Montana, US National Parks

In which there is a missing apostrophe – Pompeys Pillar National Monument, Montana

I want to begin by apologizing for the delay between posts recently. Middle of the semester = no time for blogging. I finally had some free time over the weekend and planned to write and then ended up so sick that a short walk to the mailbox resulted in a 45 minute nap on the couch. I was thoroughly wiped out. I’m hoping that by now my brain can manage to pull together some coherent sentences, so here we go.

We’ve reached the summer of 2009 now, and my mom and I were busy taking advantage of every weekend to get out and do some exploring. This weekend’s destination: Pompeys Pillar.

No, I did not forget the apostrophe. And yes, it greatly bothers me that in the official park name, there isn’t one. Misuse of apostrophes is my biggest pet peeve, although usually this appears in the form of people adding them where they don’t belong rather than omitting them. I see it all the time on signs and in articles and plenty of other places that you’d think would ask someone to proofread before printing. But apparently that’s a thing of the past now.

There’s a sign at my local grocery store advertising “Banana’s.”

No. Just… no.

Okay, rant completed. Moving on.

Pompeys Pillar National Monument is located near Billings, Montana in the flat, dry eastern part of the state. It holds the distinction of being one of the smallest national monuments in the country, at just 51 acres (0.2 sq km). There is plenty to do, though, including a walk through the interpretive center, meandering down to the shores of the Yellowstone River, and climbing a whole bunch of stairs to reach the top of the pillar.

The pillar itself stands 150 feet (46 m) tall and really just rises out of nowhere. It’s visible from a ways away, as the eastern part of Montana is relatively flatter than the western half of the state. Due to its prominence, the pillar serves as a good landmark. As such, it shows signs of human activity dating back nearly 11,000 years. This includes Native American petroglyphs and pictographs, markings made by fur trappers and early settlers, and, most famously, William Clark’s signature.

Pompeys Pillar
Yellowstone River

William Clark is probably more commonly known as the latter half of Lewis & Clark, who passed through much of Montana on their expedition to find the proposed Northwest Passage. Clark’s signature on the pillar is the only physical evidence that has ever been found from their expedition, and while Lewis and Clark thoroughly chronicled their journey, it is at times difficult to tell exactly where they may have traveled. Not in this case, however. In fact, he even carved the date into the pillar – July 25, 1806. Two hundred and ten years ago this summer.

William Clark can also be given credit for the name of the pillar. “Pompy” was his nickname for Sacagawea’s son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau (more on Sacagawea in the next post). Clark dubbed the rock Pompys Tower, which was later changed to Pompeys Pillar.

The trail to the top of the pillar passes right by Clark’s signature, which is protected by glass so no one can deface it. Sadly, however, plenty of other signatures have been carved into the rock over the years.

Trail to the top
William Clark’s signature


Views from the top

Since the monument is small, there are no overnight facilities, but there are picnic tables and some local wildlife. We’ve seen eagles, osprey, rabbits, and pheasants. So if you ever find yourself driving through the seeming endlessness of eastern Montana, make sure to take the time to stop at Pompeys Pillar for some scenic views and a dose of the local history!

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