Human History Preservation

The Big Picture

Human cultures impact the land wherever people live.  People use the land for food and shelter, and adapt to surrounding landscapes and climate.  Eventually, landscapes become part of a people’s identity and affect their attitudes and values.

American Prairie Reserve (APR) sees the northern Great Plains as a pivotal landscape that has shaped the development and spirit of America.  We are committed to preserving the elements of human history that have colored the area and shaped the story of Montana’s Great Plains as part of its overall mission to create a unique prairie reserve.  Our historical preservation endeavors seek to reveal stories of settlement and habitation, while honoring the spirit of those who made the northern Great Plains their home, from the Native Americans who lived on the land for centuries to the pioneers who followed in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark.

Progress to Date

Interior of the restored Prairie Union School. (Photo: Dave M. Shumway)

We are committed to preserving human history within American Prairie Reserve (APR).  Our first restoration project involved the Prairie Union School, which is located about 50 miles southeast of Malta.  In service from 1943 to 1956, the Prairie Union School was built in 1912 for the Hockett family homestead.  In 1943 the schoolhouse was moved to the nearby Shores family ranch, where classes were offered for grades one through eight.  In 1948 the schoolhouse was moved again to its current site near the original location.

Young teachers lived at the school where they slept on a fold-up bed and cooked their meals on an oil stove. One teacher did not leave the school for three months. Many former students received a wonderful education at the Prairie Union School and developed lifelong relationships with fellow students and their families. The Prairie Union School graduated its last students in 1956 and ceased serving as a community center for special holidays and events.  This small log school typifies many found on the prairie and is a part of the rich human history that shaped the character of the region.

The renovation of the Prairie Union School was completed in 2005 thanks to the generous support of the Biehl family. A local company called Yellowstone Traditions offered its restoration expertise, and former students and members of the community donated original school materials.  APR is pleased to showcase the Prairie Union School as a resource for future generations to better understand the courage and resilience of their pioneering ancestors. We are very grateful to the many donors and volunteers who made this restoration possible.  The preservation of this one-room schoolhouse is dedicated to those who obtained their education at this and other similar schools across the regional grasslands.

To learn more about rural schools in South Phillips County, visit: http://malta.k12.mt.us/hs/localhistory.html

Next Steps

APR plans to work with members of the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes to research their abundant history in and around American Prairie Reserve. This opportunity will focus on the traditional tribal use of APR land, the places significant to each tribal culture and preservation of these cultural sites for future generations. Native American tipi rings and petroglyphs have also been identified on the Reserve, and will be preserved as part of our long-term management strategy.