In 1915, Wolf Point – a town of 340 residents – voted in favor of incorporating as a municipality. A land rush had brought farmers and ranchers to the area following the construction of the Great Northern Railroad, and permission from the Secretary of the Interior allowed for homesteaders to build on the Fort Peck Reservation for a few dollars an acre. A century later, Wolf Point celebrates its rich history and culture. Agriculture remains the town’s top industry and the Western lifestyle is held in high regard. Visitors to the area will observe that Wolf Point cherishes its heritage and traditions, the most famous of which is the Wild Horse Stampede.
Known as the “granddaddy of Montana rodeos,” the Wild Horse Stampede is a major event that has taken place every July since 1921. Operating at the PRCA level, this professional rodeo is a celebrated local tradition that draws in visitors from all around the state and beyond. “The town comes together every year to lay out the welcome mat,” says Wild Horse Stampede committee member Christy Stensland. “It’s a great family event. It’s the best entertainment.”
Some of the unique things that draw people to this rodeo are the street dances and Catholic Burger stand. For three nights – Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – after the rodeo events are over, live bands keep the good times going with dancing in the street. Street dance participants can kick up their heels well into the night and if they get hungry, they can grab a bite to eat at the Catholic Burger stand nearby.
The stand – an institution all on its own – runs 24/7 during the Wild Horse Stampede and has been serving rodeo goers for over sixty years. “When you smell the beef and onions frying, it’s an aromatic symbol and kickoff to the Wild Horse Stampede weekend,” says Stensland. “It’s the best billboard out there.” The Catholic Burger Stand is named for the (mostly) catholic volunteers who work tirelessly to provide the community with around-the-clock food options. It is open Wednesday through Sunday and some people have been known to stop by on the last day just to stock up on extra burgers to take home with them. They’re that good.
Of course, the main attraction of the Wild Horse Stampede is the rodeo itself, hosted by the 2014 WPRA National Rodeo of the Year comittee. Top- notch rodeo clowns keep bull riders safe and provide additional entertainment for the viewers, while special events – like this year’s bullfighting – add another level of excitement that you probably won’t find at other rodeos.
When asked why the Wild Horse Stampede is important to Wolf Point, Christy Stensland responded, “Because it’s our history. It’s our Western heritage. And we want to keep that heritage alive.” Wolf Point certainly has a strong rodeo culture and they’ve been able to spread it to others with the Wild Horse Stampede and through the work of hometown rodeo legends like Owen Harlen Mickel, aka Montie Montana. Mickel was a Wolf Point rodeo trick rider who went on to become a well-known actor and stuntman. He appeared in four films, was a perennial participant in the Tournament of Roses Parade, and toured elementary schools to teach children about trick riding and roping. In 1994 he was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame and in 1996, a Golden Palm Star on the Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.
While Montie Montana and other famous sports stars (including two MLB players and an NFL tight end) have come out of Wolf Point, the town continues to draw other people back in with its history and culture. The Wolf Point Museum is dedicated to preserving the area’s heritage with Indian artifacts, relics from the time of Wolf Point’s foundation, and displays and records encompassing the town’s 100-year history. A life-size statue of cowboy artist Charlie Russell is one of the many interesting things you can find at the museum; it placed second in a Washington D.C. Hall of Fame Contest and was created by a Wolf Point High School art instructor. Other items of interest include an antique printing press, an arrowhead collection, a 1915 Bible, and the newest addition to the museum, a 1918 National cash register from the first drugstore in Wolf Point.
Another historical attraction is Wolf Point’s magnificent Lewis and Clark Bridge, a structure that is no longer accessible to the public but is being preserved by the Wolf Point Historical Society as an interpretive site for historical events such as the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The bridge also acts as an icon of Wolf Point’s economic development, having once allowed safe passage over the Missouri, connecting Wolf Point to commerce in the south. Nearby, Bridge Park offers a scenic view of the Lewis and Clark Bridge and area wildlife while also providing access to boating, rafting, and fishing along the Missouri.
Fishing and other water sports are highly popular in the Wolf Point area, especially with the town being less than an hours’ drive from Fort Peck Lake. This major reservoir covers an area of 245,000 acres with around 30 designated recreational sites bordering its shores. It is the fifth largest artificial lake in the United States and provides plenty of room for skiing, tubing, and other water sports. Also, Fort Peck is a great location for fishing, with a wide range of catchable species, including smallmouth bass, northern pike, and walleye.
Fort Peck alone can provide weeks of sightseeing and entertainment, not to mention all of the other places to visit in the Wolf Point area. Because it is located on the Fort Peck Reservation, there are a lot of culturally diverse experiences to be had around Wolf Point, including a tour of a Native American buffalo ranch northeast of town. Wolf Point also hosts the Wadopana Pow-wow Celebration each August, the oldest traditional pow-wow in Montana. This celebration is open to everyone and provides visitors with an opportunity to experience Assiniboine and Sioux culture with camping, traditional foods, and dances.
Wolf Point’s diversity and its respect for different people and cultures make it a particularly charming town. While there are many things to do and see in the Wolf Point area, Chamber President Jeff Presser believes that the town’s strongest asset is its people. “The people here are wonderful and will go out of their way to help and make you feel welcome,” says Presser.
Wolf Point is a quaint town with friendly people and rich culture. It is a place with more to do and see than anyone could hope to experience in a single vacation. There’s something for everyone to take an interest in, making Wolf Point a great destination for anyone to visit.