Built to last, Fort Union survived for forty years—long enough to make it the longest-lived fur-trading post in the history of the United States. But the fort’s destruction in 1867 marked only the beginning of a tale just as fascinating, a story that concluded with the partial rebuilding of the fort during the 1980s. In this book, John Matzko conducts us through the colorful history of this landmark standing above the confluence of the Missouri and the Yellowstone Rivers—and through the equally colorful tangle of passions, loyalties, and politics surrounding the fort’s reconstruction.
Here is the Crow-Flies-High band of Hidatsa, who lived on the site in the late nineteenth century; here is the “wild west” town of Mondak, founded in 1904 to peddle alcohol to North Dakotans; and here are the Park Service personnel, whose mission to preserve what is left of the historic fort puts them in direct conflict with civic leaders who want the entire site reconstructed to draw more tourists. Matzko chronicles the struggle, with all the political plays, bureaucratic snags, and chance twists that led to the reconstructionists’ victory—and to one of the largest archaeological excavations ever mounted by the National Park Service. As entertaining as it is instructive, his book exposes the tensions inherent in the intellectual and physical rebuilding of the American past.