Montana's Old North Trail

A local historian shares his knowledge about one of the oldest trails known to mankind and why he leads free outings to it in Choteau, Mont.

Al Wiseman stands in front of the Old North Trail in Choteau Montana, image

Wiseman helped map 33 miles of the Old North Trail in Montana's Teton County.

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Montanan Al Wiseman, 74, has lived for most of his life in Choteau on the eastern front of the Rocky Mountains. A métis and a member of the Little Shell Band of Chippewas, Wiseman is the foremost local historian of the Old North Trail and leads free outings to it (406-466-2718). Contact the Choteau Chamber of Commerce (406-466-5316) after May 31 to visit the agency’s Old Trail Museum.

Q What’s the Old North Trail?
A
It’s one of the oldest, longest trails known to mankind. People have used it for 12,000 years or more. They crossed the Bering Strait land bridge, then worked their way down here along the mountains and on to Mexico.

Q How did they travel?
A
First by foot, then with dogs and travois. Later, 1730 to 1750, horse came into this part of the country.

Q Why so near the Rockies?
A
Every little way, a stream comes out of the mountains, so there was always a drink of water. Farther out, the rivers get deeper and harder to cross. There were high ridges for observation and bush to hide yourself in, quick, if you needed to.

Q How did you learn about the trail?
A
When I was growing up, the old people talked about it. They showed me. I don’t want knowledge of it to die.

Q Can anyone see it?
A
It’s dished earth up to eight feet wide, not as plain as it used to be. A committee of us marked 33 miles of it in Teton County with 23 inscribed boulders. How could I not keep telling and showing people?

Photography by Kenton Rowe

This article was first published in March 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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