Publication Date


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in History



Major Advisor

Barton H. Barbour, Ph.D.


Historians have long overlooked Camp Cooke as a part of Montana history. As the first military post in the territory, built in 1866, the presence of the 13th Infantry answered the call of citizens in the new territory who demanded the U.S. Government send armed protection Yet, after Camp Cooke was established, local residents and the press attacked that same military that had met their demands for a post in the territory. Sharp criticism berated the government for building Camp Cooke in a place even citizens within Montana called the “Badlands.”

Life at this little known and mostly forgotten Army post on the Missouri River differed from other military forts in the west. In this thesis, the conclusion will be made that the placement of Camp Cooke by the United States Army was ill advised and the soldiers at the post suffered from its location to an extent more than soldiers at most other military posts in the west. The isolation of Camp Cooke, the inability of soldiers to leave, even when their enlistments were up, and the constant fear of Indian raids all played a part in the difficulty of life at this post. Given these measures, Camp Cooke might be considered a failure.

In a larger sense, as the first military post in the territory, it did help to establish safe mail and stage routes, and participated in building the more permanent posts of Fort Shaw in the Sun River area and Fort Ellis in the Gallatin River Valley, near present day Bozeman. It did provide safety to steamboats traveling on the Missouri River, gave stability to commerce in the territory, and began efforts of dealing with Indian tribes. Largely forgotten since its closing in 1866, Camp Cooke remains a subject worthy of study, as will be demonstrated.

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