Three Forks, Montana

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Three Forks is a city in Gallatin County, Montana, United States and is located within the watershed valley system of both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers drainage basins — and is historically considered the birthplace or start of the Missouri River. The population was 1,728 at the 2000 census. The city of Three Forks is named so because it lies geographically near the point, in nearby Missouri Headwaters State Park, where the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers converge to form the Missouri River — at once barely, and still traditionally called the longest River in North America. Three Forks is part of the 'Bozeman Micropolitan Statistical Area'.



The three rivers, west to east, were named by Meriwether Lewis in late July 1805 for President Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State James Madison, and Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin which was in the times the genesis of a mild controversy and eventually spawned a modern day geographical controversy — in both cases regarding length comparisons between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Today the two confluences are incorporated inside Missouri Headwaters State Park, which is also a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition visited the site on 28 July 1805. Meriwether Lewis in his journal entry wrote:

One consequence of their decision to designate, map and name the Jefferson — the largest — as a separate tributary river, is that today the Mississippi river can arguably be called longer than the Missouri river[1] because extensive re-channelization of the streambed for hydroelectric power projects has shortened the river while the Mississippi Delta has grown lengthening the rival river.

Honored in Three Forks, the Indian woman Sacagawea is best known as the interpreter and guide for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In 1800, she was captured by the Mennetaree tribe near the present site of Three Forks. She later returned to this area with Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. A statue of Sacagawea now sits in a park off Main Street.

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