As instructed by Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark famously ventured through this area in search of the Missouri River’s Headwaters. When they reached the confluence of the Gallatin, Jefferson, and Madison rivers, they were unsure of which river would lead to the Missouri’s headwaters. Meriwether Lewis scouted the land from a high point currently named Lewis Rock. On July 25, 1805, Clark wrote,
those three forks are nearly of a Size, the North fork appears to have the most water and must be Considered as the one best calculated to ascend.
The north fork of the river was actually the Jefferson River, which eventually took them a few hundred miles south to Brower Springs in the Centennial Mountains near Idaho.
Long before Lewis and Clark first ventured here, this land was visited by native peoples for thousands of years. The Crow called the Gallatin River the “Cherry River” for its ample fruit near the banks. The Madison River was called the “Straight River” as it seemed to flow straight out of the mountains to the south. The area was used for its stone, with chert being transformed into both tools and weapons. Some of these weapons were used by tribes in their seasonal buffalo hunt at the sheer limestone cliffs of Buffalo Jump State Park.
After Lewis and Clark’s journey, more people began to move westward with the passing of the Homestead Act in 1862. The government promoted the fertility of the open valley, encouraging farmers to take up land and reside in the area for five years at little cost.
Today, Missouri Headwaters State Park provides ample activities for young and old. Cyclists, walkers, and runners can enjoy time on the paved Missouri Headwaters Legacy Trail and other trails throughout the park. Anglers can take up fishing on the banks of different rivers. Anyone can take in the rich history of the area and enjoy the sight of three magnificent rivers coming together to form the Missouri river.