About The Warrior Trail – Hwy 212 That Runs Through Broadus and The Region

Once-foreboding ‘Warrior Trail’ beckons
Of The Gazette Staff

At the end of the Powder River Campaign in 1865, Col. Nelson Cole bitterly described his three-month march from Omaha, Neb., to the badlands of Eastern Montana.  His 1,400-man army had set out to rendezvous with two other military columns taking the field to challenge Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe warriors fighting desperately to stem the westward tide of Euro-Americans.

But by the time Cole’s command struggled into Montana’s Powder River country, it was time to throw in the towel. His troops had skirmished constantly with warriors guarding the plains, faced the worst weather the country had to offer and starved when the supply system failed.  Arriving back at Fort Reno in Wyoming that September, Cole made his report.

“In its march, it had traversed nearly or quite 1,200 miles through a country almost entirely unknown to white men, in part nothing better than a desert and barren waste, away from the banks of the occasional streams that course through it toward the Missouri.  Eighty-two days was this column struggling and fighting its way to this point, making its own roads through valleys and over mountains, encountering furious storms deadly in effect; finding and severely punishing a wary, savage foe, the greater part of the time suffering the torments of starvation.

“Eighty-two days had they subsisted on 60 days rations, which had naturally lost 20 percent of their original proportion. The country passed over in the route traveled, being mostly a waste of “Bad Lands,” is destitute of wild game, hence no addition from this source could be made to husband the rations whilst they run their natural course, nor substituted for them when exhausted.” His men were in rags, and many of them were barefoot. They suffered from exposure and scurvy.
The failed Powder River campaign and many other little-known bits of history are only a detour away from Highway 212 as it stretches from Belle Fourche, S.D., through Alzada, Broadus, Ashland, Lame Deer and Busby before it joins Interstate 90 at Little Bighorn Battlefield interchange near Crow Agency.

For the past 10 years, businesses along the route, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and local history buffs have been working to elevate the stature of historic country traversed by the two-lane highway. In 2007, the Montana Legislature designated the length of 212 from Little Bighorn southeast to the Montana line the “Warrior Trail.”

Saturday at 1 p.m., the newly authorized historic route will be christened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Courthouse Square in Broadus. Local, tribal and state officials, as well as members of Montana’s congressional delegation, have been invited to attend.  The ceremony will include a blessing by Charles Little Old Man of the Cheyenne Tribe, native dancers from St. Labre school and talks by Wyoming author Dave Wagner, whose book, “Powder River Odyssey,” will be published next spring. It’s the first in a two-volume set Wagner is planning on the Powder River Expedition of 1865.

“It’s just been so exciting,” said Laura Lee Ullrich of Broadus, who has been working on the project for years. “There are so many facets to it, so many angles.” 

Among the historic sites along the way are the 1865 battle sites near Powderville, the 1876 Reynolds battle site near Broadus, the 1877 Wolf Mountain battle site, Fort Howes near Ashland, the 1876 Battle of the Rosebud, St. Labre Mission, the graves of chiefs Two Moon and Lame Deer and, of course, Little Bighorn Battlefield at the end of the trail, Ullrich said.

Larry Woolston, owner of Larry’s IGA in Lame Deer, said he began trying to promote 212 in the late 1990s. He and other business people along the remote stretch of highway wanted to stir up more traffic and business.  They started with posters and brochures informing travelers driving between Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and Little Bighorn Battlefield that if they took 212 instead of Interstate 90, they could shave an hour and 55 to 60 miles off their journey.

Major improvements to the highway in recent years have made it an attractive alternative, he said. Although he acknowledges that gas prices may have played a role, efforts to promote the shortcut have increased traffic, Woolston said. He hopes plans for the Warrior Trail will lure travelers in even greater numbers. 

Woolston was on the board of Montana’s Custer Country tourism region, which helped to promote the route. It was initially called the Custer Country Cut-across, but the title was replaced by “Warrior Trail” after a contest to rename the highway.  Because the area was home to tens of thousands of American Indians, the name seemed appropriate, he said. It was tough country for settlers and soldiers, as well, Woolston said.  “They were warriors, too,” he said.

With legislation renaming the stretch of 212 in Eastern Montana came an allocation of $25,000 for signs, Ullrich said. The highway will be designated “Warrior Trail” on all new state highway maps, she said.  “That was a huge step forward. That’s when the whole thing caught fire,” she said. “It was happening so fast, I could hardly keep up with it.”

Custer Country provided a grant to design a logo and a Web site. Another grant was obtained for brochures and maps. South Dakota residents have joined Montanans in their effort and are lobbying to get the portion of 212 in South Dakota included officially as part of the Warrior Trail.

Other ideas include roadside kiosks with displays explaining the history.  In addition to the original goal of encouraging economic development, promoters have adopted two more goals – preservation of historic sites and education.  “People who grow up along this route need to know its rich history,” Ullrich said.

Woolston said the group hopes to establish a curriculum that schools can use to tell the story of the largely ignored history of Eastern Montana.  “We have a lot to offer,” he said.

Contact Lorna Thackeray at lthackeray@billingsgazette.com or

Published on Friday, September 05, 2008.
Last modified on 9/5/2008 at 1:14 am

Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.

1 Comment

  1. Dr. Michael Kormanicki

    My wife and I drove the Warrior Trail from Little Big Horn, east to Rapid City today (August 20, 2013). We are on the last leg of a 5-week cross-country tour from Orlando. She just retired after 33 years teaching 2nd and 3rd grade. The Trail was recommended by our Marriot Hotel in Billings. We are delighted that we took the Trail. The scenery is breathtaking. It’s timeless character gives you a sense of what life was like in the 1860’s. The colorful “Warrior Trail”road signs were the only clue that this road has a rich story to tell. I’m grateful for this website. I encourage travelers to take the time to travel this unique road,

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