A short book written by Grace H. Flandrau
and published by the Great Northern Railway Company
1927. The book is 40 pages long and well illustrated with black and white photographs.
The text outlines the history of the northern Missouri River in the lands that later became the States North Dakota and Montana. First came the French and English fur traders, exploration by the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the establishment of Fort Union near the confluence of the Yellowstone and the Missouri Rivers in Montana by the American Fur Company. The native Blackfeet tribes started bringing furs to the trading forts and camps to exchange for guns, knives, alcohol and other goods. Fort Piegan was built in 1831 where the Marias River met the Missouri and named for the local branch of the Blackfeet. When Fort Piegan was destroyed the following year, Fort McKenzie replaced it.
Some of the early travelers are profiled in the book, including Prince Maximilian of Wied (Germany) who explored and collected animal and plant specimens in 1833 and Father de Smet, a missionary who built Saint Peter's Mission in 1859 on the Teton River (later it moved to the Sun River) and worked to bring peace to the feuding tribes. Also, Isaac I. Stevens, the governor of Washington Territory, surveyed the first northern railroad route to the Pacific.
In 1860, steamboat service to Fort Benton offered passengers regular boats up and down the 3560 miles to New Orleans. About that time, gold was discovered in Idaho and Montana, greatly increasing demand for the service. Fort Benton, then a large town, became the head of the Mullen Road, a trail connecting the Missouri and Columbia rivers.
The increase in population brought greater scrutiny from the federal government as well. In 1867, obsolete Fort Union was replaced by Fort Buford, a military installation filled with troops during the Indian Wars.
Finally, fur trading and gold prospecting gave way to copper mining, cattle ranching and settlement. The Blackfeet were packed off to reservations to make way for civilization. Of course, no nineteenth century civilization would be complete without a railroad. The book ends with the building of the Great Northern Railway, with service from Saint Paul, Minnesota to the Pacific Ocean, headed by the visionary James J. Hill.
Flandrau's writing is compact, smooth and comfortable. It has a pre-television-era feel that reminds me of The Great Gatsby, despite vastly different subject matter. The material is dated in a few places (e.g. the "current" treaty disputes in the U.S. Supreme Court) and certainly reflects the sponsorship and interests of the Great Northern.