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The Mystery of Stockade Lake

Stockade Lake in the Beartooths is along a National Recreational Loop. At over 10,000 feet, the lake is crystal clear and very beautiful. Last year, a new friend 80 years old, a retired Forest Service employee, offered to show me an old stockade that lay in the trees on the southeast corner of the lake. In the 1980s the Service asked him to investigate, photograph and map the ancient enclosure.

Stockade Lake

Stockade Lake

All the Beartooth maps show a trail to Stockade via Loosekamp Lake. But there is an undocumented use trail that’s only a mere 2 miles directly to south Stockade Lake. We took that route and hopped the outlet.

In 1891, Benjamin Greenough, a cowboy from Red Lodge, Montana, stumbled upon this dilapidated wood and stone structure. Surrounded by remnant glacial lakes, the structural remains were assumed to be that of an old stockade. This observation was based on the roughly circular shape of the enclosure, the large, heavy logs used to form the walls, and the ax-cut notches carved into the elevation logs for rifle ports.

Ax cut end

Ax cut end

In 1907 John K. Rollinson, a forest ranger and friend of Greenough, and Harry W. Thurston, the then Supervisor of the Shoshone National Forest, visited the site. His narrative below talks about his discovery of the stockade.

On the way back to my camp I traveled a new route which was previously not accessible, due to old snowbanks. I passed a long narrow lake, and as I had been told of an old log stockade or enclosure there, I soon located it. I do not know what it had been used for. It was quite badly rotted down, but it had been a rectangular affair, about eight feet high, built of a double wall of rather light logs, with an eight- or ten-inch space between the two walls which had been filled in with rocks. Three or four old rock fireplaces had once been in use there. All the ax marks were those of a hand ax or tomahawk, as the cuts showed the tool had had a narrow bit. I concluded that squaws had done the work. On a line running due north and south, through scattered pine timber, all the trees had been peeled halfway around up to a height of about five feet. North of the stockade the blaze was facing north, and south of the enclosure the blaze faced south. Each line ran a distance of about a hundred yards. Some trees had been belted and were therefore dead.

Rollison believed that the structure was likely the remains from a party of white trappers and Indian women who were trapping beaver on the Plateau and had built a defensive structure to protect against a hostile Indian attack. He also felt the structure would date to the late 1860s or earlier based on the level of decay.DSC01354

In 1991, the site was recorded by several archaeologists. They reported seeing five culturally modified trees around the stockade.DSC01352 (1)

In 2009, a group of archaeologists, historians, and members of the Park County Historical Preservation Commission hiked to the stockade and collected tree-ring samples from trees and logs at the site. They located more than a dozen culturally modified trees. Their samples consistently produced two separate dates: 1806-1807 and 1861-1862. After this ‘preliminary’ report, Larry Todd returned the following summer, collected a few more tree samples, and so confirmed the later date, just as Rollinson had predicted.DSC01355

When my Forest Service friend was at the site in the 1980s, he told me the gunsights were visible on the logs, and the log enclosure stood about 3 feet high. But today the stockade is almost fully decayed. You can still see the circular outline and in a few places the enclosure still is two or three logs in height. The ax cuts are visible and young trees are growing in the center area.

Young trees inside Stockade

The stockade sits just a few 100 feet off the main trail, but is very easy to miss. In fact, I encountered two backpackers that had spent the night right near the enclosure and had no idea that it was there.

DSC01350

Koda enjoys the shade near the enclosure

Take a lunch and bear spray (last year I encountered a young grizzly near here at the lake) and enjoy the stockade while you contemplate what happened here 150 years ago.

Trail sign. What does an 'F' mean? Anyone know?

Trail sign. What does an ‘F’ mean? Anyone know?

 

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