The Area’s Indian History
The southeast region of the state is understandably rich in Indian history. The Crow Indian Reservation is approximately 60 miles east of Billings, while the reservation for the Northern Cheyenne is a little farther east. Each August, the Indian community of Crow Agency becomes “Teepee Capital of the World” during the week-long Crow Fair. The colorful event is highlighted by parades with participants on horseback, dancers in colorful native dress, an all-Indian rodeo, and, of course, stands selling fair food that includes fry bread and Indian tacos.
Chief Plenty Coups State Park near Pryor, 35 miles southeast of Billings, preserves the farmstead and 1884 home of the important Crow chief who helped bridge the gap between two cultures. The Visitor Center and home include displays interpreting the chief’s life and importance. (http://stateparks.mt.gov/chief-plenty-coups/).
The area’s most memorable historical event occurred in 1876 when Custer’s 7th Cavalry was defeated at the Little Bighorn. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (formerly, Custer Battlefield National Monument), located 65 miles east of Billings, preserves the site where Lt. Col. George A. Custer and 262 soldiers died fighting several thousand Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. This proved to be one of the Indians’ final battles in an attempt to preserve their way of life. A short orientation film and display area are offered in the Visitor Center. Ranger talks and walking tours are offered several times daily during summer months. The road through the battlefield includes descriptive signs at important locations (www.nps.gov/libi).
Other Things to See and Do in the Billings Area
Big Horn County Historical Museum, 46 miles east of Billings, takes visitors back in time as they stroll through an outdoor museum arranged as a Western village with restored buildings that include a railroad depot, church, gas station and tourist cabins (www.bighorncountymuseum.org). The museum is quite impressive for such a small community.
Pompeys Pillar National Monument, 28 miles east of Billings, is the site of the only remaining mark left by Lewis and Clark during their epic expedition to explore the West. The 500-foot sandstone pillar beside the Yellowstone River served as Clark’s tablet when he stopped on July 25, 1806, to inscribe his name and date that remain clearly visible. The monument also has an impressive interpretive center with exhibits and a video. “Clark Days,” with many activities including a reenactment of Clark canoeing down the Yellowstone and landing at Pompeys Pillar, takes place the last weekend of July (www.pompeyspillar.org).
The picturesque resort town of Red Lodge, 60 miles southwest of Billings, is well worth a visit any time of year. The Beartooth Highway connecting Red Lodge with Yellowstone National Park is considered one of the most beautiful mountain roads in the state. Beartooth Bike Tours ferries passengers and bikes to the Montana-Wyoming border where enthusiasts enjoy scenic wonders and the wind in their faces as they bike down the mountain. (www.beartoothbiketours.com)
Red Lodge offers one especially unusual attraction: pig races. Each summer evening on Thursday through Sunday, Bear Creek Saloon and Steakhouse offers pig racing on a track behind the restaurant. We don’t remember pork being on the menu. (www.redlodge.com/bear creek).