MISSOURI RIVER, MONTANA
In a region where cattle outnumber people 12 to 1, Missouri River Country symbolizes "the Last Best Place." A road less traveled is more than a cliche here-it's a way of life. Covering an area larger than most New England states, northeast Montana boasts of no major interstates or two-lane highways, just a simple, direct roadway system connecting one part of Americana to another.
The Missouri River has long been considered the major interstate route of pioneer West. Explore northeastern Montana's share of the 733 miles of Missouri River that lie within the state's border. Discover the history of Lewis and Clark Trail, pioneers and notorious outlaws, and the area's first inhabitants-dinosaurs.
Millions of years before the formation of the Missouri River, dinosaurs made this once lush wetland their home. Today, the lazy river has forged its way through a variety of geological land formations including the Montana Badlands, reminders of a scene from Jurassic Park. The fictitious Montana town featured in the hit movie could have very well been any one of the small towns in northeastern Montana.
As the site of a 1902 Tyrannosaurs Rex find, one of the first in the world, the barren terrain of northeastern Montana is a graveyard for world-class discoveries. This 65-million-year-old Cretaceous beast weighed over seven tons and stood 20 feet tall. The most complete T-Rex Skeleton in the world was also found here in 1990.
Visitors to Missouri River Country can see the remains of many species of these ominous creatures at area museums. The Fort Peck Powerhouse Museum at Fort Peck has a Triceratops skull on display, along with numerous fossils discovered during the digging of the Fort Peck Dam. Excavations around the region continue to take place yearly. Some digs are open to the public.
LEWIS & CLARK TRAIL:
As the inland sea gave way to mountains and prairies, and rivers and streams, the Missouri River, in time, became one of this continent's most important waterways. On May 14, 1804, Merriwether Lewis & Captain William Clark led the Corps of Discovery Expedition from St. Louis with orders to explore what lay at the headwaters of the Missouri River.
With 32 men, Sacajawea (the Corps' Indian scout), and her young baby, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the expedition entered what would become Montana shortly after discovering the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. In two dugout boats (from trees) and six large canoes, the explores entered a territory where few white people had ever ventured.
Discoveries were plentiful: unknown plants, animals and topography gave much for Lewis to report back to President Jefferson. "...game is still very abundant--we can scarcely cast our eyes in any direction without perceiving deer, Elk, Buffalo or Antelopes," he wrote. The expedition also spotted the first grizzly bear ever seen by white men near present-day Culbertson.
As the expedition forged westward from the confluence, the Corps did not encounter a single person, Indian or white. The pristine landscape revealed its wilderness beauty during this group's trek to learn what opportunities lay within the Louisiana Purchase. Carrying bundles of their discoveries, Lewis & Clark successfully made their journey to the Pacific Ocean and back.
Although only one member of the expedition died, and that was of an illness shortly after leaving St. Louis, there were many close calls for the group: forging swift rivers, severe winters and Indian attacks. For the most part, encounters with the native peoples of the land were friendly. The exchange of peace medals and ornaments and beads by the explorers, and meat and other goods from the Indians during peace councils, solidified relationships and earned the party many native allies.
With a copy of the Lewis & Clark Journals, travelers can follow highway 2 and see the virtually unchanged landscape along the Missouri River the first American travelers saw. Spectacular Indian Pow Wows take place throughout the summer. The Sioux, Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Indians welcome visitors with their colorful cultural traditions, dance, food, music, singing and crafts.
PIONEERS & OUTLAWS:
Manifest Destiny and the growing pains of a nation eager to make their fortune soon resulted in wide-spread skirmishes with the natives followings the expedition. Early fur trappers, hearing of the enormous amount of beaver pelts that could be trapped and traded, began heading west. Forts were built by large fur companies. Between 1829 and 1867, the powerful Fort Union Trading Post, built by John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company on the Montana and North Dakota border, dominated the industry.
Today, the National Park System has partially reconstructed the trading post to its 1851 appearance. Guests can travel back in time as they enter the Indian Trade House and receive tours from guides in period attire. Summer interpretive programs, living history programs and special events, such as the Fort Union Rendezvous, make the stop a must while visiting Missouri River Country.
The Missouri River was an outlet for transporting the furs, skins and pelts to St. Louis by steamboat. But with the advent of the smoke-chugging steam engine, the railroad was the key to opening the unsettled west. The Great Northern Railroad ran hundreds of miles of steel through the region, and in the 1880s, railroad siding towns such as Glasgow and Malta sprang up to supply water and fuel.
Railroads provided a consistent means of transporting cattle and sheep from the fertile lands in northeast Montana. Livestock barons staked their claims to huge parcels of land. Rustles often staked their claims to the baron's livestock. Notorious thieves and downright ornery characters became an unwelcome ingredient in the make-up of the new frontier.
The likes of Kid Curry, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (also known as the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang), Dutch Henry and others stormed a trail of devastation through eastern Montana. The Outlaw Trail, an intricate, loosely-defined route of escape for turn-of-the-century outlaws, ran from Canada to Mexico, winding its way through eastern Montana. Along the trail, travelers can find historical walking tours and interpretive signs pinpointing locations of train robberies, outlaw hideouts and rustic ghost towns like Landusky and Zortman.
Near the beginning of the trail in Scobey, visit the site of the Dug Out Saloon frequented by Dutch Henry and his gang. About a mile from Scobey, the Wood Mountain Trail can still be seen. This trail was used for centuries by the Indians following the migrating buffalo, after by the fur traders after the establishment of Fort Union and then by the homesteaders to settle and supply their community.
Near the crossing of the Outlaw and Mountain Trails you will discover Pioneer Town and Museum. Over 42 buildings on 20 acres recreates an early homestead town with antique cars and farm machinery. The annual Pioneer Days Celebration features western style events and the "Dirty Shame Variety Show" with the internationally famous Dirty Shame Dancers and Dixie Land Band.
Relive the wild west days by traveling on a wagon train, whoopin' it up at a rodeo, herding cattle across the Montana plains, or staying in an historic bed and breakfast. Hunt for fossils and explore the former inland sea. All of these adventures and more await visitors along northeastern Montana's Missouri River Valley.
For more information on the Lewis & Clark Trail, Native American Pow Wow, dinosaurs and the Outlaw Trail, write: Missouri River Country, P.O. Box 387, Wolf Point, Montana 59201, or call (800) 653-1319.|
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