Fort Hall, Bannock County, Idaho

There are many historical spots in the United States unmarked by a monument, but there are probably few cases on record of a monument searching for a vanished site. Such is the case of the stone pillar purchased by subscription to mark the original site of Fort Hall.

In 1906 Ezra Meeker traveled along the old Oregon Trail and raised money with which to mark the historical points along the route. One monument stands in the High School grounds at Pocatello. Another was purchased for erection on the Fort Hall site. A teamster was directed to carry it to its destination on the banks of the Snake river, twelve miles to the west of Pocatello, and this man deposited the monument at the dobies, that were once a stage station. Those in charge of placing the monument, being unable to certainly determine the original site of the fort decided to leave the pillar where it lay, until the old fort had been indisputably located. And there it still rests, and probably will remain for some time to come.

It is unfortunate that the most historical point in Bannock County and one of the most historical in the state of Idaho should have been lost sight of.

No effort will be made in this chapter to decide the question, because such an attempt would be little more than a guess. It seems not unlikely, indeed, that the original site has completely vanished.

Fort Hall was established in 1834 as a fur trading station by Captain Nathaniel Wyeth. The captain found himself unable to compete successfully with the Hudson Bay Company, which at that time operated in these parts, and in 1835 sold his interests to his rivals and returned to the east.

Here comes the first problem in locating the original site. The Hudson Bay Company is thought to have moved the fort. Who can tell whether the sites now pointed out were those of the first or second post? Some pioneers maintain that Fort Hall was moved three times before the sixties, while others maintain that some old ruins on the bank of the Snake, about one and a half miles above the Tilden bridge, are the first site. This spot is now overgrown with grass, but it is possible to detect the outlines of an old foundation, something over two hundred feet in length, and what appears to have been at one time rifle pits. Evidently it was the location of a large building, but whether or not of the first fort, who can tell? Joe Rainey, native interpreter at the present Fort Hall Indian reservation, maintains that this was the first site.

Other old-timers say that some dobies near the Snake River were a fort site, but Mr. J. N. Ireland of Pocatello, says that he built these himself and that they were a station on the old Overland stage road.

The old Oregon Trail, which extended for over two thousand miles, from St. Louis, Mo., to Portland, Oregon, divided at Soda Springs, in Bannock County, into two almost parallel courses, which met again at old Fort Boise. One of these followed the Portneuf River through the present sites of McCammon and Pocatello. The other followed a northwesterly direction from Soda Springs to old Fort Hall.

Many pioneers, in their description of the fort, as they first knew it, speak of a river that can be no longer found. Either its course has changed since the early days, or its name changed; perhaps both, which last condition would make it very difficult to identify the present stream with that of seventy-five years ago.

During pioneer days Fort Hall was one of the most important posts alone: the Oregon trail. It was the first point west of Fort Laramie, where travelers could rest securely under the protection of the flag, and where there was a garrison of soldiers to relieve them of all fear of sudden attack from the Indians. Here the weary and travel-stained pioneers, pushing on for the far-famed Oregon territory, found respite from their toils and dangers, and enjoyed once more the companionship of their own kind. Here, too, preparatory for the last, long march of their transcontinental journey, they repaired their wagons, and discarded such baggage as it had seemed wise to bring when starting, but which later experience proved to be only an encumbrance. An area of several acres around Fort Hall is said to have been covered with this debris, which was ransacked by the Indians and shorn of such parts as the red men wanted. Prof. W. R. Siders, superintendent of the Pocatello public schools, who has been interested for several years in the effort to locate the site of the original fort, and to whom the writer is indebted for very generous and valuable information, maintains that it Might to be possible to identify the Hudson Bay company’s fort by the rummage in its vicinity. He has examined the banks of the Snake River for several miles and been unable to unearth any such remains. This failure adds probability to the statement of old “Doc” Yandell, a trapper in early days, who still resides in these parts. Mr. Yandell says that some years ago he and Pete Weaver lived on the site of old Fort Hall, which was then on the banks of the ‘Snake river, and three quarters of a mile distant from a spring. In later years Mr. Yandell maintained that he could walk directly to the site of his former camp, but when he attempted to do so, he found that the Snake was flowing within three hundred yards of the spring that used to be three-quarters of a mile from its bank. It is probable that since his departure some spring flood had washed out a new channel for the river, thereby changing its course, and placing the old fort site under water. This might account for Prof. Siders’ failure to find the debris of which he was in search.

The name “Fort Hall” has experienced numerous vicissitudes, since it was first coined eighty years ago. The Hudson Bay Company received it from Captain Wyeth. When the Hudson Bay company sold its American rights to the United States government in 1863, the latter used the name to designate the military post which stood about sixteen miles northeast of the present agency. Here the government maintained a garrison of three companies of soldiers until about 1884 when the troops were withdrawn and the fort buildings used for Indian school purposes. When the school was moved to its present quarters, which were first occupied in 1904, the name went with it. Some of the old fort buildings were moved to the new site, and the remainder given to the Indians. Traces of the fort may still be seen.

The Oregon Short Line station at the reservation, originally called Ross Fork, has recently been changed to Fort Hall and the name is also used to designate the whole reservation.

The name Ross Fork, according to Interpreter Joe Rainey, was derived from an old man named Ross, who operated a ferry across the Snake River forty years ago. One or two old posts still mark the ferry site.

The Fort Hall Indian reservation for the Bannock Indians was established in July, 1868. In July of the previous year the government appointed a commission consisting of N. G. Taylor, Lieutenant General Sherman, IT. S. A., William S. Harney, John R. Sanborn. S. F. Tappen, A. H. Terry, and Brevet Major General C. C. Augur, U. S. A., to negotiate treaties with all hostile and non-treaty Indians, and if possible to settle them on reservations. The treaty made with the Bannock Indians states that they were to have “reasonable portions of the Portneuf and Kansas prairies.” There is no doubt that not “Kansas” but “Camas” was meant, the latter being a favorite resort of the Indians, where they gathered the tuberous Camas root, which they prized highly as a food! The mistake in the name must have been made by an interpreter, clerk or typesetter, and Mr. John Hailey says that the government officials understood the mistake, but threw open the Camas prairie for settlement by the whites. The Indians who signed this treaty on behalf of the Bannocks were Taggee, Tay-Toba, We-Rat-Ze-Won-A-Gen, Coo-Sha-Gan, Pan-Sook-A-Motse, and A-Mite-Etse. To them, no doubt, “Kansas” and “Camas” meant the same, but the mistake caused much trouble in later years.

The treaty was made July 3, 1868, ratified by the United States senate, February 16, 1869, and proclaimed by President Andrew Johnson, February 24, 1869.

The governor of Idaho was instructed by the authorities at Washington to have the proposed reservation surveyed, probably in accordance with the clause which provided “reasonable portions of the Portneuf and Kansas prairies.” The governor is said to have visited the Portneuf valley, and with a wave of the hand to have instructed the surveyor to “survey out a good-sized reservation around here for these Indians.” He then returned to Boise. As the surveyor was paid by the mile for his work, he ran the survey out to as many miles as possible. Consequently the reservation included twice as much land as was needed, but its limits were later curtailed. No notice was taken of the provision for a portion of the ”Kansas” prairie, but the Indian agent allowed his charges to fish, hunt and dig camas on the Camas prairie whenever they wished. The country now included in the Fort Hall reservation was at one time the scene of many Indian battles. A hundred years ago, when buffalo still roamed these parts, the Blackfoot Indians ranged along the river that now bears their name. This tribe was the archenemy of the Bannocks and Shoshones, who used to make raids into the enemy’s territory for the purpose of stealing their horses and cattle, and in turn to patrol their own demesnes when the enemy invaded them. An old squaw, said to have been more than a hundred years old. died on the reservation last year, who used to tell of a battle fought in her childhood between the Bannocks and Blackfeet that lasted four days.

On some of the higher buttes toward the north of the reservation there still stand stone pillars, built by the Indians. These were lookout posts, and most of them stand where a view of the country may be had for miles around. Here the spies watched the movements of their enemies and made signals to their friends. Usually the lookout lay behind the pillar and peered around its base, but sometimes he stood flat against its front. As the enemy gradually circled in one direction or another, the spy moved slowly around the pillar, always keeping his face toward those he was watching lest in the distance they should detect his form standing out from the pillar and take alarm.

The following statistics were very kindly furnished by Mr. Cato Sells, U. S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs: The Fort Hall Indian reservation contains 454.239 acres, of which 38,000 acres were irrigated by 140.37 miles of ditch in June, 1913.

The value of the property and funds on the reservation of the Indians is $4,551,711, or $1,103.97 per capita.

The crop raised by the Indians in 1913 were valued at $73,591, and during the same year they sold $51,520 worth of stock. These items, added to the receipts from other industries, made their total income for the year amount to $169,262.42.

The Indian population of the reservation, June 30, 1913, was 1,819. Of these, 273 were operating farms for themselves, 222 children were enrolled at the reservation school, and thirty were enrolled at the Episcopal Mission School of the Good Shepherd.

The largest ranch operated by an Indian contains 160 acres.

Only three crimes were committed by Indians during the year. Two arrests were made for drunkenness.

The most prevalent diseases among the Bannock Indians are tuberculosis and trachoma.

There are no longer any soldiers on the reservation, but a patrol of Indian police guards the public safety. These men are splendid types of their race. The delight of their lives is to arrest a white man.

There is an atmosphere of contentment on the reservation and goodwill between the Indians and government agents employed there that is a credit alike to red men and white. While most of the full-blooded bucks on the reservation wear thick braids of hair, most of them appear to be clean-shaven. Yet they seldom, if ever, use a razor. When their beards begin to come in, they pluck out the hairs, thereby solving the barber problem for all time.

In the government school, too, the air is one of wholesome contentment. No more cheering sight could be wished for than that of the Indian boys and girls chatting cheerily as they eat their bountiful dinner in the large, well-lighted, dining room of the government school. It is a pleasure to acknowledge here the unfailing and uniform courtesy the writer has always experienced on his visits to Fort Hall.

History of Bannock County, Idaho

Source: The History of Bannock County Idaho, By Arthur C. Saunders, Pocatello, Idaho. U. S. A., The Tribune Company. Limited, 1915

1 thought on “Fort Hall, Bannock County, Idaho”

  1. Many times my father, Reid Owen Hancock showed me and my kids where as a 12 year old boy scout, a stone monument was errected, and we were each shown WHICH STONE WAS HIS. The stone monument still stands today. A monument built in 1932.

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