south. He'd split the original party in two, and assigned the reliable Lt. Henry Maynadier, Snowden as topographer, Fillebrown as meteorologist, Dr. Hines as physician, plus 25 miscellaneous packers, drivers and herders as assistants. One Paul Duval was identified as the guide. Their assignment was to travel up the Big Horn Basin and rendezvous with Raynolds in the vicinity of Three Fork about July 1st, in order to prepare for observations of an eclipse scheduled for July 18th.

Duval doesn't show up in any other documentation than the Raynolds Report, so he was evidently someone they hired from the vicinity of the winter camp at Deer Creek, near Bissonette's trading post. Probably someone known to Bridger as knowledgeable about the country.

By May 26th, Maynadier's party had moved north to the Big Horn River, reaching the hot springs at Thermopolis on May 30th. On June 4th, they passed the confluence of the No Water with the Big Horn (Manderson today). The following day, they started up the Greybull River, struggling with stream crossings because of high water. In the next days, they killed several buffalo for fresh meat and hides, preparing to make a boat. I should mention that in addition to pack animals, they had at least two wagons and an odometer cart. On June 8th, they reached the Shoshone River, here a real obstacle to northern progress. They surveyed for a crossing almost all the way into Cody, but finally decided to chance a crossing on an underwater ridge between Powell and Ralston. Here they tipped one of the wagons, losing much of their equipment, a hand of mules and their harness, and probably their compasses and chronometers. They were able to salvage a box of paper and the odometer unit.

I chose to follow a good road along the north side of the Greybull until it rejoined State Road 30 near Otto, then broke off to the north on a series of county roads until coming into Burlington. A dry and rugged ridge to the north separates the Greybull from the rest of the world, and it's pretty obvious that one will have to "mind the gap" to change drainages.

Went due west out of B-ton, which turns into the historic Bridger Trail (with interpretive signs!), and bends north to cross the Dry Fork, aiming for Bridger Butte on the skyline. Entered the McCullough Peaks Wild Horse tract, forded the creek, but decided I didn't have enough information to get anywhere close to Bridger Butte. Came back out, and went east to SR 32, the road to Powell and Lovell. Turned west on 295 to Willwood, where the road west towards Hart Mountain evaporated and forced me into Powell. The crossing of the Shoshone (Stinking Water) River was huge enough to show why Maynadier had so much trouble here.

The present river is pretty substantial as is, plus there is a level on the north side which may be due to pond-building or terracing. In any case, in the middle of July, there was a lot of water here. Left the lush lands behind, taking 294 north to the top of the watershed between Polecat Bench and the ridge running east from Hart Mountain, which is the main exclamation point on the landscape. As soon as you're over the top, the country turns to desert and badlands.

Maynadier's men passed north over "Sage Creek" which is probably today's Sand Draw, reaching the Clark's Fork on June 15th. They went north along this river until they encountered a reasonably well timbered stream coming in from the west. The only one I could find that came close to meeting the description was Bear Creek. By June 20th, they left the Clark's Fork behind and went up the tributary, climbing some pretty steep hills in the process. On June 21st, they were on "Rosebud Creek", where name changes begin to get complicated. I think they came down on Rock Creek, in the vicinity of today's Red Lodge.

The round-about in Red Lodge may be more of a historical truism than one would expect, because it directs the touring visitor towards Roscoe on SR 78, keeping as Maynadier put it, only a few miles from the base of the mountains. Eventually I hit the channel of the modern Rosebud at Roscoe, and followed it downstream to Absarokee, where it is joined by the Stillwater, and takes that name. Maynadier reached the Yellowstone on June 23rd, starting up river on the south side the next day. Difficulties crossing the Yellowstone slowed down the party, and they spent the 26th-28th getting across the river with a hide boat (later Yellowstone Ford at Boulder River). They were on the Shields River (east of Livingston) on June 30th, following a lodge trail westward towards the Gallatin. They reconnected with Raynolds' party on July 3rd.

Plotting all this out on Google Earth, I was surprised at how much one had to yaw to the west in order to get north to the Yellowstone. The time warp was in effect...I had to keep in mind that this was 1860, and Bridger and Bozeman raced their trail routes in 1864. Obviously, Bridger knew the country, and tutored Duval well. Maynadier had no complaints about him. I was pretty amazed at how cultural expression has modified the landscape (ditches and Russian olive, anyone?), but it was good to note areas which still remain undisturbed. And one of these days, maybe we'll have pictures!

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