Our first settlers arrived 5,000 years ago.
Lewis and Clark may have been early visitors to Missouri River Country, but when they arrived the region was already home to the Assiniboine people. Members of the Sioux nation also call our corner of Montana home. Their cultural heritage continues to be celebrated today through such events as pow wow and dancing ceremonies. Annual pow wows are held on the Fort Peck reservation, where traditional dance, song, and tribal ceremonies can be experienced. Visitors can meet with the singers, dancers and drummers to learn about their roles in the pow wow. The Assiniboine and Sioux Cultural Center and Museum in Poplar provides many examples of the arts and crafts of our native people. For more information, please visit the Montana Tribal Tourism Alliance website.
Notorious outlaws and hardy frontiersmen and pioneers made their mark in the history of the spacious and rugged Missouri River Country.
Following the Lewis and Clark expedition, early fur trappers began heading west. Forts were built by the large fur-trading companies. Between 1829 and 1867, the Fort Union Trading Post built by John Jacob Astor’s Fur Company dominated the industry. The Missouri River was an outlet for transporting the furs to St. Louis by steamboat.
With the advent of the steam engine, the railroad was the key to opening the unsettled west. The Great Northern Railroad ran hundreds of miles of steel through the region and in the 1880s, railroad siding towns such as Malta and Glasgow sprang up to supply water and fuel.
The railroad provided a means of transporting cattle and sheep to market, and livestock barons staked their claims to huge parcels of land. Rustlers often staked their claims to the livestock. Notorious thieves and downright ornery characters became an unwelcome ingredient in the makeup of the new frontier.
The Sheridan County Museum in Plentywood and the Pioneer Pride Museum in Bainville are also dedicated to the preservation of Montana’s pioneer heritage. The Valley County Pioneer Museum in Glasgow is home to a chronological history of the region from the age of dinosaurs to the present day, and includes one of the largest Assiniboine material culture collections in the world, and an upcoming Lewis and Clark exhibit. Jordan’s Garfield County Museum highlights the year 1912 in the homesteading era. An early-day display is open for visitors at the Culbertson Museum and State Visitor Center and the museum in Richey. Ranch history is on display at the McCone County and Circle Museum in Circle. Artifacts of the early settlers and Indian inhabitants of the area are featured at the Wolf Point Historical Society and Museum and the City Museum in Poplar. Visit the permanent exhibits of Assiniboine and Sioux culture at the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Culture Center and Museum. The MonDak Heritage, Museum, and Gallery in Sidney includes a replica of a turn-of-the-century pioneer town.
The likes of Kid Curry, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, members of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, aka the Wild Bunch, Dutch Henry and others stormed a trail of devastation through eastern Montana. The Outlaw Trail, an intricate, loosely defined route of escape for turn-of-the-century outlaws, wound through eastern Montana on the way from Canada to Mexico. Along the trail, visitors to Missouri River Country can find historical walking tours and interpretive signs pinpointing locations of bank robberies, outlaw hideouts and historic shoot-outs.
Near the beginning of the trail in Scobey, visit the site of the Dug Out Saloon frequented by Dutch Henry and his gang. About a mile from Scobey, the Wood Mountain Trail can still be seen. This trail was used for centuries by the Indians following the migrating buffalo, later by the fur traders after the establishment of Fort Union, and then by the homesteaders. Near the crossing of the Outlaw and Wood Mountain trails, visit Pioneer Town and Museum at Scobey. It includes more that 50 old western shops, a theater, church, saloon and schoolhouse.
The impressive Fort Peck Dam Interpretive Center and Museum opened in 2005, featuring unique paleontology displays and programs. A variety of exhibits showcase the wildlife, history, paleontology, and recreational resources of Northeastern Montana.
For a complete listing of museums in our region, visit Travel Montana’s museum page.