Bird Creek Ranch
Unseasonably balmy Montana weather has a lot of us wondering…and waiting for Mother Nature’s other shoe to fall in the form of a winter blizzard.  The weather reminds me of how moving around in one’s place relates back to one’s knowledge of area history.  
It also reminds me of a shocking realization I came to a number of years ago.
The story of the family’s 1863 move to Montana from the goldfields of Central City, CO, seemed a grand adventure to me – of prairie nights under the stars, camp fires, the thrill of seeing new places.   There was a “race” between the mule-drawn wagon train of family friends and the ox-drawn wagon train of the Jones family.  There were brief snippets of memories from my grandfather, a 12 year-old at the time remembering a steady diet of prairie chickens.  My brand, the Wagon Rod, carries stories of the brand’s birth to identify the oxen.
However, all the stories freeze-framed the day my dad pointed out that the trip was made in January.  
My son at the time was a very busy four-year-old. Even though we had many wonderful travel adventures, I couldn’t help wondering about my great-grandmother riding in a wagon with several young children.  How did she keep them warm?  How did she continue to keep a “stiff upper lip”?
Over time I have come to realize that a January journey was ideal for these travelers.  They needed to get to their destination in time to build and plant.  If they waited until warm weather, roads would become muddy and impassable.  If they waited for the roads to dry out, the delay would grow. Although cold, January can be more open to travel than February or March, while also providing a chance to settle before spring work.
Knowing the landscape then is more than simply looking at a distant mountain or a winding river.
© 2012 E.L. Kittredge
A January Walk
Sunday, January 8, 2012