Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Brief Tour of Rosebud Battlefield State Park: Part II

After the events of June 17, 1876, the area comprising Rosebud Battlefield State Park forever transitioned from the purview of Native American tribes to homesteading and ranching by Euro-Americans. By the late 1880s, many areas along Rosebud Creek and Tongue River were claimed by homesteaders looking for a new chance in the American West. Within the bounds of what is today the State Park, several homesteaders claimed significant acreage between 1890 and 1910s. Two of these left the most indelible marks on the landscape, two German families the Kollmar and Kobold.

The Kollmar's established a homestead in the western part of the State Park, straddling a small tributary of Rosebud Creek, now bearing the name of its first white inhabitants, Kollmar Creek. A ruined homestead, fallow fields, and a solitary grave overlooking Kollmar Creek are all that remain of the Kollmar's legacy at the Rosebud. Field research in 2012, identified a small itinerant campsite just upstream from the Kollmar Homestead, and might indicate either an isolated cow camp, or more likely, the possible first area where the family lived while constructing their home in the early 20th century. Identified through metal detecting by University of Montana staff and students, the rock-lined platform and associated domestic refuse, provides researchers with a glimpse into the first white settlers in the State Park boundaries.

2012 University of Montana Crew standing on three corners of a newly discovered tent  platform along Kollmar Creek.

A large piece of a cast-iron stove found near the tent platform during the 2012 Rosebud project.

By far, the Kobold family has played the most important role in shaping the historic landscape of Rosebud Battlefield State Park after 1900. Elmer "Slim" Kobold, first claimed 180 acres of land within the State Park in 1911-1912, and even left his name next to the centuries-old Native American inscriptions at the buffalo jump in his first year. The Kobold's constructed their frame home along the northern bank of Rosebud Creek in the 1910s-1920s, and the family lived through the hard years of the Great Depression, through World War 2, and finally abandoning the home in the 1970s when ownership was transferred to the State of Montana. During the mid-20th Century, Slim purchased and consolidated almost 3,100 acres of land adjacent to his original homestead, acquiring land claims from surrounding families including the Kollmars. Of these 3000 acres, it appears that Kobold tilled over 800 for production of hay, as evidenced by the tall grass fallow fields that dot the State Park today. Almost all of these original fields are still visible today from aerial photographs and on the ground, even 40 years after they were last tilled by Slim and his family.

Inscription of "Slim K. 1911" on the face of the Buffalo Jump in Rosebud  Battlefield State Park. Photo by N. Boyless.
 During the 2011 and 2012 field projects at the battlfield, crews continue to find more tangible remnants of the Kobold legacy, through abandoned tractor parts in and around the historic fields, and through identification of several small dumps throughout the property. A small dump on the edge of Crook's Hill, comprised of 1930s era ceramics and glass, provides a picture of perhaps a small family picnic by the Kobolds, while they enjoyed the expansive and pristine vista of natural beauty and decades of hard work. Closer to the Kobold Homestead (still in use today as the State Park's headquarters and housing for its employees and caretakers), is a massive 1920s-1940s era historic dump located on a small rise. This dump is impressive in its size, and its ability to tell researchers about the lives of the Kobolds during the mid-20th century. Historic trash within this dump includes Depression-era colorful "Fiesta-ware" ceramics, amber-colored Chlorox and Purex bleach bottles, food cans, equipment and parts from both automobiles and tractors, butchered animal bones, and any other manner of trash we would throw out today. This dump existed well before Rosebud County, Montana possessed any centralized landfill or garbage system, leading residents to take care of their  trash problem themselves. Placing the trash upon the top of this hill protected the water in Rosebud Creek from contamination, thus continuing clean drinking water for the Kobolds and all those downstream.

Domestic trash likely left by the Kobold's in the 1930s. Note the brightly colored Fiesta-ware, designed by its makers to bring a little brightness into  the depths of the Great Depression.

Within this dump there is significant information for archaeologists, historians,  and anthropologists. From the faunal (animal) bones we can determine if the Kobold's butchered their own cattle or went to a professional butcher. What types of meat cuts did the Kobold's preferred? Did they prefer beef, mutton, or  pig? Or a mixture of all three? From the bottles and cans we can see what types of foods and goods the Kobold's could not grow themselves and thus had to purchase from a store many miles away. Dozens of Mason jars and their lids scattered throughout the refuse pile reflects the common rural practice of canning and storing of foods grown themselves in a garden, an extremely common historical practice that is only now coming back into vogue during the 21st century. The distinct lack of liquor or beer bottles in this dump provides a personal image of abstinence from alcholic drinks by the Kobold family, or perhaps the dumping of these types of evidence somewhere as of yet out of view.

In 2011, archaeologists discovered a long-forgotten steel and chrome 1930s-1950s "Ford" emblem north of the Kobold Homestead in a road heading to a field worked by Kobold.
All the historic homesteading sites, whether homestead or trash dump are being recorded by archaeologists so that these interesting facets of the State Park's history can be protected alongside the materials of the 1876 engagement or the several thousand years of prehistoric occupations before that. Archaeological remains of historic homesteading can give researchers an important entrance into how the landscape of the State Park has been modified (fields, roads, ditches, etc.) and how these diverse peoples lived, and sometimes died, along Rosebud Creek. University of Montana staff and students are working on formally recording these dumps so that State Park managers can adequately protect and preserve these pieces of the area's legacy for future generations. Intentional looting or careless collection of artifacts will destroy these indicators of past peoples and hamper our ability to understand life that doesn't seem so far away (50 to 100 years ago) but in today's digital and electronic age these lives and activities are as important yet nearly forgotten as prehistoric peoples.

When you visit the Rosebud Battlefield State Park, take time to enjoy and reflect upon the entirety of the area's history from the nomadic tribes using the land for hunting and gathering, to the hardy German homesteaders who forged a life from themselves and posterity upon the rich and fertile landscape of Rosebud Creek.