“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Billings in Yellowstone County, Montana — The American West (Mountains)

Skeleton Cliff

Skeleton Cliff Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Barry Swackhamer, September 16, 2020
1. Skeleton Cliff Marker
Captions: (bottom left) Jake Burkman, who served with George Armstrong Custer, stands with I.D. O'Donnell, a Billings civic leader, at the Boothill Cemetery obelisk about 1925.; (upper center) Crow at the Crow Fair, circa 1940; Crow encampment near the Yellowstone Fair Association grounds, in the area of North Park.; (bottom center) Crow gather below the "Place of the Skulls" during an annual summer gathering for the Crow Indians, circa 1940. (bottom center right) 1930 Billings Polytechnic Institute yearbook and poem about the Rims.

The Coulson "Boothill" Cemetery
Residents of the town of Coulson, established along there banks of the Yellowstone River in 1877, buried their dead at the Coulson "Boothill" Cemetery, just below the Place of the Skulls. The cemetery was abandoned in the 1880s, shortly after Billings was established. The land was later deeded to the city by I.D. O'Donnell, who erected an obelisk to commemorate those buried at Boothill Cemetery. It was named Boothill Cemetery because many of Coulson's residents died violently with "there boots still on."

A Spiritual Place
Like many Native Americans of the Northern Plains, a Crow Indian (Apsaalooke) sought out places to pray, fast, and seek spiritual guidance through a vision quest. According to Crow Indian Lawrence Flat Lip, the Crow leaders Bell Rock and Little Head, while fasting on the Rimrocks, saw bright lights shining into the night sky from the future site of Billings. Dr. W.A. Allen of Coulson, said the high point near Yellowstone Kelly's grave was a vision quest site for the Crow Indians.

A Service of Silence
The student
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body and faculty of Billings Polytechnic, now Rocky Mountain College, held their annual "Service of Silence" along the Rims in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Absolute silence would be observed by everyone as they made their way up the Rims. Still silent, they gathered at a specific spot where the leader read a Psalm and offered prayer, after which they returned to the campus below. The service was "one of the most beautiful and impressive of the Polytechnic affairs." and a highlight of their annual commencement.

Face on the Rims
The "Face on the Rims" is believed to be a Crow rock painting. The purpose and meaning of the pictograph are unknown. A 1990s photo by Joyce Jensen is inset to a 1920s photo of the "Face" courtesy of the Western Heritage Center.

Final Resting Place
The surrounding landscape was described by Lt. James H. Bradley in 1876 as "The Place of the Skulls," the location of several Crow (Apsaalooke) Indian graves. Dr. W.A. Allen, a resident of the nearby town of Coulson, recalled bright colored cloth hanging from the trees of "Skeleton Cliff." and "bodies were draped in bright blanket shrouds and bound to the trees with rawhide thongs." These graves were associated with smallpox epidemics that killed thousands of Crow Indians,

"There was a warrior who could not rest from his bed. His limbs
Skeleton Cliff Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Barry Swackhamer, September 16, 2020
2. Skeleton Cliff Marker
were heavy and tired ... his body ached, and his throat burned for water ... they saw upon his face and his body were red spots. The young brave (soon) left his earthly home ... Then they wrapped him in a blanket and bound him to a tree on the side of the cliff. Near him they tied all the things he loved best, his war bonnet and tomahawk, and war club. And they killed his horse and left it on the ground below him for he would need all those things on his journey. Soon another warrior was striken (sic), and another, until over the entire hunting village hung a great fear of the evil spirit that was painting the faces of the warriors with ugly red marks...." --- Smallpox story told by Chief Plenty Coups from Blankets and Moccasins by Glendolin Damon Wagner and William A. Allen, 1933

Erected by Western Heritage Center.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Cemeteries & Burial SitesChurches & ReligionNative Americans.
Location. 45° 47.987′ N, 108° 29.046′ W. Marker is in Billings, Montana, in Yellowstone County. Marker can be reached from Chief Black Otter Trail near Rimtop Drive. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Billings MT 59101, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Where the River Meets the Rims (approx. 0.2 miles away); The Nomadic Experience
Skeleton Cliff image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Barry Swackhamer, September 16, 2020
3. Skeleton Cliff
(approx. ¼ mile away); Boothill Cemetery (approx. ¼ mile away); The Place Where the White Horse Went Down (approx. ¼ mile away); Luther Sage "Yellowstone" Kelly (approx. ¼ mile away); Yellowstone Kelly's Grave (approx. ¼ mile away); Surely this spot was meant for Yellowstone Kelley (approx. ¼ mile away); Who was Luther Sage "Yellowstone" Kelly? (approx. ¼ mile away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Billings.
Credits. This page was last revised on March 3, 2021. It was originally submitted on March 3, 2021, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California. This page has been viewed 531 times since then and 202 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on March 3, 2021, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California.

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Apr. 21, 2024