Williston, North Dakota
On a typical busy spring day some 150 years ago, this fortified trading post on the banks of the upper Missouri River would have been surrounded by Native Americans grouped according to tribe, all eager to trade beaver and buffalo hides for guns, powder, beads, and blankets.
Fort Union was built by John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company in 1828 to buy and ship beaver pelts to the Eastern market. When silk top hats became more fashionable than ones made from beaver, the trade declined, supplanted by demand for buffalo robes.
As one of the most remote and luxurious large Western outposts of the period, the fort was visited by many prominent travelers and adventurers, including the artists John James Audubon and George Catlin, who traveled by steamboat 1,800 miles from St. Louis.
The fort was acquired by the U.S. Army and torn down in 1867. The National Park Service acquired the site in 1966 and began the excavations now open to visitors. Between 1985 and 1991 portions of walls, stone bastions, a Native American trade house, and Bourgeois House were reconstructed. The staff dress as trappers and traders and explain trade functions and tribunal relations of the years Fort Union operated.
Open year-round, weather permitting.