From 1806, when Captain Lewis' itchy finger made fur trading in Blackfoot country a hair-raising experience, until the last steamboat docked in Fort Benton, the history of the region centered around this "Birthplace of Montana".
It was not until 1828 when Fort Union was built at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers that anything resembling permanency existed in Blackfoot country, and then only on the edge. After a treaty in 1830, the Blackfoot agreed to permit trading posts, but forbid the presence of any trappers in their territory. Fort Peigan was built in 1831 by James Kipp just down river from Fort Benton where the Marias river joins the Missouri. It survived just a year, but paved the way for a succession of forts until the establishment of Fort Benton itself in 1846 as the American Fur Company's headquarters for the lucrative Upper Missouri River fur trade.
Built on the wooded banks of the Missouri River, Fort Benton is the oldest town in Montana and is designated a National Historic Landmark District for its historic role in the development of the US & Canadian West. As the uppermost navigable point on the Missouri River - 3,484 miles from the Gulf of Mexico - prior to the arrival of the railroad, Fort Benton was Montana's most important city. It was the transportation center and the stepping off point for the fur and buffalo robe trade, the gold rushes of the Old West, and the settlement of the US Northwest and the Canadian West.