Bearmouth Rest Area, Interstate 90, Montana

Bearmouth, MT Rest Area

I’m so glad I got a chance to stop at this rest area on a sunny winter day.

This rest area is between Drummond and Clinton, Montana. The picture above is from the west-bound side of the rest area.

From the Bearmouth historical marker:

During the 1860’s, Bearmouth, located across the river to the south, was a trading center for the gold camps of Beartown, Garner and Coloma, which were located in the hills near here.

Bearmouth outlasted the mining camps because it was an important stage stop on the Mullan Road and later a station on the Northern Pacific Railway’s main line. A pioneer family named Lannen operated a gold exchange and a ferryboat near here.

The riber, officially known as Clark Fork of the Columbia, was named for Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Historically, however, this one river had four names within a 125-mile stretch! Its source is Silver Bow Creek near Butte. When Jesuit priest Pierre Jean De Smet, traveled westward through here in 1841 to establish a mission for the Salish Indians in the Bitterroot Valley, he named the river the St. Ignatious.

Since then it has been known as the Deer Lodge, Hellgate, Missoula, and eventually the Clark Fork. Today, the entire length of the river from near Anaconda o the Idaho border is the Clark Fork.

Interstate 90 through here originated as an Indian trail generations ago. After Lieutenant Mullan built his road through the valley in 1860 it has had asmost as many names as the river: the Yellowstone Trail, US Highway 10, and the I-90.

From the Mullan Road historical marker:

In 1859 and 1860, Lieutenant John Mullan and 230 workmen, soldiers, and teamsters constructed a 624-mile wagon road from Walla Walla, Washington to Fort Benton, the head of steamboat navigation on the upper Missouri River in Montana.

The road, although primitive, was a triumph of engineering and a tribute to Mullan’s engineering ability. It was also a reflection of his optimism about the future of the Pacific Northwest and Montana.

Originally intended as a military road, it was only used in that capacity once. Instead parts of it became important emigrant and freight roads in western and central Montana.

The old Mullan Road, located less than a mile south of here, today roughly parallels Interstate 90 in western Montana.

The Mullan Road between the Missoula Valley and the Drummond area east of here was heavily used by freighters and emigrants in the 1860s and 1870s. Travelers often commented on the rugged narrow gorges and wide prairies through which the road coursed.

There were eleven crossings of the Clark Fork River, two of which were bridged. The rest area is located midway between the two bridges.

In 1862, Randall Hewitt described one of the ramshackle bridges as spanning the river fifty feet above the raging torrent and “making the strongest of [his] party wich that here were somewhere else.”

Despite the complaint, most travelers remembered the road as generally a good one.

Click on a thumbnail image below to see full size image slide show.

Rick Brock

PS; Have you visited this rest area? Share your impressions below in the comments section.


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