Author Archives: Conrad Transportation and Historical Museum

A Town is Born: Conrad, Montana 1903-1909

Janice Farkell has updated Georgianna Borgen’s book,  A Town is Born: Conrad, Montana 1903-1930.  The original vintage photographs and newspaper clippings were located and reprinted with clarity!  The original text and page numbers are still in place, but additional pages were also added.  This is a great Christmas gift for anyone interested in history from Pondera County.  Contact Janice Farkell at if you would like a copy.  The proceeds go to help the Conrad Transportation and Historical Museum.


Thank-A-Vet Open House

You are invited to attend our open house from 6-8pm on Monday August, 14th, 2017.  Take a tour of our World War I Exhibit and learn about how local veterans gave their service over 100 years ago.  We encourage all Montana Veterans to attend, and for the public to come to thank them for their service! Contact Kristi Calvery at 450-1805 if you have anyone questions!

Whiskey Trade on the Whoop-Up Trail

Whiskey Trade on the Whoop-Up Trail

by Kristi Calvery
The Whoop-Up Trail, a regionally celebrated freight route from Fort Benton to Lethbridge in Alberta, reached its pinnacle in the 1870’s (Floerchinger 12). The Whoop-Up Trail passes through Pondera County about eighteen miles northeast of Conrad and was about 230 mile. According to a letter sent from artist Charlie Russell to Marlea Russell in 1923, the trail informally was dubbed Fort Whoop up when a trader from Fort Standoff traveling by Fort Hamilton to Fort Benton said he witnessed a large camp of Blackfeet Indians “Whooping it Up.” Camp Hamilton was thereafter known as Fort Whoop Up, and the Benton trail was cleped the Whoop-Up Trail because of the illegal whiskey sales taking place between Fort Benton and Lethbridge.
In the 1860’s-1870’s Fort Benton was the primary supply point to the undeveloped Canadian frontier. Supplies would arrive in Fort Benton on the steam boats then they were taken by bull and wagon northward. Although there was other legal merchandise, the illegal whiskey trade was the most profitable and lively element of the trade route. According to the Floerchinger (1968), Old freighters told of tapping the barrels when they camped and replacing the whiskey with water, so the content was diluted when it reached its final destination. Some of the beverages included pure alcohol thinned with water and other products like Hostetter’s Stomache Bitters and India ink. Additionally, “Whoop-Up Bug Juice, made of a combination of alcohol, ginger, molasses and red pepper spiced with chewing tobacco and boiled into “firewater,” was among the legendary products. A jug of bug juice could cost as much as two horses when supplies were tight” (Moulton 2007).
At first, law enforcement in the Montana Territory and in Canada was scarce and there were no consequences for trading illegal goods like whiskey and firearms. However, eventually complaints reached the Canadian Government and the North West Mounted Police were formed. These Mounties were able to shut down most of the illegal whiskey trade.
When the Great Falls and Canadian Railway started in the 1890’s, the Whoop-Up Trail became less important for trade. People began using the railway rather to ship merchandise rather than horse and wagon. However, it wasn’t the end of the Whoop- Up trail. When Prohibition started in 1919, the old route became revitalized and reversed. Bootleggers loaded Canadian liquor into cars and headed south.
Information for this article was gathered from the 1922 Whoop Trail Year Book, The Pondera History Book copyright 1968, and from Candy Moulton’s article “Whiskey-Runnin’ Whoop-Up Trail Linking Fort Benton, Montana, with Canada” in True West Magazine.

Conrad Museum will Host Traveling Exhibit on Women’s Suffrage in October

During Harvest Fest this year (the first week of October), the museum will be open to the public as we have a traveling exhibit from the University of Montana on Women’s Suffrage. Contact the museum for more information!

Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage in Montana

Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage in Montana
By Kristi Calvery
The year 2014 marks a celebration for Women’s Suffrage in Montana. It was a battle fought with passion for women like Ella Knowles, Adda Hamilton, and Jeanette Rankin. Against the odds, Adda Hamilton was elected the first County Superintendent in Gallatin County in 1884, even before women had the right to vote in school elections. This was just the beginning. Further rights were gladly forged when Ella Louise Knowles lobbied the legislature to be able to practice law in 1888. Knowles later became the first women delegate to a national convention. In 1889, women received the right to vote in school elections. However, tenacious women like Jeanette Ranking didn’t stop there. In 1911, she addressed the Montana State legislature saying, “We are asking for the same principle for which men gladly gave their lives in the revolutionary war. Taxation without representation is tyranny.” Her logic was since women represented half the population, they should be given half the representation. She also argued that because Montana was surrounded by other states which had already granted women the right to vote, it made sense to be next. In November 20, 1914, Women in Montana were given this significant right and used it advantageously; our state voted for the first woman, Jeanette Rankins, to be a member of Congress. When Jeanette Rankins was elected in 1916 she said, “I may be the first woman member of Congress but I won’t be the last.” Her dedication and passion are admired, as she paved the way for Montana women today.
Come into the Pondera Transportation and Historical Museum to Learn More! We are open 10-4 Monday-Friday and 1-4 on Saturdays.

New Display in 2014!

Next summer, the museum will be doing a display on “Notorious Criminals of Pondera County.” If you have any information about serious crimes that happened pre-1950s, then please contact us! 

Summer Camp at the Museum 2013

What: Blackfeet History, Literature, & Astronomy Hands on Activities

When: Thursdays 1-3  

Who: 3rd-6th Grade

Where: Conrad Transportation and Historical Museum  located on 4th Avenue

Contact Information: Kristi @ 278-0178


Visit our New Wedding Dress Display!

Come see how Wedding Dresses have changed in the past century and how local, state, and world events influenced weddings, as well as dress styles and materials. We have a dress from each decade starting in 1890’s going through 2000’s.

USS Pondera

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

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.