Mullan Road Conference coming to Fort Benton

Ken Robison Overholser Historical Research Center

Imagine a trip back to the summer of 1860 when dramatic events foreshadowed change on the upper Missouri River.

Until that time, the trading posts of Fort Benton and rival Fort Campbell, located at the head of navigation on the Missouri River, were the focus of white commercial activity in the region. The Blackfoot nations, long dominant in the region, were warily peaceful in their relative isolation.

Three groups converged on Fort Benton during that summer to set the stage for dramatic change. On July 2, the first steamboats ever reached the Fort Benton levee, with the first U.S. military unit onboard, a battalion of First Dragoons recruits; on the 14th, Capt. William F. Raynolds’ Expedition arrived after exploring the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers; and on Aug. 1, Lt. John Mullan arrived with his expedition, having followed bison and native trails from Fort Walla Walla to Fort Benton, building a 624-mile military wagon road.

Together, steamboats from St. Louis to Fort Benton and the Mullan Road on to the Columbia River, completed the trade corridor across the northern United States, a “Northwest Passage,” presaging dramatic change in the region.

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