Seen near the Bitterroot River by an 1840's traveler
|Bighorn sheep, photographed in Montana by|
Flickr user Jeremy Weber (doublejwebber)
The Bitterroot river valley of southwestern Montana was once inhabited by the Flathead or Bitterroot Salish Indian tribe, so perhaps they were the people who decorated the tree that is described in the following excerpt. This was written by W. A. Ferris in the early 1840's.
On the east side of Bitter Root river, there is a singular curiosity, that I had not before observed, because it is situated under some rocky bluffs, almost impassable to horsemen, the proper road being on the west side of the river: it is the horn of an animal, called by hunters, the "Big-horn," but denominated by naturalists "Rocky Mountain Sheep;" of a very large size, of which two-thirds of its length from the upper end, is entombed in the body of a pine tree, so perfectly solid and firmly, that a heavy blow of an axe did not start it from its place.
The tree is unusually large and flourishing, and the horn in it some seven feet above the ground. It appears to be very ancient, and is gradually decomposing on the outside, which has assumed a reddish cast. The date of its existence has been lost in the lapse of ages, and even tradition is silent as to the origin of its remarkable situation. The oldest of Indians can give no other account of it, than that it was there precisely as at present, before their father's great grandfathers were born.
They seldom pass it without leaving some trifling offering, as beads, shells, or other ornaments - tokens of their superstitious veneration for it. As high as they can reach, the bark of the tree is decorated with their trifles.
By W. A. Ferris. From Life in the Rocky Mountains, originally published in a series of installments in the Western Literary Messenger, Buffalo, N. Y.: J. S. Chadbourne & Co., from July 13, 1842 to May 4, 1844.
About the area today:
The Bitterroot National Forest, part of which borders the Bitterroot river valley and foothills, has had some terrible fires in recent years. One well-known and horific image of deer fleeing a Bitteroot fire in 2000 has been investigated and certified as genuine by the urban legend sleuths, Snopes.com.
Biologists say that forest fires are both natural and necessary in the coniferous forest. The lodgepole pine, for example, needs fire's intense heat to release its seeds from the cone.