Fort Hall

Fort Hall, sitting athwart the end of the common stretch shared by the three far west emigrant trails was a 19th century outpost in the eastern Oregon Country, which eventually became part of the present-day United States, and is located in eastern southern Idaho near Fort Hall, Idaho. Though now well in the United States, it was once taken over and operated during the Oregon boundary dispute by the British Hudson's Bay Company. Fort Hall was constructed as a commercial venture, situated on the Snake River north of present-day Pocatello, Idaho. It became an important stop in the 1840s and 1850s for an estimated 270,000 emigrants along the Oregon Trail and California Trail, which diverged west of the fort.

Prelude, the Fur Trade

The idea for the fort arose in 1832, as a business venture conceived by Mountain man−fur trapper Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth and 70 other men when they heard about the South Pass route to the Oregon Country, and knew the route connected to Oregon places and trails they already knew well. In the aftermath of the Rendezvous of 1832, trappers dodging south of any possible Amerindian war parties via an easy to negotiate series of valleys accidentally discovered Pacific Springs, Wyoming and the South Pass leading back to the North Platte River valley — the key element in connecting the east by a wagon road to the rich pickings in the Oregon Country. The Platte Rivers were well known and traveled, the road used for the first 500 miles (800 km) from the Missouri River fur ports at Independence and St. Joseph, Missouri, or the money men and field bosses at Saint Louis..!

The previously used common route (An Amerindian trail first used by white men as part of Lewis and Clark's trip in 1803-1806) into Oregon. Because of the frequent obstacles, ones requiring extra "mule skinners" running the mules which couldn't be rigged into long strings of tens of animals placidly following one after another, but had to keep short strings for the frequent turns and switchbacks needed drovers to space the costly animals.

They planned to journey to a pre-scheduled trappers' rendezvous (Rendezvous of 1833) at a meadow around Hams Fork, (near present day Granger, WY) where they would sell goods to mountain men and fur trappers. They planned to use the profits from the rendezvous to establish a fishery on the Columbia River, exporting salmon to New England and Hawaii. The Columbia River post was the short-lived Fort William.

Old Fort Hall (1834-1856)

The business venture proved to be troublesome. After arriving at the rendezvous, Wyeth and his men found that their goods sold poorly, and the competition from the large fur companies was significant, depressing their net profits to disappointing levels and sticking them with a costly investment now as unsold stock. The big fur companies sponsored and sent platoons or companies of men annually with a hierarchy of managing company agents organizing the fair-like rendezvous.

As a back-up plan, they traveled west in the fall of 1833 some hundreds of miles to the Snake near the mouth of the Portneuf and constructed the wooden storehouses at Fort Hall preparing to winter in the mountains and to sell off their excess goods. Wyeth named the fort after a major investor in the enterprise, Henry Hall, a partner of the Boston firm Tucker & Williams & Henry Hall. Unsurprisingly, Hall never left the comforts of civilized Boston and traveled west to the hard frontier. The fort was palisaded and completed on July 31, 1834, the only U.S. outpost in the Oregon Country at that time. Because of the Oregon boundary dispute, the region was open to settlement and economic activity, but not any formal claim, by both the United States and Great Britain. In practice, the Hudson's Bay Company maintained an effective monopoly on all trade in the region, resorting to dirty tricks to shut out the independent trapper-trader mountain men and cutting severely into the profit margins of the larger American overland fur trading companies — mostly organized in Saint Louis — and regularly together with other big outfits, providing so much competition that new companies regularly failed in their first half decade.

Wyeth and the Columbia

When Fort Hall was completed, Wyeth continued toward the Columbia River with other members of his company. They encountered Methodist missionary Jason Lee on his way to start the Methodist Mission at Fort Walla Walla on the Columbia River. Once Wyeth reached the lower Columbia he built Fort William to serve as the 'envisioned' regular rendezvous point on the Columbia. The HBC had been working the Snake country for years, and with the support of Fort Boise were able to drive Wyeth's company out of the region and force them to sell Fort Hall to the HBC. Ironically, furs were already becoming scarce due to over trapping and exploitation, so Wyeth's efforts were already doomed to fail.

Old Fort Hall 1837-1846

In August 1837 Wyeth sold the fort to the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), which controlled most of the fur trade in the Oregon Country (known to them as the Columbia District or the Columbia Department) from their headquarters at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia. Emigrants who arrived at the fort were shown the abandoned wagons of those who had come before them and who had continued westward with their animals on foot. The British didn't want American pioneers in Oregon, so, under British rule, Fort Hall actively discouraged pioneers. Asahel Munger, a missionary in Idaho and Oregon in 1839, found few supplies at Fort Hall.

Other major trapper-traders company agents like William Sublette who established Fort William (in 1833, 1838 renamed Fort John, then Fort Laramie in c. 1850) at the foot of the trail leading to the South Pass at the confluence of the Laramie River with the North Platte had opined in correspondence 'the fur trade in the Columbia Basin wasn't what it used to be, the best areas were gone and the business was headed for hard times' (paraphrased).

The Oregon Migration begins in earnest

In 1843, Dr. Marcus Whitman, a missionary who had established a mission near present-day Walla Walla, Washington, led a wagon train westward from the fort, despite pressures from the British. His reports, when received back east amidst the country-wide expansionist mindset of true believers in Manifest Destiny started a growing flood of settlers increasing in numbers year by year, and all were reinforced by the Presidential politics with slogan's like "Fifty-Four-Forty or Fight" — the battle cry of Democrats demanding an settlement of the Oregon Question far north of today's border between the United States and Canada. The election years slogan's and bad press, Democratic hawks controlling the U.S. legislatures, the failing fur market demand, and finally the declaration of war by Mexico over the annexation of their rebel state of Texas all had an accelerating effect greasing the diplomatic wrangling and finally putting an Administration Sponsored treaty before the Senate which set the current boundary, where it was quickly adopted under the wartime congressional session. No one saw any reason to embarrass their own parties President and fighting two wars in widely different theaters was nonsensical. The treaty triggered an explosion of settlers heading west in 1846 and the Mormon Exodus had already begun in Illinois and Missouri. Now the Army would send patrols and safeguard the road.

In the following years the number of wagon trains grew sharply and the fort became a welcome stop along the trail for thousands of emigrants. It also remained an important trading post for mountain men and the Native Americans of the region, in particular the Shoshone.

In 1846, following the Oregon Treaty, Fort Hall fell within the boundaries of the United States. From 1849 to 1850, a Federal military camp, Cantonment Loring, was located three miles downriver from Fort Hall. It was intended to protect the Oregon Trail, but was abandoned due to supply difficulties. Instead expeditions to guard the trail (and receiving supplies by sea and the fertile farms of the rapidly growing Williamette Valley) were dispatched from Oregon to Fort Hall during each summer after 1855.

Civil War 1863-1866

Abandoned, and later occupied briefly by the Volunteer soldiers of the Union Army. Flood waters washed away the Old Fort Hall in 1863. Fort Hall was rebuilt in 1864, on Spring Creek just north of the original Fort Hall. Remnants of the old fort were used to construct this fortified stage station. The following year, the site was abandoned and the Volunteer troops moved to Camp Lander until 1866. It was located three miles southeast of the original Fort Hall, at the junction of the Salt Lake and Boise Roads.

A replica the original Fort Hall was constructed in the 1960s in Pocatello and is now operated as a public museum. The original site is located 11 miles west of the town of Fort Hall in the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.

New Fort Hall

On May 27, 1870, another military Fort Hall was erected on Lincoln Creek, 12 miles east of the Snake River and about 25 miles northeast of the old Fort Hall. Captain James Edward Putnam and a company of U.S. Army soldiers built the new Fort Hall in 1870. Army soldiers stationed there were assigned to protect stagecoach and other travelers. After it was abandoned on June 11, 1883, the barracks were turned over to the Indian Service and used as an Indian school. The buildings were eventually relocated to Ross Fork Creek.

It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961.