POMPEYS PILLAR — If you squint your eyes and take a whiff or two, Ken and Daphne Kuhlmann will have you convinced you’re witnessing a cattle drive from 150 years ago.
It helped the imagination that to help launch the fun Saturday during the Clark Days event at Pompeys Pillar National Monument, 28 miles east of Billings, a team of cowboys and a cowgirl drove about 30 head of cattle into a pen — once those on horseback managed to round up a few strays. The Northern International Livestock Exposition provided the cattle, the first time a cattle drive has been part of Clark Days.
The Kuhlmanns, who ranch near Lavina, demonstrated cowboy cooking and life on the range by using two authentic rigs dating back more than a century — a chuck wagon, from which wafted all the good smells, and a bed wagon, which cowboys used to haul their bedrolls around, then tie up their horses at night.
The chuck wagon, as Ken Kuhlmann demonstrated, is tricked out with everything a cowboy could want — a coffee roaster that snaps into a pair of brackets mounted to the side of the wagon, drawers to carry period spice tins and that time-honored cowboy cook’s best friend, a Dutch oven.
The Kuhlmanns even dispensed some of the delicious vittles — pot roast, potatoes and vegetables — that Daphne had cooked up in her Dutch oven Saturday morning.
“We are here to educate people — especially young people,” he said. “We are so far removed from that era.”
Jonathan Peart, executive director of the Friends of Pompeys Pillar, said the emphasis during the two-day event is on education, especially about the importance of agriculture.
On Saturday evening, the highlight was a cowboy poetry session, complete with music.
“This gives people an incentive to come out,” said Peart, who said crowds have exceeded 2,000 during previous Clark Days celebrations. “Older people come and tell their grandchildren what this place was like before Pompeys Pillar became a national monument.”
Sunday’s schedule includes a guided bird walk and a pancake breakfast, each beginning at 7 a.m.; a flag-raising ceremony and Elk River Brigade presentation at 10 a.m.; family activities, re-enactments and demonstrations from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m.; a noon tractor show; and a Native American cultural presentation at 3 p.m.
Members of the Elk River Brigade — who are also members of the Friends of Pompeys Pillar — got things started by donning their mountain man outfits and firing a loud volley using replica rifles from Lewis and Clark days. One of the rifles, explained Mike Lamphier, is a replica of the 15 rifles that Meriwether Lewis purchased for the Corps of Discovery in Harpers Ferry, Va.
Clark Days also featured groups that pitched their tent around a large circle and invited the public over to learn more about history and the life that their ancestors may have led.
Farrier Jesse Turner, of Lockwood, was shoeing a horse named Wyatt. After scraping away dead sole from one of Wyatt’s hooves, Turner expertly drove nails to connect horseshoe and hoof. The result will protect the working horse’s hooves for 6-8 weeks.
Turner said he’d been around horses all his life and advised people who want to learn to shoe horses — an in-demand job skill, he said — to exhibit “a lot of patience and a willingness to learn.”
The culinary skills of Lisa Murray produced delectable hot beef sundaes, which Murray served along with recipes and information about the beef industry. For the curious, a hot beef sundae — which looks a little like its ice cream counterpart — includes mashed potatoes, thin cut roast beef, sour cream and a cherry tomato on top.
“We’re here to educate people about beef nutrition,” she said, a quality that’s come about because “beef is a lot leaner now.”
Next to Murray, the Billings chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution had Lewis and Clark quizzes for people of all ages, sheets to color and trading beads, much like the Corps of Discovery brought along on their cross-country trip, so that children could make beaded bracelets or necklaces.
The DAR also distributed mini-stumps — actually, a two-inch section of a cedar tree one member recently had removed from her yard — that children could stamp with Clark’s famous signature and the date he carved it into Pompeys Pillar: July 25, 1806.
“One of our mandates is to preserve history,” said the DAR’s Myrle Theimer, of Billings. “And it’s great to spread the word about the DAR while we’re here.”
Learn more about Clark Days activities scheduled for Sunday by visiting www.popeyspillar.org or calling 406-969-5380. The $7 admission fee includes free camping.