Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Missouri River


The Missouri River.  The Wild Missouri.  The big muddy!  It is the longest river in North America and was the main artery in the Great Plains for Native Americans, and early traders and trappers.  

And of course, it continues to influence our region in so many ways.  It is like they say, “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.”  

Starting at Three Forks west of Bozeman, MT, with the confluence of the Madison, Jefferson, and Gallatin rivers, the Missouri then heads northward to Great Falls.  From there it takes a right turn, heading eastward to Williston before gradually heading southward through Bismarck-Mandan on its way to the Mississippi at St. Louis.  

It is a very different river today, with the mainstem dams starting with Ft. Peck, Garrison, Oahe, Big Bend, Fort Randal, and finally Gavins Point north of Sioux City.  But if you are looking for a stretch of the river that can give you a sense of what the river was like before construction of the dams, checkout the stretch downstream from Garrison Dam to about Bismarck.  It is a popular canoeing route, partially because of this.  

There are a couple other rather natural stretches of the river, such as the 149 mile stretch, designated a National Wild and Scenic River, from Fort Benton, Montana downstream to the Charles M. Russel National Wildlife Refuge. Further downstream in South Dakota there is stretch that is “free-flowing” for about a hundred miles between Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, SD and Ponca State Park not far upstream from Sioux City.

But wherever you go along the Missouri River in our region there is something so see and do that may help us better understand and appreciate the geology, ecology, and history of this significant river.  A list of those places would include Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site, the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan, Double Ditch Indian Village, and the On-A-Slant and Huff Indian Villages.  Plus, several state parks are located along the river such as Lewis and Clark State Park, Lake Sakakawea State Park, Fort Stevenson State Park, Cross Ranch State Park.

So consider making a conscious effort to become more familiar with the Big Muddy in 2018.   There is lots to see and do to help you better understand the significance of the “big muddy.”  Just don’t get in a fight over it!

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

Prairie Public Broadcasting provides quality radio, television, and public media services that educate, involve, and inspire the people of the prairie region.
Related Content