Pompeys Pillar was part of the original 1803 Louisiana Purchase. It was in the public domain until the mid-1800s when a treaty made it part of the Crow Indian Reservation. A later action removed the area from the reservation but gave Crow tribal members the first right to homestead the lands.
Captain Clark named the Pillar “Pompy’s Tower” in honor of Sacagawea’s son Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, whom he had nicknamed “Pomp.” Nicholas Biddle, first editor of Lewis and Clark’s journals, changed the name to “Pompeys Pillar.”
Pompeys Pillar is one of the most famous sandstone buttes in America. It bears the only remaining physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. On the face of the 150-foot butte, Captain William Clark carved his name and the date, July 25, 1806, during his return to the United States through the beautiful Yellowstone Valley. The Rock and signature appears on the trail today as it did 200 years ago
Native Americans called the Pillar “the place where the mountain lion lies.” Some observers suggest that a sandstone formation, that is a part of the Pillar, which resembles a mountain lion’s head, is the reason for the name. Another theory cites live mountain lions being spotted in the area.
The Northern Pacific Railroad was completed in 1882 and provided transportation through the Yellowstone River Valley. Passengers stopping at the Northern Pacific Railroad station a half mile south routinely visited the Pillar to view Clark’s inscription. In 1882, the Northern Pacific Railroad decided to protect Clark’s signature by covering it with a heavy iron screen.
By the late 19th century, the agricultural potential of the rich Yellowstone River valley had become apparent to settlers, land speculators and Congress. Although much of the Yellowstone Valley, including Pompeys Pillar, lay within the boundaries of the Crow Reservation, legislation directed the Crow tribe to cede the Yellowstone Valley back to the Federal Government. The lands were settled shortly after the turn of the 20th century when the Huntley Irrigation District was established.
(1806) Captain William Clark visited Pompeys Pillar or Pomp’s Tower as he called it and carves his name and the date on the rock.
(1863) The first recorded observation of Captain Clark’s signature on Pompeys Pillar was by James Stuart, Montana pioneer and leader of a gold prospecting party down the Yellowstone valley.
(1873) Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s troops were camped opposite the Pillar, and while the men were refreshing themselves with a swim, the Sioux Indians fired upon them.
(1875) Grant Marsh, Captain of the steamboat Josephine, recorded in his log that he saw Clark’s signature.
(1882) The Northern Pacific Railroad placed an iron grate over the signature as a means of protection. In 1954, the Foote family (former owners of the site) replaced the grate with the present brass and glass case.
(1916) The Tschida Family acquired ownership of the historic property.
(1954) The Foote Family purchased the 103 acre site containing Pompeys Pillar and opened the site for visitors.
(1965) Pompeys Pillar was a designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965.
(1989) After the 1989 tourist season, rising insurance costs forced the Footes to close the area. In December 1989, interested groups and citizens, along with public agencies including the Bureau of Land Management, formed an action group to explore ways to protect the site and get it back into public ownership.
(1991) These efforts culminated in November 1991 when BLM purchased the site and surrounding land. BLM spent the next several months preparing the area for public visitation, making improvements needed to ensure public health and safety, and constructing a modest, temporary visitor contact station and a boardwalk to access the Pillar. The private owners also donated original J. K. Ralston paintings, other artwork, and a Lewis and Clark historical library to the public at the time of the acquisition.
(1992) The site was reopened to the public in May 1992. The action group formed in 1989 evolved into the Pompeys Pillar Historical Association, now the Friends of Pompeys Pillar. The Friends of Pompeys Pillar assists the BLM in managing the area by providing volunteers for the site and manages the Monument Gift Store.
(2001) Pompeys Pillar became a National Monument by proclamation signed by President William Jefferson Clinton and placed under the management of the Secretary of the Interior through the Bureau of Land Management.
(2006) The Pompeys Pillar National Monument Interpretive Center opens as part of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial.
(Today) Pompeys Pillar National Monument is open from the first week in May through the last weekend in September. The Monument is open to walk-in visitation during the off-season. BLM staff and Friends of Pompeys Pillar volunteers provide visitor services during the operating season.