The year was 1828. Europe was recovering from the bloodshed of th Napoleonic Wars, John Quincy Adams was president of the United States and a new nation was struggling to stay on its young, wobbly legs. And in a remote corner of the world, a loaded keel boat slowly worked its way against the current and around the shoals,and bends of the Missouri River at the direction of John Jacob Astor's powerful American Fur Company. The boats crew was under ordersto establish a trading post near the confuence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers. Their purpose was to beat the compitition to the punch and reap the rich harvest offurs from the Upper Missouri drainage and Pacific Northwest. .
The keelboat crew eventually established the Fort Union Trading Post, a"Times Square of the Great Plains," that stood for nearly 40 years. In October 1828, the keelboat "Otter" reached a point a few miles west of the mouth of the Yellowstone, and the construction of Fort Union began. .
At its peak in the 1830s, the post , along with other American Fur Company forts in the region, was sending to St, Louis an annual harvest of more than 25,000 beaver skins, 30,000 deer hides, and 55,000 buffalo hides. Between 1829 and 1867, the Fort dominated the fur tradeon the Upper Missouri River. .
During this time, Kenneth McKenzie, the Forts bourgeois (commander), established the post as the "largest and most imposing trading post on the Missouri," according to historians. And he wasn't to fastidious about how he did it, carrying out a ruthless and brisk trade that bought, hounded or stole its competition into submission. ."
McKenzie did, however, manage to establish friendly relations with local Indian tribes. Assiniboine, Cree, Crow, Blackfeet and Sioux Indians traded peacefully at the Fort, if not with each other. It would be another generation before the great Indian Wars in the West began
Today, however, the Fort once again reigns over the plains, the result of reconstruction efforts. The Bourgeios House was completed in 1987. The exterior of the structure is authentically retored to its 1851 grandeur, while the interior contains a modern visitors center, museum, and library. Visitors can climb to the heights of the forts outer walls and look onto the Missouri River bottoms and confluence area just as visitors in th 1800s once did. With the construction of the Bourgeios House, bastions, towering outer walls and the Indian Trade House complete, Fort Union recently opened a fully functuional trade house. According to Fort Union Superintendant Paul Hedren, they have been able to contact many of the original companies who supplied blankets, beads, knives, paints, and other trade goods. What this means is that visitors to the fort will be able to walk into the Indian Traade House and walk back into the 1850s. A trader will be dressed in period clothing and actually conduct sales of items. All the items in the Trade House are for sale. Fort Union also expanded its summer interpretive offerings with the addition of regularly scheduled daily tours of the fort and a variety of new "living history" programs.
"Our goal this year is to provide visitors with an enhanced look at Fort Union and its people." Hedren commented. "Ansd these daily programs should be enhancements quite unlike what people have seen here in the past." .
The daily programs are in addition to spacial events already on Fort Union's summer calendar including the annual Fort Union Rendezvous-June 13-16. Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site is open daily from 8 am to 6;30 pm mountain time. Hours are extended Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend from 7 am to 7 pm mountain time. During the extended hours visitors can also expect ranger led tours. For further information contact the park at (701)-572-9083.