U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
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History of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument

Indian Tribes of the Upper Missouri
Lewis and Clark did not meet all of the tribes resident to the Upper Missouri. At the time of their visit (1804-1806), the area west of the Yellowstone River was inhabited by Blackfeet, Assiniboine, Gros Ventre (Atsina), Crow, Plains Cree and Plains Ojibiway.

Homesteading
Most of the Missouri River bottom was homesteaded during the early part of the 20th century or left federal ownership through the Stockraising or Desert Land Acts. The area contains the remains of several early agricultural developments on both public and private lands. On public land, the Ervin, Hagadone, Middleton and Nelson homesteads have standing structures that are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and are within the UMNWSR. The Wartzenluft, Woods and Gilmore homesteads are within the Missouri Breaks. 

Woodhawk Piles
These wood piles are remnants of the "woodhawk era" when woodhawks cut wood and left it on the river banks for steamboat captains to purchase and then use for fuel for their steamboats. These old piles are found on Woodhawk Bottom.

Treaty Sites/Peace Councils
The buffalo of the eastern Montana plains were a staple for not only the Plains Indians, but for many tribes living in the mountains to the west who would make annual buffalo hunting trips to the Missouri River Basin. The majority of the Blackfeet regarded this region as their own preserve and frequently attacked the mountain tribes, whom they regarded as intruders. In 1846, Fathers Pierre Jean DeSmet and Nicolas Point were able to help negotiate a treaty council near the mouth of the Judith River between most of the tribes of the region to end this hostility.  

The Judith Landing area was also the site of a treaty council between Isaac Stevens, Governor of Washington Territory, and representatives of most of the major Indian tribes in the region in 1855. By the terms of the treaty, known as the Lame Bull Treaty, the land to the north of the Missouri from the Bears Paw Mountains to the Continental Divide and to the south between the Musselshell and the mouth of the Milk River would be the home of the Blackfeet nation. The U.S. government would be allowed to build roads, military posts and telegraph lines within Blackfeet territory and to navigate the river in return for annual annuities. Immediately following the Lewis and Clark Expedition, fur traders, primarily based out of St. Louis, began working their way up the Missouri to secure furs, either through trapping or through trade with the Indians. In addition, two Canadian-based British companies had established a fur trade in the northern Great Plains and northern Rocky Mountains. However, it took some time for trading posts to be established in the area because the Indians, primarily the Blackfeet, kept the area in peril. 

Fur Trade and Forts

In 1831, Ft Piegan was established at the mouth of the Marias. Fort McKenzie was established in 1832, and operated until 1843. Alexander Philip Maximilian, Prince of Wied-Neuwied, a noted German scientist and explorer, visited Fort McKenzie for several months in 1833, while he studied the local Indians and collected plant and and animal specimens. He was accompanied by Karl Bodmer, an artist who sketched and made paintings of the Indians and scenes in the surrounding countryside. Bodmer's artwork provides a priceless record of the time and illustrates how little the scene along the wild and scenic river has changed.

When hostilities with the Blackfeet were renewed in 1844, a fur trader named Chardon withdrew from Fort McKenzie and established a short-lived post, Fort Chardon, opposite the mouth of the Judith River. This lasted one season when another party was sent from Fort Union to recover the Blackfeet trade and established a new post about three miles upriver from present-day Fort Benton.

In 1847, Fort Clay was established and was soon renamed Fort Benton. This fort became the most important trading center in what was to become Montana and was the head of the navigation on the Missouri River.

Camp Cooke, the first military outpost in Montana, was established at the mouth of the Judith River in 1866. After being reinforced by 100 soldiers in 1867, Camp Cooke had a strength of approximately 400 men. However, once the fort was constructed, the men had little to do. Except for the months of May, June and July, steamboat traffic was virtually nonexistent. The fort was abandoned in 1870.

Kid Curry Hide-out
Because of the inaccessibility and remoteness of the Breaks, many settlers with questionable backgrounds were attracted to them. Among those was Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry. Kid Curry was Montana's contribution to the era of bank robberies and train hold-ups. Curry was allied with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

White Rocks Historic District
Collection of natural features and cultural sites encompassing the White Rocks region of the Missouri.

Judith Landing Historic District
The Judith Landing area was also the site of a treaty council between Isaac Stevens, Governor of Washington Territory, and representatives of most of the major Indian tribes in the region in 1855. By the terms of the treaty, known as the Lame Bull Treaty, the land to the north of the Missouri from the Bears Paw Mountains to the Continental Divide and to the south between the Musselshell and the mouth of the Milk River would be the home of the Blackfeet nation. The U.S. government would be allowed to build roads, military posts and telegraph lines within Blackfeet territory and to navigate the river in return for annual annuities.

Dauphine Rapids Historic District
This was a dangerous stretch of the Missouri River for steamboats, and was often mentioned in historic accounts. 

Cow Island Trail
This early trail was part of the transportation network which supplied the Montana gold fields in the 1860s and 1870s. Steamboats moved freight up the Missouri River to the head of navigation at Fort Benton and bull trains distributed the goods. The Cow Island Trail was used to freight supplies from Cow Island to Fort Benton when the river was too low for boats to reach Fort Benton.

Stafford and Virgelle Ferries
Only three ferries remain in operation on the Upper Missouri, though there were around two dozen in past years. Two of the remaining three ferries are within the monument. The Stafford Ferry (known as McClelland Ferry on north bank) began as a private ferry in 1915 and was replaced by a county ferry in 1939. The Virgelle Ferry started in 1913. Both are cable ferries run by a diesel tractor motor. 

PN Ranch
Fort Benton entrepreneur, T.C. Power established a store at the mouth of Judith River in the early 1880s around which a small community grew. The area later became the headquarters of the PN Grazing Association. The stone store building (1884) and early 20th century ranch house are among the several historic features at this site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 
Last updated: 08-23-2013