American Prairie members and the public can look forward to learning about our upcoming preservation and restoration efforts on the organization’s 25th land purchase, the iconic PN Ranch. This 50,000-acre property not only offers critical habitat for wildlife, it also has been the setting for an enormous and varied amount of human history.
Over the last century, the PN has served as an epicenter of tribal life, a thoroughfare for westward expansion, a military hub, and the historic heart of a ranching era. Native Americans heavily used the area and burial grounds are rumored to exist. In 1805, the land was a campsite for Lewis and Clark as they traveled along the Missouri River. Two treaties were also signed here, and by 1866, Camp Cooke was built to serve as the first military outpost in Montana Territory, a basecamp for fur traders and riverboats. By the late 1800s, settlers transitioned the land to cattle and started what is now called the PN, one of the state’s oldest ranches.
When American Prairie purchased the property, we heard from community members and people around Montana who were overjoyed that the PN would be opened to the public and that its history could be kept intact. One neighbor told us “It’s so nice to know that someone is going to keep it forever.” For the people we heard from, the preservation of the PN would be a celebration of rural identity, state pride, and national significance because of the land’s role in the lives of Native Americans, early explorers, Montana Territory, and ranchers.
But even though the ground is permanently conserved, the history is not. The original homestead has been lost and buildings from the 1800s are crumbling. As the PN is opened to visitors, urgent work is required to ensure that structures are inventoried and survive along with memories that are held by a small, aging population.
By taking action for the PN, we can help keep its past alive and ensure that these parts of America’s heritage are accessible forever. Watch for updates, including opportunities to get involved in public access and historic preservation efforts.
HOW TO VISIT
American Prairie has heard from people around the country eager to visit! We are working to develop a PN-specific visitor map and travel information that will help keep the public safe while also protecting vulnerable historic sites.
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This article originally appeared in The Sentinel, our biannual publication for members. Starting this fall, we'll continue to post updates on our News and Blog pages but The Sentinel will only be provided in print and digital to members in appreciation for their support.
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