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William H. Buck published the first issue of the Benton Record on February 1, 1875, on a press located at Fort Shaw. The paper appeared bimonthly until May, after which it became a weekly. Buck had previously published a temperance newspaper for the soldiers at Fort Shaw, located southwest of Fort Benton. On April 15, 1875, the first issue of the Record published at Fort Benton appeared. Buck declared in his lead editorial, “Benton is rapidly emerging from the darkness…and is the transportation centre of Montana.” In the next issue, the newspaper promoted the agricultural potential of the area, proclaiming that “the Valleys of the Sun, Teton, and Marias Rivers afford [sic] the best stock range in Montana, which is equivalent to saying the best in the world.”
At the end of 1878, the Record announced the construction of a new three-story brick building to house the newspaper and the establishment of a number of fraternal lodges. During this period, Buck hired legendary frontier man and sheriff of Chouteau County, John Healy, to serve as local editor and business manager. Healy published a weekly column entitled “Frontier Sketches” recreating Montana’s colorful territorial history of steamboating on the upper Missouri, gold mining, hunting outlaws, and capturing renegade Indians accused of stealing horses from early settlers. Both Buck and Healy decried the policy promulgated by the Republican administration of President Grant of attempting to Christianize and “civilize” native peoples.
Fort Benton thrived as the eastern terminus of the Mullan Road to Fort Walla Walla and the southern terminus of the Whoop-Up Trail linking local merchants with the frontier outposts in western Canada. The Record reported on the arrival of steamboats and regularly published lists of both travelers and freight, thus documenting the decline of steamboat travel from St. Louis with the coming of transcontinental railroads in the early 1880s.
In its original format, the Benton Record measured 9.75 x 15.25” in four columns. The five-column weekly version that began in June 1875 measured 12 x 16.5” and the seven-column weekly that began in May 1876 measured 16 x 21.5”. In January 1880, Buck launched the Benton Weekly Record, and on February 2, 1881, the Benton Daily Record. In June of that year, Buck sold the newspaper to two local attorneys, William H. Hunt and Horace R. Buck, but a year later he was back in charge. However, Fort Benton’s slumping economy would soon bring Buck’s enterprise to an end. The Benton Record ceased publication in February 1885.
Provided by: Montana Historical Society; Helena, MT