Monday, March 5, 2012

Medicine Tree

The Medicine Tree south of Darby on U.S. Highway 93 once towered over the landscape. The four-hundred-year-old Ponderosa pine was a timeworn icon, a site sacred to the Salish-Kootenai tribes. According to a legend handed down by local tribes, a monstrous bighorn sheep terrorized the southern Bitterroot valley. Coyote used his guile to trick the ram into charging a small tree to prove his strength. The ram's large curled horns sank deeply into the trunk and trapped him there. Coyote cut off his head and promised that in the generations to come, there would be no more wicked creatures and the tree would be a place of peace and good luck. But the real facts are just as dramatic. On March 11, 1824, Alexander Ross of the Hudson Bay Company came upon the tree. He wrote in his journal, “Here is a curiosity called the Ram's Hornout of a large pine five feet from the root projects a ram's head, the horns of which are transfixed to the middle. The natives cannot tell when this took place but tradition says when the first hunter passed this way, he shot an arrow at a mountain ram and wounded him; the animal turned on his assailant who jumped behind a tree. The animal, missing its aim, pierced the tree with his horns and killed himself. The horns are crooked and very large. The tree appears to have grown round the horns.” No sign of the ram’s head remains today. In 2001 a storm snapped the tree’s trunk, leaving only 20 feet of it standing. Vandals poisoned this remaining portion. But travelers still pay homage to the Medicine Tree with offerings and prayers for good luck.
Photo of the Medicine Tree when it was still alive from Montana Living


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