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Big Muddy Badlands: Old West Movie Set Amidst Saskatchewan's Prairie

Updated on March 29, 2009

 Walking through the breathtaking stirated desert wonders of the Big Muddy Badlands in southern Saskatchewan, you might be forgiven if the area evokes memories of old Western movies and you expect Butch Cassidy to step out from behind the the 200 foot high sandstone and clay formation Castle Butte, guns blazing. You wouldn’t have to be forgiven too much, however, as the real Butch Cassidy used the area as Station #1 on the famous Outlaw Trail of remote hideouts extending from here to the Hole in the Wall in Wyoming, Robber’s Roost in Utah on down to Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. Even after the North-West Mounted Police established a local post in 1902 to stop Cassidy and his fellow outlaws Sam Kelly and Dutch Henry, it was well over a decade before the Mounties gained control of the region.

The Big Muddy area was a magnet for Old West legends as Lakota (Sioux) medicine man Sitting Bull moved here to flee retribution from U.S. forces after his defeat of General Custer and the Seventh Cavalry at the 1876 Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Local First Nations kept the Roan Mare Buffalo Jump in constant use for thousands of years. It is absolutely awe inspiring to think that aboriginal tribes were using this area for millennia before the birth of Christ! The area above the Jump is still dotted with rock cairns that once held grass ropes to funnel the herds over the edge and made the Jump impossible to detect by the animals until it was too late. At the bottom of the cliff, a virtual buffalo processing factory of scores of natives would carve up and prepare every part of the buffalo for a specific tribal use, from food to decoration to clothing.

The Big Muddy Badlands region is located just north of the Medicine Line (the USA / Canada border) separating south central Saskatchewan from northeastern Montana. The Big Muddy Valley which runs throught the middle of the Badlands is a 35 mile long cleft up to two miles wide and as much as 500 feet deep. The valley was gouged out by melting glacier water during the last ice age, and runs in a southeasterly direction into Montana, where it flows into the Missouri River basin.

The Big Muddy is a treasure trove of dramatic scenery including beautiful rugged buttes, cliffs and hogbacks in a dry desert environment. The only notable surface water in the valley is found in Big Muddy Lake and Creek. When a wet summer raises the local water level, you can canoe down the creek all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Big Muddy Badlands represent an astounding break from the generally flat prairie land of most of southern Saskatchewan and merit a visit from any fan of the real Old West. All you need to do is head south from Ogama where you would think that there are nothing but pancake flat plains for hundreds of miles around and as soon as you pass Bengough, you will think that you've been magically teleported a thousand miles to the south! The sudden change is just that amazing. It comes on you within a minute or two of driving. Truly one of the most amazing experiences to be had in Canada! Don't miss it!


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