About 25 miles east of Billings, Montana, one of the most famous sandstone buttes overlooks the Yellowstone River.
This is Pompey's Pillar, so named in honor of Sacagawea's son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, whom Captain William Clark of Lewis and Clark Expedition fame, had nicknamed "Pomp." The pillar covers about 2 acres at its base and stands about 150 feet high. It is the only sandstone outcrop on the Yellowstone River for several miles in either direction and has been a landmark for centuries. A boardwalk leads to the top of the pillar and to Captain Clark's signature, which he engraved in the sandstone.
The Pillar is in the heart of Crow country and is a sacred site for many American Indians. Crow legend tells us that the Pillar was formed by the Supreme Power who broke it free from the northern cliffs and rolled it across the river. Crow Indians (also known as the Apsaalooke) have visited the Pillar for centuries to pray and seek guidance through vision quests - a ritual of fasting and praying. The mountain lion is sacred to the Apsaalooke. According to tradition, this fierce predator visited an Indian while he was fasting at the Pillar, but did not harm him. From that time the Crow people have respected the site as the dwelling of the mountain lion. A voice from a cloud once declared, "Any Apsaalooke (Crow) who fasts at Where the Mountain Lion Lays will lead you to prosperity."
York William Clark's Slave Born Around 1770 Virginia As clark's slave, York was expected to serve his master on the long and treacherous journey. Despite his servitude, York was often treated as an equal by the Corps. American law in the early 1800's prohibited slaves from using firearms and from voting. York carried a flintlock rifle and shot deer, buffalo, antelope, and elk. When it came to making imporant decisions, York, on at least one occasion, voted as an equal member of the Corps. Indian tribes were in awe of York's dark skin and 6 foot, 200 pound stature. They were unsure whether he was a man, a beast, or a spirit-being.
William Clark Expedition Co-leader, Negotiator, Engineer, Geographer, Frontiersman Born August 1, 1779 Caroline County, Virginia William Clark was a frontier child. He rode horses, surveyed land, hunted, and helped manage his family's estate. At 19 he joined the army. Years later President Jefferson asked Meriwether Lewis, an officer who had served under Clark's command, to lead an exploration into the American West. Lewis in turn invited Clark to co-captain this unprecedented journey. Clark could not refuse Lewis' bold request, and the two began planning their voyage. William Clark was a skilled leader and meticulous writer. His journal entries and sketches provide many of the details about the trip. As the expedition's cartographer, Clark drew a radically new map of the West. The maps we use today evolved from Clark's drawings and measurements of these fabled lands.
Sacajawea Indian Interpreter and Guide Born around 1788 Born: Rocky Mountains in Present Day Idaho At 12 years old Sacagawea was kidnapped by Hidatsa Indians and taken from her Shoshone tribe's home in the Rocky Mountains to a village on the upper Missouri. There, she and another captive girl were purchased as "wives" by Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian trapper. In 1804 Sacagawea and Charbonneau joined the Corps of Discovery. Sacagawea's knowledge of the Shoshone and Hidatsa languages helped the explorers communicate and establish trusting relationships with American Indians. Sacajawea may have also been perceived as a symbol of peace. "The sight of This Indian woman, ... confirmed those people of our friendly intentions, as no woman ever accompanies a war party of Indians in this quarter," Clark wrote on October 19, 1805. Jean Baptiste Charbonneau Infant Explorer Born February 11, 1805 Fort Mandan The son of Touissant Charbonneau and Sacagawea, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was an adventuresome infant, but not by choice. His parents were serving as guides and interpreters for the expedition, so Jean Baptiste spent the first year and a half of his life traversing the West as the youngest member of the corps of Discovery. Clark doted on the child who was nicknamed "Pomp." Arriving at an extraordinary sandstone outcropping along the Yellowstone River, Clark named the formation Pompy's Tower in honor of his young companion.
Letter from Jefferson to Lewis, October 10, 1806: "I received, my dear sir, with unspeakable joy, your letter of Sept. 23 announcing the return of yourself, Capt. Clark, and your party in good health to St. Louis. The unknown scenes in which you were engaged, and the length of time without hearing of you had begun to be felt awful." Toast given to Lewis and Clark on September 24, 1806 at Christy's Tavern in St. Louis: Captains Lewis and Clark - their perilous services endear them to every American heart."
We indulge not in the delusions of hope, nor the visions of fancy; when we behold in this expedition ... the germ of extended civilization, science and liberty ..." Spokesman at Reception for Meriwether Lewis in Charlottesville, Virginia
The Route West In search of an all-water route between St. Louis and the Pacific Ocean, the Corps of Discovery journeyed west across miles of treacherous terrain and unexpected mountain ranges.
Clark's Return Route On their return home Lewis and Clark separated between July 3rd and August 12, 1806. Captain Clark and his party explored the Yellowstone River.
Lewis's Return Route At Traveler's Rest in present day Montana, Lewis headed north to explore the Marias River before continuing down the Missouri River.
Ordway's Return Route On July 13th, 1806, Sergeant Ordway departed from Clark's group along with nine corps members and six canoes that had been left the previous summer. They traveled down the Missouri River and met up with Lewis.
Pryor's Return Route Sergeant Pryor separated from Clark's party on July 23rd with instructions to trade the remaining horses with the Mandan people for for supplies. Pryor lost the horses, but his group reunited with Clark's on August 8th.
This is a replica of Capt Clark's signature. The actual signature on Pompey's Pillar is the only remaining physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
"... At 4 PM [I] arived at a remarkable rock Situated in an extensive bottom... This rock which I shall Call Pompy's Tower is 200 feet high and 400 paces in secumphrance... The natives 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." -William Clark. July 25, 1806 Clark named the outcrop Pompy's Tower after Scajawea's son, whom he nicknamed Pompy. Pomp means "little chief" in the Shoshoni language. It was renamed Pompey's Pillar in 1814 when the Lewis and Clark journals were published.
Pompey's Pillar National Historic Landmark Dedicated to the vision and spirit of the individuals who passed this way and left an indelible mark on the history of this great nation. Held in trust by the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management for those who follow. July 23, 1992
Hundreds of markings and inscriptions have been left by visitors to Pompey's Pillar, transforming this geological phenomenon into a living journal of the American West. Archeological evidence indicates that the Pillar was a place of ritual and religious activity. Hundred of petroglyphs on the face of the rock reflect the importance of the monument to early peoples. In his journal, Clark noted evidence of Native American presence, The Indians have made 2 piles of Stone on top of this tower. The natives have ingraved on the face of this rock the figures of animals.... The presence of aboriginal rock art is indicative of ritual behavior. The placement of prehistoric rock art in the Norther Plains is not random. The places where rock art occurs were of great importance to the ancient artists. Pictographs and petroglyphs have been found on the Pillar.
"The natives 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 & the year. -Lewis & Clark Journals July 25, 1806 The ground on which Clark stood has weathered away but his signature has not. Because of this remaining physical evidence, the site is one of the few places along the entire Lewis and Clark Trail where you can be assured of standing in the footsteps of William Clark and other members of the Expedition.
Clark marked his presence by engraving his name and the date of his visit on the outcrop. This simple inscription is the only remaining on-site physical evidence of Lewis and Clark's epic journey. Clark arrived here on his return trip from the Pacific coast. His journal recorded his stop at this "remarkable rock" with its "extensive view in every direction." He described an idyllic landscape of grassy plains, snow-capped mountains, and cliffs abutting the wandering river. Later on, trappers, soldiers, and others looking for adventure and a new way of life used the Lewis and Clark journals for directions and Pompey's Pillar as a landmark.
Pompey's Pillar Discovered and named by Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition June 25, 1808 Clark returning down the Yellowstone with Pryor Shannon Bratton Windsor Hall Shields Gibbon Labiche Charboneau Sacajawea and Child York the slave In gratitude to Lewis and Clark, intrepid leaders, to Sacajawea, their unerring guide, and to the fidelity and courage of all the company. This tablet is dedicated by Shining Mountain Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution Billings Montana May 24, 1928
Some observers suggest that this sandstone formation resembles a mountain lion's head. Pompey's Pillar was named Iishbiiammaache in the Crow language, variously translated as "Where the Mountain Lion Lies, "The Mountain Lion's Lodge," or "Where the Mountain Lion Preys." by the Crow people. It was a landmark for these proud people as well as a productive hunting area for buffalo and small game. The Indians would keep lookout on Pompey's Pillar for buffalo and other game coming down the Yellowstone River. There was a bottleneck in the river directly below the outcrop, making it an excellent spot for hunting.
A Crossroads of Events The Yellowstone Valley at Pompey's Pillar was a crossroads for travelers and wildlife and a cavalry campsite and staging area. The artist's rendering on this sign depicts the area directly across the river as it may have looked in 1873 when Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and men of the Yellowstone Expedition, commanded by Col. David Stanley, camped there. The troops protected engineers and surveyors working on the Northern Pacific Line from Indian attacks. The completed railroad would soon link the rest of the country with the North Pacific coast.
This rock I ascended and from its top had a most extensive view in every direction.... after Satisfying my Self Sufficiently in this delightful prospect of the extensive Country around, and the emence hers of Buffalow, Elk, and wolves in which it abounded, I decended and proceeded on... Lewis & Clark Journals July 25, 1806