Visiting Babb, Montana: complex remembrance of Secretary Henry Stimson and Blackfeet climbers at nearby Chief Mountain
A striking and thought-provoking locality
So I went to the US Post Office at Babb, Montana.
In fact, people have been doing this at Babb, named for an official of the US Bureau of Land Reclamation, since the year 1905: indeed, the small town built up around the post office. Babb is situated on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, on US Highway 89. A number of outstanding features are located not far from Babb; these include Many Glacier, where a popular hotel has attracted visitors for over 100 years. Babb lies close to Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park, which straddles the US-Canada border. (A few kilometres south of Babb is St Mary, with its elongated lake, hotels and entrance to Glacier Park, and a visitor centre.)
Another well known — and, indeed, highly conspicuous — feature near Babb is Chief Mountain. The Mountain has been known by a variety of names: the Blackfeet have traditionally referred to it as Nínaiistáko; Europeans have sometimes known it as Old Chief Mountain and the explorer Merriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, called it Tower Mountain at the beginning of the 19th century, clearly because this partly Pre-Cambrian formation stands tall in the vicinity, rising to 2770 metres (9080 feet). Indeed, Chief Mountain can been seen widely across the Canadian border, and it even gives its name to an unincorporated community in Alberta, southwest of Lethbridge.
Chief Mountain has been known to members of the Blackfeet nation for centuries. Interestingly, the first recorded European to climb Chief Mountain was Secretary Henry L. Stimson (1867-1950) in 1892. On that occasion he was accompanied by a member of the Blackfeet nation and two other companions.
Henry Stimson subsequently had a very distinguished career in government; he served as U.S. Secretary of War 1911-1913, as Governor-General of the Philippines 1927-1929, as U.S. Secretary of State 1929-1933, and again as Secretary of War 1940-1945. It was this last period of office which maybe proved to be somewhat controversial, especially outside the United States. This mainly because Secretary Stimson was responsible for overseeing the Manhattan Project which developed the atomic bomb, the use of which at Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9th respectively in 1945 considerable altered the context of warfare. Stimson himself was noted for wishing to expedite the use of the atomic bomb.
By way of pure speculation, it is interesting to reflect that if the U.S.-Canada border had been a very short distance south of where it actually is on the 49th Parallel then the history and context of the climbing of Chief Mountain might have been somewhat different. Instead of being known as Native Americans, Blackfeet climbers would have been referred to as First Nations Canadians; but I cannot imagine a comparable Canadian personality to Henry L. Stimson unless it is C. D. ('Who would stop us?') Howe (1886-1960), the larger-than-life author of many of Canada's World War Two (and immediate post-World War Two) armaments and industrial programs. This is of course pure speculation and not very meaningful.
But I am also left wondering what would have happened, if Secretary Stimson had been more informed by a Native American sense of the harmony and unity of nature, whether he would consequently have been so keen to unleash atomic forces in the pursuit of war. Speculation can sometimes be sobering!
July 31, 2015
Also worth seeing
Waterton, Alberta, Canada (distance: 30 miles / 48.3 kilometres; the lakeside village at the Canadian end of the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park has a spectacular setting, overlooked by the historic Prince of Wales Hotel.
Great Falls, Montana (distance: 160.7 miles / 258.9 kilometres); visitor attractions include: the Great Falls of the Missouri River, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, the C M Russell Museum; Gibson Park; Native Montana Art Gallery and Gift; the Great Falls Symphony Association holds regular concerts at the Mansfield Center for the Performing Arts; the Great Falls Historic Trolley gives local tours from the Visitor Information Center; the Malmstrom Air Force Base Museum and Air Park; the Montana Museum of Railroad History; and many others.
Ulm, Montana (distance: 169.2 miles / 272.5 kilometres); the First Peoples' Buffalo Jump State Park contains an historic, mile-long cliff used for 600 years.
How to get there: Delta Airlines flies to Great Falls International Airport, Montana (distance from Babb: 162.2 miles / 261.5 kilometres) with wide North American connections, from where car rental is available. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada
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