Montana’s Birthplace: Fort Benton

Smithsonian's Hornaday Buffalo, Museum of the Northern Great Plains, Fort Benton

by Cheyenne Harding 

Along the Lewis and Clark trail in Montana you will find a small town called Fort Benton. Prior to your arrival, you will pass through wildlife-rich scenery, including antelope and deer grazing in fields, and a marvelous view no matter the direction you look. Once you arrive in Fort Benton, you will find a treasure trove of local history and culture: The city is home to seven museums.    

At Historic Old Fort Benton, you will learn about the trading of furs and other goods in the 1850s with Native American tribes, such as the Blackfeet. As you tour the fort and its buildings outfitted with period furnishings, you will get a real sense of fort life in early Montana.  

At the Starr Gallery of Western Art, you can view the No More Buffalo Collection and rare Karl Bodmer prints illustrating Montana’s scenery from the 1830s. At this site, you will have the opportunity to view quarters of the American Fur Company founders of Fort Benton.  

At the Museum of the Northern Great Plains, you will be able to learn about lifestyles over the last hundred years in the Montana plains. See how cowboys herded cattle and learn about homesteaders who moved onto the land seeking a better life.  

At the Smithsonian Hornaday Buffalo Museum, you will view Smithsonian Buffalo display and a collection of Western art by 19th-century artists. The six main buffalo that are on display are from the collection exhibited at the Smithsonian in 1887, when it was believed the species would go extinct.   

Within the Homestead Village, you have an opportunity to experience what life in a rural town in the early 1900s was like through interactive exhibits. The buildings in the village are restored from that time period. These historic structures include a bank, drug store, city hall and a school.   

While in the Museum of the Upper Missouri, you can discover the various routes that were taken to get to Fort Benton. Displays guide you through river navigation on the Upper Missouri, from the era of exploration to the steamboat era. Some displays focus on historical figures while others shed light on events.  

Wrapping up your visit at Fort Benton, you’ll want to stop by the Upper Missouri River Breaks Interpretive Center. This center highlights the main events and cultural history within Fort Benton and along the Missouri River. Hands-on exhibits include a replica steamboat. Other exhibits tell tales about the land, culture and wildlife.  

For more information about Fort Benton, visit fortbenton.com.