Filed Under Billings

Pompeys Pillar

National Historic Landmark

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965 and a National Monument in 2001, Pompeys Pillar is nationally significant for the hundreds of historical markings, pictographs, petroglyphs, and inscriptions on its walls. These include the signature of Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. On their return from the Pacific, Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark decided to split up to explore the country more thoroughly. Sacagawea and her eighteen-month-old son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau (nicknamed “Pompey”), traveled with Clark. On July 25, 1806, Clark and his party arrived at this prominent rock formation, visible from the Yellowstone River. Clark stopped to climb the tower, which he named after young Jean Baptiste. He also etched his name and the date in the soft sandstone. His signature joined numerous petroglyphs—carved images of animals, shields, and other signs—created by American Indians who made their home here, including the Crow (Apsáalooke). One Apsáalooke name for this sacred site is Iishbíiammaache, “Where the Mountain Lion Lies.” Because the formation is a recognizable landmark located at a natural river crossing, the Apsáalooke often came here to hunt bison, trade with their allies, the Nez Perce and the Shoshones, and perform rituals. In 1805, French-Canadian fur trader Francois Antoine Larocque visited the site. On the sandstone tower he saw “sketched with red earth a battle between three people on horseback and three others on foot.” Later Euro-Americans also carved their names into the rock, including crew members of the steamboat Josephine in 1875 and infantrymen commanded by Colonel John Gibbon in 1876.

Images

Pompeys Pillar National Monument, Yellowstone County, MT
Pompeys Pillar National Monument, Yellowstone County, MT View of Pompeys Pillar rock outcropping Source: Montana State Historic Preservation Office, Helena, MT Creator: Kate Hampton, photographer Date: Oct 2016
Pompeys Pillar National Monument, Yellowstone County, MT
Pompeys Pillar National Monument, Yellowstone County, MT View of interior cave wall with incised graffiti Source: Montana State Historic Preservation Office, Helena, MT Creator: Kate Hampton, photographer Date: Oct 2016
Pompeys Pillar National Monument, Yellowstone County, MT
Pompeys Pillar National Monument, Yellowstone County, MT Overview of Visitor's Center with rock outcropping Source: Montana State Historic Preservation Office, Helena, MT. Creator: Kate Hampton, photographer Date: Oct 2016
Pompey's Pillar
Pompey's Pillar Photo of rock formation. Source: Montana Historical Society Creator: Tom Ferris, photographer Date: 6 October, 2021
Pompey's Pillar
Pompey's Pillar Photo of William Clark's name carved in rock. Source: Montana Historical Society Creator: Tom Ferris, photographer Date: 6 October, 2021
Pompey's Pillar
Pompey's Pillar Photo of rock formation. Source: Montana Historical Society Creator: Tom Ferris, photographer Date: 6 October, 2021

Location

3039 US Hwy 312, Billings, MT | public

Metadata

Montana National Register Sign Program, “Pompeys Pillar,” Historic Montana, accessed April 19, 2024, https://historicmt.org/items/show/3309.