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Fort Benton’s Museums Open for the Season

Last Friday evening I drove to Fort Benton for their annual “firing of the cannon” to signal opening day for the community’s museums.

I was a bit late after scrambling through the work day but the drive was gorgeous and I gradually began to wind down by time I took the turn in to Fort Benton.

The opening party was held at the Old Fort – a rebuilt version of the original fort that began this town. The first thing I saw was the American Fur Company flag proudly flying against a backdrop of beautiful blue sky. Over the years community promoters have gradually worked on the fort and now they have the perimeter completely closed – it definitely looks like a fort!

I need to add that it’s much more than just a structure of a fort.

The trading post and Starr Gallery have amazing displays inside which make it easier to understand just how this fort would have operated. Oh yeah, having “characters” in period dress doesn’t hurt either! I think some of those characters have a blast portraying history.

The festivities Friday night were held outside. Chairs were placed to face the stage where River and Plains executive director Randy Morger kicked off the celebration.  

Journalist and blogger Ed Kemmick talked about his experiences in finding hidden gems in the lesser populated areas of Montana. That would include a good portion of Central Montana!

And, he and his brother became a musical duo with a guitar and a resonator (looked like a guitar, sounded like a banjo).  

Helena-area entertainer Bruce Anfinson finished out the program, strumming his guitar, singing and sharing his history.

I took a few minutes during the program and toured the Starr Gallery of Western Art which is part of the fort. This is the third year

that they have shown sculptor Bob Scriver’s “No More Buffalo” series of bronzes. I’ve seen each one and wow, this last grouping is best. OK, I think I’ve said that each year has been the best but, bottom line, I really would encourage everyone to see this.

One display really caught my eye. It didn’t look like the other bronzes because it had a turquoise color to it. The story was heart-warming too.

I’ll share what I remember – the display is titled Tail Feathers Woman. She was a beautiful Native American girl, with many young men interested in marrying her. Finally, Morning Sun met her one day while she was walking on a trail. He led her to the heavens where she met his family (Sun was his father, Moon was his mother). One day Tail Feathers Woman started digging in the heavens where she had been told not to dig. It made a hole in the sky where the north star is now. Tail Feathers Woman looked down and saw the mountains, buffalo and homes of her people. She began to cry. At first Morning Star was angry but then he understood her sadness. He used a strong spider web to lower her through the hole made by digging turnips and she returned to her people.

It is stories like this that make the art so interesting. I need to go back and spend more time while this significant display is at the Fort.

The opening night event was a huge success – people mingled and visited, we learned some history and we enjoyed the ambiance of the fort in this charming small town.

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