Recently I’ve been concerned about the education…or rather the lack thereof…of my blog readers. I feel as though I’ve left you all high and dry in the information department so have decided to devote this entire entry to education, illumination and enlightenment. And for that, we return to Big Sky Country…
Last week, of course, I inundated you all with pictures of my family and our various goings-on. This week I’m going to inundate you all with a little history and geography lesson as it relates to my family and our goings-on. As I’ve mentioned before, the vast majority of my family lives in the central part of Montana in both Fort Benton and Great Falls. Before leaving my grandma’s last week I took it upon myself to take a self-guided refresher course on the importance of central Montana in the history and development of the Old West. And because I love y’all so much (too much time in the South) I’m going to share it with you.
The picture at the top of the page was taken at a scenic overlook on Highway 87 right before entering into Fort Benton.
The mountains in the background are the Highwoods and the river snaking below is, of course, the Missouri…the same Missouri River and the same location that Lewis and Clark first explored in 1805 on their way to the Pacific Ocean. At that time, this area along the river was inhabited and explored entirely by the Blackfeet Indians but by the 1830s fur trappers had discovered the site of present-day Fort Benton and soon a thriving center of trade was born amongst the Native Americans, the white explorers/fur traders and the growing numbers of homestead settlers and gold miners.In 1860, the steamboat Chippewa became the first steamboat to reach Fort Benton and because of an underwater “shelf” just past FB steamboats were not able to go any further up the Missouri River. With that, little ol’ Fort Benton became the world’s innermost port…3,300 miles upriver from St. Louis and the farthest port by water from ocean or sea served by regularly scheduled powered craft. Unfortunately the boom times in FB were rather short-lived as the miners eventually dropped off and in the 1880s the railroad turned up…effectively blitzing the river traffic as they knew it.
Never fear my dears because the Homestead Act of 1862 (in my opinion one of the most interesting pieces of legislation ever written by Congress) introduced more than a few settlers who contributed to a resultant boom in agriculture. Even today, Chouteau County is one of the top counties in grain production in the state of Montana as a whole. Of course, roundabout the time of World War II things again started to decline but unlike other prairie towns in central and eastern Montana, Fort Benton became known for its recreational opportunities and ultimately its historical significance in the settling of the Old West. FB is a major jumping off point for those looking to float the Missouri River through a wild section of the unchanged river called the Missouri Breaks.
Now some of my astute readers may be wondering if there is a “Fort” in Fort Benton. Well, I’ll tell you. Yes there is…or rather yes there was as the remains of which are crumbling quickly despite efforts to maintain it. Interestingly, the fort was built as a fur trading post rather than a military outpost between 1848 and 1860 and truthfully, by the time it was sold to the military in 1869 the adobe structures were already starting to crumble. The only structure remaining is the corner blockhouse in the photo below…the square building in the lower left hand corner with the flags on top of it…one of the oldest buildings still standing in Montana.
A bit about the pictures…when the Grand Union Hotel pictured below was opened in 1882 it was considered to be the finest hotel between Chicago and Seattle. For those of you interested in real estate you’ll likely be amused to hear that the construction of the Grand Union cost $50,000 and an additional $150,000 was
spent on furnishings with a construction time of 1 year, 3 months and 18 days. When I was a kid it had fallen into a state of disrepair and much of the interior and furnishings had been auctioned off. In 1999 the Grand Union Hotel gained a new lease on life following a skillful restoration supervised by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the U.S. Parks Department, and the Montana State Historic Preservation Office which has preserved the historical character of Montana’s oldest operating hotel and one of its most famous landmarks. The Culbertson House pictured above left (brick building) was also built during the heydey of 1882.
After spending a few days in FB with my grandma and other assorted family members it was time to head back to Madison in anticipation of departure for Ecuador on October 9. The drive from Montana is largely through North Dakota…quite possibly the most boring state to drive through (though Texas truly rivals it and is significantly wider). One interesting thing in North Dakota worth taking a look is Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora right off of the Interstate. I stopped briefly to take a picture of the Painted Canyon in the southern portion of the park (pictured below). It is worth mentioning here that I consider ND to have few redeeming qualities (and I’m allowed to say that since I was born there. Keep it down! I don’t like that tidbit of information to get out much!)…lots of wind, smelly water and a dull landscape. It occurred to me recently that perhaps North Dakota has a bad rep and maybe there are some interesting things to know about it. So in continuing with the educational goals of this post I give you the following:
3 Truly Exciting and Enthralling Things You Did Not Know About North Dakota
1. North Dakota is 12th in size in terms of land mass in the U.S. but is 48th in terms of population (approximately 640,000 residents in 2006).
2. Some notable former residents of ND include: Roger Maris (of baseball fame), Shadoe Stevens (of American Top 40 fame), Josh Duhamel (actor in Las Vegas and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton) and Lawrence Welk.
Painted Canyon in Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora, North Dakota