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Montana Forts of the Old West - Page 7

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Robert Campbell and William SubletteFort Van Buren (1835-1842) - Established 1835 by Samuel Tulloch for the American Fur Company, it was named for President Martin Van Buren. Built on the right bank of the Yellowstone River near the mouth of the Tongue River, it operated for several years before Charles Larpenteur burned the post in 1842 before building Fort Alexander. It was thought to have been located near Rosebud, Montana.


Fort William (1833-1836) (1858-1866) - Established in August, 1833 by William Sublette and Robert Campbell, this trading post was located at the mouth of the Yellowstone River about 2.4 miles east of Fort Union, North Dakota. In April, 1834, the men sold the site to the American Fur Company and abandoned the location. The new company kept the trading post in operation until 1836, when they closed it. The site then became a storage depot and livestock pen for Fort Union until demolished in the 1840's. In 1842, the Union Fur Company, a competitor of the American Fur Company, built another trading post about one-half mile east of the remains of Fort William. The new trading post, called Fort Mortimer, operated until 1846, when it was bought out by the American Fur Company. Years later, the American Fur Company would establish a second Fort William at the site of the former Fort Mortimer in 1858. Built of adobe, the fort operated until 1866. It was then dismantled and the salvaged material utilized to build Fort Buford, North Dakota.


Judith Landing - A recreation area located between Winifred and Big Sandy, Montana today, this place has a long history of early exploration. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Historic District in 1975. Among the many events identified within this Historic District are a Corps of Discovery campsite, May 28, 1805; Fort Chardon Trading Post, 1844-1845; Isaac Stevens 1855 Lame Bull Treaty; Camp Cooke (first military post in Montana), 1866-1870; PN Cable Ferry, 1880-1908. On the south side of the river at Judith Landing, the entire river bottom was once part of a large, open-range cattle spread founded by T.C. Power, merchant prince of Fort Benton, and John Norris, who managed the ranch for the company. Today, the recreation area provides a campground and is a common take-out point for many boaters along the Missouri River.


Kootenai Post (1808-1811) - This trading post was established in 1908 for the North West Company near Libby, Montana. Ti was relocated upstream three years later, near Jennings.


Lewis and Clark Fort (1810) - Also referred to as Three Forks Post, this short lived trading post was established in April, 1810 by Andrew Henry and Pierre Menard. Guided to the Three Forks of the Missouri Riverby John Colter, it was located between the  Madison and Jefferson Rivers. The post was surrounded by a 200' square stockade.  It was abandoned in the fall of 1810 because of Indian harassment. The site was first mentioned as a possible site of a fort by Lewis and Clark in their journals.


Reed and Bowles Trading Post

Reed and Bowles Trading Post


Reed's Fort (1873-1880) - This trading post was established by Alonzo S. Reed and John Bowles to capitalize on the trade along the old Carroll Road between Helena and Crow Island at the mouth of the Musselshell River. Reed, who had earlier served four short months as an Indian agent at the Milk River Agency in 1870, went by the title of "Major," though it is doubtful he ever served in any true military capacity. While serving his brief time as an Indian agent, he was dismissed for misconduct which included trafficking in alcohol and firearms, stealing agency property, including cattle, falsifying sales receipts, and trading agency items to the Indians for furs. He was also accused of killing an Assiniboine Indian. Though he was dismissed; he was not charged with any criminal activities, though, clearly he was involved with them. Later, when he and John Bowles opened their trading post, which was often referred to as the Reed and Bowles Trading Post, the pair acted no better.


Having a reputation of readily accepting gunfire as the accepted method of ending any arguments, they quickly gained a rough reputation throughout the territory. However, as the only post situated between Martinsdale and Carroll, a distance of around 150 miles, travelers, traders and hunters had little other choice when needing supplies. During this time, the post's main 

business consisted of trading with Indians, chiefly in low grade liquor. Although selling liquor to the Indians was outlawed by the Federal government, the post was about 100 miles beyond the reach of any law authority, and the two men happily continued on with their profitable trade. In 1880, when numerous people began to settle in what would later become Lewistown, Reed took up new land and established another trading post nearer to the population. Soon, there were

"settlements," one which Reed called Reedsfort, and another trading post just mile away called Fort Janeaux, operated by Francis Janeaux, a popular trader with the Metis people who had settled the area. Within no time Janeaux and Reed became intense rivals for the trade of area residents, which numbered less than 100. Reed established the first post office in 1881, which was officially called "Reedsfort."


However, one area resident named Dr. L. A. Lapalme, who was a a friend of Janeaux's and disgruntled with the mail service  began to circulate a petition for a new post office. Charging Reed "with gross neglect of his duties and some irregularities," it was known the Reed's parner, John Bowles, would simply put all the mail in a box that was placed on the floor in the corner of a room. When residents came into to get their mail, they were forced to sort through all the mail to find their own. One local resident named David Hilger would late say that "Reed was one angry postmaster when he read those charges!" Hilger would also say that Reed had confronted him when he found out that Hilger had signed the petition and Hilger "immediately envisioned a new mound in Major Reed's private cemetery." After some fast talking, Hilger finally convinced Reed that he had not read the petition that he had signed and Reed let him go unharmed. The post office also served a wide area surrounded by

Fort Maginnis, Judith Gapo and Philbrook. During the winter of 1881-1882, the mail was only delivered three times.


Either Lapalme's petition worked or Reed finally gave up, as he sold his holdings to Frank Day in 1882, who became the new postmaster. The following year, the post office name was changed to Lewistown. By 1890, the building was included in the county poor farm property. The old post office/trading post  was saved by Lewistown residents and today continues to stand in a park in Lewistown.


Saleesh House (1809-1824) - Established in 1809 by David Thompson for the North West Company, this trading post was located two miles east of Thompson Falls, on the Clarks Fork River just below its junction with the Thompson River. In 1824 it was moved to a site near Eddy, Montana, was renamed Flathead Post, and was operated by james McMillan and Ross Cox.




Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated January, 2011.


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