Lesson Plan

1800s River Transportation

Steamboat Yellowstone arrived at Fort Union in 1832

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Grade Level:
Fourth Grade-Eighth Grade
60 min
Group Size:
Up to 24
National/State Standards:
North Dakota Fourth Grade: 4.1.4, 4.1.5, 4.2.7, 4.6.2, North Dakota Eighth Grade: 8.1.2, 8.6.2


The Missouri River served as a highway that connected metropolises like St. Louis to fur trade forts like Fort Union Trading Post. Expeditions faced many hazards and took months to complete. This lesson identifies the different boats that made the dangerous and lengthy journey up the Missouri to Fort Union.


Students will:

Describe Mackinaw, Keelboat and Steamboat 
Explain the travel hazards of the Missouri River.  


This section goes into the various forms of transportation used on the Missouri River and the hazards faced during their journeys. The first part describes different types of vessels used for travel on the river. The second part discusses different hazards faced on their journeys. The third part is a vocabulary list of terms. The fourth part is an activity.


Park Connections

The natural resources, including navigable rivers, mature cottonwood forests, open grasslands, and abundant, fur-bearing mammals, helped make Fort Union one of the most successful trading posts on the Upper Missouri River

Additional Resources

Barbour, B. B. (2001). Fort Union and the Upper Missouri Fur Trade. University of Oklahoma Press.
Lawrence H. Larsen, B. J. (2010). Steamboats West: The 1859 American Fur Company Missouri River Expedition. Norman: The Arthur H. Clark Company. 


Breaks, Channel, stern-wheelers, Cord, Cordelle, Chantier, Keelboat, Mackinaw, Sawyers, side-wheelers, snags, spars, steamboat, To Cordelle