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Sun River Pictographs | Augusta, Montana

Historic Site

Pictographs are paintings, while petroglyphs are carvings in the rocks. While the Forest Service has placed interpretive signs on the site, it is still considered a Sacred Site by Native Peoples. Please treat it with respect and enjoy your experience.

Mountain sheep and human figures are among the rock art found along the Sun River. – Paul Raczka

Driving Directions from Nearest Town or Landmark

To see them drive up the Willow Creek road out of Augusta to Sun River Canyon road and on to Gibson Dam [these are all dirt roads until you hit the National Forest, where it’s paved]. At the bridge below the dam park on the south side of the bridge and walk across to the huge rock face. Treat them with respect, and enjoy visually “touching” the past.

Just below the Gibson Dam, in the Sun River canyon, a huge rock face holds a story that goes back possibly 12,000 years.

Early man came through here, as well as historical Native tribes from both sides of the mountains, and they left their marks to tell their story. The site is near the junction of two important trails. One is the Old North Trail that runs north south from near Edmonton, Alberta into northern Mexico. The other comes across the mountains east and west and is called “Raising Dust Trail” by the Blackfoot.

Tribes like the Flathead, Pend d’Oreille, Kutenai, Nez Perce and others from the Plateau area on the west side of the mountains came through here to hunt the buffalo of the plains. From here they could send out their scouts to see if the Blackfoot were in the area and decide if a peace could be made. Or if the Blackfoot were elsewhere they might just be able to complete their hunt and be back across the mountains before being discovered. Dragging their travois with horses or dogs, the dust could be seen for miles.

Native people from the plains traveled west through this pass. Some, like the Small Robes Band of the Peigan, went to trade and visit the Flathead. Others like warriors from the other divisions of the Blackfoot Nation, Assiniboine, Cree, Hidatsa, Mandan, Arikara, and Crow, went to raid for some of the many horses the “West Side People” had. And sometimes Plains and West Side Peoples met in the area resulting in battles of glory, or destruction.

Early man came through here as well. As people moved north and south along the Old North Trail they stayed close to the foothills and mountains. Here they could find springs for water, game to hunt, and places to slip into to hide from any enemies they might run into along the way. They may have known of the pass through the mountains as well, and used it to their benefit.

The red and black painted pictographs were left by all of these peoples, plus other types from modern times [the U.S. Forest Service has placed interpretive markers at the site]. For some the broad bands of black and red might well spiritually mark the boundaries of their land by one group. The hand and finger marks in red might be the “new” owners making their claim.

Human and animal figures told other stories. One group of animals and a bird are the “name glyphs” announcing who passed here. Done in the most sacred red color of the Blackfoot we know they were Blackfoot warriors. Another of a man and a Mountain Sheep tells of a hunting venture. Traditionalist religious elders from the Blackfoot helped interpret some of the drawings, but others have been lost to time and we can only guess their meanings.

Still, there is a “power” here, and it reaches thousands of years from America’s past. Looking at these painted rocks, and paintings on them, puts our own personal existence into perspective with the history of this continent.

Historical Time Period for Site

10,000 BC to the present