Did a member of my family really blow up Medicine Rock?
Medicine Rock — or Skinkuts Rock as referred to by members of the Kootenai Tribe — is the site of a battle between the Blackfeet and Kootenai. The rock is about 2 miles northeast of Rollins along an old trail that was used by Native Americans and early settlers in Northwest Montana. It is quite easy to imagine covered wagons making their way up this trail.
The site of the rock has been sacred to the Kootenai as it represents a victory over the Blackfeet, something that seldom happened. The rock originally had a slit about 2 1/2 inches wide at the top, and over the years the Kootenai placed coins and trinkets as a sign of their victory. Other items, such as blankets or clothing, were also placed at Medicine Rock.
Bob Brown, a former Montana secretary of state, Montana state Senator, Montana historian, retired teacher and longtime family friend, had reached out and told me about Medicine Rock and a possible chance to visit this sacred location.
When I talked to Bob, I learned a long held belief of the rock was that my great-grandfather, Otto Uhde, along with his brother, my great-uncle Richard Uhde, had blown up the rock in an attempt to gather Native American artifacts. My great-grandfather and his brother lived for a period of time in Rollins. This family connection made the possible trip even more intriguing for me.
Given people’s schedules and the weather it seemed like the day to visit the rock would never come. Fortunately, on a very hot day in July we were given permission to go on the Flathead Ridge Ranch with Brian Sommers, the head of security for the ranch. Joining Bob, Brian, and myself were Eric and Neil Hanson, and Bob’s daughter Robin. After meeting at Blacktail Grocery in Lakeside, the six of us piled into two pickups and made our way onto the hill above Rollins.
Even though my parents are both from the Rollins area, with my mom living a good portion of her life on property owned by my grandparents, this was the first time I had heard of the rock. As a younger man, my dad and I had hunted over much of this country but we had never come across the rock and I had never heard of its existence until Bob gave me a call.
The rock overlooks a narrow draw that was a route used by Native Americans and early settlers of Northwest Montana. It is easy to imagine the Kootenai waiting for the Blackfeet to pass along this trail.
Even to an untrained eye, it is quite obvious that this location is an excellent spot for an ambush. Both sides of the narrow draw are relatively steep, except for a flat portion about 10 feet above the trail, which is where pieces of the rock sit today.
Bob, being forever the historian, speculated that the Kootenai, who were seldom able to defeat the Blackfeet, waited as the Blackfeet traveled this path on the way to the “Big Flat” in an attempt to steal horses from the Kootenai. We do know for sure that the Big Flat was a gathering place for both Natives and early settlers. It was common for the Kootenai to keep horses there.
One of my cousins remembers visiting the rock twice as a young girl. The first time she visited the site the rock was intact, but on her subsequent visit it had been blown apart. The pieces of the rock today are quite large so the rock had to have been massive before it was blown apart. She also remembers the slit at the top of the rock where the Kootenai placed artifacts.
Eric, a banker at Glacier Bank in Kalispell, and his father, Neil, were the driving force behind this trip. They are from the Lakeside area and had visited Medicine Rock several times over the years and knew of its approximate location. It is safe to say that we never would have found the rock without Eric and Neil.
According to a history of the rock written by Thaine White, a longtime resident of Lakeside and local historian, the rock was dynamited in the late 1950s.
That timing doesn’t work for my great-grandfather Uhde, who was well into his 90s and living in Spokane, Washington at the time, or for my great-uncle Richard, who passed away in the early 1930s.
It could very well have been other members of my family who blew up Medicine Rock. No one knows for sure. According to White, in the 1960s my grandfather had several coins with holes drilled in the top that were taken from the rock. In addition, one of my uncles was a “powder man” for the highway department so he had the knowledge of dynamite and what it would take to blow apart the rock. The whereabouts of the coins is unknown today.
No one knows what really happened during this battle or what happened to Medicine Rock many years later.
What I do know, based on my own personal experience, is that Medicine Rock has the feel of a sacred site, even today.
Rick Weaver is a former publisher of the Daily Inter Lake. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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