The Billings Outpost

Reenactment still on for Medicine Tail Coulee

Reenactors plunge into the river on their way to combat in the Real Bird Reenactment. Photo courtesy of the Custer Battlefield Museum

GARRYOWEN – The 21st annual Battle of the Little Bighorn Reenactment, hosted by the Real Bird Family at Medicine Tail Coulee, will go on as scheduled.

On Thursday, June 25, at 4 p.m., in memory of the Native Americans and members of the United States 7th Calvary who fell in combat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, a wreath will be laid at the Peace Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Garryowen. Following the commemoration, a three-volley rifle salute will be given, and the American flag will be lowered to half-staff by the U.S. Cavalry School’s staff and students.

Visitors are encouraged to arrive early to see the contingent of mounted riders in full uniform as they arrive at the town of Garryowen for this solemn ceremony honoring the combatants on each side of the historic Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 June 2015 13:06

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Cavalry School offers broad training

The U.S. Cavalry School, based at Fort Harrison offers horsemanship and tactics training on the staff ride at Custer’s Last Stand and at its “Custer’s Last Ride” Adventure Course.

Members train to fight in the Little Bighorn Battle Reenactment, receive gun familiarization training for horses, make cavalry encampments and get instruction in cavalry history.

Training focuses on the Civil War and Indian War period of the Frontier Cavalry trooper. Participants can experience the U.S. Cavalry School on the banks of the Little Bighorn River at Garryowen, Methow Valley of Washington State, Helena or at your location.

The school has equestrian trainers, subject matter instructors, and support personnel. The professional staff includes retired military officers and NCOs, some with active Army Cavalry service; Frontier Army and Native American scholars; experienced movie re-enactors, and Northwest outfitters.

Families and first-time riders are welcome. Experienced horsemen and re-enactors also are trained.

The “Custer’s Last Ride” Adventure/Little Bighorn Cavalry Adventure is June 20-28. The ride retraces Custer’s trail, camping on the banks of the Little Bighorn, and takes part in the reenactment.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 June 2015 13:00

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Gauntlets donated

Custer’s leather gauntlets are at the Custer Battlefield Museum.

The Custer Battlefield Museum in Garryowen is the location of Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s red, white and blue beaded, elk hide gauntlets, which were reportedly removed from Custer’s body following the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

“These amazing gauntlets have been privately held by Native Americans and passed down through the years and survived the last 139 years,” said Christopher Kortlander, Founding Director.

According to oral and written history, the gauntlets were beaded for Custer by the Sioux with a design, which helped identify Custer, who was a friend to some Native Americans. Following Custer’s death on Last Stand Hill, the gloves were reportedly taken from his body by a Sioux woman, believed to be the wife of a Sioux chief, and later returned to the Sisseton Sioux who originally beaded the gauntlets.

Tom Greenwood, an early Native American activist and advocate, who helped to create the Indian Services League of Chicago in the early 1950’s, received the gauntlets from his father in 1938 (Greenwood’s grandfather was a Chief of the Sisseton Sioux tribe.) Greenwood strictly adhered to the instructions of the Sisseton Sioux that the gloves never be allowed to be touched or possessed by any agency or representative of the federal government. In the late 1940’s, Greenwood passed the gauntlets to a Native American friend and colleague Richard Becker, who then passed them on to Richard Jorgensen in 1982.

Mr. Jorgensen held the gauntlets in safekeeping for the next three decades, until he donated them to the nonprofit Custer Battlefield Museum.

 He felt the gauntlets’ proper place was among the museum’s outstanding collection, where they will be on display for public viewing. Mr. Jorgensen remarked, “Now that I’ve reached 74 years old, ideally, it’s time to pass them on.”

The gauntlets, reportedly one of a few known items of General Custer’s personal effects taken from the historic Battlefield, feature a large beaded red, white, and blue star on the cuff of each glove, signifying Custer’s previous military rank.  The gauntlets show moderate wear and a dark stain on the left glove that is purported to be Custer’s blood. They are featured on permanent display at the Custer Battlefield Museum or can be seen online at

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 June 2015 12:56

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Early map depicts battle

Courtesy of Chris Kortlander private collection This map appeared in the New York Semi-Weekly Tribune on July 14, 1876.

The New York SemiWeekly Tribune  ran the story of the Little Bighorn battle on Friday, July 14, 1876. Entitled “Custer’s Last Battle,” the lengthy narrative was accompanied by a map, or “Scene of the Little Big Horn Massacre,” and, at only three weeks after the battle, is widely accepted as the first battlefield map image to be published.

For the purpose of clarifying the interpretation of the map, a portion of the article, subtitled “The Death of Custer,” follows:

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 June 2015 12:41

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Little Bighorn Days start in Hardin

HARDIN – Little Bighorn Days gets under way June 24 in Hardin and continues through Sunday, June 28.

Although the Custer’s Last Stand reenactment has been canceled this year, a full slate of events is scheduled, ranging from a historical book fair to a street dance.

The celebration ends with a nondenominational church service at 11 a.m. Sunday.

The schedule for the first two days is in this week’s Insider Calendar. The remainder of the schedule is below.



8 a.m. - 6 p.m.


Big Horn County Historical Museum, East of Hardin (small fee)

9 a.m. - 4 p.m.


$10 per person, Center Cinema  318 N. Center Ave.

Sponsor: Custer Battlefield Historical Museum Assn.

9 a.m. - 5 p.m.


Bob Smith Ford  416 N. Center Ave.

Sponsor: Custer Battlefield Historical Museum Assn.

9 a.m. - 6 p.m.


Downtown Center Ave.

Sponsor: JailHouse Gallery

10 a.m. - 6 p.m.


Big Horn County Library 410 N. Custer Ave.

Sponsor: Big Horn Undercover Gals (free)

11 a.m.


Downtown Center Ave.

Sponsor: Hardin Kiwanis

6 p.m.


Big Horn County Fairgrounds

Indian Relay Races




7 a.m.


5 K Run/Walk- $20 to participate/Mojes  829 West 3rd St.

8 a.m. - 5 p.m.


$55.00 per person, Sponsor: Custer Battlefield Historic Museum Assn.

For more info call Ted Heath 319-329-1315

8 a.m. - 6 p.m.


Big Horn County Historical Museum, East of Hardin (small fee)

9 a.m.


Downtown Center Ave.

Sponsor: JailHouse Gallery

9 a.m. - 5 p.m.


Bob Smith Ford   416 N. Center Ave.

Sponsor: Custer Battlefield Historical Museum Assn.

10 a.m. - 6 p.m.


Big Horn County Library  419 N. Custer Ave.

Sponsor: Big Horn Undercover Gals (free)

11 a.m.


West 3rd Street and Center Ave.

For info Debbie Wacker  665-1867

Noon to 3 p.m.


10th St. West & Cody Ave. ( Wilson Park) Fa.m.ily & food

Sponsor: Hardin Volunteer Fire Department

6 p.m. - 8 p.m.


Downtown Hardin 300 block Center Ave.

Suit case races, egg & balloon toss, etc. (free)


Big Horn county Fairgrounds

Indian Relay Races


9 p.m.


Downtown Center Ave.

Band: Exit 53



8 a.m. - 6 p.m.


Big Horn County Historical Museum, East of Hardin (small fee)

11 a.m.


To be held at the Historical Depot 10 East Railway

11 a.m.



Last Updated on Thursday, 18 June 2015 12:31

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Native Days features powwow, rodeo

CROW AGENCY – Crow Native Days, which runs June 26-28, celebrates Crow culture and history with a range of events, including a rodeo, powwow and traditional games and competitions.

Rodeo slack is at 8 a.m. Thursday, June 25. Performances are at 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The Crow Native Days Powwow runs Friday through Sunday with grand entry at 7 p.m. each day at the Powwow Grounds in Crow Agency. Four age categories compete in such dance styles as Crow style, traditional, fancy, jingle, fancy shawl and grass. Masters of ceremonies are Kasey Nicholson and Burton Pretty on Top.

Traditional activities include the Ultimate Warrior and Lady Warrior challenges, a test of strength, speed and agility. A parade and veterans program also are planned.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 June 2015 12:30

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Crazy Horse remembered

CRAZY HORSE, S.D. – After visiting the Little Bighorn, June 26 is your opportunity to see Crazy Horse Mountain Carving light up in a display of pyrotechnics.

Ruth’s Night Blast, celebrates the birthday of the late Ruth Ziolkowski (1926 - 2014), wife of the late Crazy Horse sculptor. The day also commemorates the Battle of the Little Big Horn (June 25, 1876).

The Battle of the Little Big Horn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, was a decisive victory for the Lakota. Crazy Horse was a main strategist in the defeat of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his troops. 

Visitors to Crazy Horse Memorial on June 26, will be able to enjoy many other activities throughout the complex. Native American dance performances will be at 1:30, 3:30, 5:30, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Hands-on activities will be held for children in the Native American Educational and Cultural Center and from 6-9 p.m. there will be a flute performance. Stop in the Laughing Water Restaurant after the blast for birthday cake. 

Admission will be waived after 5 p.m.; a donation of three cans of food will be appreciated.

The blast will be after the Laser Light performance at approximately 10 p.m.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 June 2015 12:18

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Good old hockey, that graceful, violent game

By SHARIE PYKE - For The Outpost

It’s that time again: the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and in June, no less, thanks to artificial ice. The Stanley Cup, Le Coupe Stanley, was created in 1892 by Lord Stanley of Preston, then governor general of Canada. His entire family loved hockey, with his sons and daughters all playing. The Montreal Hockey Club won the first award in 1893.

The Cup, also called The Holy Grail, is the oldest sports trophy in North America. It weighs 34 1/2 pounds and is 35 ¼ inches tall. It was originally a silver punch bowl, but is considered so sacred to hockey that it has been replaced with a coin silver replica resting atop silver layers engraved with the names of the winning team for each year. After 122 years, some layers have been retired.

The trophy is so beloved and significant that only members of the National Hockey League Hall of Fame are allowed to transport it to the finals. Winning teams may have it in their possession for 24 hours.

It took the Canadians to invent ice hockey. Few places in the world have the long winter to produce the natural ice required. The stick came from field hockey, but the ball bounced out of the rink when hit.

About 1875, an inventive person sliced the ball in half and placed it flat side down. The puck is still black rubber, 1-by-3 inches, and can travel up to 105 miles per hour.

Getting hit with one is no joke. Up until the advent of helmets and masks, players routinely suffered multiple broken noses and lacked front teeth. After being hit in the face, Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadiens created his own mask. Modern masks turn the goalie into a science-fiction figure.

I love hockey. It’s graceful and violent at the same time. I developed my affection as a student at Michigan Tech, that great hockey school on the Keweenaw Peninsula jutting out into Lake Superior. We played a lot of Ivy League schools who traveled two days from the East Coast to play us in the old, rickety Dee Stadium. Cold air seeped through the cracks in the wooden sides. Those teams from wealthy schools must have felt like they were slumming, but they kept coming back.

It was then I saw my first Zamboni, that amazing machine that replaced men with brooms and shovels. It was fascinating to watch. I can see why Snoopy took up the Zamboni. What a great word, Zamboni - right up there with garbanzo.

I further burnished my hockey obsession by marrying a Canadian fellow student, Greg Pyke. His Uncle Stephen worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Co. and got us tickets right on the blue line (center rink) to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was grand. The gift of hockey is the second best thing Pyke gave me, after our two daughters, who, of course, have dual citizenship.

I also had the good fortune to watch my young cousins-in-law, Tommy and Kenny, play Pee Wee hockey. They had all the equipment, from helmet to hockey skates, just in miniature. They would skate out on the ice and the referee would skate each player to his appropriate place for the face-off, then drop the puck. After a minute or two, the whistle would blow, and he’d skate around, helping up those boys who had fallen, and then drop the puck again.

I tried once to explain hockey to my second spouse. “Watch this, they’re setting up the play,” I said. He’s an intelligent person, but he didn’t get it.

I also tried to explain it to a girlfriend without any luck. Hockey must be an acquired taste, like candied ginger or sushi. Just when I think I’m over hockey, I tune into a game, and I’m glued to the action.

But ultimately, I follow hockey for the same reasons everyone else does. I get an adrenaline rush from the speed, the machismo and the violence of the game. What’s the difference between a game penalty for fighting and two minutes out for roughing? The ref decides. Sometimes, if the gloves haven’t come off, they just separate the opponents and there’s a pause while both teams change lines.

There are 12 different minor infractions, but anything a player can get away with happens. If your man’s taken a slash or a jab, you boo and curse the refs for not seeing it. If it’s your man, you smirk.

Lady Marie Evelyn Moreton Byng, Vicountess Vimy, wife of the Canadian governor general in the 1920s, created the Lady Byng Trophy. It is given to the player who has exhibited the best sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with excellent play. The trophy gets little attention.

This year’s Stanley Cup finals feature an old NHL team, the Chicago Blackhawks, against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Chicago Blackhawks are named for the Sauk and Fox Illinois leader, Black Hawk, who represented his tribe in the same way Chief Plenty Coups did, not anything like the derogatory term used by that football team in D.C.

As of now, it doesn’t look good for the Blackhawks. Will the Lightning, a young team with half their members under 25 years old, beat the more experienced Chicago team?

ESPN predicts the Blackhawks will win this year, most likely winning in six games, while giving the Tampa Bay Lightning less than a one-in-three chance of pulling the upset and taking their second championship. Game five takes place in Tampa on Saturday, June 13, at 6 p.m. on NBC.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 June 2015 14:32

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Efficiency aside, garbage never really goes away


Today was garbage day. A kind of holiday, really. Last night, I put the trash can out by the curb (OK, my husband put out the trash) and this morning, miraculously, a city employee in a large truck came, used a magic gizmo to pick up the can, dumped it out into the truck’s large bin, and replaced the can on the ground. An hour or two later, I wheeled the can back into the yard by the garage. How slick is that?

Oh, and did I mention that the city provided the can? Service and a fancy plastic receptacle to boot. All for about $9 per month.

Throughout my life, garbage day has been a constant. Well, it happened twice a week in Florida, and, in Maine, the service was directly by private contractor. Growing up in Salt Lake City, I knew that gulls flocked to our neighborhood every Monday for a reason. But, despite regional differences, the overall pattern has remained unchanged for five decades: I use things, I put the residue of those things in the trash, and someone comes along and takes all the icky stuff away. For a mostly nominal fee.

Over the years, of course, I have learned to consume less, to recycle more, and to compost. Yet, the waste products, however minimal, would pile up if I were not visited by those blessed beings, the sanitation workers.

Not to go all sentimental and stuff, but sanitation workers are the cream of the crop. Even in Florida, where many people distrusted government employees, sanitation crews were revered and supported. Did I mention that they were mostly African-American crews, and the town where I lived was majority white and bigoted? Didn’t matter.

The thing is, we have to have garbage service if we want to live in a clean and healthy city. Whatever problems have occurred at the Billings landfill, the vast majority of sanitation workers are faithfully performing a vital service, one that, miraculously, Americans can actually agree is necessary. No political divide there. Democrats and Republicans make garbage, and Democrats and Republicans want their garbage to go away.

So maybe Republican garbage is red and Democratic garbage blue. Or would it be the other way around?

Same thing, of course, holds true for sewage. Flush the toilet, and, as the jingle used to say, there go your troubles down the drain.

But wait. Hold on. Not so fast.

Landfills fill up. Home mainlines break once or twice (tree roots, orange bird — don’t ask). Even whole sewage systems fail, at least according to a recent story in The Guardian about a giant glob of turkey grease and baby wipes that plugged up a London line and took three weeks to clean.

What I often wonder about as I sweep dog hair and crumbs from the floor of my kitchen and then dump the sweepings in the kitchen garbage can and then dump the contents of that can into the outdoor trash can and then haul that to the curb (OK, my husband hauls it to the curb) and then watch as the sanitation worker disposes of my garbage is what happens to the things ultimately?

I don’t think, really, that the plastic I use, the discarded cleaning supplies, the old toothpaste tubes ever really go away. I mean, sanitation workers are good, but not even they can shoot all this waste beyond earth’s orbit. If they could, it would still float around out in space for a long time, until it encountered a black hole, maybe.

So I am forced to see that, despite the miracle of garbage day, the earth is a closed system and everything I do and use and discard has an impact for good or ill. And that’s a thought that might keep me up at night.

Billions of us on the planet, all more or less producing, using, wasting, trashing.

And it’s not just nice organic detritus. According to PlasticOceans, manmade polymers break up into smaller and smaller particles that are then consumed by marine organisms. I hate to think that the halibut I ate last week was contaminated by tiny plastic pieces of detergent bottles, razor blade handles, and picnic forks. But that might very well be the case.

As John Lennon would have it, “instant karma” (or old plastics, PCBs, asbestos, lead, toxins of all kinds) is, in fact, “going to get you.”

Afterthought: Dog hair is compostable.

Cara Chamberlain is a Billings writer.


Last Updated on Thursday, 04 June 2015 12:26

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WTO aims to put more mystery into your meat



A recent move by the World Trade Organization threatens to put more mystery in your meat, while undermining our national sovereignty.

On May 18 the WTO ruled that American meat labels violate Canadian and Mexican free trade rights. The labels were created in accordance with the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws, and show where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. The labels are directed at American consumers, and were implemented through the American political process. But they put Mexican and Canadian livestock producers at an unfair disadvantage, the WTO ruled. So they must go.

The House Agriculture Committee acted quickly in response to the decision. The very next day, a bill to repeal COOL laws for beef, pork and chicken was proposed. A day later the committee passed it, 38-6.

National Farmers Union president Robert Johnson was on Capitol Hill following the WTO’s decision, meeting with legislators and urging them to keep COOL, as it were. Johnson’s team visited 150 offices, he told me by phone. Their message was simple: “... do nothing for these next several months while this process plays out.”

The House Agriculture Committee is jumping the gun, he said, but the Senate, “... will not be in any hurry to do anything.”

“Normally in the WTO, before any action is authorized, is the time when countries are encouraged to negotiate. And that is precisely what should happen.”

In a joint statement, Canadian and Mexican representatives praised the ruling, and called COOL “... damaging to North America’s supply chain and harmful to producers and processors in all three countries.”

The Canadian government has been tossing around the $1 billion figure for the damages its meat industry has suffered under COOL. The U.S.-based National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) claims the implementation costs of COOL to U.S. producers to be “... in excess of $1 billion for beef alone.”

Johnson chuckled when I brought up these numbers. “It’s laughable,” he said. “Nobody really believes that.”

Such costs, it is argued, come from keeping foreign-born animals separate from their U.S.-born counterparts, which industry claims is a record keeping nightmare.

“The livestock industry is already segregated and hyper organized,” Johnson said. When you buy a steer, “... you get a printout for every animal, carcass by carcass,” showing its weight, level of marbling, and other characteristics. To implement COOL-style record keeping, Johnson suggested, involves little more than tweaking the computerized record-keeping systems already in place.

Auburn professor Robert Taylor recently published a study comparing the pre- and post-COOL marketplaces. He told me in an email that WTO based its decision on data that is not only weak, but secret.

“The WTO relied on analyses of proprietary Canadian cattle data analyzed by consultants to the Canadian Cattlemens Assoc and the Canadian independent economists can access the Canadian data.”

Roberts said his study made use of the meatpackers’ mandatory price reporting data, which told a different story, in which COOL has negligible impact on the Mexican and Canadian meat industries.

This argument will get a fair hearing WTO’s process is allowed to continue, Johnson says. He expects the Canadians and Mexicans will seek retaliation based upon this ruling in the form of a tariff, at which point the United States will request arbitration. Canada and Mexico will be authorized to prove economic damages before they can retaliate. And this is where their job becomes a lot harder, as the damages will have to be proven in public.

But if COOL, in reality, isn’t so bad for North American ranchers, I asked Johnson, then why are so many companies against it?

It’s the international meat packers, he said, representatives of which sit on the boards of the National Cattleman’s Beef Association and its Canadian and Mexican counterparts, and who send well-armed lobbyists to Capitol Hill.

Johnson says the global meat conglomerates don’t like COOL because it eliminates a practice among meat packers that, while it lasted, was as convenient as it was profitable.

They were passing off foreign meat as American-grown, and with the USDA’s unwitting assistance.

“Meat imports are required to be inspected by USDA,” Johnson explained. “Consumers see a USDA-beef stamp, and they think it’s American made.” Many Americans want to eat American-grown meat, which is why there is so much popular support for COOL among consumers, and among many non-NCBA affiliated producers as well.

“Consumers want to know what’s in their food, and producers would like to tell them,” Johnson says. But the multinationals “do not want to label country of origin, so they can go back to pretending that any product was U.S. product.”

Assuming the meatpackers fail to force a sovereign nation to change its laws, the fact that a global trade agreement could do so casts an unflattering shadow on the already unpopular Trans Pacific Partnership free-trade deal.

“This does make it more difficult for Congress to pass fast track,” Johnson offered. “One of the arguments that’s being made is that there is nothing in the TPP that would require us to change our laws. Now we have a bunch of people in the House that are stampeding to change a law. It undercuts an argument made by fast track supporters that we’ll be able to keep our own laws.”

This is why many of the same groups that oppose COOL are also in support of TPP. They want the meat to flow like free capital, anonymously, across borders and around the world, to wherever it can return the most on some investor’s dollar. If you’re a consumer looking to weigh the myriad of health, environmental, animal and human rights impacts of meat eating, or if you just don’t want to eat meat from China, your agenda is at odds with the priorities behind free-trade agreements like the TPP. If what’s happening via COOL is any indication, the TPP won’t be a victory for transparency in labeling.

How the World Trade Organization finally resolves the dispute over COOL will say a lot about how much power Big Meat really has. If Johnson is right, and we keep COOL, it will be a victory for knowing where your food comes from, at the expense of Big Meat. It promises to be an engaging process.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 June 2015 12:05

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Pre-YouTube history

By HENRIETTE LOWISCH - University of Montana

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the fact that not everything is on YouTube.

Rummaging through the shelves of the University of Montana’s Mansfield Library to find materials for a book I’m writing, I recently came across a stack of five DVDs. The makeshift case covers, titled “Montana,” lacked visual appeal, except for a pink warning sticker that indicated, “This DVD-R may not play on all machines.” Intrigued, I hauled them home and inserted the first disc into my laptop. Bam! The series of half-hour lectures hooked me just like Season 1 of “Homeland.”

What unfolded before me was one man’s account of the history of Montana, which he perceived as a story of colonial exploitation. On the recording, shots of a professor and his audience – students with teased hairdos and oversized glasses, holding notepads instead of smart phones – alternated with 1981 footage of smoke rising from sooty chimneys; farmers riding combines across dusty fields; people waiting at remote train stations. More captivating than the images, however, was the voice of the speaker: Montana’s celebrated historian, K. Ross Toole.

“There are, I think, undeniably new winds sweeping across America,” the voice said at the beginning of each episode. Its slow and rhythmic cadence reminded me of a John F. Kennedy speech I had to listen to on tape a zillion times for a research project in 1991. Like JFK, Toole enunciated each syllable, as if wanting to signify how carefully he had chosen the spoken words. The winds of change are gusty, he said. “And they will alter what happens in Montana, and whether for better or worse does depend on Montanans, and how they, or you, read those winds.”

A Missoula native, K. Ross Toole was a museum director and rancher before he became a history professor at UM. He died a few months after his final lecture in 1981. Some among you might remember taking one of his classes. Perhaps as a high school student, you answered quiz questions on his book “Montana: An Uncommon Land.”

Toole’s vision, including his early environmentalism, his skeptical view of unfettered growth and his contempt for political apathy, may be last-century news to you. As a recent transplant, on the other hand – I only moved to Montana from Berlin, Germany, in 2009 – I was happy to lend him a fresh ear. What was it about this stern-faced man in suit and tie that made him, by some accounts, the most popular professor ever to teach at UM? Perhaps what made him controversial also made him so successful. He wasn’t just a historian. He was an opinionated one.

From his lectern, Toole marshaled old newspaper editorials, statistical reports and biting humor to drive home his point: Montana’s wide open spaces, once its greatest curse because they caused huge distances to the markets, had become its greatest blessing, as the U.S. began to run out of quality lands.

“It would be a terrible irony if we were to turn a curse into a blessing, only to turn it back into a curse.” Short-term booms apt to depreciate land values downstream should be outlawed, even if that meant slower growth, he argued: “We appreciate together, or not at all.”

More than 30 years after his final lecture series, Toole’s prediction of the increasing value of pristine lands has proven true. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent restoring ecosystems damaged by mining. Yet it seems many of his students never got around to punishing elected officials who make decisions for their own rather than future generations. The state’s newspapers are no longer in the hands of the Anaconda Co. Instead, dark money rules campaigns.

Would students still hang on Toole’s words in an era of multimedia presentations and ubiquitous personal devices? I bet they would, even though they might not sit still in his lecture hall. With his elegant rhetoric and his ability to focus his argument, Toole would be the quintessential TED speaker. He might even become the star of one of those Massive Open Online Courses.

As it stands, however, his final lectures aren’t even on YouTube. Until that changes, visit your public library if you run out of “Homeland” episodes to watch.

Henriette Lowisch is graduate program director at the University of Montana School of Journalism.


Last Updated on Thursday, 28 May 2015 22:34

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A haven for wildlife

Story and Photo - By RICK and SUSIE GRAETZ - University of Montana - Department of Geography
A road winds across the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge near Malta.

Fifteen thousand years ago, after leaving its home base in northern Canada, a runaway continental ice sheet passed through these parts, scouring the landscape and moving the Missouri River 50 miles to the south. The lakes that now make up the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge were once a horseshoe bend of the pre-glacier Missouri.

This north-central Montana wildlife haven, seven miles east of Malta, is part of a once incredibly rich animal kingdom frequented by the plains tribes, including the Blackfeet, Cree, Gros Ventres and Assiniboine nations. They hunted and gathered roots, berries and herbs here. Tipi rings found on the refuge are evidence of their passing.

In 1936, recognizing the wildlife values of the area, the federal government established the refuge under the joint management of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In February 1972, USWFS took over sole jurisdiction.

Prior to the establishment of the sanctuary, water levels of Lake Bowdoin and the surrounding ponds fluctuated wildly between spring runoff and the dry summers. The shallow water remaining through the summer months was hot and stagnant and frequently became infested with botulism, killing thousands of birds every season.

To help solve this problem, the Fish and Wildlife Service established a system of dikes designed to hold spring runoff and keep water levels as high as possible. An evaporation loss rate of 36 to 40 inches each year doesn’t help the situation, especially in drought years. A Milk River diversion at Dodson, about 25 miles to the west, reaches the refuge by way of a viaduct. Although they don’t always get as much volume as they want, refuge managers rely on their Milk River water rights to ensure adequate flow is available. Water levels still fluctuate, just not as dramatically.

Vanishing water creates alkaline deposits, another management issue on the refuge. Salts such as sodium, calcium, magnesium and potassium are leached from water when it dissipates in the warm dry air, leaving a white alkaline or salt residue on the earth. In the dry months, winds blow away the salts. In a strong gale, it may appear that the lakebeds are on fire as the light colored accumulations fill the air. During high water times, the alkaline buildup is flushed out. If it weren’t for nature’s compensating actions, the closed lake basins of Bowdoin would eventually become useless to wildlife.

Good management has created one of the best nature viewing areas in Montana. More than 230 different species of birds and waterfowl have been identified. Bowdoin also is considered Montana’s prime place to see pronghorn antelope in their natural habitat. Big-game hunting is not allowed, so the herd has natural age distribution. Big animals are evident.

Bowdoin’s upland native grasses are considered to be of extremely high quality as evidenced by the presence of the Sprague’s pipit and the Baird’s sparrow – birds that choose only the best.

Along with Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Bowdoin has the largest colony of white pelicans in Montana. Some of us who float prairie waterways call these birds “the river’s Air Force.” With their enormous black-tipped wingspans, they silently fly in military-like formation. At Bowdoin, they congregate and nest on the Pelican Islands.

Some years, in order to accommodate a growing population of nesting Canada geese, refuge managers create artificial islands. In winter, mounds of dirt are piled on the thick ice, and then spring melt allows the new “land” to form.

Habitat is defined as a place that provides a living creature with everything needed for survival, and the piping plovers find this haven to be good for their needs. However, at times it’s necessary to provide a man-made lair for these small birds. A sandy shoreline is too bare, so pebbles are spread on a beach to help camouflage the aerie from predators.

Bigger animals especially need adequate cover, and they find it here in the form of shelterbelts made up of tall grasses, shrubs and cattails. These protected areas also provide food for the many birds and mammals that remain throughout the cold months.

The names of all the neighbors who live here throughout the warm days are too numerous to mention. Included though in the population are double-crested cormorants, whitetail deer, great blue herons, ring-necked pheasants, sandpipers, sharp-tailed grouse, coyotes, osprey, an occasional bald eagle, falcons, ducks, tundra swan, loons, owls, the yellow-rump warbler and the yellow-billed cuckoo.

From the time the “transient residents” arrive for the summer until they gather in autumn to begin their southern sojourn, constant chatter fills the air. There is much to “talk” about and do as new life is created.

Early morning and late afternoon in the spring and fall are the best times to visit the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge. Its 15,500 acres can be seen via a 15-mile circular route. This special natural community is easily reached from Malta.

Last Updated on Sunday, 17 May 2015 14:55

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Food additives suspected in more health problems



Processed foods take the heat for a variety of heath issues. Foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, for example, are known to cause high blood sugar and obesity. 

Several studies in the last year have helped uncover an entirely new mechanism by which many metabolic disorders can be triggered. Certain additives that are commonly used in processed foods are being shown to impact health, at least in mice, by altering the body’s population of bacteria that live in the gut. Collectively referred to the microbiome, the importance of this bacterial community is just beginning to be understood.

Research published last September demonstrated that artificial sweeteners can raise blood sugar levels in mice, stimulate their appetites, and possibly lead to obesity and diabetes. The artificial sweeteners appear to create these conditions by changing the micriobiome’s composition.

Last month, a different set of research was published that also suggested a disease pathway mediated by microbiome disturbance. This time, commonly used food additives called emulsifiers are the culprits.

Emulsifiers help keep the sauce smooth and the ice cream creamy, they hold dressings together and prevent mayonnaise from separating into oil and water. The new research gives reason to suspect that emulsions could raise your blood sugar, make you fat, and even make your butt hurt.

The study, published in Nature, looked at two common emulsifiers, Polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose (CMC), and found a range of metabolic problems that appeared in mice that drank water dosed with these chemicals in quantities proportional to what a human might consume. The mice that consumed either emulsifier tended to eat more, gain weight and develop conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, and metabolic syndrome, which is a range of pre-diabetic conditions.

The effects of these additives were dependent on the dosage; the more emulsifier the mice ate, the worse off they were. A control group drank water laced with a common preservative, sodium sulfite, and did not show any negative effects on the gut.

The team found that the bacterial diversity of the mice microbiomes were altered. They also discovered the mucous membrane of the gut was thinner in mice that were fed emulsifiers.

The thinner mucous membrane allowed the microbes closer to the gut wall than they would normally get, they wrote, which could cause the observed inflammation of the gut wall, and diseases like irritable bowel syndrome.

John Coupland, a professor of food science at Penn State University, thinks this research could be a game changer, providing it can be shown that these emulsifiers can do to humans what they do to mice. “[It] really challenges a lot of the way we think about assessing toxicology and nutritional value of foods,” he said in an email.

Dr. Coupland noted that Polysorbate 80 and CMG are very different molecules. While Polysorbate 80 is small, and doesn’t carry an electrical charge, CMC is large, and charged.

These molecules are not only built differently, but they behave differently, he said, pointing out that CMC is technically not even an emulsifier, but a thickener that makes emulsions more stable. That they both cause similar microbial disruptions, mucous reductions, and associated health problems is a striking discovery.

In an email interview, the study’s co-author, Dr. Benoit Chassaing, acknowledged that CMC is more of a thickener than an emulsifier, but noted that it does have emulsification properties, due to its charge. And he suspects the resulting emulsifying activity is to blame.

I asked how they originally thought to look at emulsifiers. Chassaing explained: The incidence of IBD and metabolic syndrome has been markedly increasing since about the mid-20th century, and this dramatic increase has occurred amid constant human genetics, suggesting a pivotal role for an environmental factor. We considered that any modern additions to the food supply might play an important role, and addition of emulsifiers to food seems to fit the time frame of increased incidence in these diseases.

We hypothesized that emulsifiers might impact the gut microbiota to promote these inflammatory diseases and designed experiments in mice to test this possibility. The team is currently investigating other common emulsifiers, aiming to identify any others that might cause microbial disturbances, or inflammation of the gut. Carrageenan, Chassaing noted, has already been found to cause inflammatory bowel disease in rats. Extracted from seaweed, carrageenan is widely used in processed “natural” foods. Like CMC, carrageenan is more of a thickener than an emulsifier, but is, like CMC, on the spectrum of additives that exhibit emulsifying properties.

One molecule his team is investigating is lecithin, which is a true emulsifier. Like carrageenan, lecithin is used in many “natural” processed products. If lecithin shows similar activity to carrageenan, CMC, and Polysorbate 80, it would cast a shadow over many, many processed food formulations. Organic processed foods are still processed foods. Organic approved additives like carrageenan can still give you ulcerative colitis.

Food additives are tested for certain toxilogical activities, like the ability to cause cancer, or to cause a mouse to instantly drop dead. But they aren’t tested for any potential effects they might have on one’s microbiome, or their ability to stimulate one’s appetite, or cause conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.

If the recent results on mice can be repeated in humans, current testing protocols for food additives will be revealed as woefully inadequate.

If you stay away from highly refined, heavily processed foods with long lists of ingredients, you can avoid most of these additives in one swoop, and not have to worry about inadequate testing procedures.

But not everyone has the luxury of being able to avoid processed foods, especially the poor, and, ironically, people stuck in institutions like hospitals. That’s why we need the standards by which food additives are evaluated to be updated sooner, rather than later.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 April 2015 10:52

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Smith River on list of most endangered


The popular Smith River has been named one of the nation’s endangered.

BOZEMAN – Montana’s Smith River has made the top 10 list for most endangered rivers, issued by the group American Rivers.

Waterways on the list each year are considered at high risk of pollution or other impairments because of development decisions expected in the coming year. In the case of the Smith River, plans for a 12,000-acre copper mine are cited as the risk.

Scott Bosse, American Rivers’ Northern Rockies director in Bozeman, described the Smith as one of the most “beloved” rivers in the state.

“It’s a 60-mile-long limestone canyon that is known throughout the country by anglers for its wild trout fishery,” he said, “and by recreationists just for its spectacular scenery and awesome camping.”

The river, noted for its healthy populations of brown and rainbow trout, runs between the Little Belt and Big Belt Mountains to the Missouri, just south of Great Falls. It’s listed as No. 4 on the list of endangered rivers.

Bosse said his group has called on Gov. Steve Bullock to deny state permits for the mine unless it can be designed in a way that eliminates any risk to the river’s water quality and fish and wildlife populations. That likely is a tall order, he said, because the type of landscape where the copper lies means a high risk of acid runoff, among other things.

“Contamination by toxic heavy metals, de-watering because the mine would have to pump groundwater, nutrient pollution, arsenic contamination,” he said. “There are a whole host of threats.”

The mining company planning the project, Tintina Resources Inc., is based in Canada and has promoted that it can safely mine the copper. The project would be on private land.

Other rivers on the most-endangered list this year include the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, the Columbia River on the Washington-Oregon border and the St. Louis River in Minnesota.

The report is online at

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 April 2015 10:50

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Research explains sturgeon decline


By MSU News Service and USGS

BOZEMAN – Pallid sturgeon come from a genetic line that has lived on this planet for tens of millions of years, yet it has been decades since biologists have documented any of the enormous fish successfully producing young that survive to adulthood in the upper Missouri River basin.

Now, fisheries scientists with Montana State University, the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have shown why, detailing for the first time the biological mechanism that has caused the decline of pallid sturgeon in the Missouri River and led to its being placed on the endangered species list 25 years ago.

In a paper published in the journal Fisheries, the scientists show that oxygen-depleted dead zones between dams in the upper Missouri River are directly linked with the failure of endangered pallid sturgeon hatched embryos to survive to adulthood.

“We certainly think this is a significant finding in the story of why pallid sturgeon are failing to recruit in the upper Missouri River,” said Christopher Guy, the assistant unit leader with the USGS Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit and the MSU professor who was the lead author on the paper. “We’re basically talking about a living dinosaur that takes 20 years to reach sexual maturity and can live as long as the average American. After millions of years of success, the pallid sturgeon population stumbled and now we know why. From a conservation perspective, this is a major breakthrough.”

 The study is the first to make a direct link among dam-induced changes in riverine sediment transport, the subsequent effects of those changes on reduced oxygen levels and the survival of an endangered species, the pallid sturgeon.

 “This research shows that the transition zone between the freely flowing river and reservoirs is an ecological sink – a dead zone – for pallid sturgeon,” Guy said. “Essentially, hatched sturgeon embryos die in the oxygen-depleted sediments in the transition zones.”

Guy said fisheries biologists long suspected that the Missouri River’s massive reservoirs were preventing hatched embryonic pallid sturgeon from surviving to the juvenile stage. But early attempts to tie the problem to low levels of dissolved oxygen were unsuccessful. 

 “The reason for that is we hadn’t sampled deep enough,” Guy said. “It wasn’t until we sampled water down at the bottom, where those sediments are being deposited, that we found there was no dissolved oxygen. Because hatched pallid sturgeon embryos are negatively buoyant, they tend to sink into that hostile environment.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 April 2015 10:42

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