Bob Stitt coaching history
Bob Stitt coaching history
1987: Defensive back coach, Doane College
1988: Running backs coach, Nebraska Wesleyan University
1989: Graduate assistant, Northern Colorado
1990-93: Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, Doane College
1994-98: Associate head coach, Austin College
1999: Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, Harvard
2000-14: Head coach, Colorado School of Mines
Present: Head coach, Montana
UM head football coaching results 1986-2014
- Don Read (1986-95) Wins:85 Loses:36 .702 percent
- Mick Dennehy (1996-99) Wins:39 Loses:12 .756 percent
- Joe Glenn (2000-02) Wins:39 Loses: 6 .867percent
- Bobby Hauck (2003-09) Wins:80 Loses:17 .825 percent
- Robin Pflugrad (2010-2011) Wins:13 Loses:6 .684 percent
- Mick Delaney (2012-2014) Wins:24 Loses:14 .631 percent
*Ties not computed in percentage
– Courtesy of University of Montana Athletics
Grizzly football: Stitt in the spotlight
By A.J. Mazzolini
Bob Stitt settles into a padded, metal patio chair in the shade in his new groomed backyard and checks the time. It’s a mid-July afternoon, cooler than it’s been in weeks and far more temperate than typical for the days following Independence Day.
He and his wife, Joan, have enjoyed the reprieve.
Even Colorado was getting a bit too hot.
The Stitts hardly knew what to expect when Bob’s job took them to Missoula this past winter. Not from the weather, not from the town and not from its football crazy inhabitants. What Bob did know is the latest step in his life would be much different than those prior.
“In Golden (Colorado), I’d maybe do four interviews all season,” said Montana’s new head football coach. “Here I have four today.”
This is No. 3.
He laughs, flashing the personable smile that’s as good at catching recruits today as it was at catching Joan’s eye more than 25 years ago at the University of Northern Colorado.
He’ll do a lot of chuckling today.
After 15 years at the Colorado School of Mines, Bob dreamed of coming to a place where football ruled. Where the team – his team – crept in on every conversation over breakfast, lunch and dinner. Where the games mattered on more than just on Saturdays. Where on an arbitrary Tuesday in July, he’d get to talk football with four different media agencies.
- Read more about Bob Stitt’s coaching history here
“He’s wanted so much to be at a place where people appreciate football,” Joan said as her husband, dressed in dark grey slacks with a maroon polo T-shirt bearing the script Griz logo, steps away to prepare for his next obligation.
Welcome to Missoula, Coach Stitt.
Summerfield, Kansas, the kind of town the word rural was invented to describe, is no more than 10 blocks wide in any direction and tucked in the northern most section of Marshall County within sight of the Nebraska border.
Summerfield is an island in a sea of farmland.
Jerry Stitt ran the bank in the tiny community and his son, Bob, was once the only first-grader in town. In the fall of 1970, young Bob spied a handful of green-and-white clad high schoolers coming off a dusty football field near the K-through-12 school on Main Street.
He was fascinated.
Bob started showing up every day – practice was even more important than catching Adam West’s “Batman” on television – to serve as the Summerfield Irish’s student manager. He handed out salt tablets after practice. He brought players water. He became so much a part of the team that the boy would cruise around with the players in their cars after practice.
“I kind of had a bug for it basically,” Bob recalls. “I was gonna be involved in football. How many 6-year-olds would give up their days for football?”
In one way or another, he’s been at football practices ever since. First as a running back at Tecumseh High School a half hour north into Nebraska, then at Doane College another hour northwest before he turned in his pads for a clipboard and whistle.
Bob moved to Greeley, Colorado, in 1989 to pursue a master’s degree in physical education and serve as a graduate assistant after meeting Northern Colorado head coach Joe Glenn the New Year’s Eve prior.
Montana fans will likely remember Glenn from his days roaming the Grizzlies’ sideline and that 2001 FCS national championship.
That next spring he met Joan – just weeks before leaving Greeley for good. To make a little extra money, Bob was working for a company organizing spring break tours to Mexico. Joan had seen him around before signing up for a trip. They’d had a class together the semester before, but never spoken.
They’d be together for the next 6 years despite rarely living in the same time zone. Bob was soon off to Doane again for a 4-year stint as offensive coordinator at the NAIA school. He then took a similar position at Austin College in Texas.
Theirs was a relationship fortified by the telephone. His phone bill spilled over $400 a month sometimes. Like everything on a $12,000-a-year salary, their time on the phone was budgeted. When the egg timer dinged, that was goodnight.
“Imagine how much money we’d have saved with cell phones,” Bob says with an exasperated sigh.
They got married back in Denver in 1996 before Joan joined him in Texas. Three years later, with Joan 8 months pregnant, Bob took a job at Harvard coaching the offense. The hours were long, the stress was immense and their relationship started to strain.
It’s something Bob has not forgotten. He missed much of his oldest son’s first year.
Joe Stitt, named for Glenn of course, is 16 now and younger brother, Sam, is 11. Time with them is Bob’s favorite part of the day, whether it comes in walks with Joe to talk about girls or debates with Sam on the merits of Superman over Batman.
The Stitt family home in Missoula, a lovely pale yellow two-story with decorative white columns on the outside, is a work in progress inside, Joan says as painters brighten up the basement walls. A half-court basketball top, the hoop’s rim sun-bleached a faded orange, takes up a small portion of the expansive backyard while a wooden play fort, complete with swing, mini climbing wall and rope ladder, hugs the back fence. The play space, decked out with a colorful welcome banner reminiscent of a child’s birthday party, is perfect for when the coaches come by for meetings over barbecue.
Most of them have little kids, Bob explains.
“Guys have to be able to get out to their kids,” he adds.
Luckily for the Stitts, their time in Massachusetts was short. Bob earned his first head coaching position after just 1 year at Harvard, heading west to Colorado School of Mines in suburban Denver. There he’d spend 15 years turning an afterthought into one of the most exciting programs in Division-II football.
The Orediggers went 2-8 his first year but only once finished below .500 again. They scored points upon points upon points and claimed three RMAC league titles, the school’s firsts since 1958. The success translated into a $21 million football facility upgrade that was to be completed by the 2015 season.
But in a market dominated by the professional sports of metropolitan Denver and the big-time colleges up the road in Boulder and Fort Collins, Bob and his Diggers continued to toil in relative obscurity.
“Everybody is interested in what we’re doing; that’s what I wanted,” he says of his impressions at Montana. “There were times, sitting around Mines, we’d be wishing anybody was interested.
“I could run across downtown Golden naked and no one would know who I was.”
But West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen put Bob’s name on the map in the 2012 Orange Bowl when the coach’s innovative fly sweep play showed up on national television. Suddenly interest in Bob Stitt perked up.
“I watched him year after year never even get a phone call,” Joan said. “Then this whole fly sweep thing happened. He’s waited so long.”
For a team like Montana to come calling.
A.J. Mazzolini covers Grizzly football for the Missoulian. He writes from Missoula.
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Battlefield science: Evolving search techniques help history-minded group find artifacts
By Brett French
Photos by James Woodcock
Holding the corroded, dirt-filled piece of metal up to a small magnifying glass, Doug Scott confirmed what the volunteers surrounding him had waited almost breathlessly to hear.
“It is what it’s supposed to be,” the historical ballistics expert said. “That’s a .50-70 fired in a Sharps, so definitely Indian.”
Then he gently admonished himself as well as the volunteers, “We need to find more than one a day.”
Scott was standing near the top of a bluff overlooking a small drainage where in 1876 more than 2,000 Indian warriors and U.S. Army soldiers, prospectors and scouts collided in a six-and-a-half hour gun battle waged across these Eastern Montana hills.
“There was a lot of give and take, a lot of serious fighting in here,” Scott said of the battle in which more than 40 combatants were killed.
The conflict erupted only eight days before the same combined forces of the Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapahoe killed 267 members of the 7th Cavalry in the most famous battle of the Indian Wars – the Battle of Little Bighorn.
The Rosebud Battlefield, now a state park, is located about 35 miles north of Sheridan,Wyoming, or roughly 60 miles southeast of Hardin.
Scott returned to the 3,000-acre state park last spring to lead a group in a field school about battlefield ballistics combined with a survey of a portion of the park that burned in a 2013 lightning-caused fire.
“It really is a wide-ranging partnership,” Scott said. “This was something that needed to be done, but Montana State Parks couldn’t afford it.”
The survey was funded by a grant and staffed through cooperation between federal, state and university partners that included the National Park Service, Montana State Parks and the Colorado Mesa University.
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More about the battlefields
Fighting between U.S. Army forces and Indian tribes across the Western plains reached a peak in the late 1870s, with many battles playing out in the prairies of Montana.
The Little Bighorn Battlefield, perhaps the most infamous battle led on the U.S. side by Lt. Col. George Custer, is now a national monument kept by the National Parks Service.
A second battlefield, Rosebud, is lesser known in history but was nonetheless a significant battle. It is now a Montana State Park. Here’s more about both sites:
Rosebud Battlefield State Park
3,052-acre state park near Busby
Site of the June, 17, 1876 battle between U.S. soldiers and Indian forces
Remote, quiet and undeveloped, the 3,052 acre Rosebud Battlefield State Park includes prehistoric sites and the homestead ranch of the Kobold family. Take a picnic, your camera, and plenty of time to appreciate the history and place.
This National Historic Landmark on the rolling prairie of eastern Montana preserves the site of the battle that was a harbinger to the Battle of Little Bighorn.
It represents the proactive position of the 1,500 Sioux and Northern Cheyenne as they forced the withdrawal of Brigadier Gen. George Crook’s 1,000 troops at Rosebud Creek. The presence of thousands of warriors and soldiers on the field on June 17, 1876, made the day one of the largest battles of the Indian wars. Eight days later, because Crook’s troops were withdrawn from the war zone to resupply, they were not available to support Lt. Col. George Custer and his troops at Little Bighorn.
-Courtesy of Montana State Parks
Little Bighorn Battlefield
765-acre national monument near Crow Agency
Site of the June 25-26, 1876, battle between U.S. soldiers and Indian forces
A national monument run by the National Parks Service, this area memorializes the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne in one of the Indian’s last armed efforts to preserve their way of life. Here on June 25-26, 1876, 263 soldiers, including Lt. Col. George A. Custer and attached personnel of the U.S. Army, died fighting several thousand Lakota and Cheyenne warriors.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument was originally established as a national cemetery in 1879 by the Secretary of War to protect the graves of the 7th Cavalry troopers buried there.
It was redesignated Custer Battlefield National Monument in 1946.
In 1991, the national monument was renamed Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.
– Courtesy of the National Parks Service
Northern Montana plains help fulfill bucket list trip with man’s best friend
Story and photos by Bill Cunningham
We all have dreams, some of mysterious origin. Others, well, we know exactly where they come from. And I knew exactly when the seeds were planted for a dream I harbored for 20 years.
I had just read A Hunter’s Road by Jim Fergus.
Fergus and his faithful Labrador lived the ultimate upland game bird fantasy by hunting in 24 states, including Montana, over a five month period.
Someday, I promised myself. But “someday” was delayed year after year – seemed like it would never come.
Until last fall.
I had a heart-to-heart with my loyal hunting partner, Xena, a 9-year-old -going-on-1 Labrador cross breed with boundless gusto for the hunt.
“You know Xena, we’re not getting any younger.”
“How about spending a big chunk of October exploring a big chunk of Montana chasing upland birds?” Tail knocks over everything in its path.
Come mid-October, us two old dawgs hit the road in a tiny old pickup towing a tiny camp trailer. The idea was that the trip would be open-ended, sans artificial time constraints. We would mostly hunt public land or open private land, such as state Block Management Areas, or BMAs.
My theory is that a public land hunt can match that of private leases if one is willing to hunt harder.
Success would be measured by quality field time, not by birds in the bag.
Lowering the harvest bar held two advantages: I would be less disappointed by my lousy shooting and, lacking a freezer, I would need to eat as I go. How could I possibly consume the daily limit of three pheasants, eight huns and four sharpies anyway?
With the pressure off, I could simply revel in sunrises, broaden my Montana horizons with inspiring prairie vistas, and watch Xena pursue running roosters.
And this is how it turned out during the golden days of October across a wide swath of northern Montana.
We left Choteau with no firm destination. I pointed east and 150 miles later, ended up on public land along the Judith River near Denton. Along the way, I noticed that fields had been scoured by heavy rain. I’d heard that entire upland bird populations in Montana’s heartland had been wiped out by torrential rain during August. Here was another excuse for not bagging many birds – nature had beat me to it.
I marveled that there were any upland birds given the vagaries of weather, habitat loss and predators. At least my inconsistent shooting greatly improves the birds’ chances of survival.
After setting up camp along the river, I learned from a hunting couple, Terry and Linda, that hunting pressure had driven most of the pheasants across the river.
Terry tried to wade it, but had to turn around in the swift current.
Having anticipated high water, I crossed in my pack raft, with Xena swimming alongside. We were soon hunting in cover so thick that I could only hear the pheasants Xena was flushing.
And so it went for the next couple of days: lots of miles and misses punctuated with boredom when my mind drifted elsewhere.
While working back upstream to the raft, I reminded myself that to hunt properly the pace should be deliberate but not too fast. I should be at home on the land with a Zen-like contentment that comes with being in the present.
Just then, Xena locked on a scent, charged into a thicket, busting a rooster whose brilliant colors glowed in the azure sky.
The felled bird was delivered to hand with a look that said, “It’s about time, Dad!”
A thunder storm arrived that evening prompting me to move camp from the gumbo bottom to the bench above.
After the move, I went on the hunt with local habitat specialist Virge Gluth, who plants food plots and shelter belts for upland birds.
Miles later, we entered dense patches of snowberry lining a serpentine stream. Xena flushed a rooster followed by a heroic blind retrieve.
Once again, we would enjoy the fruits of our labor, this time with one of the gourmet recipes in A Hunter’s Road, which had inspired the trip in the first place.
That had me reflecting again: When hunting public land, one has to out-walk the competition to be successful. It all begins with quality habitat, which is why Gluth’s habitat work is so vital.
During his “personal journey into the romance of open country,” Fergus hunted with a host of memorable characters.
In like manner, and after my time with Gluth, I headed to Malta to rendezvous with my old friend Bob Jamieson, a retired outfitter from British Columbia.
Jamieson has an amazing gift for stumbling upon just the right person at just the right time. He befriended Bob Skinner, a Malta bow maker, who in turn got permission for us to hunt private land just south of town. We saw but didn’t kill any pheasants. This led to nearby state land along the Milk River where we saw but didn’t kill even more pheasants.
We made a quick trip to nearby Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge. It was way too hot and dry for Xena to pick up scent, and besides, the birds had been hammered by heavy rain and hunting pressure.
Instead, we got there to see what really good bird habitat looks like and it was impressive.
The next day at the Malta City Park, Xena was barking at Lindy, an early morning walker. Turned out she and her husband had recently retired from ranching north of Circle where her brother-in-law still ranches.
Lindy said the pheasants there are so numerous they’re a nuisance.
Unable to resist we made the 3-hour drive to Prairie Elk Creek. Along the way, we drove through desolate badlands and wondered if there could possibly be any upland game birds within 50 miles.
Upon entering the ranch we obtained permission, set up camp next to a pond, and marveled at the number of pheasants running around the buildings.
Our euphoria ended the following day when Jamieson missed the only rooster we saw. No matter, pursuing game birds was merely an excuse for exploring new country.
After a couple of days, Jamieson headed home and I made one final sweep through pheasant cover.
To my surprise, both Xena and I did our job and produced a rooster for the pot.
Heading home, we made a grand sweep toward Jordan, across the Musselshell River and ended up on the West end of a BMA swath along McDonald Creek.
We hunted as a team, flushing, shooting and retrieving well. By the end of the morning we were “bagged out” and ready to find a campsite.
Coming full circle, we ended up alongside the Judith River where the odyssey began two weeks earlier. After six miles and six hours, we drug into camp with a few birds and memories that will last forever.
As you read these words chances are Xena and I are somewhere in this magnificent space we call Montana, reliving the dream.
Bill Cunningham of Choteau became a “dog person” somewhat late in life but can’t imagine life without a Lab. He writes from Choteau.
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Montana disability rights leaders reflect on 25 years of ADA
By Jenny Montgomery
When disability civil rights leader Justin Dart landed at the Great Falls airport almost 30 years ago, an enthusiastic crowd of activists was there to greet him.
“It was truly amazing to be part of that whole push,” said Mike Mayer, executive director of Summit Independent Living in Missoula, recalling a historic 1988 visit to the state by Dart. “We drove up to Great Falls to meet with him.”
Wearing his signature cowboy hat, Dart listened carefully during his visit as Montanans with disabilities shared personal stories of discrimination in education, work, housing, transportation and other facets of life in a rural state.
- Read more about Missoula disability rights pioneer Eva Amundson’s inspiration for starting Opportunity Resources Inc., and how she celebrates her milestone birthdays
An ironic mistake at the beginning of Dart’s visit cast a glaring light on the lack of understanding about the realities faced by many Americans living with a disability: Dart was picked up from the airport in an inaccessible van; he and his collapsible wheelchair rode on the floor in the rear cargo area.
“All you could see was his cowboy hat bouncing up and down,” said Bob Maffit, then the state’s first Independent Living Coordinator and now chief executive officer of the Montana Independent Living Project.
Maffit was horrified at this arrangement.
Undaunted, Dart told Montana’s disability leaders how important it was for Congress to hear directly from them about the obstacles they faced.
“It brought home to us that we weren’t isolated, we were part of a national movement,” Mayer said.
Disability activists across the state are celebrating 25 years of access and opportunity in 2015, as they recall the vivid moments leading up to the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, and reflect on the particularities of life with a disability in Montana.
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Historic mining camp offers chance to step back in time
By Kim Briggeman
Photos by Kurt Wilson
In a way, this remains George Gildersleeve’s Father’s Day gift.
He was in his early 20s in 1924 when George convinced his father, Ike, and Ike’s brothers, Charlie and Lee, to move their mining attentions over the hill from the Trout Creek watershed to the headwaters of Cedar Creek.
Most of a century later, you can search the old gold gulches of Montana and not find anything like the compound the Gildersleeves and the Kansas City Mining Co. built in 1930 and 1931 in Snowshoe Gulch.
A U.S. Forest Service survey in 1995 called it “the most complete Depression-era mining camp remaining in western Montana.”
Today it’s just as intact, just as secluded, and even more secure in its post-mining days as a family-owned complex of rough-hewn cabins, shacks and shops.
George Gildersleeve was 88 in 1991 when he died in the Superior hospital, clinging fiercely to this haven 17 miles up the creek.
“When he was up here, he felt that he was the king on the mountain,” Sue McLees, George’s lone surviving offspring, said. “As far as he was concerned, he owned all this.”
“As far as you could see,” McLees said in unison with her niece, Anna Haskins. They smiled at the memory.
The mountains of Mineral County sang their summer song early this summer, and the canyon that stretched from the Gildersleeve camp down toward the distant Clark Fork Valley shimmered in the unseasonable heat.
Here and there a sprig of beargrass already bloomed. Snowshoe Creek was less than a trickle, though water splashed merrily from the spring 200 feet above camp. It’s the source of a gravity-fed water system rigged up decades ago to provide plumbing to some of the cabins and, later, the chicken coop.
Half of the latter is rigged out as a shower, heated by a propane grill, a car radiator and copper tubing.
Resourcefulness thy name is Gildersleeve, though none of the family in this neck of the woods goes by the surname any more.
Neither Charlie nor Lee Gildersleeve had children, and George was Ike’s only son. He married Fern Dodson in 1931, even as the camp was being built. They had two daughters, McLees and her older sister, Gloria (Weaver), Haskins’ mother, who passed away in Superior in 2010. Gloria had four daughters, Sue had two more and a son who died young in a car wreck.
With all those girls involved, the names on the title these days are Weaver, McLees, Johnson, Mattfeldt, Mayes and Schaefer.
“When I was in high school, I was determined that when I got married, he was going to have to change his name to Gildersleeve, because there weren’t any more,” McLees said.
By whatever name, it’s the extended family connections that bring children, grand- and great-grandchildren, in-laws, cousins, and an occasional visitor to the camp in the good weather months.
What McLees called a paperwork snafu while routinely renewing their mining claim in 1994 led the Bureau of Land Management to declare the Gildersleeve claims abandoned. The Forest Service posted no-trespassing signs on the buildings, which seemed doomed.
“We realized there was quite a history there and the camp had a lot of historical significance from the early mining history in the Cedar Creek area and the longevity of the Gildersleeve family being up there,” said Nancy Rusho, forest geologist on the Lolo National Forest. “We really worked to try to figure out the best way to preserve the property.”
The solution was a land swap. The family purchased 20 acres in the Seeley Lake area, then exchanged them with the Forest Service for 20 acres on Snowshoe.
Though subject to some regulations, George Gildersleeve’s descendants now own the camp that he so loved.
Milo McLeod was archaeologist for the Lolo National Forest when he prepared a nomination of the Gildersleeve mining camp for the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service accepted the nomination and listed the camp in 2002.
It qualified first because it was part of the Cedar-Quartz Historic Mining District that rose after Montana’s last major placer gold rush. In late 1869, Louis Barrette and Basile Lanthier found gold in Cayuse Creek, a tributary 10 miles below the Gildersleeve.
Perhaps within weeks, it’s thought that a handful of the thousands of miners who flooded into Cedar Creek made it up to Snowshoe. For much of the 20th century, before and after they built their camp in 1930, the Gildersleeves maintained the mining legacy.
The Gildersleeve camp “played an important role in the life of the upper Cedar Creek drainage during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s,” according to the National Register nomination. “Its location on the upper reaches of Cedar Creek, as well as its telephone link to the outside world after 1938, made it a popular stopping place for hunters and travelers.”
Flanked on one end by the creek where placer ore was sluiced and on the other by a now-barricaded mine shaft into which operations moved when the creek dried up, this is a 1-by-12 camp – another basis for its national historical significance.
The structures are similar in design, made of the rough-sawn boards cut by a portable steam-powered sawmill in 1930. Snow depths are legendary up here, and support poles are used to keep the main bunkhouse from listing under heavy loads.
According to the National Register nomination, the construction style in the Gildersleeve camp is typical of “Depression-era mining camps that utilized simplified construction and relied on affordable, available, and often recycled construction material.”
In a corner of the cookhouse, an old-time phonograph is set in a dynamite box. Its horn is made from the aluminum skin of a Model A Ford, circa 1930.
“I don’t know if it didn’t run or what happened, but they left it up here over the winter,” McLees said. “Well, the snow crushed that car.”
“I was an accountant,” Anna Haskins said at lunch time in the cookhouse.
A Superior girl born into a mining family, Haskins worked for Barrick Gold Corp. and Newmont Mining Co. in Elko, Nevada.
“The stress was unreal,” she said. “I got up here and it was just like it actually fell off my shoulders.”
Each spring when the snow goes, Haskins and her husband Tim head up to the Gildersleeve. For the past eight years she’s stayed, riding herd on whatever needs fixed, showing the occasional visitor around camp, and basking in its history.
Tim Haskins, a federal mine inspector, returns to the camp on his days off. Generations of Gildersleeves and their extended families make the drive to Snowshoe Gulch from Superior and other places to work, hang out, and drink in the delicious solitude.
“Now I stay as long as I can in the fall,” Anna said, “and I can’t wait to get back up here in the spring.”
You probably wouldn’t ask George Gildersleeve this, and the question may sound “idiotic” even to his daughter and granddaughter, but what’s the appeal of the Gildersleeve?
“It’s like a different world up here, like you step back in time,” said McLees. “I think what people really enjoy (is) it’s so calming. I don’t know if there are words for it, how you feel when you’re up here.”
“It’s the memories,” Haskins said. “Oh, yes.”
Kim Briggeman is a longtime Missoulian reporter. He writes from Missoula.
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Treasure State Hidden Gem: Tongue River Winery
Story and photos by Susie Wall
Your first hint that Tongue River is not an average winery is when you notice the “Location” section of its website lists GPS coordinates. The second hint comes when you realize that proprietors Bob and Marilyn Thaden and son Josh are the sole sources of labor at Tongue River.
They perform all the planting, harvesting, pressing, bottling and labeling on their two acres to create an annual flow of 2,000 gallons of exceptional wines in the outskirts of Miles City.
Winemaking began as a hobby for Bob and Marilyn.
Bob was a pastor for 30 years. Marilyn was a speech pathologist.
One day Marilyn said to Bob, “If you’re going to make this much wine, you might as well sell it.”
Soon after, the joys of gardening combined with the thrill of a constant challenge and an endless supply of learning opportunities turned a hobby into a livelihood.
The Thadens grow almost all of the grapes and fruits that go into their wine on their own property. Rows of vines heavy with hearty European and wild American hybrid grapes such as Frontenac, Marquette and La Crescent are found beside branches laden with raspberries, currants and chokecherries.
The quiet beauty of the vineyards belies the struggles of making wine on the unforgiving eastern plains, and Bob and Marilyn are constantly waltzing an intricate dance with the elements.
“Nature is a bad mistress,” Bob said.
The grapes they grow were chosen for their ability to withstand temperatures down to 40 below zero, but this is no guarantee every harvest will bring forth a plentiful crop.
The timing of frosts does as much to effect the yields as plunging mercury.
One of these unpredictable cold snaps in 2014 caused Tongue River to suffer a total grape crop failure.
Despite the challenges, it is evident that the Thadens are addicted to the art of making wine.
In addition to their love of working the land, they revel in the social aspect that comes with owning a winery.
A typical day finds them buried among their vines until the chime of a cell phone alerts them to the next round of curious wine lovers peeking through the tasting room door.
Soon after the alert sounds, you will find Bob and Marilyn deep in conversation with a new set of friends while they proudly showcase their hard earned bottles of Apple Ice and Tongue Tied red.
Tongue River Winery Tip Sheet
Where and when to go
Either take the Broadus exit south off of Interstate 94 and follow the handmade “Winery” signs or plug 46°22’50″N 105°50’22″W into your GPS to find yourself at the front door of Tongue River Winery.
On that door you will find cell phone numbers that will bring Bob or Marilyn in for a tasting. As the website notes, the winery is open all legal hours but to schedule a visit or make sure someone will be around, call (406) 853-1028 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are unable to visit the winery, wines can be ordered online at www.tongueriverwinery.com or found in 25 retail outlets from Circle to Dillon.
When you’re there be sure you try
A glass of haskap wine. Haskap is edible honeysuckle also known as honeyberries. It resembles an elongated blueberry and tastes like a cross between strawberries, cranberries, blueberries and raspberries. The Tongue River proprietors believes they are the only winery in the country that makes haskap wine, so snatch up the opportunity to sample this delectable and unique wine. Finish up with a sweet treat with sips of Cherry Pie. Bob thinks that it resembles the real thing so much he suggests pairing it with pie crust.
Where to go if you admire the art on the walls of the winery
Much of the artwork that adorns the tasting room was produced by friends of Bob and Marilyn. To continue your interest in local art, a stop at the WaterWorks Art Museum is a must. After a long career as the supplier of the citizens’ drinking water, this century-old building now displays works by local artists such as Michael Blessing and one of the largest publicly viewable collections in Montana of the works of 19th century western photographer L.A. Huffman.
Susie Wall is a freelance writer and photographer. She works from Missoula.
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Smoke Elser: A backcountry pack horse legend
Smoke Elser is a legend in Western Montana.
There isn’t anyone who can take on the backcountry like Smoke, who has been packing horses into Montana wilderness since he was in his early 20s.
It’s no wonder he’s the focus of this National Geographic story entitled “81-Year-Old Wrangler Teaches Cowboy Skills to Navy SEALs, FBI.”
Here’s a quick preview:
Ask around for Arnold Elser and you’ll get a blank stare—that name was forgotten long ago, when a young freshman from Cleveland, Ohio, arrived in Missoula for a season with the Forest Service working in a fire lookout. It didn’t take long for the vast, wild country to steal Elser’s heart (a local sweetheart named Thelma also played a role), and soon he was learning the tricks of the outfitting trade from northwest Montana’s finest horsemen, who were the era’s primary wilderness advocates.
Dubbed Smoke by his mentor, a locally famous outfitter named Tom Edwards, Elser had landed in Montana, the cradle of the wilderness movement, at a critical time in history: Post-World War II expansion and consumerism were poised to irreparably change the West’s backcountry. Elser was swept along in the excitement and joined in the fight to pass theWilderness Act, even testifying before the Montana Senate.
Read the full story here.