War Monument

L ewis and his three companions were watchful every moment of their journey through Marias River country, for they had been led to expect trouble from the Blackfeet Indians. Even the captain himself shared the nightwatch. They were fighting men on 24-hour alert.

The hand-to-hand combat that ultimately ensued between those four Americans and eight Blackfeet Indians on the bank of the Two Medicine River at dawn on July 26, 1806, may have been a result of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and suspicion. Students of the episode disagree over whether it was the root and cause of continuing hostilities between the two cultures, even though it was clearly the Indian men who initiated the fight. In any case, a deep shadow of danger and paranoia hung over the Marias River country for more than sixty years, and was to prevail in a different guise a hundred years later on.

photo of a b m site The twentieth century's longest and most expensive conflict began in the late 1940s and ended in the late 80s. It was an exhausting era of ideological rivalry, risky power plays, and emotional abuse between the Soviet Republic and the United States. This ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) headquarters building, begun about 1970, was to have been part of the United States' first line of defense against a transpolar missile attack. With seven basements, it was considered to be suitably hardened against nuclear warheads.

As a monument to the Cold War, this nameless, graceless megalith could last longer than the pyramids of Egypt. In centuries to come it may be a shrine to a cultural memory, a reminder that the Marias River country once was a primary target of another nation's weapons. A reminder that for several decades, every time the news media reported a crisis in Russian-American relations, people hereabouts, whatever their ancestry, tended to glance toward the northern horizon.

Just fifteen miles to the southeast is another historic place stained by hatred, which has no monument except the collective, anguished memory of the Blackfeet people.