47. Oil Well Near Culbertson, Montana

Oil and Safflower

View northeast, downstream

Aerial view of an oil well on the muddy Missouri River

© 2000 Airphoto—Jim Wark


At the center of this picture a gravel road circles a well whose pump-jack bobs for petroleum as far as seven thousand feet down. The green fields surrounding the well are of safflower, a European import whose oily seeds are processed at a mill in nearby Culbertson, Montana.

Somewhere in this vicinity, on 5 May 1805, Lewis shot his first grizzly bear and promptly began his detailed study of the fascinating species. Confident of the skill and firepower of his hunters, he declared that the bears "are by no means as formidable or dangerous as they have been represented." On 6 May he reported, "I find that the curiossity of our party is pretty well satisfied with rispect to this anamal," but within a few days, his tone had changed toward Ursus horribilis. On the eleventh he wrote: "I must confess that I do not like the gentlemen and had reather fight two Indians than one bear."

Other game was astonishingly abundant, too. The expedition had entered a game park, a region where Indians hunted but did not stay. As Lewis recorded, "We can scarcely cast our eyes in any direction without perceiving Elk Buffaloe or Antelopes," as well as beaver and bighorn sheep. Wolves, in packs of six to ten, intrigued Lewis with their collective strategy for killing antelope. "They appear to decoy a single one from a flock," he observed, "and then pursue it, alternately relieving each other until they take it." His Newfoundland dog Seaman used a different tactic, catching an antelope calf in the river, drowning it, and dragging it ashore.


From Discovering Lewis & Clark from the Air
Photography by Jim Wark

Text by Joseph Mussulman
Reproduced by permission of Mountain Press