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Nez Perce Trail Offers ‘Understanding’
—by Mary Keller

Wyoming Landowners Face Condemnation or Loss
—by Dan & Barbara Renner

• The Battle at Clark Fork
–by Mike Stark (© 2002) with the Billings Gazette


Edelweiss of Clark, Wyoming near the Clarks Fork River and Canyon publication In The Shadows of the Beartooths by KidwellIn the Shadow
of the Beartooth
by: Art Kidwell







Edelweiss of Clark, Wyoming near the Clarks Fork River and Canyon publication New Earliest Wasatchian Mammalian Fauna From The Eocene Of Northwestern Wyoming: Composition and Diversity in a Rarely Seen High Flood Plain Assemblage by GingerichNew Earliest Wasatchian Mammalian Fauna…
by: Philip D. Gingerich

Other Books by Gingerich:

• Early Eocene Bats…click HERE

• Systematics of… click HERE




Nez Perce Trail Offers ‘Understanding’
—by Mary Keller

An important new development in Park County, the promotion of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail (NPNHT) by the local chapter of the Nez Perce Trail Foundation, will open an untapped and internationally significant tourism draw in this region.

For sustainability, that is in terms of promoting resilient social and environmental systems, the development of this trail will also promote what is in my mind a more ethical and honest engagement with Native American history in our area. When we remember the history of this region accurately with all of the drama, tragedy and comedy of human history, then we develop a culture with resilience and humility.

The Nez Perce National Historic Trail is 1,170 miles long and traces the flight of Chief Joseph in 1877 as he led a band of Nez Perce people, including women, children and elders, toward Canada in their effort to avoid being “reserved.”

The trail begins in Wallowa, Ore., cuts through Washington, Idaho, Yellowstone, moving right up Skull Creek Pass north of Cody before cutting into the Clarks Fork Canyon.

From there it heads north to Bear Paw Battleground in Montana, 40 miles south of the Canadian border where the surviving members of Chief Joseph’s band were captured before they could cross the border.

This trail is part of a national network of historic trails established in 1968. Trails are like the blood veins of circulation systems that move animals, among them humans, across the land in search of food, water, adventure and religious pilgrimage. The only trails that survive are the ones that promote resilience.

Trails that lead no where die over time. It took congressional action to develop and maintain historically significant trails such as the North Country National Scenic Trail (Vermont, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, to North Dakota) and the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail (from Illinois to Salt Lake City) so that our country would not forget this heritage as cars and highways took over the pathways of our collective memory.

Communities that lie on or near these national historic trails enjoy a steady stream of wayfaring travelers, eager to experience history as a living adventure.

The NPTF �“ the non-profit partner �“ has a chapter in Cody that is dedicating a new interpretive sign to commemorate the Nez Perce escape through the Clarks Fork Canyon. The event will be Friday, July 31, at 10 a.m. at Edelweiss on WYO 120.

This new sign is but a pulse point on an ambitious project being undertaken by the NPTF. I look forward to the day when the foundation realizes its goal to make the entire 1,170-mile trail accessible for people to travel on foot and horseback to experience history while promoting recreation and making publicly accessible space for ceremonial observances to commemorate this epic of American history.

To learn more see nezpercetrail.net and consider joining the foundation. The journey through Yellowstone and then through the Clarks Fork was a dramatic part of this iconic confrontation. Remembering this history offers a remarkable, American story. As Buffalo Bill knew, if you can tell a great story, you’ll get a great audience.

The role of the Nez Perce horse in American history also could be developed in our rich horse culture, potentially creating helpful circulation between Native American and non-Native horse lovers. As exemplified by the Chief Joseph Foundation whose goal it is to bring Nez Perce children to the trail for horseback adventures, the trail creates the possibility to forge “right relationships” between Nez Perce descendants and settler communities such as ours. The potential to forge alliances between local efforts such as Reaching Hands Ranch in Powell and the Chief Joseph Foundation strikes me as tapping into the heart of what 21st century Wyoming could be about.

In a previous column I suggested that a major fault line runs through this country created by the crashing of two tectonic plates: the Native American semi-nomadic presence on the one hand, and the settler overthrust belt that crashed over the Native American.

The development of the Nez Perce trail offers the promise of an honest and economically-stimulating way of reckoning with this fault line.

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Wyoming Landowners Face Condemnation or Loss…
—by Dan & Barbara Renner

Under the current laws of the State of Wyoming, landowners who own their surface but not the minerals lying underneath (commonly referred to as split estate) face a desperate decision: Either agree to allow a seismic company to place explosives on your property and detonate them, or be condemned under eminent domain.

But wait, there's more...Should the landowner agree to allow the explosive seismic testing to take place in order to avoid condemnation, they may lose their homeowners' insurance. So, what do you do? You call the Governor, right?

In June 2004 the residents of Clark, WY, a small community on the outskirts of Yellowstone Park, received notification of a pending 3-D seismic testing project in a 47 square mile area that encompassed much of the Clark community. Quantum Geophysical, Inc., based in Houston, TX, was contracted to perform the 3-D seismic testing and proposed 3,420 seismic shotholes in and around Clark. This proposed activity is unusual in that Clark is a residential community encompassing approximately 350 private landowners and this activity will take place in their front yards!

In addition to the seismic testing, Windsor Wyoming, LLC, an oil and gas developer based in Oklahoma City, has applied to the BLM and the State of Wyoming for permits to install approximately 20 miles of pipeline across public and private lands, as well as the Clarks Fork River, and construct a gas separation plant in Clark. Again, this exploration and development activity, will take place in the front yards of Clark's residents. Such activity is not unknown in the area - Windsor has taken over the operation of an abandoned well site that sits just one-quarter mile of 5 homes. But residents in the area had not realized until recently that all of this activity, particularly explosive seismic testing, placed them in jeopardy when it came to homeowners' insurance.

Much of the private land in the Clark area overlies minerals owned and leased by the federal government. Under Wyoming law, the mineral owner (or the mineral lessee) holds a superior position to that of the surface owner. Surface owners in Wyoming are required by law to allow open access to their lands by the oil and gas industry for the purposes of exploration and development. Attempts to block or inhibit that access will result in condemnation procedures against the surface owner.

In January 2005 Quantum Geophysical began to contact, via telephone and mail, residents in the Clark area regarding the not yet permitted seismic testing they had been hired to conduct. One of the residents, Dan Renner, questioned Quantum's representative (Bruce Fulker) regarding the possibility of unexploded ordnance remaining on his property following the testing and who is liable should that ordnance explode at a later date. He also requested information regarding the type of explosive to be used, how often misfires occur and how long it would take any unexploded ordnance to deteriorate. The representative could not readily answer the questions, but assured Mr. Renner he would obtain the answers.

The events that have taken place subsequent to Quantum's phone call have made it abundantly clear that Mr. Renner and other surface owners in his situation are caught in an untenable position: If they allow seismic testing to place and permit explosives on their property, they risk losing their homeowner's insurance; If they oppose the testing in order to maintain adequate insurance coverage, they risk condemnation by the seismic testing company via the eminent domain laws in the State of Wyoming. A full explanation of the events follows:

Mr. Fulker replied, in writing, to Mr. Renner that the explosive his company would be using is Seis-gel, that approximately 1% of the charges would misfire and that the sleep time for Seis-gel is two years (after which it would begin to deteriorate until it eventually became completely inert). Mr. Fulker did not address the liability issues.

However, Mr. Renner had begun to conduct some research on his own. He phoned his insurance company, advised them of the proposed explosives and seismic exploratory operations and asked about his liability coverage. He was promptly advised that should such activity take place on his property, his homeowner's insurance would either be cancelled or would not be renewed on the next renewal date.

Mr. Renner's next call was to the Wyoming Insurance Commissioner's office. He posed the same questions and was told that the commissioner's office would have to investigate the matter and would get back to him in about a week. Approximately an hour later, Mr. Renner received a call from the Insurance Commissioner's office advising that they could not be of any assistance to him. He was referred to Eric Nelson, an attorney with the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC).

A message was left for Mr. Nelson which resulted in a phone call from Mr. Don Likwartz, State Oil and Gas Supervisor with the WOGCC. Mr. Renner was advised that the issue of homeowner's liability coverage during and after seismic testing had never come up before and questioned Mr. Renner as to why he had contacted his insurance company. Mr. Likwartz said he did not have any answers at that moment but would look into the matter. The last contact from Mr. Likwartz was approximately a week later. He advised that the WOGCC still didn't have any answers.

Mr. Renner contacted a local insurance agency and asked that they attempt to find an insurer who would be willing to cover him under the seismic testing circumstances. The insurance agent responded about a week later advising Mr. Renner that he had contacted four companies (that would insure ranch property of his type) and was told that "with the possibility of undetonated explosives on his property, they would not be willing to write a policy which would include liability."

Further research led Mr. Renner to Mr. Bob Hartwig, Senior Vice President & Chief Economist with the Insurance Information Institute (NY). Mr. Hartwig stated that he knew of no underwriter who would write a policy for liability insurance under the proposed circumstances. He further advised that if a landowner signed the seismic agreement to allow testing involving explosives to take place without notifying his insurance provider, he had significantly changed the conditions of his coverage; his insurance provider could potentially deny any claim based on that change in conditions. On the other hand, if the homeowner notified his insurance carrier of the seismic activities, he would most likely be cancelled, or at the very least, not renewed on the next renewal date. Mr. Hartwig went on to say, however, that the issue could certainly be resolved, although not quickly. He offered a series of solutions, including legislative changes that would be required, which are attached. Mr. Renner forwarded Mr. Hartwig's email response to Ryan Lance, Office of the Governor, State Planning Office, Cheyenne, WY.

Governor Freudenthal's office, through Mr. Lance, has been supportive to the surface owners in Clark who find themselves faced with a no-win situation and has tried to come up with a quick and adequate solution for all involved. The WOGCC, on the other hand, has taken the approach of "they will sign on the dotted line, or they will be condemned." The BLM has maintained that the issue of insurability on private lands does not fall under their purview and that the issue of insurability on public lands "should not be problem."

The Governor's office issued a final statement to the residents of Clark during a community meeting on February 16: The issue is a private party issue that has to be resolved between the two parties. His office offered to assist in finding a solution, but advised that the surface owner and Quantum would have to resolve the issue on their own. "We can't have the heavy hand of the State involved in a private property issue," said Mr. Lance. (Billings Gazette, February 22, 2005)

The problem with that solution is that it isn't a "private party" issue. If the parties fail to come to an agreement it becomes a State issue with the seismic company using State eminent domain laws to condemn private property and permit seismic testing to go forward. At that point the landowner is right back where he started with the risk of becoming uninsurable.

Furthermore, the issue is much more far-reaching than an agreement between a landowner and a seismic company in Clark, Wyoming. It affects similarly situated landowners throughout the State and possibly throughout the U.S. It affects lenders who hold the mortgages on such property and have insurance requirements that must be met by the borrower. It affects the ability of insurers to write insurance in Wyoming and other states where explosive seismic activity is involved.

One has to ask has this administration become so unconscionable when it comes to oil and gas development that they would not only allow, but support development in subdivisions, next to schools, alongside churches, and in people's front yards? Better yet, has the quest for development become so outrageous that the State would allow people's land to be condemned if they do not agree to allow seismic activity in order to maintain their homeowners insurance?

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• The Battle at Clark Fork
–by Mike Stark (© 2002) with the Billings Gazette

CLARK FORK CANYON, Wyoming – The war against the Nez Perce could have ended right here. After months of chasing the Nez Perce from behind, General Howard finally got some help from troops approaching from the east.

Howard was sure that his troops in Yellowstone – and the men of the Seventh Cavalry, led by Colonel Sturgis on the east side of the Absaroka Edelweiss in Clark Wyoming General Howard ImageMountains – would close the snare. "Seems hardly possible that they can escape this time," he wrote in a message.

But with ingenuity and determination and luck (and an embarrassingly bad decision by Sturgis), the tribe slipped the cavalry's trap in an escape that has become legendary.

As the Nez Perce left Yellowstone and crossed over the Absarokas, Sturgis and his six companies camped between the mouth of Clark Fork Canyon and Heart Mountain. With a perfect view of the ridges and foothills, Sturgis and his men were in an ideal spot to intercept the Nez Perce as they emerged from the Absarokas. And they were spoiling for a fight. After all, Custer's command, annihilated at the Little Bighorn just one year earlier, also were Seventh Cavalry.

Howard, excited at the prospect of the Nez Perce's capture, sent scouts to give Sturgis an urgent message to stay put as the tribe moved over the mountains. But the scouts never made it; the Nez Perce killed them. "Every white man in those mountains could be counted our enemy,"Edelweiss in Clark Wyoming General Yellow Wolf Image Yellow Wolf said later.

On September 7, as the Nez Perce came down the upper Clark Fork, Yellow Wolf and several warriors came upon two of Sturgis' scouts southwest of Heart Mountain. One scout was killed and another escaped wounded. Yellow Wolf moved quickly back to the Nez Perce camp the next day to warn that troops were up ahead. Later that day, other scouts reported to Sturgis that it appeared the Nez Perce were headed toward the Shoshone River. Sturgis, though, was impatient and restless. He made a fateful decision. Rather than wait near Heart Mountain, he ordered his troops to pack up and move toward the Shoshone River.

The Nez Perce did indeed move south toward the Shoshone River, but not very far. Instead, they found an open spot and cleverly concealed their trail. They milled their horses around in every direction, creating confusing tracks that seemed to show the Nez Perce scattering. Then, instead of traveling in the direction they had been headed – out of the basin and across an open plain – the Nez Perce turned to the north, traveling along a steep, timbered mountainside for several miles.

They then took a steep drainage to the mouth of Clark Fork Canyon, not far from where Sturgis' troops had camped the day before. The trek through the Edelweiss in Clark Wyoming General General Sturgis Imagenarrow canyon was no doubt difficult, especially with 700 people and their possessions. Howard later marveled at the tribe's passage through what he called "a strange canyon, where rocks on each side came so near together that two horses abreast could hardly pass."

Farther south, a cavalry scout eventually discovered the Nez Perce trail where the horses had milled. When Howard arrived at the pass, his men waved their flags furiously toward Heart Mountain, hoping to signal the Sturgis troops that the Nez Perce were on their way. The desperate signals, though, were in vain. Sturgis wasn't there, and the Nez Perce were well on their way toward the open plains.

CREDITS: This piece was written by
Mike Stark (© 2002) with the Billings Gazette and is used with permission. Stark's piece is part of a special series called Long Road to Surrender created by the Gazette for the 125th anniversary of the flight of the Nez Perce.

— this article and images used from HERE

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