My love of American history is huge and living in Montana helps feed the love I have for this great nation’s history. While there are not as many ‘historical’ places like back home and up the eastern seaboard, Montana is home to many historical events that happened during the 1800’s. Pompey’s Pillar is just one of those places because it has the only physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition – William Clark’s signature.
In 1806, on the return trip from western Montana, William Clark and nine men along with York (his slave), Toussaint Charbonneau (explorer/trader) his wife Sacagawea and their son, Jean Baptiste stopped at Pompey’s Pillar. In his journal, Clark wrote:
at 4 P M arived at a remarkable rock Situated in an extensive bottom on the Stard. Side of the river & 250 paces from it. this rock I ascended and from it's top had a most extensive view in every direction. This rock which I shall Call Pompy's Tower is 200 feet high and 400 paces in secumphrance and only axcessable on one Side which is from the N. E the other parts of it being a perpendicular Clift of lightish Coloured gritty rock on the top there is a tolerable Soil of about 5 or 6 feet thick Covered with Short grass. The nativs have ingraved on the face of this rock the figures of animals &c. near which I marked my name and the day of the month & year.”
**Stard. Side would be the starboard (right) side of the boat.
Little Jean Baptiste was nicknamed “Pomp” by Captain Clark and so Pompy’s Tower was named after him. The editor of the journals, Nicolas Biddle changed the name to Pompey’s Pillar.
The visitor’s center is pretty awesome, even with it being small. There’s a 10-minute video and there are several cabinets with pull out drawers with hands-on learning. You’ll even meet William Clark, Sacagawea, Jean Baptiste and York. I totally missed a picture moment with a hands-on hook of the type of clothing they wore. There is a shirt, dress and child’s shirt made from buckskin that you can hold or even try on if you’re inclined to do so. Believe it or not, there is a good amount of weight in the dress. Although the buckskin is very soft, I can’t imagine wearing one for too long and in the hot summer time.
You’ll also find a smaller replica of the bullboat Sgt. Pryor built on July 26, 1806. Can you imagine floating up the Yellowstone River in one of these? I can, and I would love to give it a try one day. Yes, the Yellowstone River flows north, how cool is that?
In 1882, the Northern Pacific Railroad saw the need to preserve William Clark’s signature, so they placed an iron grate over the area; the picture below is the actual grate. In 1954, a former landowner replaced the grate with a brass and glass case around the area.
When you leave the visitor’s center and enter the back of the park, you will see an old dugout canoe and massive cottonwood trees. I didn’t take any pictures of the trees because of some tree removal going on and the view was not that pretty that day. The stairs! There are roughly 215 steps to view the signature and many more to the very top. We didn’t climb all the way to the top because it was HOT - the weatherman really missed his temperature prediction that day!
Once you make it halfway up the steps, you see some amazing views of the land around the pillar and, of course, William Clark's signature.
My World War II era loving son who tries not to smile for the camera never lets me know if he is enjoying our early American history moments, but those dimples are proof of him enjoying his visit.
You can explore the National Park's Lewis and Clark's Expedition website. If you click on the little tent icon, it will take you to a page about that area. Free downloadable vacation maps of the trail are found at the Lewis and Clark Country website.
If you travel with man's best friend, the park is very welcoming for dogs except for the steps up to the top are off limits along with inside the visitor's center. The walking trails are open for your furry family member.