The Confluence of two major historic routes

Imagine the merging of two major highways into one. (Think of the merger of I-90 and I-94 in Chicago, or the merger of Interstate 35w and 35e south of Minneapolis.) It means traffic, business, and civilization will sprout up at that junction. Thanks to the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence cities such as Williston, Sidney and even Glendive and Fort Benton got access to the rest of the world.

Confluence Center Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.

Imagine coming to the junction of two major routes with no rest stops, no signage, no towns, no predictions of what to expect.

Confluence Center in the fall

Geese use the rivers as their flyway to migrate south in the fall.











That’s what happened at the junction of the Yellowstone River and the Missouri River. Both rivers were major transportation routes.

Yellowstone River and its tributaries that drain from Wyoming and Montana. (Map: GNU Free Documentation License Wikimedia.)

From the Rockies through the Northern Plains, the Missouri River was a major transportation route. The Yellowstone River joins the Missouri River at the Montana/North Dakota border upstream from where the Little Missouri River joins the network. (GNU Free Documentation License CC Wikimedia)


















Steamboat Travel

Hundreds of steamboats traveled the Yellowstone from Northeast Montana across the state to the southeast.  More steamboats traveled the Missouri River across Montana to the Rockies and then south.




A snag boat goes through the bluffs and cliffs of the Badlands that are now underwater, flooded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to form Lake Sakakawea. (Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration public domain.)


  They carried millions of tons of hides and furs to the east and supplies to the west.They brought building materials to towns such as Fort Benton, and Sidney, Montana.


One of the steamboats that traveled the Missouri River from near St. Louis to the northern plains.
(photo courtesy of National Archives Archeological Site [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)


Steamboats were specially built to navigate the fickle and often shallow rivers.  The Yellowstone carried a set of riverboats that could carry 250 tons and needed only a 20-inch draft.  The tall poles on the front of the steamboat Rosebud were called “grasshoppers.”  When the steamboat got on to a sandbar, the “grasshoppers” would help lift the boat up over the sand, back into the channel.


Steamboats that carried supplies to Fort Buford and turned around with hides and furs were very large. (Photo: public domain National Archives Archaeological Site [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center

The Confluence Center and the historic Fort Buford mark the site of the confluence of the two rivers. As a historic site, it is often overlooked. However, it played a major role in establishing and maintaining peace in the Montana and Dakota territories in the mid 1800’s. The area is a welcome historic site to visit because of the trails, the ramps, the museum, and the peaceful environment.

Stop in at the Missouri – Yellowstone Confluence Center for more information about Ft. Buford and its cemetery. You can get to the site easily because it is located just 22 miles southwest of Williston, off highways 1804 and 58.


Confluence Center sign

The relatively young (15 years) Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center marks a major point of peaceful settlement, trade, and transportation for the Western United States.


The Confluence Center includes a museum and records of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery. They, along with President Jefferson considered the confluence to be a significant landmark.

Confluence Center rotunda

The rotunda of the Confluence Center introduces visitors to updated and changing exhibits of the region. Through the doors in the museum.


Along the rivers at the Confluence Center is a lengthy walking trail with signboards to help tell the story.


Or you can go fishing. A boat launch gives you access to either river where you can pull your boat up to a river bank.

Confluence Center fishing


It’s popular in the summer and winter and in May it’s one of the best spots to snag a paddlefish.

Confluence Center ice fishing


More History down the road

Note: If you want to expand your visit, check out the nearby Fort Union. It’s about 190 years old,  another historic site of great importance to the westward expansion of the United States in the early 19th century.

From the south, the Fort Union Trading Post appears much like it would have looked to the trappers and traders. They came downstream (from the south) to the confluence of the rivers.

Fort Buford was built from the dismantled parts of the original Fort Union. It had been a multi-national shopping center established by the American Fur Company. Fort Union is a free site where you can experience and explore history, take a walk, have a picnic, enjoy the annual rendezvous.  

Drop us a comment to let us know about your visit to the Confluence Center.  We’ve got more travel and tour tips coming this spring.  Subscribe to get a notice when a new article is posted.

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