At the Old Trail Museum, we see a Metis Indian cabin exhibit, a skeleton pierced by an arrow, and dinosaur displays. Then we head to the Nature Conservancy's Pine Butte Guest Ranch, where we're treated to spectacular mountain views from the 0.25-mile A.B. Guthrie Trail at the Nature Conservancy's Pine Butte Swamp Preserve, a rare wetland of running water called a fen. Guthrie, Choteau's Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, wrote that "living on the Front, I have come to feel part of what has gone before, kin to dinosaurs and buffaloes and departed Indians that lived here. When I step out of doors and hear a small crunch underfoot, I sometimes suspect I may be treading on the dusty bones of a duckbill or bison or red man killed in the hunt."
Browning: tepees, stories, and buffalo
After seeing nestling bones of the plant-eating maiasaura at the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Bynum, we drive U.S. 89 north alongside mountains the Blackfeet called "The Backbone of the World." The prairie is so large that when my eyes return to something small ― a red-tailed hawk ― it comes as a shock. Writer James Welch calls this "the quiet fastness of the plains," where "the country was not empty, but remote and secluded, even intimate if you were alone."
In Browning, headquarters of the 1.5 million-acre Blackfeet Indian Reservation, we pass a cement-tepee espresso stand and streetlights featuring cast-iron tepee silhouettes on our way to the Museum of the Plains Indian. Here we learn that the Blackfeet controlled the plains after acquiring horses in 1733, and we see beaded buckskin clothing, carved tools, and eagle-feather headdresses. Tobin is transfixed by the piskun diorama, a museum display that depicts buffalo plunging from a cliff, their bodies frozen midfall.