In his new book, Historic Tales of Whoop-Up Country: On the Trail from Montana’s Fort Benton to Canada’s Fort Macleod, Montana native and UM graduate Ken Robison takes readers for a meander along a colorful, time-worn trail from Montana to Canada. Like the Pony Express, the Whoop-Up Trail was rather briefly in use from 1870-1885, but its notoriety, colorful characters, and role in making Fort Benton an unexpected commercial center make for lively reading.
In 1870, Montana traders Johnny Healy and Al Hamilton moved across the Medicine Line and built Fort Whoop-Up (also known as Fort Hamilton). It established the two-hundred-mile Whoop-Up Trail from Fort Benton, through Blackfeet lands, to the Belly River near today’s Lethbridge. Over the next decade, the buffalo robe trade flourished with the Blackfeet, as did violence.
Seeking fortune in the fur business, “free” traders from Fort Benton to Fort McLeod (near today’s Lethbridge, Alberta) dodged hostile Indians and the North West Mounted Police – who were sent west to curb the enthusiastic whiskey trade, as whiskey was always the lubricant of choice in the exchanges.
Not surprisingly, the situation at Fort Whoop-Up was described as “O, they’re still a-whoopin’ ’er up.” The name stuck. Charles Schafft remarked that he “saw some dead bodies there, but the place was not as bad as represented.”
Historic photos, maps and drawings enhance the feeling of experiencing the Old West during this raw era, while the tales Robison compiles illuminate what it really meant to “whoop it up.”
The author holds a master’s degree in Colonial History, but specializes in chronicling forgotten/neglected Montana history. The historian and preservationist has been honored by the Montana Historical Society as a Montana Heritage Keeper. This volume, published in September by Arcadia Publishing, is his eighth book.
– Carole Ann Clark