George Weatherston, Fargo, Published July 28 2012
Mondak heritage and oilChanges are obvious when I visit my hometown, Sidney, Mont. I return to spruce up my parents’ grave site and to visit friends.
Sidney is located along the Yellowstone River and is 28 miles from what the locals call the “confluence.” The town has seen its population jump to 5,000-plus people in a short time. Three motels are being built, with housing prices on the upswing. Highway reconstruction through the business district now handles oil field traffic 24/7, plus the vehicles of its local residents. Close by, several man camps are in the offing. Crime is up, including national media coverage of a popular school teacher who disappeared while jogging.
Sidney is part of the Williston/Bakken Formation. Williston, N.D., is 48 miles away. Oil exploration and drilling is booming in this part of eastern Montana.
One thing that will never change because of the oil development, unless air and water quality is altered, along with other environmental and aesthetic issues, is the historic significance of the region – what local chamber organizations promote as “Mondak Territory.” I return to learn more about our Western heritage. The focal point of the area is the confluence of two historic rivers, the Yellowstone and the Missouri. The confluence site is where Lewis and Clark in 1804 and 1806 passed through on their epic journey exploring the Louisiana Purchase. Today, it is the site of the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center.
In 2004, the center was dedicated by officials from North Dakota and Montana. They announced the land around the confluence had been purchased. Thus, the real estate will remain the same as it was in 1804-1806 and beyond. No development.
Not far from the center are re-constructed Fort Buford and the Fort Union Trading Post. Fort Buford being a military outpost, while Fort Union a commercial enterprise.
Then there is the forgotten town of Mondak, the name now used to advertise the territory. Fred Smith wrote in the Minneapolis Star Tribune years ago that “the town is ghost, one foot in Montana and the other in North Dakota, both in the grave.” In 1996, Lorna Thackberry of the Billings Gazette noted “Mondak existed for one reason, to supply dry North Dakota with booze.” She wrote that a log tavern was built on the state line. North Dakota residents could buy liquor on the Montana side of the saloon and drink in the North Dakota portion of the building. Or they could walk out of the rear door and take the booze home.
Yes, the boom is good for the economy, providing well-paying jobs. Do not run roughshod over the landscape for short-term profits, however; planning and long-term goals are a must.
I’m troubled, however. According to a recent Forum article, a number of the North Dakota Republican Party candidates who are running for election in November have received “big bucks” from oil, gas and mining industries. I’m guessing this is also true in Montana. If any of these politicians wins in November, hopefully these contributions will not warp their judgment concerning energy development.
Like The Forum editorial stated on Feb. 23, “The governor and his team are taking bold and necessary steps in the oil country. The jury is out, however, on whether they will be enough to prevent, or at least slow the erosion and sacrifice of the west’s farming/ranching/small-town values and magnificent landscape.”
One more thought: “And not blemish Legendary North Dakota nor tarnish Montana’s Big Sky Country.”