Thomas Jefferson told Lewis and Clark to find the headwaters of the Missouri River. They did this in July, 1805. Natives who knew the area helped them. It took Lewis & Clark a while to accomplish this part of their mission because The Missouri is now the longest river in the United States. If you floated it from where it begins to where it flows into the Mississippi, you would float for 2,341 miles. If you continued on The Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico at the other end of the Louisiana Purchase that Lewis and Clark were learning about for the President, the whole journey would take about 2½ months. Your trip would begin where the Jefferson River flows into the Madison River, and one mile further you would pass a 3rd river, The Gallatin. This is considered The Confluence that forms The Missouri River. You can hike to this point in Headquarters State Park. New and old signs helps all visitors who take the time to read them understand the historical importance of this area.
Sacagawea, A Shoshone native, knew the area well and retained memories of being kidnapped here as a young child by a Hidasta raiding party. She was taken to what is now North Dakota as a slave. Years later a fur trader named Toussaint Charbonneau bought her. He was hired as an interpreter by The Expedition, and their presence helped relations as she and Charbonneau became ambassadors of peaceful intentions. Sacagawea also had memories of accompanying other members of her tribe to this place to help them gather resources. One of the greatest historical coincidences of all time was the fact that she ran into her brother here when she was accompanying Lewis and Clark on their journey west. Cameahwait, her Shoshone brother, provided horses to Lewis and Clark in exchange for guns.
The Missouri Headquarters State Park, which has a really long title if ‘a National Historic Landmark and Official State Bicentennial Site’ is added to it, is very close to Three Forks, Montana, which is on I-90. To me its most interesting signs have to do with Gallatin City. The story of this town at The Confluence that never developed is also told in the “Interpretive Guide & Map”, an available newspaper that has a lot of information for families who want to learn about local animals, birds, and flora. Gallatin City’s founders hoped to develop a 2nd San Francisco on the plains. At least a farming community and steamboat destination was dreamed about. However, steamboats could not get beyond the great falls downriver, so Gallatin City became one of The West’s many ghost towns. Today only an old hotel and some pioneer gravestones remain as evidence of the promising planned town that went out of business when the railroad bypassed it in the 1880s.
Being from Missouri, I also really enjoyed finally learning the origin of this word. Its roots are from the word that 17th century Algonquian guides called the people living at the mouth of the Missouri River. Their word for it looks like a ribbon followed by the letters e-m-e-s-s-o-u-r-i-t, which meant ‘”people with canoes made of logs”.