Fisk Expeditions

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FISK EXPEDITIONS (1862–1866). The discovery of gold in the Montana and Idaho regions led prospectors to push Congress to open a new route across the northern Plains. In 1862, the army promoted private James Liberty Fisk of a Minnesota regiment to captain and put him in command of an emigrant wagon train from Fort Abercrombie to Fort Salmon. Fisk received $5,000 to open the route that became known as the Minnesota-Montana Road. Fisk was a tough frontiersman and a capable leader and followed closely the 1853 route of the John F. Stevens expedition across northern Dakota and Montana. The expedition left in July and made a pleasant and unremarkable passage to Fort Benton. Learning the Salmon River mines were overcrowded, most of the immigrants settled in the Prickly Pear Creek Valley and Bannack.

Fisk led three more expeditions into Montana, including accompanying General Alfred Sully's punitive expedition in 1864 against the Indians. Fisk separated from Sully and approached the Bighorn River when he was attacked by the Sioux. A detachment of Sully's army rescued the party and returned them to Fort Rice on the Missouri River. In 1866, Fisk led a party of miners and settlers to Helena, Montana.

The army was dissatisfied with the Minnesota-Montana Road, and in 1864, abandoned it in favor of their own program to open and protect the immigrants to Montana. However, the Great Northern Railroad revived the route and followed it to the Montana mines.


Bancroft, Hubert Howe. History of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, Volume 1845–1849. San Francisco: History Company, 1890.

Malone, Michael P., Richard B. Roeder, and William L. Lang. Montana: A History of Two Centuries. Rev. ed. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991.

McElroy, Harold. "Mercurial Military: A Study of the Central Montana Frontier Army Policy." Montana Magazine of Western History 4, no. 4 (1954): 9–23.

Raymer, Robert George. Montana: The Land and the People. Chicago: Lewis Publishing, 1930.

Jerry L.Parker

See alsoExplorations and Expeditions: U.S. ; Montana .