Thursday, April 12, 2007

April 10, 2007 Montana Nuggets Newsletter

Enjoy the diverse stories in this issue of our newsletter. And you can get it directly by signing up on our website:

In This Issue:
• Greycliff Prairie Dog State Park
• 5 Things You Might Not Know About Lewis and Clark
• On This Day… April 3, 1996
• 1790s History Mystery Stones

Greycliff Prairie Dog Park
By John and Durrae Johanek

Springtime in Montana, the shoulder season, the time of year when we walk around in shorts and T-shirts one day and shovel 8 inches of snow the next. In a spring blizzard we stubbornly put out patio furniture on our decks, because we just know we’ll be enjoying it tomorrow. If cabin fever has you looking for signs of life, it’s time to head to Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park.

Its denizens, black-tailed prairie dogs, also are welcoming spring, looking for the first green shoots of vegetation to push up through the snow. This rodent reservation is an actual “town” complete with its own exit off the interstate a few miles east of Big Timber. It has neighborhoods, a social structure, and even crime.
Although there are many of these towns across central and eastern Montana, Greycliff has the most accessible and easily viewed residents. Pull up to an active mound, and the dogs will disappear, but within a few minutes curiosity wins out. The black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) is native and unique to North America and colonizes primarily grazing lands from Canada to the Southwest.
So many other animals depend on prairie dogs for food and shelter that if the dogs were to disappear it would be devastating to eagles, hawks, foxes, and black-footed ferrets. They’d also be missed by burrowing owls, badgers, and rattlesnakes, who frequently move into abandoned burrows. The mountain plover uses the town’s gravelly habitat for nesting.
Each burrow is surrounded by a mound of dirt that serves as a handy lookout against danger. A soaring golden eagle, for example, will cause the “watch dog” to go into action: he twitches his tail and signals the others with a series of high-pitched “barks,” earning the species its name. The rules apply to locals as well: no dog may stray into another’s territory or it will be chased away.
Greycliff exists because of Livingston wildlife photographer Edward Boehm, who was instrumental in preserving the site when the interstate was built. Assisting was The Nature Conservancy, the Montana Department of Highways, and Fish, Wildlife & Parks. As at any of Montana’s state parks, signs warn you to keep your pets on a leash, which is especially important here because prairie dogs carry fleas, which in turn transmit plague (not likely a problem, but it nearly wiped out a colony at the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge). Besides, loose dogs harass wildlife and ruin the experience for others. Please obey the signs that ask you to not feed the prairie dogs! No matter how cute or hungry they appear, breadcrumbs or your well-meaning popcorn wreaks havoc with their digestive system and habituates them to humans, making them less wild. Your good intentions could kill them, and lord knows they’ve already got their hands full with interstate traffic.

5 Things You Might Not Know About Lewis and Clark

1. What was the total cost of the entire Lewis and Clark expedition?

2. How long did it take Lewis and Clark to portage the eighteen miles around the five waterfalls of Great Falls?
Thirty-two days.

3. How much did Lewis earn for his efforts during the trip?
Forty dollars per month. Clark earned $25 per month; the privates earned $5 per month, and Sacajawea and York earned nothing.

4. Approximately how old was Sacajawea when she and her infant son joined the Lewis and Clark party?
Fifteen or sixteen.

5. How many years after the Lewis and Clark expedition ended did it take William Clark to receive the promotion Lewis promised him, from lieutenant to captain?
195 years. It was awarded by President Bill Clinton.

From “Montana Trivia” by Janet Spencer, published by Riverbend Publishing
$10 + $2 S & H Call toll free 866-787-2363
Montana Quizzes available free to any publication, contact

On This Day…April 3, 1996
Theodore Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber, is arrested by the FBI at his cabin outside of Lincoln, Montana. Kaczynski is charged with crafting and planting at least 16 mail bombs over 18 years, killing 3 people and injuring more than 20. Kaczynski is described as a hermit by some Lincoln locals, “a nice guy.” With the FBI came the media, swarming into Montana and questioning many in the area.

Kaczynski was a math genius with academic papers published and considered to be on tenure-track, before leaving the academic world. His madness, genius, trial, guilt and innocence are still debated, with books published about him; references made to his life in works on the brain and psychology; and websites dedicated to his life, writings and discussions of his case.

1790s History Mystery Stones

In 1956, four miles northeast of Wibaux, a farmer noticed some curious stones he was clearing from his fields. The stones had carved in them the names of Dean, Mead, Neil, Pike and Watson, and included a minister and two women. All of the stones have two crosses engraved on them also say “1791, June 18, killed in the raid”. James Mead’s stone states he was killed in 1790, and Rev. Neil’s has four crosses on it. Why the mystery? Who were these people and what were they doing here years before Lewis & Clark explored the area? Scholars have attempted to solve the mystery, but haven’t found anything conclusive. None of the names were found in the records of the Hudson Bay Company or in any of the Canadian fur companies during that period. Were they even trappers? What explanation is their for the women and the minister? And who survived to carve the stones?