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Scenic Fort Peck

Fort Peck theatre exterior
Fort Peck Theatre.
Photo courtesy Montana Office of Tourism

T-Rex skeleton
Fort Peck Interpretive Center.
Photo courtesy Montana Office of Tourism

T-Rex skull
Fort Peck Interpretive Center.
Photo courtesy Montana Office of Tourism

T-Rex exhibit
Fort Peck Interpretive Center.
Photo courtesy Montana Office of Tourism

"Here we killed some deer and buffaloe and took some beaver."

- Gass
10 May 1805

The expedition found this region to be teeming with wildlife. It was here that they began to confront grizzly bears in number. One journal, that of Patrick Gass, commented on the rapidly changing weather of the open plains:

We set out early in a fair morning; but having gone five miles were obliged to halt and lye by during the day, on account of hard wind. Some small showers of rain occasionally fell.

They also took several beaver pelts, a testament to the very different nature of the Missouri River in the 19th century. Within a few decades, beaver would nearly cease to exist outside of high mountain lakes unknown to the trappers who would soon swarm the valleys.

Lewis' dog Seaman pursued one beaver and got a very nasty bite in return. The dog was true to his Newfoundland breed and took every opportunity to chase geese, beaver, ducks and anything else that moved.

The original Fort Peck, constructed in 1867, stood at the mouth of the Milk River and served as a trading post. When the area became reservation land for the Assiniboine, it served as agency headquarters until it was washed away by a wall of water unleashed when an ice jam melted.

The Musselshell River branches off from the section of the Missouri now impounded by the Fort Peck Reservoir. The territory between the Judith Mountains and the Musselshell formed the open-range cattle ranch of Granville Stuart. When rustlers threatened the range in 1884, Stuart formed his own vigilante army, called "Stuart's Stranglers." Together they hanged or shot dozens of men. The group secured the open range only to see homesteaders claim and fence off parcels of the land.

Fort Peck Dam, nearly four miles long, is filled with earth and stands 250 feet high. When it was first finished in 1938, it was the world's largest earthen dam and a powerful symbol of New Deal architecture. Over 10,000 workers were employed at as much as 50 cents an hour for six years to excavate and build. It was to be the largest federal project in history.

A fatal slide during completion killed several workers and delayed finishing the project until 1940. Of the eight men who died, six remain within the rebuilt dam.