Red Lodge Cemetery, Carbon County, Montana

As you leave downtown Red Lodge on Montana Highway 78 heading towards Roscoe, you find the Red Lodge Cemetery high on the bluffs overlooking the town, and not far from the gateway to the county fairgrounds. The cemetery is remarkable. A few years ago residents worked with the Montana State Historic Preservation Office to place the Red Lodge Communal Mausoleum, from the 1920s, in the National Register of Historic Places. The impressive Classical Revival styled building is certainly the centerpiece of the cemetery.

Red Lodge Mausoleum

But as the grave markers in the front of the building document, the cemetery itself makes a powerful statement of the ethnic diversity of Red Lodge, especially during its coal mining era from the late 1880s into the middle of the 20th century. Twenty years ago Bonnie Christensen’s book on the ethnic groups who worked in and around Red Lodge, mostly in coal mines but not always, documented how local history went against the stereotypes of the mythic West. A walk through this cemetery, with grave markers from residents who came from the United Kingdom and Ireland or Central Europe or the Mediterranean and especially from Scandinavia, makes history books like that of Christensen become jarringly real.

Two of the more interesting markers bookend the mausoleum and mark the lives of immigrants from Italy who were also members, judging from the markers’ form and style, of the Woodmen of the World.

The mausoleum is not the only crypt. Located behind the mausoleum and facing the mountains to the west is the Powers grave house, built of concrete.

Scattered throughout are child grave markers from the early 20th century, perhaps none more poignant that the hand-scripted concrete marker for Angjelka Rodjena who died not even one year old in 1923.

The concentration of ethnic markers around the mausoleum and to the north of the building is the central pattern of the cemetery. But to the southwest of the mausoleum is the veterans section, marked by an American flag, which documents the long tradition of military service from the 20th century, and 21st century, residents of Red Lodge and Carbon County.

The veterans section in the center of the cemetery is a powerful reminder of what the United States is about. We are a nation of nations–here that reality is loud and clear–but when faced by the enemy, we bind together and sacrifice for the good of the country.

The Scenic and Historic Landscape of Montana Highway 78

IMG_5824Montana Highway 78 is not one of the state’s major roads nor one of its recognized special routes of scenic and cultural wonders.  Yet as the road cuts away from the Stillwater River in southern Stillwater County and heads into the bare yet compelling rolling hills of Carbon County, it cuts quite a path, a winding road that goes by historic stock barns, one-room schools, streams coming out of the mountains, and overviews suggesting the grandeur and mystery of this place.

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Gambrel-roof barn near Fishtail, Highway 78

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Classic center-aisle stock barn with side extensions, Highway 78 outside of Roscoe

IMG_5819The Hogan School is a turn of the twentieth century delight, the model one-room schoolhouse design of that period.  The Hogan family had established the county’s first rural school in 1887; this later building served the surrounding ranch kids until 1967.  Its preservation today is an excellent example of local stewardship by the property owner.

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There are several different pull-offs along the road, with one dedicated to two very different historic markers.  One interprets how the Bozeman Trail cut through this landscape in the 1860s:  it is the historic Montana Highway Historic Marker, part of the program documented by Glenda Bradshaw and Jon Axline in their work, and dates back to the mid-20th century when the state got serious about developing heritage tourism experiences for visitors. Next to the rustic-themed state marker is a private marker, honoring J.E. Madson, an influential early Lutheran pastor in the region.  Its Art Deco styling is totally different from the historical marker but it also ties into the highway aesthetic of the mid-20th century.

IMG_5833Roscoe is my favorite hamlet along Highway 78, in part because of the local effort to preserve such key landmarks as the schoolhouse along the highway and because of the preservation of historic commercial buildings from the town’s heyday 100 years ago.

IMG_5825The real reason I always visit Rosecoe whenever possible is the same reason generations of Montanans come here–the Grizzly Bar.  I first discovered the Grizzly in 1984 and loved its look, its hospitality, its community feel, and oh yeah, its steaks.

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IMG_5828Thirty years later, thank goodness the grizzly bear sculpture still dominated the facade, although the sign itself had been modernized.  The place also had expanded in size–but its feel remained much as it was in the 1980s and 1990s:  mostly a community gathering place particularly on the weekend that also could be flexible and accommodating enough to welcome us visitors in the summer.  It is one of the best rural bars in the state.

IMG_5711Another highway pull-off provides one of those “Scenic Overlooks” found through the state.  This one perhaps not as spectacular as others but also giving travelers a sense of what this landscape is like, and what awaits them as they continue down to Highway 78’s southern terminus at Red Lodge, where the preservation ethic and the successes over 30 years will be the next topics of the blog.