9 July 2004
Really good falls
I don't know if I'd call them Great Falls, but the Missouri River, splashing through town, is definitely gravity-driven, and Lewis and Clark were by all accounts duly impressed, and these days Montanans revere Lewis and Clark.
I'd also assume they're somewhat fond of gambling. Steakhouses have slots; service stations have slots. On the assumption that Dave Thomas would never have countenanced such a thing, I peeked into a Wendy's, and found no slots. I did, however, find a birthday party for a ponytailed young lady, and a small convocation of Christian bikers.
And really, this juxtaposition fits perfectly into Western tradition, where what you did was more important than who your relatives were, and while the West is no longer quite as Wild as it used to be, you can still see traces of its wildness, even in a meticulously-neat town like Great Falls, planned by Paris Gibson in an orderly, almost Minnesota-like fashion. It surprised me not at all to find that Mr Gibson originally hailed from St Paul.
The other towering figure in local history was Charles M. Russell, who came to Montana from St Louis, Missouri, consumed with the idea of becoming a cowboy. A good cowhand, he became a superlative artist, documenting the last days of the Old West right up until his death in 1926. His Great Falls home and studio are still standing, as part of a C. M. Russell Museum complex.
One of the first things I noticed when I got here was the Maple Leaf flying on the fourth flagpole at the hotel. Canada is actually pretty close by less than 120 miles up Interstate 15 and I'll be approaching the border more closely during the next couple of days.