Between 1828 and 1867, Fort Union was the most important fur trade post on the Upper Missouri River. Here, the Assiniboine and six other Northern Plains Indian Tribes exchanged buffalo robes and smaller furs for goods from around the world, including cloth, guns, blankets, and beads.
By the 1920s, America’s longest-lived trade post, Fort Union, was little more than barely visible bumps and depressions. Its legacy lived on in former traders’ memories and journals. The nearby town of Mondak thrived. To capitalize on and promote tourism, North Dakota residents desired to reconstruct the fort. Unfortunately, the Great Depression and the Second World War put a halt to reconstruction plans.
Gravel extraction in the 1930’s meant an immediate threat to the site of the fort. Therefore the site was acquired and became a state park. It was not until 1961 that the park was designated Fort Union as North Dakota’s first National Historic Landmark (NHL).
Fort Union Trading Post NHS’s archaeological excavations began in 1968. Then in 1985, Congress passed a bill that mandated and funded Fort Union trading post’s reconstruction. Realizing this action threatened to destroy an important and irreplaceable archaeological resource, National Park Service (NPS) leaders instructed their Midwest Archaeological Center (MWAC) to salvage as much information as possible from the site. This inaugurated one of the NPS’s largest-ever archaeological projects. MWAC conducted large-scale excavations, excavating approximately 4,400 square meters of the site. The project’s highest priority was the recovery of architectural information to aid in the reconstruction planning. The diversity of recovered artefacts makes Fort Union’s collections one of the largest that spans nearly forty years of the fur trade, 1828–1867.
Begun with the flagpole in 1985, Fort Union continued its rise from the ground in the winter of 1986-1987. Reconstructed after the excavations, the new Bourgeois House, which doubled as a visitor center, opened in the summer of 1987. Two years later, the post’s bastions and palisade walls rose where the originals had stood from 1833 through 1867. The reconstruction work wrapped up in 1993, when the Indian Trade House, begun in 1991, opened to the public.
Text source: Fort Union at Fifty, 1966-2016: An Online Exhibit “The Largest and Best Built Establishment” by Fred MacVaugh, Museum Curator
Photo by Xerxes2004 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20091065