Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Although the origins of the name Whoop-Up Trail are unclear, the fabled history and significance of this trail, which ran from Fort Benton in Montana to the notorious whiskey fort, Fort Whoop-Up (Fort Hamilton), and later Fort Macleod on the Oldman River in Canada, are not debated. Playing an important role in the history of the U.S.-Canadian frontier from the 1850s until the late 1880s, this trail of approximately 240 miles roughly paralleled or followed the Great North Trail along which Native Americans had traveled for millennia on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains. Founded in 1850, Fort Benton, on the west side of the Missouri some 3,575 miles from its mouth, became a center for trade for northern Montana and southern Alberta for more than four decades.

From 1860 to 1890 more than 600 steamboat landings allowed goods and commerce to reach both U.S. and Canadian frontier communities. Passing through grasslands with few physical barriers, the trail was traversed on foot, on horseback, by mule train, and by trade wagons by Native Americans, fur trappers, whiskey traders, the U.S. Army, the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), cowboys, miners, ranchers, and settlers. Through Fort Benton passed many of the bison robes that made their way to eastern markets from 1865 to 1882. Furs, whiskey, and trade goods were a staple of the commerce on this trail, although with the coming of the NWMP to western Canada in 1874, the whiskey forts and the whiskey trade began to decline. Supplies for the nwmp and Indian reservations became part of the goods carried by bull trains (consisting of six to twelve yoke, or pair, of oxen) across the border. The coming of the railroad lessened the need for the trail, and by 1890 it no longer played a significant role in the economic life of this region.

Phillip Drennon Thomas Wichita State University

Berry, Gerald L. The Whoop-Up Trail. Edmonton, Alberta: Applied Art Products, 1953.

Cushman, Dan. The Great North Trail. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1966.

Sharp, Paul E. Whoop-Up Country: The Canadian-American West, 1865–1885. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1973.

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