Monthly Archives: May 2012
Some of the most interesting history is still not available by a quick search on Google. Much of local history is either in old trunk waiting to be found, buried in public record, or preciously stowed in the minds of those who lived through era. Luckily, in Pondera County our local museum showcases some of the most interesting facts that you cannot learn in school or by searching the internet. One of the fascinating facts I recently learned by visiting the museum, is that Pondera County had a naval ship named after the county because of its top sales in the course of the War Bond Drive during WWII. Pondera was the first county to top its quota in the 5th War Loan Drive, and it was among the top ranking in all other drives and sales of war bonds. The USS Pondera, APA-191, was a Haskell-class attack transport, and it had the capacity to transport 1500 men each trip, along with their combat gear, to hostile shores. The ship was ready for launching on July 27th, 1944, and was commissioned on September 24th of 1944. The ship stayed commissioned until June of 1946 and eventually scrapped in 1974. Come visit the Pondera Transportation and Historical Museum to learn more about our distinctive local history.
Fort Conrad has left behind only traces of its existence. There are no remains or known pictures, and its location has been washed away by the Marias River. All that is left is the stories and descriptions of the few people who built and operated it.
In 1875, the I.G. Baker Company, which established Fort Benton and Fort St. Louis, decided to build a trading post on the Marias River near the mouth of the Dry Fork. It was named Fort Conrad after Charles E. Conrad, whom was a member of the firm and became the fort’s manager. It was never used as a military base, but rather as a trading post with the Blackfeet Indians, and a stopping point along the Whoop UP Trail.
James Willard Schultz, who lived at Fort Conrad for several years with his Indian wife, Natahki, described the fort fondly, “Fort Conrad! What memories I have of it- the busy days of trade, the quiet peace, the stirring adventures there and thereabout in the long ago days of the buffalo. A well patronized trading post for the Blackfeet Indian tribes, it stood on a high south bank of the Marias River close above the mouth of its Dry Fork, eighty miles north-west of Fort Benton, then the metropolis of the Montana Territory.” The fort’s description is not what most people would picture. It was two long rows of connecting long buildings, paralleling the river, and about 50 feet apart. Schultz said there were also stables, an office, a trade room, a warehouse, and living quarters.
When the fort was built in 1875, Charles Conrad also established a ferry crossing for wagons and freight traveling on the Fort MacLeod-Fort Benton road. The ferry crossing proved to be very useful and travel increased in the late 1870s. The Whoop Up Trail was crucial to Fort Conrad’s existence. Because the Whoop Up Trail was 230 miles long, Fort Conrad was a main stopping point. Bull drawn wagons would only travel about 12 miles a day. Trading supplies were brought from Fort MacLeod in Canada to Fort Conrad and sold at a high price. The Indians traded furs for fabric, ammunition, tobacco, illegal whiskey, food, and clothing. According to Schultz’s account, everything sold at the post went for better than 100 percent profit.
A band of outlaw Indians burned down Fort Conrad while it was still in operation in 1888. The reason was never historically recorded. Allegedly someone from the fort took a sacrificed spotted buffalo robe from the medicine rock above the north side of the fort, which made the Blackfeet angry. The fort was never rebuilt, because the narrow gage railroad that ran from Lethbridge in Canada to Great Falls, Montana came in 1889 and changed the way supplies were shipped.
In July 1935, when Lavern and Vivian Keil were ready to be married, they were stunned to find out they were unable obtain a marriage license. A glitch in a new Montana law required a physical examination and promissory doctor’s signature guarantying that neither person entering into the marriage would ever get a venereal disease. No doctor would dare sign such a document because of the repercussion that could be faced! After research and advice, the legal solution was a marriage contract, and so the marriage was able to go on regardless of the flustering law. The official contract was signed and sealed by O.W. Nelson, Notary Public for the State of Montana and was one of the few marriage contracts in Pondera County during the three months the law was in effect. Their marriage contract is just one of the interesting pieces of history from Pondera County that you will see and learn about when you visit the Conrad Transportation and Historical Museum this summer