Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in GREAT PLAINS QUARTERLY 26:3 (Summer 2006). Copyright © 2006 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln.


By 1879 the vast buffalo herds were all but gone from the Great Plains. Many of the remaining animals had moved south from the Milk River of northern Montana and Alberta into the Judith Basin of central Montana. In these rich grasslands, for a few more years, life went on as it had for centuries. Following the buffalo came many Indian bands, as well as Métis who had been hunting on the Milk River for decades. A buffalo~based economy had brought prosperity to the Native people of the Plains. The animals provided essential food and materials in addition to products for trade.
For Métis people, buffalo had replaced beaver as the backbone of their fur trade economy. Their production of robes for the eastern markets and pemmican for the Hudson's Bay and American fur companies provided the economic base of a growing number of communities spreading westward from the Red River of Manitoba, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Among the people moving into central Montana was a group of Métis families who would settle where the old Carroll Trail crossed Spring Creek in the gentle hills watered and protected by the Judith, Moccasin, and Snowy mountains. Here they would found a Métis community, the Spring Creek settlement (Lewistown), where their descendants still live today.