Knowing can enhance the going!

The Badlands are even more impressive when you know the hidden stories.

From the books we’ve read, we’ve been excited to learn how the days of settlers and ranchers in the Badlands were exciting and romantic. Those days are well-documented in books about the region.  Go back even further in time to be amazed.

Dig up the stories before you go. 

Step deeper into the trappers, voyageurs time period of the late 1700s and early 1800s in what we now call “Montana,” and “North Dakota.”.  Reading the stories now, before you visit, will blast open the mysteries of the Badlands.  (Click here to get 3.2 of those recommended books of settlers and ranchers.)

Before settlers and ranchers, journals kept. Before and during the days of Lewis and Clark, journals detailed a deeper cultural and natural world foreign to today. 

You can go to places such as Fort Union Trading Post (with Ranger Fred McVaugh) that do a great job of helping you step back in time—200 years or more.  Before you go, read up!

Bourgeois House at Fort Union

Bourgeois House at Fort Union


Planning to visit Fort Union until summer?

Good!  That’s when things really happen at the Fort with rendezvous and reenactments. The book store at Fort Union is a goldmine of stories to help you uncover mysteries of the Badlands.  From here, head on over to the Confluence Center at Fort Buford to get even more fascinating history.

Resources to prepare you for the time travel

What was it really like? Straight out of the journal


  1. Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri — The Personal Narrative of Charles Larpenteur 1833-1872 is the book for an intense and detailed look of life in the Yellowstone, Missouri and Little Missouri region. Charles Larpenteur was a Frenchman lured to the region in about 1833. Paul Hedron, the National Park Service Superintendent at the Fort Union Trading Post diligently reveals exploits, family shootouts, and adventures that Larpenteur detailed in his journal.

Introducing one of the family vs family battles, the book quotes Larpenteur’s journal:

“I was awakened by loud raps and voices at the door, which latter (sic) I could distinguish to be those of females, crying, “Open the door! Quick – they are fighting—they have killed my father.” Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri

One of the particular values of the personal narrative is to learn about the intimate and friendly connections Larpenteur made with tribal people in the area including the Mandan, Assiniboine, and Blackfoot tribes.

A rifle and a Bible — and a grizzly bear

  1. My favorite book of the early days of trappers and voyageurs is Jedediah Smith – No Ordinary Mountain Man. It provides a broad perspective of what was happening west of the Mississippi River. While it does not center on the Badlands, it paints a vivid verbal picture of the entire western United States before it became a territory.
    Jedediah Smith

    Drawing of Jedediah Smith (1799–1831), created around 1835 after his death by a friend from memory. It is the only contemporary image of Smith. Smith wore his hair long on his right side because he had been attacked by a grizzly bear and the attack disfigured his face.



Smith’s family came to the colonies in 1634 as Puritans. His family heritage continued as he was said to be a trapper who carried both a rifle and a Bible.




“Jedediah Smith possessed a high degree of intelligence and abundant curiosity. His deep-rooted religious convictions found expression in Methodism, though as an adult, he almost never attended a Methodist Church or another for that matter.” from Jedediah Smith — No Ordinary Mountain Man.


Written from Smith’s journals, the stories of his explorations of the west 200 years ago are like a movie script. In fact, much of what you will read here will remind you of the movie The Revenant.   

If you’ve traveled much in the west, or even to places such as Mobridge, South Dakota, you may have come across monuments and plaques dedicated to Jedediah Smith.  He was remarkable as a virtuous, upstanding, moral Christian trapper.  

Jedediah Smith monument outside of Mobridge, South Dakota.


Perhaps that’s why his journal (and the book) shows that he was involved in the political and moral conduct of people in the region.  Political competition was fierce.  It was a physical and financial competition between fur traders and fur trading companies such as the one that built Fort Union Trading Post. 

His death is a chilling chapter in American history, totally uncalled for.

Where do you find these books?

Any of the state historical centers such as at Medora, Bismarck, Washburn, Fort Union, or the Confluence Interpretive Center will have them.  So will the visitor centers such as at Watford City. Oh, and your library. Don’t forget your local library!

Don’t forget the books about settler and rancher days that will prepare you for what you can find in the Badlands. All of these will heat up your excitement to visit the North Dakota Badlands. They will enhance your vision and appreciation for the trip. Read them now while you’re still in your planning stages before you go. Then, build your trip around the mysteries of the Badlands you uncover.

We’ve got more

Coming up is our recommendation of books that will give you a local flavor of why and what happened here — at Medora, at Killdeer, or even what happened along the Yellowstone as it flowed toward the Dakota Territory.

Want a notice in your inbox when new stories are posted? Just tell us where to send the notice.  The box is in the upper right.  You’ll also get, free of charge, the monthly Beautiful Badlands ND newsletter!


Beauty from the Heart of the Badlands, A Photographic Exhibit

Beauty from the Heart of the Badlands, A Photographic Exhibit, from the heart. February 23 through March 30, 2019 Long X Trading Post and Visitor Center, Watford City, North Dakota



%d bloggers like this: