In an effort to squeeze in as much as possible for my friends who arrived recently on Amtrak, I scheduled an 8:15 am tour at Wahkpa Chu’gn bison kill site in Havre.
Our first challenge was the weather -it had turned pretty chilly. Probably not out of line for the end of October but I wasn’t ready for it. The second challenge was a delay with Amtrak so I was rescheduling a couple of things. My solution was to do a tour at Havre’s bison kill site quite early.
We had coffee and continental breakfast at the BW Great Northern Inn in Havre, checked out, and drove to Wahkpa Chu’gn. It wasn’t far since the site is located right behind Holiday Village Shopping Mall. I glanced at the outside temp recorder in my car and noticed it was 20 degrees. Ah, but the sun was shining beautifully and there didn’t seem to be any wind.
As we turned in to the mall parking lot I noticed a new sign for Wahkpa Chu’gn. The sign faces US Hwy 2 and it looked great with teepee poles, a fiberglass buffalo alongside it and some interpretive panels.
We met volunteer tour guide John Park at the entrance to the site. He was bundled with plenty of warm clothes and was carrying an atlatl. There are atlatl throwing contests in Montana, an atlatl society, an atlatl championship…well, you get the picture. It’s something many people haven’t even heard of but it was used before horses were introduced to the Plains Indians.
The thing I like most about Wahkpa Chu’gn is that it is easy for someone who hasn’t studied archaeology or paleontology to understand the area. Small sheds have been built around excavation sites where the earth has been exposed. Visitors see the different layers of soil and the tour guide explains the variations in colors, bones protruding, fire pits and their history.
Wahkpa Chu’gn was used by different peoples over time. The tour guide talks about the timeframes of use for the site.
Site manager John Brumley discovered bones at this location when he was only 14 years old. Brumley has cared for Wahkpa Chu’gn for many years and has persevered in promoting and explaining the history associated with it.
There are 113 steps from the top of the hill to the area where paved trails lead to the different excavation sheds. Morning frost had made those steps nice and slippery so we took our time descending. I’ve been to this site when the temp was in the high 90s so this was quite a contrast.
This photo shows our group coming back up the wooden steps after the tour. While the sun was shining beautifully, the bison kill site area was in the shade during our entire visit.
A recent grant written for Wahkpa Chu’gn will provide funding to add a tram for easier access to the site and the sheds will be completely replaced. We saw the beginning excavation for the tram.
While we were touring we saw a BNSF freight train below us. The rail lines run along the bottom of the site following the Milk River. What a pretty sight!
Even though Wahkpa Chu’gn is located directly behind a shopping mall, once you are there you see farmland and the river.
Although we were pretty chilly, everyone enjoyed learning the history of Wahkpa Chu’gn. John also let us throw the atlatl – we may have some future champions in our group!