The Whoop Up Trail

Fort Benton
      The Birthplace of MontanaTM

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the whoo-up trail

In 1869, John Healy and Al Hamilton headed north from Fort Benton to establish a trading post across the Medicine Line.  Roughly paralleling the Old North Trail, they traveled across a rolling prairie, cut up by coulees, and covered with prickly pear cactus and short prairie grass.  At the junction of the Oldman River and St. Mary's river, near present day Lethbridge, they constructed Fort Whoop-Up known as Fort Hamilton. 

Although the origin of the name has been lost in time, the importance of the trail they pioneered, The Whoop-Up Trail, is not debated. The Trail, of approximately 240 miles played an important role in the history of the U.S. and Canadian frontier from the 1850s until the 1880's.

The trail was traversed on foot, on horseback, by mule train, by trade wagons, by fur trappers, whiskey traders, the U.S. Army, the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), cowboys, miners, ranchers, and settlers.

Fort Benton, which is located on the North side of the Missouri River, in Montana became a center for trade for northern Montana and southern Alberta for more than forty years. From 1860 to 1890 more than 600 steamboat landings allowed goods and commerce to reach both U.S. and Canadian frontier communities.

Through Fort Benton passed many of the bison robes that made their way to eastern markets from 1865 to 1882. Furs, whiskey, and trade goods were a staple of the commerce on this trail, although with the coming of the NWMP to western Canada in 1874, the whiskey forts and the whiskey trade began to decline. Supplies for the NWMP and Indian reservations became part of the goods carried by bull trains across the border.

The coming of the railroad lessened the need for the trail, and by 1890 it no longer played a significant role in the economic life of this region.

Today, most of the Trail has been plowed under, but vestiges of this once important route can still be found on undisturbed pasture lands and at a few river crossings.

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