Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Big Yellow House

It was one of those rare days, when we could both become passengers and marvel at the beautiful countryside southwest of Billings, Montana.

Our destination was the town of Roscoe, at the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains, 68 miles south of Billings on Highway 78.

Our driver, cousin Mike, and guide, his wife Joan, avoided I-90, taking country roads through Laurel, Joliet, Columbus, and Absarokee.

I guess there is something in the short grass prairie that touches our roots in the Midwest, because seeing the bales of hay in the fields and the bright red barn and outbuildings produced memories of the farms of Illinois and Iowa.

We spent a little time in Absarokee (ab-SOR-kee). As the author of the town's description on their web page puts it: "The town has about 1,000 citizens, but this is hard to determine, since we are not incorporated, so our city limits are anybody’s guess."

The area had been part of the Crow Indian Reserva-tion. As told by Arapooish, Chief of the Crow: "The crow country is a good country. The Great Spirit has put it exactly in the right place; while you are in it, you fare well; whenever you go out of it, whichever way you travel, you fare worse."

On October 15, 1892, the federal government opened the land around Absarokee for settlement, but a year before, Crow tribal leaders bowed to political pressure and ceded the coveted territory.

Sever Simonson and his family established squatter's rights at the confluence of the Stillwater and East Rosebud rivers eleven days before the territory formally opened. His twenty-five-year-old nephew, Oliver Hovda, soon joined him.

It was Hovda who built the house (right) that still bears his name. Better known as The Big Yellow House, the historic Hovda House since 1950 has been a bed and breakfast (with 3 bedrooms and two cabins available) with a cafe and a most unusual retail shop.

The owners had completed a horse trekking adventure in Kyrgyzstan, and this inspired the beginning of their import business.

They met tribal women who have been making shirdaks, hand-felted carpets used to line the yurt (a type of tent) for warmth and decoration. These carpets are made from morino sheep wool which they "felt," color with dyes, cut in ornate patterns, stitch, and finally quilt into thick, luxurious, warm rugs.

The designs in the carpets are inspired by the patterns they see in animal horns. All the work is done by hand. It can take one woman months to complete a single carpet.

Joan had met one of the owners at craft fairs around Billings and wanted to see the variety of articles they had imported: pillows, hats, slippers, handbags, saddle blankets, wall hangings, Christmas ornaments and stockings, belts and scarves.

We wondered what other interesting stories Absarokee might have, but it was on to Roscoe for lunch.

I love small towns.

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