Monday, May 14, 2012

The Place Where the White Horse Went Down

In the summer of 1837, a smallpox epidemic spread from a steamboat as it lay docked at Fort Union. Although the federal government initiated massive inoculations among the tribes of the Midwest in 1832, the effort did not reach this far north, and Montana’s native people had no immunity. The disease struck the young, vigorous, and most able-bodied family members so quickly that before one person could be properly laid to rest, another family member died. In the end, the epidemic claimed at least ten thousand victims. The Crows tell a story about two young warriors who returned from a war expedition to find smallpox decimating their village. One warrior discovered his sweetheart among the dying, and both grieved over the loss of many family members. Realizing that nothing could alter these events, the two young men dressed in their finest clothing. Riding double on a snow white horse and singing their death songs, the two young warriors drove the blindfolded horse over a cliff at what is today the east end of the Yellowstone County Fairgrounds at Billings. Although time has reduced the height of the cliff, the spot where they landed is remembered even today as The Place Where the White Horse Went Down.

A historical marker stands at the site today.
Image from Historical Marker Database

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