The Confluence Center marks 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.
That’s what happened at the junction of the Yellowstone River and the Missouri River. Both rivers were major transportation routes.
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.
They carried millions of tons of hides and furs to the east and supplies to the west. Steamboats were essential because they brought building materials through Bismarck and Williston to towns such as Fort Benton, and Sidney, Montana.
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, one jump at a time until it got back into the channel.
The Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center
Visit the Confluence Center and the historic Fort Buford that 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. It is one of the only places in the world marking the role of what Indian tribes called “Buffalo Soldiers.” The unique horse statue, dedicated in 2016 is a popular draw for tourists.
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.
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.
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.
It’s popular in the summer and winter and in May it’s one of the best spots to snag a paddlefish.
More History down the road
Note: If you want to expand your visit, check out the nearby Fort Union. It’s about 195 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.
It was the custom, at the time, to use material from abandoned buildings. That’s why soldiers built Fort Union from the dismantled parts of the original Fort Union. Fort Union was 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.