Previous page: Addendum back to the table of contents Next page: Fort Peck Today

Old Fort Peck

Old Fort Peck was formerly located on the west bank of the Missouri River about one mile above the present site of Fort Peck Dam (Montana). The stockade was built in 1867 by Abel Farwell, member of the firm of Durfee and Peck who operated several trading posts along the Missouri River. In 1871 the Milk River Indian Agency was moved to Fort Peck from its former location at the mouth of People's Creek on the Milk River. This Agency represented the Assinboine, Brule, Teton, Hunkpapa and Yanktonai Sioux Tribes. Thus the stockade remained a combination trading post and Indian Agency until 14 July 1879 when the Agency was moved to the Poplar Creek and the trading post abandoned.

Artists rendition of Old Fort Peck by Arthur H. Buckley

It was not until 1886, three years before Montana was admitted to the Union, that the Fort Peck Reservation was established, having been named in honor of Colonel Campbell Kennedy Peck of the firm of Durfee and Peck. As the name of Fort Peck has been so closely associated with the section of the country where now stands the largest hydraulic earth filled dam of all times, it was only natural that the name chosen for this project should be Fort Peck.

The principal reason for the abandonment of old Fort peck was the fact that the Missouri River was gradually washing away the ledge upon which it stood. The exact time at which the old Fort crumbled into the river is not known, but is believed to be just before the turn of the century. Old Fort Peck was never an Army Post and was not properly located to serve for military purposes. It was set on a comparatively narrow ledge of shale about 35 feet above the river level, its rear wall abutting the hillside. A visitor there in the seventies wrote that the front of the stockade was so close to the edge of the ledge thit there was barely room to turn around with a team and wagon. It was, however, close to the river and possessed a good wharf so it served as a convenient steamboat landing for the sternwheelers which in those days made frequent trips as far upstream as Fort Benton. Finally, in 1918, the river channel changed and destroyed all traces of the site of Fort Peck.

The stockade was about 300 ft. square with walls 12 feet high of cottonwood logs set vertically, with 3 bastions and four gateways on the front and two bastions on the rear. Within were various log buildings including quarters for the men, storehouses, blacksmith shop, stables, corral and even a slaughterhouse. Although Fort Peck was not an Army Post, it often served as temporary headquarters for military men and commissioners sent there by the Government to negotiate with the Indians during the period preceding the historic Custer Massacre. Sitting Bull refused to attend any of these conferences but is said to have visited the fort privately on numerous occasions. He camped at one time with a large force on the Big Dry Creek about twenty miles from the fort. Camps of the friendly Indians could be found near the fort almost any time during its existence. Their custom of burying their dead in the open on platforms of poles was unfavorably commented upon by a visitor to the fort, a missionary who wrote that his stay was made unbearable by the proximity of one of their burial platforms on the hill directly above the fort.

Picture, if you will, how the old fort might have appeared from the upper deck of a passing river steamboat. It is a sunny day in early October and a few friendly Indians have been permitted to camp on the ledge west of the fort. They, like the driver of the old ox-drawn covered wagon, have come in to trade for winter supplies. A flock of wild geese on its southward flight swings low over the fort. A stern-wheeler steamboat is approaching the landing and a crowd has gathered on the wharf to welcome her. Thus it was in the days of Custer and Sitting Bull Today nothing remains.

updated: 2005-02-11