I stopped at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls, MT yesterday and visited with Nancy Fonicello who was cleaning an item called a bull boat. The boat was donated by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) to the foundation that supports the Interpretive Center.
Nancy is a conservator – her goal was to clean and assess the condition of the bull boat. She was wiping the entire boat with latex sponges using no cleaning fluids, not even water.
There isn’t much information available about this artifact. It was definitely a mode of transportation, about five feet in diameter and it was made from a cow hide, not a buffalo hide. The bull boat’s frame is made from willow trees and the lashing is a combination of sinew and commercially made twine.
When you consider the materials used in building this bull boat it is amazing that it lasted as long as it has.
I’ve seen paintings of Native Americans using a bull boat and they always portray one person in the boat with something resembling a paddle.
I hope there is funding available to create a display at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center for this artifact. Our research shows that many of our visitors to Central Montana are following the Lewis & Clark Trail or visiting key sites along the way. This exhibit and a visit to the Interpertive Center could enhance any Montana vacation.