Montana, Through the Stereoscope

Published: July 24, 2013

From Nicoletta Beyer, Reading Room Assistant

In the less-travelled aisle of the library stacks known for its Montana Collection, I found a tan, medium-sized box. Inside the box live about fifty stereoviews alongside the original housing, a box with the title “Montana: Through the Stereoscope”. These early twentieth century stereoviews vary from sepia-toned rural landscapes to scenes of Native American rituals, although the majority are images documenting a rather dramatic buffalo roundup.

The Last Buffalo Chase in America

Upon further research, I discovered that this particular roundup is regarded as the “Last Great Buffalo Roundup”, a five year battle to move hundreds of bison across the Canadian border led by a 71 year old man with “an impressive white handlebar mustache.”  This mustachioed cowboy, Michel Pablo, was the owner of a large herd of buffaloes that roamed free on the 1.5 million acre expanse of the Flathead reservation of Western Montana. In 1906, the American government opened this reservation to settlers. Pablo encouraged the government to buy the large herd and to establish a buffalo sanctuary to avoid repeating the grave history of the herd’s ancestors of the century before. The American government showed no interest and Pablo was forced to accept an offer from the Canadian government in Alberta, prompting the great roundup from the reservation to the train station.
Making a Last and Fierce Struggle for Freedom

The “buffalo boys” attempted to drive the herd multiple times, each attempt ending with a portion of the herd making an enthusiastic buffalo break for freedom either by violent uprootal of wooden fencing or ramming through the back of the train car wall. The excitement leaked to the community and soon the roundup was attracting spectators, including a photographer from Butte, Norman A. Forsyth. Apparently the photographer positioned himself in dangerous proximity to the herd at various points for the sake of the shot and barely escaped injury — at one point hoisting himself up a fence and into a tree, losing his pants to a bull’s horns.
Unloading Buffaloes at Ravalli Yards

These are the stereoviews Forsyth captured at some point during this last great buffalo roundup, an endeavor that spanned five years, a testament of the wooly beasts’ fierce resistance.
Wild Buffaloes Swimming Pend d'Oreille River

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