Pompeys Pillar National Monument

Pompeys Pillar National Monument

45°59’44.7″N 108°00’16.9″W

Randall Chapman | July 1st, 2018 | Travel

The map of the US has changed many times over the years since its inception in 1776. It started with the 13 original Colonies and has expanded to meet both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as Alaska and Hawaii but in 1802 it only stretched as far as the Mississippi River from the Atlantic Ocean. Much of the land west of the Mississippi River was owned by France or Spain. In 1803 the Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, made an offer to the US for the property it owned in the Americas for a total of $15million, this was known in the US as the Louisiana Purchase. Facing war with Great Britain, Napoleon needed money and while the US was originally only interested in the port city of New Orleans they jumped at the offer at such a low price. Thomas Jefferson was the president at the time.

The next year in 1804 Jefferson commissioned an expedition to find a passage and map the new land. He commissioned The Corps of Discovery a group of US Army volunteers under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend Second Lieutenant William Clark, also known as the Lewis and Clark expedition. The group set out on May 14th 1804 from Camp Dubois, near present-day Wood River, Illinois and didn’t reach the Pacific Ocean till November 20th 1805, just over a year and 6 months later. After building Fort Clatsop near the mouth of the Columbia River on the Pacific Coast and waiting for winter to end the expedition headed back to Washington DC to report back to Jefferson. On the way back, Lewis and Clark split up to cover more territory, with Lewis taking a more northern route mostly back tracking their way out and Clark heading more south ending up on the Yellowstone River. Along the way Clark’s group came across a sandstone butte alongside the Yellowstone River that Clark called Pomp’s Pillar, naming it after Sacagawea’s son Jean Baptiste, Clark nicknamed him Pompy. Later the spelling was changed to Pompeys Pillar by others. While at the pillar Clark and his men etched their names into the rock, the names are still there today.

Now known as Pompeys Pillar National Monument this is one of the few places you can be absolutely certain you are standing in Clark’s footsteps. It is a small monument but a pretty cool place along Hwy 90 in Montana, just east of Billings. I stopped here while I was in Billings to meet my brother that was flying in from CA. I only spent an hour here but they have a visitor’s center with informational signs and a board walk that takes you up to the place where the rock was signed. It’s a short hike, less than a mile, though it is up a few flights of stairs. Clark’s name is protected by a brass frame with a glass face which helps keep it protected from erosion and vandalism. The visitor’s center is very touristy but it’s still worth visiting.

For me it was cool to stop and see this piece of history, I have long been interested in all the explorers and the story of their discoveries. To stand here and read the stories on the signs and see the rock and the view from the top was well worth the 30 min drive out of Billings.

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