Filed Under Fort Benton

Fort Benton Historic District

National Historic Landmark

Founded in 1846 as the fur trade transitioned from furs to buffalo robes, Fort Benton was both a trading post and a center for distribution of Indian annuities. In the early 1860s, Montana’s gold rush and the initiation of steamboat traffic made the town a freighting and transportation hub, the toughest town in the Northwest, and a military post. Hopeful miners and adventurers came up the Missouri River through the wonders of the White Cliffs area and disembarked on Fort Benton’s levee. Busted or flush, they returned in the fall headed for “the states,” as did most who served or preyed upon them. Millions of dollars of gold accompanied the lucky few aboard steamboats and mackinaws. When the placers played out, Fort Benton merchants found new markets north along the Whoop-Up Trail. The first trade goods included whiskey to the Indians; later, more respectable merchandise reached settlers and the Northwest Mounted Police. Entrepreneurs I. G. Baker, T. C. Power, W. S. Wetzel, and Charles and William Conrad developed the territory’s largest banking and mercantile operations. Wagons rolled in all directions from Fort Benton, the self-proclaimed “Chicago of the Plains.” The world’s innermost port flourished until railroads reached the region. In 1887, the steamboat trade’s glory days ended. The economy shifted toward the sheep and cattle industry, with area ranches shipping large herds to markets in Chicago. In the early 1900s, thousands of homesteaders flocked to the region, and Fort Benton prospered as the center of trade for the fertile "Golden Triangle."

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Images

Front View of Fort Benton Front View of Fort Benton, 1869. Pen and ink sketch Catalog #947-002 Source: Montana Historical Society Research Center Photograph Archives, Helena, Montana Creator: Unknown illustrator Date: 1869
Fort Benton Fort Benton - Built in 1846. Engraving. Catalog #947-001 Source: Montana Historical Society Research Center Photograph Archives, Helena, Montana Creator: J Manz Co., artist unidentified Date: [no date]
Existing Ruins of Old Fort Benton, Montana. Existing ruins of Old Fort Benton, Montana, 1912. Catalog #947-017 Source: Montana Historical Society Research Center Photograph Archives, Helena, Montana Creator: J.W. Wheatley Date: August 4, 1912
Fort Benton Historic District Fort Benton Historic District. Overview of the historic district, facing west from the old Fort Benton Bridge on 15th Street with a view of the Grand Union Hotel to the left of the photograph, and a view of the Missouri River. Source: Montana State Historic Preservation Office Creator: Urbaniak Date: 2014

Location

Fort Benton Historic District boundaries: Front Street (1220 through 1900 Block), levee, and bridge, Fort Benton, MT | The Fort is open to the public from the end of May to the end of September. Fort Benton Historic District: Private | Public

Metadata

The Montana National Register Sign Program, “Fort Benton Historic District,” Historic Montana, accessed December 3, 2022, https://historicmt.org/items/show/1.