Yellowstone Genealogy Forum


Monument Trail – Twin Rock Monuments


[Reference: 1880’s maps and interviews] 

Revised Thursday, November 16, 2006Crowley Monument

This trail is currently non-existent, as farming has removed the route; or where portions are still visible, the route is closed to travel. It would appear that soon after the new boundary for the Crow Indian Reservation was established, identification of this trail’s existence became evident from the surveyor’s field notes. They plotted pieces of the trails on large section survey topo maps during the 1879 through 1920 time periods. In joining these trail segments together, a composite series of routes can be clearly established. The main trail, referred herein to as “Monument Trail” leads from the Crow Indian Reservation’s Mee-Tse-Tse Trail that follows Pryor Creek, due west to a high point in the lower center of the South Hills area of Yellowstone County, and then to other locations in the region, including Brazwell Summit and Coulson (Billings). Portions of the trails were used for stage and freight travel. Very little information has been recorded about the trails, and the only evidence of their existence is the old maps and some local homesteader’s biographies and comments.

A trail generally to in stories of freighting days followed the high ridges along Blue Creek and down McCormick Hill. Pryor Agency was reached by either the Monument Creek trail or by crossing the Fourth of July and Plum Creeks. In examining the Monument Trail, one can only wonder if the Rock Cairns that were in the area marked the trail, or were only rock piles created by idle sheepherders. 




General Trail Descriptions


Following completion of the wagon bridge (the Old South Bridge on Washington Street) across the Yellowstone River and a more accessible road from Wyoming in 1894, travel increased through the South Hills Area (Blue Creek Area shown in yellow outline.) In years prior to this, it had taken mail up to two weeks to reach the distance of approximately ninety miles to the rural areas of Northern Wyoming.


Other trails crossed the Yellowstone River at fords between Blue Creek, Duck Creek and Spring Creek. They went up Conway Hill (Hillcrest Road today), Duck Creek or Spring Creek, continuing through Cottonwood country. From there travelers made their way to Pryor, Edgar, Silesia or the Pryor Gap. The Blue Creek trail was a favorite route for the Crow Indians during summer and autumn, which was Fair time in Billings. Fruit grew abundantly in that valley in early days, especially watermelon and cantaloupe. Tales have been told of the fruit being transported by wagonloads - quite often without the growers' per- mission! Many stories have been written and told about the freighters narrow escapes from harrowing experiences and elements while they were hauling supplies at the time the railroad tunnel was being constructed in the Pryor Gap (1900). Freighters going to the Pryor Gap Area used the trail through Cottonwood Country, and those going to Pryor Creek carrying supplies either to the Indian Agency or to the construction crews for the railroad tracks down Pryor Creek traveled the Blue Creek Trail.


Historic accounts tell of a major Indian Trail, which ran down Pryor Creek confluence with the Yellowstone River. Some of the accounts include information on battles between the Crow Indians and other tribes for possession of the fine hunting grounds. The Pryor Creek Trail branched in several areas with routes to the Yellowstone down both Blue Creek and Bitter Creeks. Once the Yellowstone was reached near Huntley, then trails led down river to Mountain Lions Lodge (Pompey's Pillar) where an easy river ford was located. Other trails and fords were located at the mouth of the Bitter Creek, Blue Creek and the Clark's Fork River. The valleys of the Yellowstone, Clark's Fork and Pryor Creek were used because they provided not only outstanding hunting for tribal peoples, but also sheltered areas for horses and camps during the winter. The Bozeman Trail is the best-known wagon trail in the "Trails and Tales" area from where this information was extracted to define the maps. First blazed by John Bozeman and Jake Jacobs in 1864, this road became one of the major paths to the gold fields of Idaho and Montana Territories. The Sioux Indians contested traffic on the trail, and the Military tried to protect the trail by construction of Forts C.F. Smith, Reno, and Phil Kerney. After several years of battles the government recognized the right of the Sioux to use the region and withdrew military protection. The Indians were not the only hazard along the road however as bands from the disbanded "Montana Militia" were known to attack emigrant trains. After the Sioux war of the 1876 Fort Custer was established to the east of the South Hills area. The presence of this fort resulted in rapid settlement of the region, and the development of a road from Billings to Fort Custer. Only a small portion of this trail is in the Yellowstone County area, and it ran near where Interstate Highway 90 crosses Pryor Creek toward Hardin. It was along this route that the stage trail to Hardin and Fort Custer also ran. A few early maps of the region indicate that a road to the Big Horn Basin or Mee-Tse-Tse in Wyoming Territory also existed.


Extensive lines of stone piles or Cairns mark some of the paths and trails while ruts from the horses and travois may be observed elsewhere. In other cases the only indication that we have today of Indian trails are old diaries, reports and legends. A major, and very visible Indian Trail is located between the Big Horn Canyon and Pryor Mountains. This trail has been called the Sioux Trail, Shoshone Trail and Bad Pass. A survey of the literature indicates that its most often used name is the Bad Pass of the Big Horns or simply Bad Pass as current researchers now call it. This trail can be traced for over ten miles from near Sikes Springs in the Big Horn Basin to the Dryhead area north and east of the Pryor Mountains. Archaeologists have studied over one hundred-seventy stone Cairns associated with the trail.  Of thousands reported to have existed before the turn of the century, an estimated 300 still exist. Artifacts recovered during various archeological investigations indicate that the Bad Pass Trail and camps along the route have been used for thousands of years. Since several tribes traveled between the Big Horn Basin and the plains north of the Pryor’s it is likely that they used the Bad Pass on occasion. The Crow Indian Plainfeather made one reference to the Bad Pass Trail. He stated: “... In order to travel the route which has always been commonly known as Bad Pass, it is necessary to travel along the Pryor Mountains to Dry Head Creek and then south above the headwaters of the small creeks flowing into the Big Horn River and into the state of Wyoming.” This was the trail, which the Indians used to travel from the lands that are now Big Horn County, Montana, into the Big Horn Basin in Wyoming. Bad Pass was a very rough trail. The northern end of Pryor Gap contains a short trail similar to the one in Bad Pass. A line of Cairns may be seen running from near shoot-the-arrow rock northward to the edge of a plowed field. This trail has also been studied by archaeologists and has been used during the last thousand years into historic times. This trail, like Bad Pass led from the mountains to the plains south of the Yellowstone, a region which in historic times contained herds of Bison beyond numbering[1].


Formation of the Monument Creek Trail


After the area was opened for settlement, James McCormick and Alphonsus McCormick, brothers to Paul McCormick, homesteaded land on the plateau overlooking the Pryor valley in Sections 19 & 30 of Range 26 E, Township 3 South. It is not known when the trail was cut into the sandstone cliffs that border the reservation, but is believed that they were made by the military from Fort CF Smith in early 1867 long before Paul McCormick arrived in Billings in 1891 and became general partner in the Donovan-McCormick general merchandise company. This was part of the Military Bozeman Trail. Needing better routes to the eastern and southern area, both the South Bridge was created, and better routes established. There are some files in the Herald Gazette that indicated Dr. Alonzo Allen, had a hand in laying out the routes. In 1908 Paul sold his business to “Yegen Brothers, Hughes and Yates”. After retirement he ran an elk & buffalo ranch along the edge of the north rims in Billings. During the times that Paul operated his merchandise company, he hauled freight and seed into the Crow Indian Reservation using Monument Trail. It is believed that the proper name for the trail would now be “McCormick’s trail.” A member of the Crow Tribe indicated that Paul also operated a large sheep franchise in the area between the Big Horn River and Pryor Creek. This would be in the same general area as managed earlier by Charles Bair for the same thing. Paul hauled food supplies and materials to the sheepherders tending these flocks, along with seed for the Indians, according to Stan Stevens, Pryor Creek rancher. Stan indicated that this was the “Bozeman Trail.”


The Pryor Creek valley floor is about 200 feet below the rimmed bluffs that border the eastern edge of South Hills. They are accessible by foot, and at some places can be breached by horseback. Prior to the 1900’s eastern access was limited mainly to the Bitter Creek area. This was probably the route that John Bozeman used in his 1864 expedition to reach the Yellowstone River from Pryor Creek. To carry supplies, the wagon trains would have to cross the Yellowstone River via ferry, north of the valley entrance (just north of where the railroad currently crosses the river) and then travel south.


The generalized locations indicated on the map created by Monica Weldon, 1983[2], for the “Monument Creek” trail location is expanded below to depict the probable routes used by the freighters until homesteaders closed the areas to travel, and formal roads had to be created that followed the various section line contours that are evident today. Additionally, there are numerous “foot” trails throughout the region; many were created ages ago, others more recently as the land ownership changed hands, and accesses were closed to traffic, hikers, and hunters.


Many of the land owners ran sheep on their lands, and had hired hands stay with them virtually all the time, without a break. Some of these men are reported to have created rock Cairns that indicated the territory that was under their management before fencing was established. The tending of sheep, and the raising of cattle eventually caused much conflict, and the sheepherders eventually vanished.  The Indians apparently welcomed the sheep on their lands, as evident by the huge herds placed there by Paul McCormick, Charles Bair and many others at the turn of the century. They numbered in the millions!  It is the creation of the Cairn markers along the trails that become of interest, since it would appear that not all of them were sheep territory markers as many would like to believe. During the passage of time, the originators of each Cairn were forgotten, or simply not recorded; thus much speculation abounds about them.


Before the trails are shown, please review the Rock Cairn Saga discussion below for rationale leading to the development of the trails passing through the South Hills.




Although the area immediately south of the Yellowstone River is considered to be Crow Reservation land, for many decades is was claimed by the Sioux as their property, and that the Crows were trespassers. This map[3] shows the large general territory claimed by the Sioux prior to the various battles fought with the “White Man.


One can readily see why so many battles took place over trespass and settler rights in the local areas. The various shaded sections denote different ceded area times and boundaries.




















The Rock Cairn Saga of Territorial Days


The various Cairns created in the territories are of various types and shapes, but generally were loose assemblages of flat sandstone rock pieces that came from the ground near where the Cairns were built. Most are relatively small pieces, weighing about five to twenty pounds, by appearance, and just placed into a mound to satisfy some builder’s desire.


Plat Surveyor’s Cairns


After the alignment of the Crow Indian Reservation to its present-day boundary, a loss of some 1,100,000 acres in 1878; the GLO sent surveyors into the new area east of the Yellowstone River across from Coulson starting in 1879, to plat portions of the land for settlement. Much of the land contains a mix of hard and soft sandstone slabs. The greatest collection of these slabs is in the southeastern sections, and decreases as you approach the river bottom to the west. Both the Section boundary corners and quarter sections were marked. Typically the surveyors would scoop out a small bowl of dirt (about five feet from the corner or marker stone, buried in the ground) and raise a dirt mound 2 ½ feet high, with a four-foot base. Much of the land was too rocky to use dirt, so the alternative method was to raise a Rock Cairn 1 ½ to 2 ½ feet high, with a 2-foot square base, to denote the buried ground marker location. For a corner marker, a wood post was inserted into the Cairn (later surveyors used a metal rod, about four feet long.)  These have all disappeared, and no pictures have been located to show that they looked like.


Canadian surveyors in British Columbia prepared Cairns in accordance with these instructions[4]. These are used by the US Surveyors participating in the boundary markings for the 49th parallel. None of these approximate the size and shape of the Twin monuments.

 (1) At a corner post, a cairn must

(a) be pyramid shaped with the centre of the pyramid lying due south of the post,

(b) have a base with dimensions of 1.5 m and a height of 1 m, and

(c) have one corner adjoining the post.

(2) At a witness post, a cairn must

(a) be cone shaped,

(b) have a diameter at the base of 2 m and a height of 1 m, and

(c) stand on the opposite side of the post to the witnessed corner with its centre 1 m from the witness post.

(3) Where it is impractical to put the cairn in the place prescribed by subsections (1) and (2), the cairn's location may be varied and the variation must be recorded and shown on the plan.

The 1878 Clarks Fork River Valley survey instructions required that when stone markers were to be used, they were to have a base of 2 ½ feet and be 2 feet tall[5].




State Territory Boundary Line Cairns


There are various state boundary-line markers used by the surveyors. Early ones used in the eastern states were cut from large blocks of stone; later ones were concrete slabs with a brass marking plate, and stone cairns. Current regulations identify virtually every type of material that could be used in their construction. A large Cairn made of stones and dirt, seven ft base and over four feet high originally marked the Wyoming western border location at one point (see below). It was created to denote Wyoming’s western border’s original latitude line. It was made soon after the survey started. All others on the latitude line were smaller.


The 141st Meridian survey marker[6] between Canada and Alaska, created in 1911 is on the Ladue River, International Boundary. It appears to be constructed with large stones at the base, and another ring of them at about the four-foot level. They are well placed, and keyed together to form a locking ring pattern.















The northern Wyoming-Montana borders, at time of its identification stone Cairns were placed along the separation line. Early survey records identified that these Cairns were seven feet in diameter. One was located in 2000 after ten years of research, and about four feet of its structure was still standing. Apparently the others have been destroyed. Oliver N. Chaffee in his 1869 survey for the Nebraska-Wyoming line set the first “white limestone monument”.  The "27o W. L." inscribed on the north face means longitude 27o west of Washington, D. C..  The Washington, D. C. system of measuring longitude was practiced between 1850 and 1912.  Today, longitude is measured from Greenwich, England, and this location is approximately -104o.  We see "138M, 22 chs, 67 lks" on the south face.  This means 138 miles, 22 chains and 67 links north of Point of Beginning, the SE corner of Wyoming[7].  

When Chaffee set the monument, he wrote in his field notes the following:  "It is surrounded by a mound of earth and stone 7 ft. in diameter at its base, 6 ft. in diameter at top and 3.5 ft. high.  It stands in a small broken hollow without any natural objects available for witnesses and nothing striking to the attention.  The surface rises towards the N., E., and W. and furnishes nothing that would attract attention or furnish material for a sketch.  The soil is clay of the poorest quality." [Unfortunately, the picture doesn’t show the Cairn base.]

In surveying across vast distances, it was not unusual for the surveyors to construct huge stone platforms (Cairns) that were over 100 feet high, upon which they placed their instruments for measurement.

Monument 40, located on the Mexican Border west of the Rio Grande was constructed from pre-cut stone to form an obelisk. It was restored in 1892-1894 under the direction of Dr. DH Payne, working for the US. Photo from NARA .gov files.














Indian and other Trail Markers


Indians have been reported to mark some trails with stone Cairns, but the practice was not wide spread, as most knew where they were traveling, and additional navigation guides were not required. These were generally a loose collection of stones, gathered in a circular pattern, and simply piled together in a conical shape. Some of these Cairns were used as drop-off points for letters and other pieces of information to others who would pass by at a later time.


Picture by Bill Múnoz. This is one of three rock Cairns identified as the “Indian Post Office” site, were made by the Nez Perce Indians, and are on the highest point of the Lolo Trail. Clark, in 1906 passed by these rocks and didn’t make reference to them in his diary. They are almost natural in shape, and can be easily overlooked to a passerby. There function hasn’t been established, although some believe they were created so that travelers could leave messages; but this is highly doubtful.


Other Cairns, located on the Nee Me Poo trail used by the Nez Perce, are considered sacred to their tribe, and are similar in nature. Many of these were vandalized in 2000, and the US Forest Service is trying to rebuild them from old photographs and drawings in their possession.


It should be noted that any vandalism of a Cairn is a violation of the Federal Archeological Resource Protection Act.



“The so-called medicine wheels, stone patterns on the ground, may be the most familiar structures, believed to have been built by the Plains Indians in the West. The wheel in the Bighorn Mountains, northern Wyoming, consists of cairns, spokes and a rim. The number of spokes is close to the number of days in a lunar month. Two cairns can be used with the central cairn to sight the sunrise and sunset at the summer solstice. Other cairns can be used to sight Aldebaren, Rigel and Sirius in the following way. The heliacal rising of Aldebaren marked the summer solstice at the time the wheel was believed to have been built, 200 to 400 years ago. Then, Aldebaren would have been visible only a few minutes before the predawn glow from the Sun washed it out. Twenty-eight days later, Rigel would rise in the same way over a second line of cairns. Sirius would repeat this pattern over a third line of cairns 28 days after that. The odds against chance alignments to the measured accuracy have been calculated at greater than 4000 to 1. These solar alignments would have been useful for millennia. The wheel resembles the plan of the Cheyenne medicine lodge, which was built to celebrate the Sundance ceremony, the most important Plains Indian ritual held in the summer, and practiced at the summer solstice by some. The wheel may have been used to mark the calendar, especially the summer solstice, so that the Sundance ceremony could be timed to correspond with the solstice. It is 80 feet in diameter; comparatively small to others that existed on Crow Reservation land in Montana and Canadian soil.

One theory is that the wheel was created perhaps as a “mass fasting” site, where six or seven warriors could perform the fasting ritual together. On the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, next to the Crow Reservation, there is a ringed site about ten feet in diameter, and three feet high. Here it was recorded that seven Cheyenne men fasted together.[8]

Early discussions with the local Indian tribes indicated that none of them could explain about the wheel’s past. This was according to the Crows, Sioux, Blackfeet, Shoshone and Bannock tribal members[9].

There are other medicine wheel sites east of the Rockies, across the Great Plains, and primarily north of the Bighorn Wheel. They appear to have been constructed above about 45° latitude. Ten have been found in Saskatchewan and at least 30 in Alberta. One of the most noteworthy Canadian wheels is at Moose Mountain, Saskatchewan, an area that was associated with the sky in Native legend. With five spokes and no rim, its structure is simpler than the Bighorn Wheel, and may be an earlier version. It is twice as large in diameter. The significant point is that it contains the same number of cairns and in the same relative positions as the Wyoming wheel. The cairns show the same alignments with Aldebaren, Rigel and Sirius, but for 2000 years ago, due to precession. Its age has been verified by radiocarbon dating of charcoal at the bottom of the central cairn where the ground was burned before construction. The evidence is that the fire occurred about 2600 years ago. Incidentally, one of the cairns would have aligned with Capella when it was far enough south to rise and set. For several hundred years this star would have been an ideal marker for north. At the end of the summer solstice sunrise spoke there is a small Sun symbol made of stones.

This Sun symbol has been found at two other candidates for astronomical wheels in Saskatchewan. More than half of the wheels examined in Alberta have spokes or other features that align within 2° of sunrise at the summer solstice. They also tend to point to the rising places of Aldebaren, Rigel and Sirius. The ages of these wheels are almost completely unknown. Medicine wheels in Canada are theorized to have been built by different peoples over a long period of time. The most elaborate structures appear to have astronomical associations.

The Wichita Indians of Kansas had structures, known as council circles that were unique to Great Plains archaeology. They are the main feature at five sites. Consisting of a central mound surrounded by a ditch, most are situated on a ridge with a clear view of the horizon. An observer positioned strategically at one circle could see other circles, as well as the winter solstice sunrise. Another position revealed the summer solstice sunset on the horizon. Human bones have been discovered at two sites. Their presence may suggest that sacrifice was included in a ceremony held at the time of the solstice. The Pawnees of Nebraska are known to have sacrificed a female captive during their Morning Star ceremony, held in summer, and usually when Mars rose in the east. The ritual was meant to ensure fertility and successful crops. This event may have been a solstice ceremony, since a version without the sacrifice was performed at the time of the winter solstice. The priests to observe the positions of the stars and constellations through the door and smoke hole sometimes used the Pawnees’ earth lodge. Observations of the sky guided the timing of ceremonies for a people who had no calendar but who did recognize a ceremonial year. Their year began with the First Thunder ceremony, around the spring equinox, and the evening star was significant. If past years were referred to at all, they were linked to an unusual event.[10]

This is a typical Cairn that one might see as they trek along hiking trails. Some are placed with a specific purpose in mind; others are just a collection of piled rocks. Often, hikers and hunters like to shoot at these structures to prove their skill and bravery.


The Forest Service also places small rock Cairns along the maintained trails as route identifiers, and they are often listed in their guides. Many are set in concrete.









This monument is located on top of the hill at Horse Haven Trail, on the south slope of the West Pryor’s. There are numerous abandoned uranium mines in the area.


It is about two feet in diameter, and six feet tall.  [View looking south.]










The Crow Indians formed various types of rock piles that are associated with Tribal Warfare, Markers for fallen warriors or enemies, noteworthy feats, battlegrounds, shrines and hero’s monuments. They were scattered across the county for many years until the land they rested upon was plowed. Most of these monuments are considered sacred; so their precise locations or pictures are not provided. Some of the more noteworthy ones are[11]:

  • At Pryor Gap a neat row of stone piles are set along the roadway commemorating a great battle against the Arapaho that occurred there. It is now a tribal shrine. Passer bys add stones to the small piles for safe passage. Several of the mountain passes in the area have such markers.
  • At the north end of Pryor Gap, located a short distance from the last mound marking the battle, denoted the place where Medicine Crow rode in between two fleeing Arapaho warriors whom he killed just as his horse was shot. Farming has destroyed this monument.
  • About ¼ mile southwest from the southernmost pile of Pryor Gap markers, and on the other side of Sage Creek (at the foot of Arrow Rock) are three rock piles. This is where the Crows offered rocks and beads to the mythical Little People. Some braves would shoot arrows into the cliff crevasses.
  • At Wolf Mountain a large pile of rocks was created that depicted the exact spot where Yellow Leggings was killed. This was at the north end of the mountain range.
  • A rock pile at the base of Skeleton Cliff, near where the Boothill is located, was a place where a shrine was created. This gave honor to those who died in the mid 1840’s from smallpox. Indians who passed by would pick up another stone, spit on it, and then place onto the pile in sacred memory of the event that killed so many of the Crow tribe. This action would hopefully keep him safe.
  • A trail marker (ring) is located midway between Warren and Bowler, on the Indian - - Bridger Trail, leading to Pryor Gap.
  • A trail marker (ring) is located about one mile northwest of Bowler, indicating track of the Bridger Cutoff Trail, before reaching Pryor Gap.
  • A trail marker (ring) is located on the Bad Pass Trail, near to the Montana-Wyoming border crosing.


Spanish Boundary Marker[12]


Pictured here, is a friend of the author standing at the very last one found at the Northern end of the mountain range. It says several things that were figured out, of which one of them is "Turn Around, U-TURN, Go-Back," (You've Gone To Far). Trial and Error has led the author to these conclusions, although there is another message here. These are not like the rock cairns that prospectors put up for their Discovery Markers or Boundary Markers














Sheepherder Monuments




These Cairns are of various shapes and sizes, and as stated earlier, their origins in the South Hills areas are unknown. They are similar to the Alaska boundary marker, but not constructed with strength retaining bands (large stones) halfway up. This one at Buster Creek is located above the Bozeman Trail, east of Beauvais Creek on reservation land, east of South Hills.



The construction is formed from a random pattern, sloping inward, and without regard for structural integrity. The stones are simply placed on top of each other in a random fashion. This one is conical and about seven feet tall.[i]




































This is the Cowley Boundary Marker Cairn, located north the town of Bowler.



Picture was taken by Rene’ Flood, who is standing along side of it. It is about 3 ft square and approximately 5-1/2 ft tall. [Some refer to it as the “Bowler Cairn.”] It is about 1-1/2 miles north of the Cowley Airport, and has a GPS location of: 44º 56’ 19.5” N, 108º25’ 40.9” W.  The elevation is 4,290 ft. It sits among numerous mining claim markers. The originator has not been found, but it appears to be a location marker for the mining claims on the hillside below its location. There are two section-range boundary markers (wooden posts) nearby this location. All of the mining claims are marked by white posts with coded identification.

















Pictured is the Four-Corners Cairn



The Cairn is located about 100 yards west of the crossroads in Pryor Valley. View looking north, with Monument Trail in the distance. It is about one mile south of the Fourth-of-July mainstream flow, and is placed at the head of one of the creek’s feeder south-fork streams.


The Cairn is about six feet tall, and three feet in diameter at the base.


Although listed as a Sheepherder Monument, it might well be a Trail Marker on “Monument Trail.”





















The Silent Guide Monument[13]


An early sheepherder to mark a waterhole that never went dry built the Silent Guide Monument in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Made of flat stones, the guide originally stood fourteen feet high, and could be seen as far as thirty-five miles away. During the range feuds between cowboys and sheepherders, cowboys would sometimes rope the guide and pull it down, reducing it to a pile of stones. Once, a sheepherder grew tired of this irritation and climbed the pile of stones with a rifle and dared the cowboys to knock it down while he was there.

As homesteaders came into the area they developed wells and other means to acquire water and the guide lost its importance. The guide fell over several times and was rebuilt by locals, who decided to reset the stones permanently. In 1924, the stones were cemented together and the monument was dedicated by the South Dakota Historical Society. The monument can be seen eight miles west of Philip.













The Barga Monument[14]



The stone CAIRN seen in this photo taken in about 1900 shows one of the cairns that were built in the Pequaming area of Baraga County.  The stone structures were built for some unknown reasons by persons prior to the arrival of the white persons into the county.  The height of the cairn can be seen by the man standing along side of the stone pile.  The cairns were destroyed by the persons that were logging the area in the early 1950s and today only the stones, scattered on private property remain.












The Twin Monuments and Local Trails


There were two rock- cairns (Monuments) set on the north edge of the South Hills’ rim rock areas overlooking Monument Creek in Section 5, Township 4 South, Range 25 East. They are called “Twin Monuments”, and several pictures have been displayed in the Billings Gazette over a span of about 80 years. William Doss first homesteaded this land in the early 1900’s, and city records indicate he arrived here between 1915 and 1916. He received his Land Patent on December 5, 1921[15]. His brother Samuel, homesteaded on the property to the east.  They are located directly on the mid section line extension of T3 S, R25 E, Section 32; approximately 160 feet south of the Township boundary line. The survey conducted by Carl Gleeson August 14, 1903, provided no indication of their existence. Neither did the survey conducted by Otis Ross, Oct 29, 1913.


 The northernmost Cairn was vandalized as more homesteaders entered the plateau area, with some pieces apparently used in building foundations, others taken just for curiosity.


This Cairn has a "Bore-Sight" WithinStanding next to the Cairn (the remaining Twin monument) is Vernon Drake, who authored the interest and development of the article presented herein. He is also responsible for the reconstruction of the vandalized Cairn, using old photographs as the guide. Note the structural retaining ring of large rocks placed about halfway to the top. Several of these pieces weigh over 300 pounds.




There is a small bore-sight built into the cairn, at about five feet above the base, and just off to the south of the centerline. It has an aperture of about one-half inch in diameter, and it is aimed directly at where a former cairn used to stand on the area immediately to the northwest of Stratford Hill. This is on the direct route for the Monument Trail (McCormick Trail), and leads to Red-Eye Smith’s Saloon. It is also part of the Hog’s Back Road to Bridger.



The monument is visible for over ten miles from the south, east and west directions from sites where old trails existed. It appears that from the out lying trails one could see where to travel to get up onto the South Hills plateau, and then into the Yellowstone River bottom (Clarks Fork Valley.) Construction of the Twin monuments do not fit the pattern that was so evident for other types of Cairns, especially those conical ones made by sheepherders to mark their territory range borders. It stands at a GPS elevation of 3927 ft, at 108.33.391 and 45.41.217.


In October 2000, a group of experienced masonry craftsmen and engineers reconstructed the vandalized cairn, but it collapsed soon after. This established the theory that sheepherders couldn’t have created them, since the structural design is tougher to master than originally thought. It would appear that the mass of the stone has to be directed toward the centerline of the cairn to prevent outward collapse, as evidenced by the first reconstruction failure. The cairn was rebuilt, using old photographs as a guide, in the summer of 2002.


There were several cairns in the viewing vicinity, all about seven to ten miles distant, and apparently served some purpose during the early 1900’s. In examining the placement of these Twin Monuments, one can establish for a fact that they are at the center of a series of trails. Why there were two has not been determined, nor has who or when they were constructed been determined. They are positioned about 40 feet apart, and at a true angle of N-42 degrees W.  [Compass bearing is about 30 degrees.] This alignment is not coincidental with the summer or winter solstice angles of the sun. There location doesn’t appear to coincide with any of the early territorial boundaries from the French, English or Spanish acquisitions.


However, there is a close resemblance to the Crow Indian Boundary interpretation resulting from their loss of 1,100,000 acres of land to public domain in 1878-1879. The Director of Geological Survey, on 10 June 1896 signed a treaty with the River Crows establishing permission to survey their lands and establish boundary markers in accordance with the same practice utilized in the rest of the land. Stone monuments or posts placed at the corners were the preferred method. The Indians were left with a central piece of land (Crow Indian Reservation) that was bordered on the west by a ridge of rimmed rocks that bordered by what is presently referred to as “the South Hills” area of Billings. The government (GLO-BLM) surveyed the strip of land between the reservation line and the Yellowstone River, and established corner markers for the sections and quarter sections; plus they identified specific landmarks. Later, in the 1900’s they entered the reservation land, and completed the surveys for the area. For the Indians, their land now ended at the ridge of the rim rocks bordering the South Hills west of Pryor Creek. The last edged rimmed area is at the site occupied by the Twin monuments, and their angular placement parallels the reservation line plotted by the surveyors, but located in the valley floor 1 ½ mile further to the southwest. It is conjectured, that when Paul McCormick established his grazing rights for100, 000 head of sheep on the reservation, along with brother Frank who also had contracts for supplies on the reservation and at Fort Custer, he might have ordered construction of the Twin Monuments, and the numerous others that have been vandalized along Monument Creek, and the ridgelines nearby. His son, Paul, was manager for the road and tunnel construction operations that occurred between 1900 and 1905. His road crews would have been well capable of constructing a rock cairn that would withstand the harsh Montana elements, and that could be used as a marker for his lease-land holdings. Additionally, he traded extensively with the Indians, was granted permission to construct roads through their lands, and he transported great amounts of fresh produce, seed, and meat supplies to both the men that were tending his sheep, and the reservation Indians themselves. For that purpose he would need a series of roads that provided the easiest access from his home base in Billings, and the outlying communities within his vast route. He had the largest freighting outfit in Montana and it would make sense to have visual markers created to indicate where to travel during winter days, when the roads are not visible; and to mark the territorial limits of the Crow Reservation as seen by the Indians at that time.


It is also probable that the monuments were created by the Story-McAdow Freighters or other freighter operators when they traveled on the Military Bozeman Road[16] between the Yellowstone and Big Horn. There is no mention of these monuments in any of the early survey field notes. They do indicate water sources for stock is available at the site, and access routes were created for cattle and other livestock to reach the water. These monuments are halfway between water sources available from the rivers.


It is reported that the monuments were actually constructed by ranchers in the area, who had sheep holdings in the land below. This is being questioned.


Or perhaps they were constructed to establish directions to Red Eye Smith’s Saloon, collection point for freighters supporting the Burlington-Quincy railroad, located at the top of McCormick Hill on Monument Trail, or to be a Bridger signpost.


The USGS maintains a vast collection of Territory, State and International Boundary Marker files, but do not have any pictures of these cairns. Their design has been observed to be very similar to several others created by the USGS between 1900 and 1905 to mark boundary lines under their jurisdiction, but none were recorded on film, but eyewitnesses recall their appearance. The key element in the design is the incorporation of the structural band of reinforcing large stones placed about four feet up. These retain the structural load within the column, and not allow the forces to be exerted outward, which would lead to their collapse. Unfortunately, no written record of the Monuments has been located. These should be considered for Historical Preservation as a National Archival item when their history has been satisfactorily identified.


BLM Land Survey Comments


The governmental surveys, taken between 1887 and 1913 do not make reference to these monuments. The land survey notes prepared for the land west of the Yellowstone River carry extensive comments about the objects found during their surveys; but the lands east of the river do not.  The surveyor’s and some of their significant comments regarding the “South Hills” area follow.


George Reeder (September 14, 1887)


Surveyed the north-south boundaries near the riverbanks, and no objects, trails, roads, and buildings were recorded.


Samuel Burdock (April 26, 1890)


Conducted some minor boundary line survey, no references to objects.


Philip Gallagher (June 10, 1891)


A treaty signed on December 8, 1890 created the Crow Indian Reservation west boundary for their land deed.  The boundary line was mapped to the land by a survey that started in the north, and ran southward. This was strictly a method to identify where the Indian land ended. Boundary markers were placed at appropriate points using standard buried stone slabs, along with marking cairns (about 1 ½ ft high.) although the survey passed across many Indian trails, roads, creeks and near to cabins, there were no remarks about any of the objects. Only the boundary was recorded.


Carl Gleason (August 15, 1902 to August 14, 1903)


Conducted the detail south boundary line and ¼ section topographical markings (including Range 25 E and Township 3 S), extending from the Yellowstone River to the Crow Reservation west boundary. He placed a stone where the east boundary of the government land stopped. There should also have been a previous stone demarking the Indian west boundary at that point. He identified the road leading from the south towards the summit at the junction of sections 27, 28, 33 and 34. Cottonwood Creek was defined (but dry), along with the ravines and hills. He listed the land as 2nd rate, mountainous and consisting of stony-clay. No timber. This survey took him a few feet south of where the twin monuments are located, but he made no reference to them, nor was there any buildings or fences reported.


Carl Gleason (August 18, 1903)


Established sub-division of the land in Township 3S, Range 25E, and the southern boundary between it and township 4 south. He again passed within 160 feet of the location where the twin monuments are located, but no reference to them was made. The only object he reported is the road (continuing from the south in lot #3 of Section 5), passing to the west of the monuments by about 200 feet, then continuing passing northeast towards the highest point in Yellowstone County. [This summit would later be called Brazwell Summit, after a town in Texas; and a stage – mail stop would be operating there by Julia A Woods from 1914 to 1918.], then later it was referred to as Stratford Hill.  Blue Creek Road passed directly through the Woods’ property at the summit of the hill, approximately 1/8th mile east of Section 28’s center point.


Otis Rose (October 29, 1913)


Reestablished the section and ¼ section line boundary markers. He identified Cottonwood Creek, and the road reported by Carl Gleason, plus fencing and some fence posts. He reported that virtually all the land was homesteaded, but no occupants were identified. There was evidence of a considerable amount of prospecting, and the flow of natural gas was encountered in the area west of section 7. The township had much evidence of the presence of oil. In identifying the northern boundary of Township 4S, he simply accepted the south boundary of Township 3S created some ten years earlier. He did not report evidence of the twin monuments.



Origination of Wagon Roads

[Billings Business Directory 1883-1884[17]]


Before Montana had settlements in the Yellowstone Valley area, Wyoming territory, southeast of the Big Horn Mountain Range, had a district about 200 miles square, and was fed with water from the Stinking Water River [Ruby River], Wind River and numerous other tributaries on the Big Horn River. Residents who farmed and raised sheep and cattle in this fertile area had to get their supplies from a difficult trip over nearly impassable roads that connected with the Union Pacific Railroad. This was a distance of 400 to 500 miles. After the Indian wars were over [about 1878] the settlements at Coulson, and other small towns on the Yellowstone River sprang up. This led to navigation and the bringing of supplies into Montana by boat.  With the advent of local ranchers placing huge herds of livestock, horses and sheep on domain land and Crow Indian Reservation lands, these folks developed a series of roads that could accommodate wagons.  The distances to Coulson, and eventually Billings, were only half of that needed to reach the Union Pacific Terminals.


Near the northern borders of Yellowstone Park gold and silver was discovered. This led to the establishment of the Clark’s Fork Mines. A smelter was built and the area needed better transportation. A wagon road that cut through the Clark’s Fork canyon areas was then constructed. This made Billings the closest accessible point for the entire mineral region of the Clark’s Fork.


The Crow Reservation lies between The Yellowstone River [150 miles], the Big Horn River and the Wyoming Border. It comprises 6, 000,000 acres. There was strong sentiment [by the settlers] that this reservation was too expensive for the needs of the Indians, and legislation was initiated to reduce its size. This initiated the land surveys and return of vast portions of the land to domain status. This act was concluded and the territory was opened as a “Tributary of Billings” for minerals, cattle, sheep & wool, and various agricultural products.


The need for transportation was considerable, and an extensive network of wagon roads were developed. It is the when, the who, and the where traveled that sparked the need to understand their development so that the origination of the Twin monuments can be fully ascertained.  Many of these early roads cut through the ‘natural’ contours of the land, and are still evident today. The ranchers however closed most of them as the Reservation lands were settled and fencing was initiated in full[18].


In July 1893, the editor of the Weekly Times took a trip from Billings to Wyoming, passing through Pryor Gap. He described the week’s journey with these comments:

·        Jim & I left Billings on July 3rd, and crossed the Yellowstone River at the Blue Creek Ferry location

·        We headed south for Pryor Gap

·        We nooned at the crossing of Pryor River

·        We passed the Catholic Mission and Chief Plenticous (sp), arrived at a beautiful camp ground in Pryor Gap about 6 pm.


Comment: According the early trails available for wagons, indicated as being in the area at that time, it appears that they traveled almost due south from the ferry crossing, following what is now called Hillcrest Road [located on the crest of the low lying hills south of Billings] and onto the edge of the South Hills plateau near or at the Twin Monuments’ location and Stratford Hill (high point of Yellowstone County.) From there the shortest route would be to turn east and start down McCormick’s Hill on Monument Trail for a short distance, then immediately cut due south passing through Four-Corners [center of a vast open range area between the plateau and the West Pryor Mountains], and straight into the Pryor Mission and Chief Plenty Coups’ homestead locations. [They could have cut down along Cottonwood Creek Road, but that would take them in a southwest direction, and add a significant amount of travel distance.] From there they would have followed the Indian trail up into the pass.



Comment:  The search is still on for who actually constructed the monuments, and any information would be greatly appreciated.



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[1] Extracted from Trails & Tails, by Susan Doyle, to illustrate the general usages for the myriads of paths in the area.

[2] Ibid

[3] Treaty People Gather to Reclaim Land, article prepared by the Lakota Nation, 1999.

[4] B.C. Reg. 229/2001, Regulation of the Surveyor General

[5] Details noted in the survey instruction BLM field notes for each surveyor of the area in the South Hills region.

[6] Picture from NOAA Geodetic Survey Image collections

[7] From Rollin C. Curd, “Shovels and Plumbobs”

[8] Heart of the Crow Country, Joseph Medicine Crow, 1992, pg 82.

[9] Billings Gazette, Bill Beasley article on Indian Fights and Early Montana History; May 6, 1956 investigation.

[10] Descriptions of Medicine Wheels and Cairns extracted from December 8, 1995 article by David Lane, President, Halifax Centre, published in the December issue of Nova Notes

[11] From the Heart of Crow Country, by Joseph Medicine Crow; and Lt. Bradley, Journal of the Montana Column, 1876.

[13] Courtesy of: Lasting Legacy Commitee
c/o Ralph A. Kemnitz, PO Box 489 Philip, SD 57567

[15] BLM Patent Ascension file # 836925.

[16] This road was the Sawyers route established in 1866, and re-identified by Jim Bridger in August 1866. Almost exclusively Nelson Story & Perry McAdow for freighting between Gallatin County farms and Fort C. F. Smith used it. The route initially laid out by Bridger is full of ravines and gullies. The survey maps for that time period show the route to pass through the south edge of South Hills.

[17] See Landmarks Volume III, 1883 by Hendry & Fell

[18] The Weekly Times, July 29, 1893, “Notes of Travel in Wyoming”; Editor

[i] From Tales & Trails, Monica Weldon photo.