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New Deal in the Big Sky
Fort Peck, Montana

In the vastness of Montana's high plains, making a lasting impression on the landscape requires the herculean efforts of many men and machines.

That's what took place here between 1933 and 1940 when the world's largest earth-filled dam was constructed.

President Franklin Roosevelt personally approved construction of Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River during the height of the Great Depression, and the project provided much-needed work for legions of unemployed men. 

"At the peak of construction in 1936, 10,500 Depression-bled workers were hired to plug the Missouri River," writes John B. Wright in Montana Places. "A trestle spanned the site, and railroad cars dumped countless loads of fill into the valley bottom. The government built a centrally planned town called Fort Peck complete with a 1,600-seat movie theater."

Standing 249 feet high and 21,432 feet long, the dam is so colossal that its enormity is difficult to comprehend. When filled to capacity, it impounds a reservoir of 247,000 acres. Fort Peck Reservoir offers almost limitless opportunities for boating and fishing. It has "an excellent and diverse fishery noted for northern pike, walleye, lake trout, shovelnose sturgeon, sauger, burbot, paddlefish, and chennel catfish. The rare pallid sturgeon is found here as well," according to Montana Places.

The Fort Peck Dam Powerhouse Museum offers a fossil record of the plants and creatures of the late Cretaceous period to help explain the geological history of the river. The lobby has models and exhibits which tell the story of the building, operation, and benefits of the dam. Tours of the massive power plant are also available. 

The Fort Peck townsite crowns a hill overlooking the dam. "The anachronistic Fort Peck Hotel dominates the town," writes Genevieve Rowles in Adventure Guide to Montana. "Many structures remain from the 1930s, incongruous reminders of a time when the woodsy Adirondacks-style was synonymous with the boonies, whether indigenous to it or not."

A season schedule for the Fort Peck Summer Theatre is available by writing to:  Fort Peck Fine Arts Council, Glasgow, MT 59230 The Fort Peck Summer Theatre performs each summer in the beautiful chalet-style all-wood theater that remains from the dam construction days. A mix of professional and local amateur actors present at least three presentations from mid-June to late August to audiences drawn from hundreds of square miles. Reservations are not needed; tickets may be purchased at the door.

Did you know?

The population of Fort Peck is approximately 325. The number of families living in Fort Peck is 236. 

The lands around Fort Peck Lake are rich in fossils. In order to collect fossils, you must possess an Antiquities Permit. Any fossils that you find must be used for educational or scientific purposes. To obtain permits, contact the Fort Peck Lake Office

The Fort Peck Reservation, located nearby, is home to two seperate Indian nations, each composed of numerous bands and divisions. The Sioux divisions of Sisseton/Wahpetons, the Yantonais, and the Teton Hunkpapa are all represented. The Assiniboine bands of Canoe Paddler and Red Bottom are represented. 

be outgoing
Fort Peck Project
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Box 208
Fort Peck , MT 59223-0208
(406) 526-3431

Fort Peck Lake Office
(406) 526-3411

Montana Places
Montana Places
Exploring Big Sky Country
by John B. Wright
University of Minnesota Press, 2000

Scholar, writer and conservationist John B. Wright profiles 31 special places that represent the unique character of Montana, from the late Ice Age buffalo jump at Ulm Pishkun to the Little Big Horn Battlefield, the Anaconda smelters and the rolling wheatlands of The High-Line.

Wright's guidebook surveys Montana's dramatic beauty of Glacier National Park and Yellowstone, and its personality in small towns such as Jordan and Harlowtown and Colstrip.

"I have tried to convey the geograhical importance of each place," Wright explains, pointing out that his is a "personal account written by someone who plainly loves the contentious, achingly beautiful state."

The sites described in this book are "official places" registered with the New Mexico Geographical Society in cooperation with the Center for American Places.

The History of Fort Peck Dam (Rafterman)

Memories of Fort Peck
from Mystic Montana Magazine
One hotel, one theater and one city hall,
One school with one class clown,
One road in and one road out,
What else was needed in a dam town!
© Phyllis Seeley Burroughs

Roadside History of Montana
by Don Spritzer
Mountain Press, 1999

Dividing the state into six geographic-historical areas, Roadside History of Montana follows main highways to reveal the stories hidden within the vast Montana landscape. Spritzer writes about the struggles of dryland farmers, rowdy antics in the early mining camps, and the heroism of smoke jumpers and park rangers. 

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