Trading and Military Posts

Source: The History of Idaho, The Gem of the Mountain, by James H. Hawley, Volume I, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1920:


The first trading post to be established within the present limits of the State of Idaho was founded by David Thompson, one of the members of the North-West Company, and was located on the northeast shore of Lake Pend d'Oreille, not far from the present Town of Hope, in Bonner County. About the middle of August, 1809, Thompson left Fort William on the shore of Lake Superior, the headquarters of the North-West Company, for the purpose of opening a trading post somewhere in the Rocky Mountain country.. On the 10th of September he arrived at Lake Pend d'Oreille and after selecting an available site began the construction of a log structure, to which he gave the name of "Kullyspell House" (probably a corruption of "Kalispel," the native name of the Pend d'Oreille tribe of Indians).

Thompson was an Englishman and had formerly been associated with the Hudson's Bay Company. He has been described as an educated, religious man, one who did not permit the hardships of frontier life to interfere with his study of the Bible, an accurate geographer and surveyor and honest in all his dealings with the Indians. Kullyspell House was occupied as a trading post for two seasons, when Donald Mackenzie, manager of the North-West Company, ordered Thompson to remove to a new and more favorable location near the present City of Spokane, Wash., where the "Spokane House" was built.


About the time David Thompson built the Kullyspell House Andrew Henry of the Missouri Fur Company was endeavoring to open up a trade with the Indian tribes of Western Montana. He attempted to establish a post at the junction of the three forks of the Missouri River, but was driven out by the Blackfeet Indians and returned to St. Louis, the headquarters of his company. The following season he again came into the Northwest, but this year he avoided the Blackfoot country. In the fall of 1810 he built Fort Henry on the stream still known as Henry's Fork of the Snake River. This post was located about ten miles southeast of the present City of St. Anthony, the county seat of Fremont County, and not far from where the little Village of Egin now stands. It consisted of two or three rude log buildings and was occupied by Henry and his companions for about a year, while they trapped and traded with the Shoshone Indians.

Fort Henry is given the credit by some writers of being the first trading post on any waters falling into the Columbia River, but this is a mistake as the Kullyspell House had been established at least a year sooner. It was, however, the first post on the Snake River or any of its tributaries. At the close of the trapping season in 181 1 it was abandoned by its founder, though in October of that year it was occupied for a short time by 'Wilson Price Hunt and his party, who were on their way to the Pacific coast. It then fell into the hands of the Indians and was dismantled.


The trading post known as Fort Hall, which was one of the most noted of the early trading establishments, was built by Nathaniel J. Wyeth in the summer of 1834. It may seem strange that the site of a post that won so much notoriety while it was in existence cannot be definitely located, but authorities differ widely on the subject. On a map made to accompany Chittenden's "History of the American Fur Trade," the fort is shown on the south side of the Snake River, a short distance below the mouth of the Blackfoot. The naturalist, John K. Townsend, who accompanied Wyeth on his expedition of 1834, and who kept a journal, writes on July 14th: "Captain Richardson and two others left us to seek a suitable spot for building a fort, and in the evening they returned with the information that an excellent and convenient place had been pitched upon, about five miles from our present encampment. The next morning we moved early and soon arrived at our destined camp. This is a fine large plain on the south side of the Port Neuf, with an abundance of excellent grass and rich soil." John C. Fremont, in his report of his expedition of 1844, mentions Fort Hall as being situated "nine miles above the mouth of the Port Neuf, on the narrow plain between that stream and the Snake River." Five years later (in 1849) Maj. Osborne Cross, quartermaster-general of the United States army, in his account of the march of a regiment of mounted rifllemen to Oregon, describes the fort as "having a large sally port, which fronts the Port Neuf, with its walls extending back towards the Snake River," which would indicate that the post was located somewhere near the junction of the two streams. Prof. C. J. Brosnan, in his "History of Idaho" (recently published) locates the fort "on the left bank of the Snake River, nine nailes above the mouth of the Port Neuf, northwest of the present City of Pocatello," a description which agrees in the main with that given by Fremont.

Old Fort Hall, as built by Wyeth, consisted of a stockade of cottonwood logs about fifteen feet in height and inclosing a space about eighty feet square. At diagonal corners were two bastions each eight feet square and provided with portholes for rifles. Inside the stockade were log huts for the accommodation of the men. In 1836 Wyeth sold the fort to the Hudson's Bay Company, by whom it was occupied until 1855. Major Cross, in his journal above referred to, describes the fort as follows: "It is built of clay, and much in the form of Fort Laramie. * * * There is a blockhouse at one of the angles and the buildings inside are built against the side of wall and are of the same materials. The place is occupied by Captain Grant, who has been here about fourteen years."

The change from the cottonwood stockade to adobe walls was made after the fort passed into the hands of the Hudson's Bay Company. During the Civil war the old fort was occupied for a time by United States troops. In 1869 an agreement between England and the United States was reached, by which the latter nation was to pay the Hudson's Bay Company "in gold coin or its equivalent" for its possessions in the Oregon Country, and soon after that old Fort Hall was abandoned, the Government having selected a site for a new Fort Hall in the northern part of the Bannock Indian Reservation, about ten miles east of the present City of Blackfoot.

Around Fort Hall cluster more historic associations and recollections than any other of the early posts of Idaho. Here on July 27, 1834, Rev. Jason Lee preached the first sermon ever dilevered within the present limits of the state, and here on August 5, 1834, the first United States flag was unfurled to an Idaho breeze from a flag-staff planted in the ground. Lewis and Clark no doubt carried the flag of their country with them on their expedition to the Northwest in 1804-06, but it remained for Captain Wyeth to erect a flag-staff at old Fort Hall, where the flag was hoisted and a salute fired at sunrise on Tuesday morning, August 5, 1834, nearly thirty years before Idaho was organized as a territory. For a number of years the fort was one of the principal stopping places on the Oregon Trail.


The first post of this name was built in 1834 by Thomas McKay of the Hudson's Bay Company as a competitor of Fort Hall. It was located on the Boise River, about ten miles above its mouth and was an active trading post until 1836, when Wyeth sold Fort Hall to the Hudson's Bay Company, after which that post was made the principal headquarters of the company in the Snake River Valley and Fort Boise became one of secondary significance. On Sunday, August 21, 1836, Rev. Henry H. Spalding preached at Fort Boise and the services held on that occasion are said to be the second regular religious services ever held in what is now the State of Idaho.

In 1838 the Hudson's Bay Company removed the fort to the east bank of the Snake River, a short distance below the mouth of the Boise. The first fort consisted of a few log cabins surrounded by a stockade, but after the removal to the Snake River better buildings were constructed and the post given a more permanent character. Instead of a stockade of logs, the outside wall was of adobe, about three or four feet in thickness, with a blockhouse at each corner. Inside the wall log houses were built along the walls for dwellings and storehouses, leaving an open square in the center. The main entrance was on the side next to the Snake River.

Maj. Osborne Cross, previously mentioned, left Fort Hall with his regiment of mounted riflemen on August 8, 1849, and on the 29th of that month arrived at Fort Boise (Cross spells is "Boisse" in his report). In his report he says: "We encamped on a small creek called Owyhee, about three-fourths of a mile from the post, which is on the opposite side of the Snake River and immediately upon its banks. The walls are of clay, with a sally port next to the Snake, and the buildings inside have the same arrangement as at Fort Hall. A man named Craige was then in charge, having been here about thirteen years."

Another man connected with old Fort Boise was Francis Payette, after whom the Payette River and the County and City of Payette were named. Old Fort Boise was one of the noted camping places on the Oregon Trail until the decline of the fur trade, when the post was finally abandoned.

Fort Boise by Brosnan


Scattered over the Northwest in the early years of the Nineteenth Century were a number of trading posts which bore the name of "forts." Most of these were established by the fur companies, though at times some of them were occupied by United States troops, and a few were actually established by authority of the Government. They were similar in character to Fort Hall and old Fort Boise a few log cabins surrounded by a stockade or an adobe wall. While none of these posts was within the present boundaries of Idaho, each played its part in the subjugation of the Indian tribes, and a few were the beginnings of some of the important cities of the Northwest.

Fort Owen, a Hudson's Bay Company post, was located on the Bitter Root River, only a few miles east of Idaho's eastern boundary, and a little southwest of the present City of Missoula, Mont. Some seventy miles north of Fort Owen was. Flatheat Post, which was established by the Astorians. Fort Cass was the first post located in the country of the Crow Indians and was shortly followed by Fort Van Buren, both established by the United States. Fort Piegan, another Government post, was established at the mouth of the Marias River in 183 1, to protect the trappers and traders from the hostile Gros Ventre tribe. Other Montana forts were Benton, Lewis, Three Forks, Sarpy, Jackson, Alexander, Lewis, Manuel and Mackenzie. Fort Walla Walla, on the Columbia River a few miles below the mouth of the Snake, was an important post in early days, as was Spokane House, located on the Spokane River where the City of Spokane now stands. Fort Okanagan, founded by the Astorians, was situated on the Columbia River at the mouth of the Okanagan, near the present Town of Pateros, Washington, and about one hundred miles farther up the Columbia was Fort Colville, from which the City of Colville and the Indian reservation take their names.

Trapping parties from all these posts came into the valleys of Idaho in quest of furs, and established friendly relations with the Indian tribes that inhabited the country, thus paving the way for the coming of the white men as permanent settlers.

John M. Silcott Born in London County VA, January 14, 1824; went to California around Cape Horn in 1849; was head mechanic in the erection of the buildings of the Nez Perce agency in Lapwai in 1860; died at Walla Walla, November 18, 1902 and buried on his homestead on Clearwater River opposite Lewiston Idaho.


In the spring of 1854 a company of Mormons came from Salt Lake City and undertook to form a settlement in the Lemhi Valley about twenty miles above the present City of Salmon. Fearing trouble with the Indians, they erected a stockade, to which they gave the name of Fort Lemhi, after a Nephite king mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The stockade was afterward replaced by a more substantial structure inclosing a space about two hundred and sixty feet on each side, and inside the walls they built their dwellings. The walls of the new fort were of adobe, four feet thick at the base, two feet thick at the top, and about nine feet in height. Fort Lemhi was built for defense rather than offense and was occupied for about three years, when the colony was ordered by Brigham Young, then the head of the Mormon Church, to return to Salt Lake City. The old adobe walls still remain partially standing and it is hoped efforts will be made in the near future to preserve the old landmark.


In 1860-61 miners and prospectors in the Clearwater country began to trespass on the lands of the Nez Perce Indians, which aroused the resentment of the tribe, especially that element which had never been satisfied with the terms of the treaty of 1855. A council was held at the Lapwai Mission in August, 1861, for the purpose of pacifying the Indians and at the same time, if possible, securing some agreement that would permit prospectors to go upon the Nez Perce lands. Looking Glass, the war chief of the tribe, was growing old and Eagle-of-the-Light, a young chief who was ambitious to succeed to the military command, voted for war. He was supported by a number of the younger braves, but the influence of Lawyer, the head chief, was strong enough to prevent war and the council adjourned without anything definite being accomplished.

Shortly after the adjournment of the council, the Government, in anticipation of trouble, sent Captain Smith's company of dragoons to Lapwai, ostensibly to prevent the miners from tresspassing on the Indian lands, but really to be on the ground in the event of an outbreak on the part of Eagle-of-the-Light and his followers. During the next year relations with the Indians continued unsatisfactory and in the fall of 1862 Col. D. W. Porter, of the First Oregon Cavalry, was ordered to establish a permanent military post in the Nez Perce country. The result of this order was that Fort Lapwai was built on the right bank of Lapwai Creek, about three miles above its junction with the Clearwater and some twelve miles east of Lewiston, on a reservation of one mile square.

The fort was garrisoned for the greater part of the time until the close of the Civil war by detachments of the First Oregon Cavalry. Several important conferences were held here with the Indians and at the time Chief Joseph began his hostilities in 1877, the fort was garrisoned by two companies of United States Cavalry, numbering about one hundred men. After the surrender of Joseph, Camp Howard was established near Mount Idaho and Fort Coeur d'Alene was established on the lake of that name. Fort Lapwai continued in existence for a short time after the establishment of the two new posts and was then abandoned. The Village of Lapwai, Nez Perce County, is near the site of the old fort of that name.


With the discovery of gold in the Boise Basin and the consequent rush to the "new diggins" some measure of protection against Indian hostilities was necessary. The war department therefore ordered Maj. Pinckney Lugenbeel, of the regular army, to the Boise Valley to select a site for a military post. Accompanied by two companies of United States Cavalry, he arrived at the site of Boise City on June 28, 1863, and went into camp on the south side of the Boise River a short distance below where the city now stands. A few days were spent in looking over the surrounding country and on July 5, 1863, he selected a site near the foot of the mountains and a small stream of water, where he established the post and gave it the name of Fort Boise, from the river only a short distance south. Concerning his selection of a location for the fort, the souvenir edition of the Boise Sentinel issued in June, 1897, says:

"Among other good reasons, doubtless this site for the military post was selected largely because of the marvelous beauty of the landscape here presented to the view. Looking southward from the narrow plateau upon which the officers' quarters at the barracks are situated, the eye wanders over the great Snake River sage plains to the magnificent range known as the Owyhee Mountains, which close the view in that direction. To the right from the point of observation, the view embraces the western course of the Boise River and of the valley, with its bright and verdant stretches of meadows, farms, orchards and forests of shade trees, while to the left and eastward the view is more abruptly closed by the neighboring mountain masses of the Boise River range."

That was written in 1897 and it should be borne in mind that at the time Major Lugenbeel selected the site for the post, the "bright and verdant stretches of meadows, farms, orchards and forests of shade trees" was only a vast expanse of arid country covered with sage brush with perhaps a few cottonwood trees along the river. The major, however, may have taken into consideration the possibilities of future development, as well as the natural advantages of the location for a military post. A reservation one mile wide by two miles long was laid out and the first fort was a substantial building of brown sandstone, with additional quarters for men and horses. The post was first known as Fort Boise, but as the city grew and was made the capital of the territory, still later the capital of the state, the Government made liberal appropriations for the equipment of a permanent post, which took the name of "Boise Barracks."

Troops were stationed here until about the beginning of the great World war in Europe in 1914, soon after which they were sent to other posts in the country. Part of the buildings of the Boise Barracks have been occupied by inmates of the Idaho Soldiers' Home since the fire which destroyed the main building of the state institution on October 7, 1917.


About the close of the Nez Perce war in 1877, Gen. W. T. Sherman made a tour of inspection of the -military posts of the Northwest and visited Northern Idaho among other parts of the country. Upon his recommendation the war department ordered the establishment of a military post on the north shore of Lake Coeur d'Alene and the next year the military reservation of 1,000 acres was platted, bordering on the lake and the Spokane River. Buildings were erected and in the spring of 1879 Col. H. C. Merriam arrived with troops for the first garrison.

The post was first known as Fort Coeur d'Alene, but after the death of General Sherman in 1891, the name was changed to Fort Sherman. Colonel Merriam remained in command of the post for about twenty years and when martial law was declared in Shoshone County in 1899, troops from Fort Sherman were ordered into the Coeur d'Alene mining districts to preserve order and protect the property of the mining companies. Orders for the abandonment of the fort had been issued before the Coeur d'Alene riots and the Idaho Legislature of 1899 sent a memorial to Congress asking that the grounds and buildings of the post be converted into a national soldiers' home. The petition was not granted, the troops were removed to Spokane in the fall of 1899, and the fort was formally abandoned in August, 1901. A large part of the old military reservation of Fort Sherman now constitutes one of the finest residential districts of the City of Coeur d'Alene.

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