If you had trekked all the way from St. Louis to Missoula, chances are you could stand a new pair of shoes. That’s the best reason we can think of why Meriwether Lewis and William Clark have been doing laps around Southgate Mall for the last week or so.
Yes, the Lewis and Clark in the Rockies Bicentennial Festival has flooded our fair city with 1800s-era reenactors of late, and the much-hyped affair isn’t over yet: The festivities ramp up at Lolo’s Travelers’ Rest on Friday, June 29, and taper off July 3 with a “separation anxiety” ceremony commemorating the fork in the trail where Lewis and nine comrades went north through what later became Missoula and Clark took a southerly route before the parties reunited six weeks later in North Dakota. And aside from being tons of fun, the celebration raises an interesting historical question vis à vis the Corps of Discovery: how can we miss them when they won’t go away?
But Lewis and Clark are hardly Montana’s only historical lingerers this season. The feast of destruction that was the Battle of the Little Bighorn, where Lt. Col. George Custer and the U.S. 7th Cavalry met their demise at the hands of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and more than 3,000 Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe warriors, was reenacted not once, not twice, but four times outside of Hardin June 23-25. A reported 5,000 people turned up to watch the battle unfold again and again, pausing only for a reenactment of the 1876 Grand Ball and a benefit dinner or two along the way.
This historic fervor, for all its educational value, got us to thinking about the next wave of Montana’s historical events, those that might be reenacted even farther down the line, when distant-future generations will surely long to summon life as experienced in the late 20th century.
We can hardly wait for the reenactment of the epic July 2000 Hells Angels “Summer Run” in Missoula, when 500 assembled bikers couldn’t hold a candle to restless locals irked by the massive contingent of riot-gear-clad cops from around the West who took over downtown. When the dust settled, 83 locals—and not one biker—had been arrested and many more had been pepper-sprayed.
Or how about the Rainbow Family Gathering that drew 36,000 people to the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest the same summer? Watch on as campers sing and pass doobies around the fire as Forest Service law enforcement agents lurk on the outskirts.
And surely a re-creation of the infamous late-night debates over the 1997 legislature’s deregulation of the state’s utilities would be entertaining as well as informative, though interpreting that one through the lens of hindsight is going to be a heck of a challenge for someone. So hit those history books, kids. If you study hard, one of you just may grow up to play Marc Racicot!