“It’s a little chilly out,” observed Stephanie Vielle on Friday, Aug. 9, at mile marker 85 on U.S. Highway 89. Those attending agreed with the emcee, but no one considered leaving before a major portion of that highway was dedicated to the memory of Minnie Spotted Wolf, the first Native American woman to have joined the Marine Corps.
Dignitaries arrived in large numbers as the Montana Department of Transportation blocked one lane of traffic with pilot cars leading lines of vehicles past the dedication site. Located near the metal monument marking the southern entryway into Blackfeet Country; a sheet of plywood veiled the new highway sign and folks began filling the seats facing a covered announcer’s stand. Some of those attending included Montana Native Vote, Pikunii Warrior Women’s Society, Blackfeet Warrior Society and the Blackfeet Tribe, as well as the Blackfoot Confederacy Warrior Women; Pikunii Warrior Women’s Society; Chairman Tim Davis; Senator Jon Tester’s aide, Michael LaValley; Montana Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney; Rep. Kim Dudik, HD 94 Missoula; Rep. Jade Bahr, HD 50 Billings; Mike Tooley, Director MTDOT; Maj. Gen. Quinn, MT National Guard; the Spotted Wolf family; and Sen. Susan Webber, SD 8.
Sen. Webber and others said that when they looked into the topic of naming highways they discovered nearly all had been named for men and not one was named for a Native American woman. According to House Bill 748, “(1) There is established the Minnie Spotted Wolf memorial highway on existing U.S. Highway 89 from mile marker 85.3 to mile marker 89. (2) The department shall design and install appropriate signs marking the location of the Minnie Spotted Wolf Memorial Highway. (3) Maps that identify roadways in Montana must be updated to include the location of the Minnie Spotted Wolf Memorial Highway when the department updates and publishes the state maps.
Her story is an illustrious one. Minnie Spotted Wolf was the first Native American woman to serve in the United States Marine Corps. She was born on her family ranch near Heart Butte in 1923. Minnie Spotted Wolf was a member of the Blackfeet tribe and grew up working on her family’s ranch driving a two-ton truck and breaking horses. In 1943, Minnie Spotted Wolf enlisted in the Marine Corps. Women’s Reserve and became the first Native American woman to serve in the United States Marine Corps. She served in World War II as a heavy equipment operator and driver; she served in the Marine Corps from 1943-1947. After her service, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education from Northern Montana College and spent 29 years as a teacher.
Among the guests at the ceremony were members of her family who were honored and recognized not only in speeches, but also in memorial photographs beneath the sign denoting the Minnie Spotted Wolf Memorial Highway.