"The Marias River," by John Mix Stanley
Chromolithograph from Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route
for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the
Pacific Ocean (1855-1861), Vol. 12, Plate 26.
On the height at center the artist has imagined a fort or trading post such as Lewis and Clark recommended for the mouth of the Marias. Fort Piegan—named for the Piegan tribe of the Blackfeet Nation, whom the traders hoped to attract—was built there in the winter of 1831 by James Kipp of John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company, to tap into the regional Indian trade, but it lasted less than a year before Blood Indian warriors burned it down. The following year the manager of Astor's Upper Missouri Outfit, headquartered at Fort Union, sent an experienced trader, Jacob Berger, to establish a new satellite post eight miles up the Missouri from the mouth of the Marias. Berger named it Fort McKenzie in honor of his boss, Kenneth McKenzie. Despite the accidental arrival of a devastating smallpox epidemic in 1837, the post thrived until 1844, when an ugly incident precipitated by the new management, Francois Chardon and his lieutenant, Alexander Harvey, made it necessary to abandon the place in early April. Sometime after that its structures were burned by unknown persons.
Brulé ("burned") Bottom
Site of Fort McKenzie, 1832-1844.
View south; Little Belt Mountains on the horizon.
The verdant circle in the foreground is a farmer's field
watered by a center-pivot irrigation system.