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Small City in Middle of Nowhere

sunny 81 °F

Good Morning!

The 4 hour trip from Billings to Helena was filled with beautiful scenery. Montana is vast. Its mountains and fertile valleys seem to go on forever. It is interesting how little communities I observed along the way seemed to have risen out of this vast real estate with little relevance to anything around them. A Rest Area posted sign read; NOTICE - RATTLESNAKE WARNING - DUE TO FREQUENT RATTLESNAKE SITINGS WALK ON SIDEWALKS NOT ON THE GRASS
No worry! I remained on the sidewalk! Never have I encountered a posting like that before. In the Lewis & Clark biography it was mentioned in their diary that the 4 greatest hazards they encountered on their expedition to find a passage to the Pacific Ocean were; Hostile Indians, Grizzley Bears, Rattlesnakes, and Low-growing cactus plants whose spines tore at their feet and legs. The Indians have been tamed, but the Grizzley Bears and Rattlesnakes still occupy the land, as do the cacti.

Helena is a small city of 30K located where gold was discovered in 1852. A bronze plaque mounted on a building downtown marks the spot of the discovery. When word of the discovery got out thousands of hard-luck prospectors from the 1849 California Gold Rush descended on Montana. Lawless times followed until a Montana Vigilanty group formed to bring law & order to the territory. It was truly the wild, wild west. While Montana is the 7th largest gold-producing State in the Union it falls behind other minerals in production. Today, the nearby city of East Helena is the site of smelters, quartz crushers, and zinc reduction works to support the rich deposits of silver & lead in the area. In Helena as the State Capitol, their workforce is made up of 30% government workers (surprise), and 70% employment comes from farming, livestock, and mining industries all of which provide for a stable economy.

After arriving in Helena and getting settled in at the campground I headed into town to reconnoiter. I easily found the Capitol building with the State Museum right across the street. A city tour train stop was in front of the Museum so I bought a ticket for the 5:30 pm one-hour tour. After an hour's visit to the Museum (to be continued tomorrow) I boarded the train to get an overview of the city. I learned from the tour that Helena was chosen as the Capitol site from donations of 2 prominent & wealthy men. One a rancher, the other a railroad executive. The rancher donated the land for $1.00, the other financed construction of the building as Montana's treasury had few resources at the time. Taxation then was in its infancy in Montana. How times have changed!

With the coming of the Great Northern Railroad, and the Northern Pacific Railroad in the 1880's Montana was opened up to the world. Businesses and people came to settle. Copper was discovered in 1881 near Butte, MT and with the Industrial Revolution of the 1890's the demand for copper to supply the new Electric industry with wire brought a boom equal or greater than gold & silver. Called 'The Richest Hill on Earth' the open pit copper mine is located and still operates in Butte.

The trolley tour took us through the quaint downtown area where shops, boutiques, restaurants, and bars are located. I noticed a saloon called, " Bert & Ernie's" and it looked like a good place for my evening meal. After finding the place I went to the bar, ordered a Montana-brewed 'Shadow Caster' amber ale and a small pizza for dinner. Seated next to me were two young professionals in black dresses. I struck up a conversation and we had a light exchange. As they were about to leave one said to me, 'We would like you to meet our grandmothers' (not our mothers, but grandmothers!). Wow! I guess I am looking my age! All-in-all, it was a fun, if not humbling, time!

Tomorrow I will return to the City for the Capitol tour & whatever I can find.

Posted by dixter 09:22 Archived in USA Tagged to helena introduction

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