Fort Benton, Montana

Lewis and Clark Statue in Fort Benton, Montana
Lewis and Clark Statue in Fort Benton

The first mention of the Fort Benton area in American literature was in the notes of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. There was a story about Lewis crossing the natural levee here to jump in his canoe and escape downstream from a group of Blackfeet warriors that he'd gotten mixed up with.

Established as the last American Fur Company trading post on the Missouri River in 1847 by Alexander Culbertson, Fort Benton sat at the head of navigation on the river. Above here were rapids that stopped all commercial shipping. That gave the place a bit of economic importance for 30+ years.

The northern fur trade had really fallen off by 1865 when American Fur sold the property to the US Army. The Army wanted it because it was the eastern anchor of the Mullan Wagon Road, a road built from Fort Benton to Fort Walla Walla in Washington Territory in 1859-1860. In the first year the Mullan Road was open, 20,000 migrants traveled the route, many going to and from the mines in the interior of Idaho. It was the Army that named the place Fort Benton in honor of Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. The peak year for steamboats to arrive and drop people and goods was 1867 with somewhere between 39 and 47 ships stopping in. Fort Benton retained its importance for travelers and freighters until the Great Northern Railway reached Helena in 1887.

Today, Fort Benton styles itself as "the birthplace of Montana" and a significant portion of the townsite is now a registered National Historic Landmark. The Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument Interpretive Center is located in Fort Benton.

The Missouri River at Fort Benton
Historic bridge crossing the Missouri River at Fort Benton
Fast Facts about Fort Benton, Montana
Fort Benton, Chouteau County, MT 59442
Founded: 1847
Elevation: 2,621'
Latitude: 47.8193°N
Longitude: 110.6697°W
Resident Racial Breakdown:
White Non-Hispanic: 95.6%
Hispanic: 0.2%
African-American: 1.0%
Native American: 0.7%
Two or more races: 1.3%
Other: 1.2%
High School or Higher: 82.6%
Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 20.8%
Graduate or Professional Degree: 4.9%
2009 Estimates:
Population: 1,443
Males: 692
Females: 751
Median Resident Age: 43.2 Years
Estimated Median Household Income: $34,900
Estimated Median Home Value: $118,450
Population Density: 691 People per Square Mile
2011 Cost of Living Index for Fort Benton: 87.4
Major Industries:
Agriculture, Health Care, Educational Services, Construction, Government, Finance & Insurance Services, Lodging & Food Services, Automotive Services, Entertainment & Recreation
Unemployed (March 2011): 5.3%
Photos courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.
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