Fort Union

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UNION, FORT (North Dakota). In 1827 the American Fur Company purchased its rival, the Columbia Fur Company. The following year Kenneth McKenzie, director of the newly created Upper Missouri Outfit, began construction of Fort Union, located on the north bank of the Missouri River near its junction with the Yellowstone. The fort, occupied in 1832, was the hub of a prosperous trade with Assiniboines, Crees, Crows, Lakotas, and Blackfeet for almost forty years. Although a decline in beaver pelts prompted a sale to Pratt, Chouteau and Company in 1834, the outpost remained profitable, thanks to a steady supply of buffalo robes and elk skins. Sadly, however, smallpox epidemics frequently ravaged the region's American Indians.

Fort Union welcomed several distinguished visitors, including the artists Karl Bodmer and George Catlin. Other prominent guests included the naturalist John J. Audubon and Pierre Jean De Smet, a Jesuit missionary. In 1853, Fort Union served as a rendezvous site for the Northern Pacific Railroad survey. The Plains Wars of the 1860s, coupled with a decline of fur-bearing animals and the denial of an application for a license renewal, hastened the post's demise. In November 1867 the military demolished Fort Union, so its materials could be used at nearby Fort Buford. Restoration of the historic post was completed by the National Park Service in 1991. The Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site is located near Williston, North Dakota.


Barbour, Barton H. Fort Union and the Upper Missouri Fur Trade. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001.

Ewers, John C. Plains Indian History and Culture: Essays on Continuity and Change. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.


See alsoFur Companies ; Fur Trade and Trapping .

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Fort Union, trading post of the American Fur Company, erected in 1828 near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers, on the Mont.-N.Dak. line; it controlled converging routes of travel from the Rocky Mts. For c.40 years it was the most important post in the U.S. fur country and was under the control of American fur trader Kenneth McKenzie. When the U.S. army assumed control in 1867, Fort Union was torn down and Fort Buford, a military post, erected nearby. Fort Union Trading Post is a national historic site (see National Parks and Monuments, table).

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