Livingston’s Mountain View Cemetery

img_3013On the northwestern outskirts of Livingston is Mountain View Cemetery, another of the historic properties that certainly existed when I carried out the 1984-1985 fieldwork for the Montana state historic preservation plan, but since it was a cemetery, we as a field gave it, or any cemetery for that matter, little consideration thirty years ago.


As soon as you get past the 1966 entrance gates, you find a cemetery that is certainly historic–established as the town was beginning in the 1880s and still used by community over 125 years later.  Mountain View is also aesthetically interesting in its overall plan, with its intricate pattern of curvilinear drives and well-ordered arrangement of graves, then several of the grave markers themselves are impressive Victorian statements, of grief, of family, and of pride of accomplishment.

The section set aside for Union veterans of the Civil War was the most interesting historic feature to me.  As explored in other posts over the last three years, Montana has many reminders of the Civil War era within its built environment. Clearly in the early decades of the cemetery, this section with its separate flag pole and government-issued grave markers was very similar to what a national cemetery might be.  The generation that established the cemetery also wished to remember and signal out for praise the veterans of the great war that had just consumed the nation.


Within this section of Mountain View are also grave markers that are not government issued slabs of marble but that are more expressed of the sense of loss felt by the family. Below is the granite pulpit, with a bible resting on top, for Frank Baker, who died in 1896 but, as the marker notes, was a veteran of Company I of the 49th New York Infantry.


The David K. Buchanan marker, of the stone masonry type associated with the Woodmen of the World in other Yellowstone Valley cemeteries, dates to 1907, and records the calvary career of this Union veteran from Pennsylvania in the “civel war.” (original spelling)

Mountain View has several impressive examples of these Woodmen of the World grave markers that have a floral tree motif, with limbs sawn off to suggest how the body of society was lessened by the individual’s death.

Of particular interest is the marker for the Rickard family where the two trees, one for each spouse and one child , are linked together, symbolizing a family tightly intertwined in death as they were in life.


The George Gannon grave marker is a variation on the Woodmen trees, where a logs carved in stone serve as a base for an open book that tells his story.  Victorian era cemeteries are often very expressive, and the Mountain View Cemetery in Livingston has many other


interesting grave markers scattered throughout its grounds. The cemetery, with its beautiful setting, well-kept grounds, and expressive memorials, give night to the historic people of Livingston in a way that streetscapes and historic houses rarely capture.


Fracking Roosevelt County: The Boom Seeps into the Montana Hi-Line

The 21st century boom in the Williston Basin has significantly reshaped western North Dakota, and as that region “fills up,” the boom has spread into far eastern Montana, especially along the Hi-Line corridor of U.S. Highway 2 and the historic Great Northern Railway. The photo above is along U.S. 2 on the outskirts of the tiny town of Bainville, the first place of any size you encounter as you travel west along the highway, or railroad, into Roosevelt County.
Bainville, Roosevelt Co (p84 11-14)
When I visited Bainville in early 1984 I recorded a town in decline. True, its 1950s modernist passenger depot was still there, but there had been a steady drop in population for decades. Thirty years later, the remnants of that decline were still there: abandoned brick neoclassical-styled bank; an elevator complex on the verge of collapse.
But signs of new growth were there as well in 2013. The recently expanded public school was one thing while the large man camp then under construction just east of the town was another–and a project that really concerned local residents since the camp’s population would be larger than the town itself.
The next town west on the Hi-Line is Culbertson, where the impact of the Williston Basin was even more noticeable. A modern school complex had replaced one that dated to the New Deal. Indeed the New Deal’s once profound impact on Culbertson–a public office building and armory–had been eclipsed not only by the modern school but also a new county office building all shiny and bright.

The 1930s armory in Culbertson MT

The 1930s armory in Culbertson MT

New county office building in Culbertson

New county office building in Culbertson

The man camps were already taking available land, even becoming a village in itself between the town’s historic cemetery and the railroad tracks. To capture the burial site of Civil War veteran Marcus A. Denney of the 6th Minnesota Infantry in the foreground and the man camp in the background by the elevators creates a snapshot, literally, of the periods of change in Culbertson over 150 years.
Truckers and workers flying along U.S. Highway 2 in past decades would have spied the metal sculptures of Lewis and Clark near the local museum–but these iconic figures are no longer what immediately captures your eyes as you speed along the corridor.
What you notice is everyone lined up for that human fuel that powers the commute between man camp and tracking well: the Frackin’ Java coffee stand. A true sign of the times along the eastern gateway of U.S. 2 in Montana.

Bannack: Boom Town to Ghost Town to State Park

IMG_3078My first trip to Beaverhead County in 1981 had two primary goals–and the first was to explore Bannack, the roots of Montana Territory, and one of its best connections to Civil War America. As this simple wooden sign below remarks, here in 1862 the first gold strike in what became Montana Territory occurred.


The road into Bannack passes through sparsely populated country, and you wonder what the miners, and then the families, who passed this way thought as they approached the town by foot or by horse, if they were lucky.  The “road” then of course was not more than

Bannack Roada path because the glistening bits of metal loose in the sands of the creek had never interested the Native Americans but news of the find was enough to drive easterners, many of them southerners, away from the landscape of war and into a wholly different place, crested by beautiful mountains.IMG_3138Grasshopper Creek was not much of place then, and even now, but this stream of water became the source of a boom that eventually reshaped the boundaries of the northern Rockies and nearby its banks grew the town of Bannack, a name taken in part from the Bannock Indians who had used this landscape in far different ways for many years.

Bannack streetscapeThe story of the preservation of Bannock begins with local land owners, who protected the site, and kept most of the buildings from being scattered across the region.  There was little official interest in the place at first.  The state Daughters of American Revolution

IMG_3023marked it in 1925, otherwise the buildings remained, some in use as residences or for public purposes, others melting away in the demanding climate. The Boveys moved the Goodrich Hotel to their preservation project at Virginia City and transformed it into the Fairweather Inn, which is still in use as lodging.


Fairweather Inn in Virginia City.

The old Goodrich Hotel is not the only thing that Virginia City got from Bannack.  Bannack was the first territorial capital of Montana, but then in early 1865 the territorial offices moved to Virginia City.  Bannack’s boom had already started to decline, and the boom seemed never ending to the east in Madison County.

IMG_3071In 1954, the Beaverhead County Historical Society transferred about 1/3 of the present property to the state for protection and development as a state park.  Not until 1961 did the National Park Service recognize the town as a National Historic Landmark.

Ever since the state has repaired buildings and structures as necessary but decided long ago to preserve the town as a ghost town–last residents outside of park rangers left in the 1970s–and not to “restore” it like a Colonial Williamsburg treatment.  Thus, it is very

much a rough, open experience for visitors at the town.  Doors are open, nooks and crannies can be explored.  Public interpretation, outside of the small visitor center, is scant, although more than what I found in 1984, as this back room of old interpretive markers reminded me.

IMG_3110Gritty, dusty, forlorn:  yes, Bannack is the real deal for anyone wanting to explore ground zero of the gold rush era in Montana, and to think about how in the midst of the great Civil War, federal officials found time to support adventurous citizens to launch a new territory in forgotten expanses of the northern Rockies.

Bannack NHL school, masons 10I thought that 30 years ago I “got” Bannack–there wasn’t much that I missed here.  I was wrong.  Probably like thousands of other visitors who fly into the town, and leave just as quickly, I missed what is still called the “new” town cemetery.  Almost hidden in the sagebrush along Bannack Road, the “new” cemetery is not Boot Hill–where is Plummer

IMG_3082buried people still want to know–but it is a remarkable place of hand-carved tombstones, others rich with Victorian imagery, and a few that are poignant reminders of the Civil War veterans who came here and stayed.


Bannack is one of the great rural cemeteries in Montana.  Don’t make my mistake from 1984–stop here and explore.



Montana’s Civil War Veterans: Dillon’s Mountain View Cemetery

As a series of feature articles in the Great Falls Tribune have emphasized for the past 3 years, Montana does have a Civil War story, just one that has been forgotten, even neglected over the decades.  To be sure like most people exploring the Montana landscape, I too had trouble seeing those elements–outside of General Thomas Meagher’s commanding statue in front of the State Capitol in Helena.  But as I have been back in the Big Sky Country the last three years, I have found many places that help tell the state’s story in the years that transformed the United States into the country we know today.  It is more than the the Civil War Sesquicentennial that drove my greater attention–in Tennessee I am the co-chair of the state’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, and here in the Volunteer State it is often all about the Civil War.

To mark Montana’s Civil War landscape, and to honor the many veterans who have served their communities, their state, and their country in this week before Veteran’s Day, I want to draw your attention to a truly exceptional place–the Mountain View Cemetery in Dillon, Montana.


The cemetery contains a wealth of grave markers and statuary from the late 19th and into the 20th centuries.  The view from the cemetery is truly inspiring as well–it is among the best maintained community cemeteries in western Montana.



What is most striking about Mountain View Cemetery is its attention to veterans and the number of former Union soldiers buried within the cemetery.  The standardized U.S. Army shield grave marker, with the soldier’s name and his unit listed, is found in abundance at Mountain View throughout the older parts of the cemetery.


Here is just a sampling of the Civil War veterans memorialized at the cemetery:

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IMG_3652  IMG_3656


The most remarkable tribute to the veterans at Mountain View Cemetery comes from the mid-20th century:  a somber tree-lined path to veterans from more recent wars, heralded by a statue calling for freedom, honor, and justice, values that drove those federal soldiers in the Civil War and values that our veterans today take into fields of conflict across the

IMG_3625 IMG_3626

the world.  Thank you all veterans for your service to our nation.