Madison Buffalo Jump: The deep past in Gallatin County

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One of the first historic sites I visited in Montana was the Madison Buffalo Jump State Park.  That ancient property–in use for an estimated 2000 years before the last kill c. 1750–reflected how Native Americans used the landscape resources in unique ways to feed their families, build their lives and create their material culture–the buffalo was so central to Plains Indian culture.

Gallatin Co Madison Buffalo Jump 5

The park then was little different than what I found in 2015.  Ranches and development have not yet encroached on this National Register listed property, about seven miles south of Logan.  The cliff over which the Native Americans would chase buffalo to their animals death is still stark, a foreboding intrusion over the surrounding landscape.

IMG_6794I used a slide taken in 1982 in all of my public presentations about the Montana state historic preservation plan back in 1984-1985.  I found out that few Montanans knew of the place and its history.  What has changed since the 1980s?  The park is still little known and receives infrequent visitors.  In my 2015 fieldwork, I saw signs of new heritage development–the park sign, a bit of improvement to the outdoor interpretive center, and new interpretive exhibits with a more inclusive public interpretation and strong Native American focus.

First Nations Buffalo Jump–then called the Ulm Piskun–in Cascade County was much like the Madison property 30 years ago.  Both had unbelievable integrity of setting and association–you actually felt like you were in a historic landscape hundreds of years old. But today with its new visitor center and museum, the First Nations site is a superb teaching tool about the ancient patterns of Montana’s historic landscape.  Let’s hope that the champion for the Madison Buffalo Jump State Park soon appears–with such growth in Gallatin and Madison counties the last 30 years both new and old residents need a place that tells of the deep Native American history impeded in the Montana landscape.

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