A Walk Through History in Fort Benton: The Birthplace of Montana
Fort Benton, Montana, is known as the “Birthplace of Montana,” and is one of the oldest settlements in the West. Fort Benton was established in 1847 as the last fur trading post on the Upper Missouri River, making it a key economic center for 30 years. Throughout those years, the port brought steamboats carrying people looking for gold, carrying goods, and merchants.
This small town in north central Montana is now a darling place along the Missouri River, perfect for those looking to step back in history and enjoy the natural beauty, history, and charm this idle town has to offer.
Here is a small taste of what you will experience if you visit Fort Benton:
Shep’s Vigil, along Front Street in Fort Benton.
Shep is known as the “Forever Faithful” sheepdog who waited for his owner to return to the train station most of his life. This statue was constructed in his memory, and you can also head out of town to the train station to see Shep’s burial site. You can read more about his incredible journey by clicking here.
“The Bloodiest Block in the West.”
With the discovery of gold in 1862, Fort Benton, Montana, became the toughest town in the west. This single block that faced the levee was the heart of businesses such as saloons, dance halls, and brothels.
People were told: “It’s a tough town, walk in the center of the street and keep your mouth shut.”
This is the rifle that Chief Joseph handed over to the U.S. military when he famously said: “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
This rifle is on display at the Upper Missouri Interpretive Center in Fort Benton, Montana.
Homesteaders Village, Museum of the Great Northern Plains, Fort Benton. Exit out a side door of the museum and you will be welcomed into this old village, where you can browse what a village would have looked like in the 1800’s.
The Grand Union Hotel, Fort Benton. This stunning hotel has been restored to look just as it did in the 1800’s, is listed on the National Register of Historical Places, and has a popular restaurant with a patio overlooking the Missouri River. For more information on the Grand Union, read my blog about that here.
The Historic Old Fort Benton. This old fort offers a lot of fun for the family. You will find a host waiting upon your arrival (Mr. Spoon was our guide), who will tell you all about the history of the fur trade and this fort. One of our favorite things in the town. Be sure to read more about the Fort here.
The Hornaday/ Smithsonian Buffalo. William T. Hornaday hunted these bison in 1886, because it was feared that the bison were going to go extinct. These animals were put on display at the Smithsonian in 1887, but were returned to Montana and placed in storage in 1955. In 1996, these buffalo were were removed from storage and put on display again here, in the same poses as in the Smithsonian. This western art gallery is located right next to the Museum of the Northern Great Plains. Life size animals and gorgeous art provides something for everyone.
The Keelboat Mandan, on display along Front Street in Fort Benton.
This boat was loaned to Fort Benton by the Montana Historical Society, measuring 62′ long and 12′ 6″ wide. Keelboats antedated steamboats and used mostly manpower to move. They did not use steam. Men would set long ash poles on the river bottom and push hard, bow to stern. Sounds like a lot of work to me! The cabins of the boats would carry goods such as beads and whiskey to trade for beaver and buffalo robes.
The Old Fort Benton Bridge: This beautiful bridge is open to foot traffic, and is the first bridge to span the Missouri River in Montana.
The “Montana Memorial“: The Lewis and Clark Memorial. You will find this statue along the Missouri River, paying tribute to the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the month that they spent along the Marias River, determining which river (the Marias or the Missouri) was the correct way to the Pacific.
This is only a small taste of what you will get to see if you visit Fort Benton, Montana. This historical center will not only knock your socks off for its past, the Missouri River exceeds itself in this stunning little town nestled in a valley. You can see more photos of Fort Benton in my photo albums. Fort Benton may be more difficult to reach than some places in Montana, but it is surely not a place to be missed.
Warm Wishes from Big Sky Country,
Alex M. Neill
Montana Vacation Blog