Central Montana: The Spirit of the Old West
Once nicknamed "The Bloodiest Block in the West“ for its brothels and saloons, it’s peaceful now as we explore downtown Fort Benton, yet Montana’s oldest town – located northeast of Great Falls – still exudes an air of the Old West.
A Look at Western History at Old Fort Benton
In walking distance from our beautiful hotel, the nostalgic Grand Union Hotel, we tour the old reconstructed Fort. Once a key fur trading post on the Missouri River, where trappers and members of the Blackfeet tribe conducted business together, the old fort has been lovingly reconstructed. In one building you can see furs like those that were traded as well as other items, such as razors and clothing. Adjacent to it, there are paintings and sculptures by local Western artists.
After our visit to the fort, we stroll along the old river levee, where once the old steamboats docked. Many sculptures and memorials along the levee recall Fort Benton’s historic past.
Back at the hotel we rent kayaks and let them drift down the Missouri River, cooling ourselves down in the process. With a little more time we would have loved to stay longer on the river, since this is a great starting point for multi-day adventures into the surrounding wilderness of Central Montana.
First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park
After a quick lunch, we continue our journey southwest of Great Falls to Ulm and First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park. The outer appearance of this place does not reveal much of its importance at first; gently a mountain emerges from the endless prairies of the surrounding areas. For centuries, this place was a hunting ground for plains Indian tribes, who first gathered bison herds on the surrounding plains and then drove them over the long cliff edge to their death.
The nearby information center commemorates this archaic form of hunting with cultural exhibits, lectures and a small bookstore. No other animal symbolizes the Wild West as much as the American bison – a hugely important animal, particularly for Plains Indian tribes, as it provided food, clothing and materials to build shelter.
A Great Western Horseback Ride at the Deep Canyon Guest Ranch
Just in time for the sunset, we arrive at Deep Canyon Guest Ranch, near Choteau, where we spend the night. We’re welcomed as if we were old friends. The next morning we’re on horseback and off into the beautiful surrounding wilderness at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Through little creeks and along meadows of a thousand blooming wild flowers, we ride into Montana’s vastness along picture-perfect panoramas. Seeing these stunning views, I’m pretty sure all the participants in our tour are imagining the same dream of the wild and free life of cowboys along with me.
Here in Central Montana, this dream really comes true, and the vastness of prairies, the Rocky Mountain ranges and the inviting hospitality of the people here have really captivated me.