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'Rich history:' Restored sign featured at Billings Heights park

Larsen and Wanzenried
Posted at 4:38 PM, May 27, 2024

Two Billings men worked together to restore a historic redwood sign that has now been placed at Earl Guss Park in the Billings Heights, located near MetraPark.

The sign details the well-known story of "The Place Where The White Horse Went Down," where two Native American warriors came back from a battle to a tribe infested with small pox. Instead of letting them suffer, they blindfolded their horses and led them off a cliff.

That cliff is known as Sacrifice Cliff. While no one knows exactly which cliff in the area was the sight of the horses' demise, it's believed to have happened in the area south of the Yellowstone River in Billings. Earl Guss Park is located in that area.

The project of restoring the sign started with David Wanzenried, who has helped with similar things in the past, such as the signage placed at the Battle of Canyon Creek site eight miles north of Laurel. Wanzenried said preserving history is essential when living in a place like Montana.

"You have to trip over these things sometimes to find them," Wanzenried said Monday morning. "But Yellowstone County is full of rich history. You can't turn around without finding something."

Wanzenried said that the problem is much of the history isn't easily found. His main goal is to bring some of these stories to the public light.

"Sometimes that history is not very accurate and not very complete," Wanzenried said. "I want to make sure that as we try to preserve this history, that we tell it as accurately as possible."

Wanzenried certainly doesn't work alone. While first discovering this redwood sign, which had been weathered and damaged after more than 30 years outside, he got in touch with Bruce W. Larsen, who also shared an interest in historical preservation.

Larsen offered his services to help restore the sign, which took hours and hours of tedious work in order to do so.

"Every day I was doing something on it, you know?" Larsen said with a laugh. "It's a bit of a relic because they don't make redwood signs anymore. I wouldn't do it to just any old sign. It's this sign."

Larsen restoring the sign

Larsen said the sign and everything it represents is an important piece of Montana history, and that the story is one that needs to be told.

"It's a devastating event at a critical time that just needs to be preserved," Larsen said. "I mean, people need to know that."

Larsen added that the tragic story is just one of thousands that has roots in the area.

"It's the middle of anywhere," Larsen said of the sign's location. "All trails lead to this place."

After months of work, the sign was put up in its new location last week. For both men, it was a moment they'd been anxiously awaiting.

"The reward isn't for me," Wanzenried said. "The reward is for the people of this area and the visitors of the area, who get to learn the lessons of rich history that we have."