History & Culture

Evening Star Mill


The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest has been the scene of human activity for thousands of years. Indian peoples once ranged widely over mountains, foothills and valleys now encompassed by National Forest land. Today, the Salish, Kutenai, Blackfeet and Shoshone attach great cultural importance to the ancient campsites, old travel routes, hunting and plant food gathering places, tool stone quarries, rock art sites, and spiritual areas found throughout the forest.

European and American trappers, traders, explorers and adventurers traveled through the Helena Valley and surrounding mountains in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806 is the most notable exploration. The non-Indian settlement of the Helena Valley began somewhat later in the midst of the American Civil War. Miners poured into our mountains and valleys from other western gold strikes. Mining camps sprung up, and then quickly vanished when the ore played out. Where underground mining was successfully developed, communities arose. Railroads and road systems provided the means and impetus for further urban development. Agriculture and ranching provided necessary sustenance to the mining communities and became a regional economic mainstay. Incorporated into the National Forest system early in the 20th century, the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest became a local provider of minerals, timber, livestock forage and recreation.

The physical remnants of the forest’s long human prehistory and history are called heritage resources. Heritage resources are fragile and non-renewable—once they are gone, they cannot be replaced. On National Forest lands, heritage resources are managed and protected in accordance with federal laws such as the National Historic Preservation Act. The Forest works closely with the Montana State Historic Preservation Office , Indian tribes, and community preservationists to manage and protect heritage resources.

The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest maintains an active heritage resource program. Caring for heritage resources is a complex task. The forest regularly enlists volunteers to help investigate archaeological sites, stabilize old historic buildings and interpret ruins. These projects are advertised on the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest web page and in local media, or through the Forest Service’s Passport In Time program. You are invited to join us in this important heritage resource stewardship work!