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.