The Roundup -

Exhibit Returns To Fort Union


In 1964, a group of eighth graders, led by their social sciences teacher, Bill Burnison, set out to create a model of historic Fort Union. It served as their contribution to the Fort Union Days Centennial Celebration, which took place June 11-13 that year in Sidney.

Starting in February, six students worked on the model. They started out by visiting the site where Fort Union had stood to study the terrain, and they gathered sandstone and cedar from nearby badlands.

Construction took place in the junior high shop. The gathered sandstone and cedar was used to construct the dwellings on the model. Each student contributed 25 cents to help purchase the plywood needed to complete the miniature replica.

Work was completed on Saturdays, and three class periods were devoted to constructing teepees and clothing, as well as painting the animals and people that were part of the replica. Burnison served as the project architect.

Two years later, on June 20, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the law creating Fort Union National Historic Site. Historians and the general public worked together to raise awareness for the need to reconstruct the site, and in 1972, the model was taken out to the fort site to celebrate the centennial of Yellowstone National Park, the country’s first national park. The next year, the replica was donated to the J.K. Ralston Museum and Art Center, the pre-cursor to the MonDak Heritage Center.

Since 1984, the display has been part of the Fort Union Room in the lower level of the museum.

Ground at the fort site was broken for the reconstruction in 1986. In 2015, discussions about the model began between Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site park rangers and the MonDak Heritage Center.

“The model of Fort Union is a great way for us to celebrate Fort Union Trading Post’s 50th anniversary and the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016,” stated MacVaugh. “Even when the model was at the museum, we encouraged visitors to go visit the historic site,” Kim Simmonds, executive director of the MonDak Heritage Center explained. “It really was a no-brainer to return the model to the site for use in education and interpretation. I can’t wait to see how they use it.”


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