By Eleanor Guerrero
Thursday, July 26, 2018
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Photo by Eleanor Guerrero Gavin and Kelly Peterson enjoyed their great haul of goodies. For more photos click here.

They say everyone loves a parade, and for the community of Bridger, it was a great time for family. There were reunions of all kinds-class reunions, family reunions, and many former residents who return for Jim Bridger Days to meet old friends and highlight their summer. Perhaps most striking was the patriotism displayed at the start of the parade when the Stars Spangled Banner was sang. Not a word or a rustle could be heard amidst the sizable gathering that lined the main street. A hush had come over the entire crowd conveying a silent respect and honor for country. Jim Bridger Days was elevated to a special expression of Montana’s patriotism. Flags were flying all through the parade like the Fourth of July. Even a tiny motorized car zipping alongside one float had two flags flying.

Larry Skorupa was enjoying the display. “I love it. I’ve seen it all my life.”

Ron Ridenour lived in Bridger in 1967. “I’ve been away 46 years!” he exclaimed. He said it’s been a long time since he’s been to the parade but today he was lined up to see it.

Betty Koch came to watch her husband on a float for his class. “It’s good! I like the old cars. It’s always good to see lots of people. I was born and raised here.” She raised her five children here. While her folks have died, her sister still lives here. She moved to Red Lodge but “I always come back for Jim Bridger Days!”

Sam Kallevig came with his infant son, Kolt.

There was plenty of entertainment for the children as well. There were clowns and games as well as a barbecue after the parade. During the parade kids like Gavin and Kelly Peterson were among the children collecting their loot. They held up their great haul of goodies stored in a little pot Gavin was holding. The barbecue was prime time for the community to come together to talk and reminisce as well as make new memories from the day.

Jim Bridger Days honors Jim Bridger, a trapper, fur trader and wilderness guide who came through Bridger en route to his adventures. Born in 1904, Bridger was left alone at 13, when all the other members of his family died after they moved out west to Missouri from Virginia. He was left to fend for himself. He became a smithy, handling horses and guns. He later became a trapper and traveler guiding many others west. He is credited with discovering Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

Bridger began his frontier life in March, 1822, joining the party of trappers being organized at St. Louis by William H. Ashley. That year the men traveled up the Missouri to trap along its tributaries in the Rocky Mountains. He was a natural frontiersman and loved the life.

In 1830, Bridger became one of five partners in the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Later, in early 1840s, he and another man established Ft. Bridger. Located on the Green River in southwestern Wyoming, this post became a major rest and refuge for those on the Oregon and California trails. It was a military fort, and also Pony Express station.

In 1864, prospectors demanded a faster and safer route to the new gold fields of Montana Territory. Gold and silver had been discovered the year before at Alder Gulch near Virginia City in what’s now southwestern Montana, and a new gold rush was on.

As a result, mountain man  Jim Bridger  blazed a trail that was safer than the better-known  Bozeman Trail, which ran through Sioux country east of the Bighorn Mountains in the Powder River Basin.  Bridger's trail, west of the Bighorns, was much shorter than following the Oregon Trail and Lander Cutoff  before turning north toward Montana, and shorter still than longer routes by way of  Fort Bridger  or Salt Lake City.

These attacks by the Lakota Sioux and their allies, the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, became known as Red Cloud’s War, a campaign to force Euro-Americans and the U.S. Army out of the Powder River country. The tribes’ efforts resulted in the closure of the Bozeman Trail and abandonment of new forts there. By pioneering a route west of the Bighorns, Bridger sought to avoid these troubles. His route did not gain military support and emigrants used it for only one season.

The trail was still important because it funneled a large number of emigrants--approximately 25 percent of the 1864 population of Virginia City--into Montana Territory during that single year. Many of the emigrants homesteaded, rose to prominence in their communities and made important contributions to territorial development.

People still travel back and forth through and to Montana for adventure. Back at the parade, Breanna Caekaert, said she came all the way from Arizona. She was watching the floats with friends, and holding her friend’s dog, Mug. When asked about the day’s tribute by the frontier town to its first and foremost frontiersman she said, “I’m not going to lie; it’s pretty intense. Pretty awesome for a little town!”

For more photos click here.