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Old Fort Benton Charms Us All

I’ve been to the restored fort in Fort Benton before but my travel buddies had not been there. I was eager to show off this treasure.

From the outside it does look fortified! A perimeter fence surrounds the buildings and grounds so you don’t see too much until you get inside. Then, as one person said, it really looks like a fort.

The trade store was the first section to be reconstructed and it is filled with beautiful displays. This replica of a cabin on one wall is really impressive.

Furs are hanging on the walls and it reminded me that this fort was used during the fur trade era.

Steamboats came up the Missouri River and Fort Benton was the farthest settlement that they could reach. The series of waterfalls on the Missouri before present day Great Falls stopped all river traffic.

Our tour guide did a great job of explaining how business would have been conducted in the trade store. One interesting story was that the person selling the goods stood on a riser to elevate himself from the customer. That way he seemed to have a larger presence and I suppose more control of the sale.

There are many Native American artifacts in the museum next to the trade store. A huge fireplace (yes, it works) invites you to sit and hear stories of how one stretch of Fort Benton’s levee street came to be dubbed “the bloodiest block in the West”. Today it’s pretty calm and I enjoy walking along the levee and reading all of the historic signs – some great sound bites of history.

A large art gallery called the Starr Gallery has recently been added inside the fort perimeter, also a replica of living quarters for the fort manager or bourgeois. The Starr Gallery presently has prints by Karl Bodmer and Bob Scriver’s No More Buffalo collection. Very impressive.

Guided tours of the Old Fort are Memorial Day through the end of September. If you don’t get there this year, write it in to the itinerary for your next Montana vacation. You won’t be disappointed!

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