U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
Fort Benton National Historic Landmark
The following year they were successful. On July 2, 1860, the steamer Chippewa followed closely by the Key West, reached Fort Benton and proved that the channel of the Missouri was navigable to that point. Navigability was established just in time to serve the gold camps which were about to open in southwestern Montana.
Discoveries of gold in the 1862 at Grasshopper Creek, in 1863 at Alder Gulch, and in 1864 at Last Chance Gulch put an entirely new picture on the development of Montana. The era of the fur trade was passing. The era of mining was beginning.
River traffic became heavy as stemboats brought men and supplies to the gold fields and returned downriver with products. In 1866, for example, Grant Marsh pointed the Luella downriver with a cargo of 2 1/2 tons of confederate Gulch gold dust. Valued at $1,250,000, it was the richest cargo ever to go down the Missouri.
Business in Fort Benton was booming. Almost as exciting as the river traffic which brought commodities into Fort Benton was the transportation industry which carried the merchandise out. Staglines, bull trains, mule trains and similar methods of transportation were available for the commodities destined for points beyond Fort Benton. "All trails lead out of Fort Benton" was a familiar statement. The community was the anchor of the Mullan Road to Fort Walla Walla in present Washington. The Fisk Wagon Road to St, Paul through northern Montana and North Dakota was another. The road to Helena and other gold mining towns branched off from the Mullan Road. The Whoop-Up Trail led into Canada and was an important factor in keeping Fort Benton prosperous.
During the 1880s, river traffic began to drop as the newly built railroads cut into the market. Driving the silver spike in Fort Benton in September of 1887 signaled the end of the great steamboat era. The last commercial boat unloaded its cargo in 1890. Fort Benton changed from a raucous river port into a supply center for settlers who were beginning to move into the region.
|Last updated: 08-26-2013|
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