By Katherine Hodge, Public Education Coordinator
It’s official: we have something NEW for you. Over the next few weeks, look forward to more posts with exciting things like a discount code, free lesson, and testimonials about our new Project Archaeology: Investigating Rock Art regional curriculum: Investigating Medicine Rocks. For today, learn a few things about this area and those who passed through or lived there.One of the many beautiful formations at Medicine Rocks State Park. Medicine Rocks State Park is near Ekalaka, Montana in the southeastern part of the state. It is remote and very beautiful. Though better known for its stunning landscape, the park features some incredible rock art that documents people living and moving through the area for thousands of years. Teddy Roosevelt passed through the area in 1883 and had this to say: “as fantastically beautiful a place as I have ever seen.”
This park has a far longer history that extends well beyond early presidents. The land we now know as Medicine Rocks State Park was used by the Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Crow for ceremonial and sacred purposes. There is also archaeological evidence of people living in the area as long ago as 11,000 years ago.
Author of the curriculum, Sabre Moore, had this to say about the new Project Archaeology curriculum:
In Investigating Medicine Rocks, students will study an archaeological site at Medicine Rocks State Park referred to as “Locality E.” Studied by archaeologists in 2010, Locality E consists of hundreds of instances of inscriptions, including historic to modern names, initials, dates and images. It also contained a nearly complete side-notched arrow point dating to the Late Precontact Period (1050 B. P.
Nearby to this site is a cave or rockshelter that was completely eroded through the sandstone, which served as a temporary camp site for Herbert Dalton, a sheepherder-sculptor that livedin the area and carved the notable “Lady of the Rocks” inscription. A series of nails were driven into the wall of the cave and used to fasten a cover (likely canvas) to the east entrance, providing added shelter from wind and other weather.
Sheep came to Montana around the same time as the cattle industry in the early 1840s. In 1869, two ranchers drove 1,500 sheep from Oregon to the Beaverhead Valley near Dillon. From there, sheep spread eastward alongside cattle and by 1879, there were 15,000 sheep in the Smith River region and 60,000 near Musselshell River.
Carter County was once in the top four or five counties in sheep and wool production in Montana and sheep remain an important part of the county’s economy. Unlike other areas, there were few disputes between sheepherders and cattlemen in the area.In the early range days, herders lived in small tents or cabins built near a place where sheep could find water. When the sheep grazed the grass, they would be moved to a new area and this was why Dalton spent three summers with his sheep in the Medicine Rocks area. During the rest of year, they were moved onto other areas owned by the Anderson family.
Sheepherders often came from other countries including Scotland, Portugal, the Basque region between Spain and France, Mexico, Norway, England, or Ireland. Sheep herders like Herbert Dalton spent much of their time alone with the flock for months on end and could have a dog to help. Dogs kept the herds together, warned predators, and could work with voice commands or arm signals. Dalton would have been responsible for protecting his sheep from coyotes and wolves as well as pests, parasites and poisonous plants. He would have spent his days mending clothes, cooking, and reading to pass the time, as well as creating the sculptures seen today by archaeologists at Medicine Rocks State Park.
Look forward to learning more about this area and the curriculum, Investigating Medicine Rocks, in the coming weeks. It will Be available on our website August 17th!