I cannot help but be caught by the rich history of Montana, its towns, tribes, ethnic groups, people and places. This summer I have had the ability to begin to personally explore the stories of Philipsburg, Granite and Butte. The lives of the miners, merchants, women and familes of these towns are gradually becoming more evident.
The desire to know, to feel and to understand what their lives were like, beckons me like the voices of the Canada geese as they drift across the fields and mountains.
In the Philipsburg cemetery, I see on headstones signs of the ravages of a 1880s diphtheria outbreak that ripped away a whole family of children; the four-year old who died on May 17th, 1885, the two-year old on May 21st, and the six-year old on May 28th. All lost within one month. The sorrow and grief of these losses, of any parent, spans the years. We feel it.
In the long past richness and also poverty of Butte’s east side, one can imagine the wealth that walked the streets. The bankers, investors, builders, all milling on these sidewalks and in these buildings as they strove to create businesses and make a fortune, their signs of affluence still present.
Alongside these were the miners who dropped down hoists each day into the dark bowels of the earth to extract the hoped for riches. What was it like to enter a cage and be let down into a hole, far from the sun’s warmth? Did the ground in Butte shake as another one of the hundreds of tunnels under the city was dynamited in the quest to follow the next vein?
How did women live in this frontier, mining environment as business people, wives and mothers? When the ethnic groups and mix of languages intersected with one another in their day-to-day lives, how did they communicate?
I have more questions than answers. The writer, explorer and dreamer always does.