Stepping Back in Time to Visit the Fort Connah Trading Post

By MAGGIE PLUMMER

I love going to the old Fort Connah trading post that still stands by Post Creek, north of St. Ignatius. So many people around here drive by it on highway 93 their whole lives, yet have never heard of Fort Connah.

Even though it’s not far from the busy highway, the valley and mountains seem different from there. The land feels more serene, timeless, and regal as you picture how it must have been in the 1840s, when Angus McDonald finished building the trading post. It’s the oldest standing building in the state of Montana.

If you’ve never been to the historic site, I recommend going to the occasional rendezvous events held there by the Fort Connah Restoration Society.

Fort Connah. Photo courtesy of the Fort Connah Restoration Society.The last time I went to one of those rendezvous, the spring weather was terrible. Cold, windy, wet. But somehow the wicked elements contributed to the scene, which seemed more authentic than ever, the lofty Mission peaks lost in white clouds, the hardy mountain-men-types building bigger, hotter fires than usual, their womenfolk sewing or cooking cornbread in dutch ovens, visitors huddling in the rough-hewn logbuildings.

People chatted around fires, purchased historical books and old-time merchandise, practiced archery, juggled knives, played bagpipes, drummed, ate, and camped in teepees or old canvas tents next to the old trading post.

Author Cate Turner-Jamison introduces Fort Connah like this:

            “The early spring morning has draped the mountains in a veil of cloud, casting a curtain across the rugged peaks, one of which bears the name McDonald. But shafts of light break free, warming the frosted yard surrounding a seemingly common log construct, one of many such buildings abandoned in cattle pastures here. Fog swirls around one of the oldest known structures in Montana this morning, rising like ghosts from the ground.
It must have been about fall, in 1847, when fur-trader Angus McDonald and his family traveled north to Fort Flathead (Saleesh House) near present-day Thompson Falls. There they found Neil McArthur in charge of a well-kept Hudson Bay Co. (HBC) post, and at some point, perhaps over a bottle of cognac, the plan to move the outpost emerged.

Fort Connah. Photo courtesy of the Fort Connah Restoration Society.There had been skirmishes, and perhaps the two men were considering safer circumstances, or, perhaps, they simply sought better trading ground for their native clients. Likely the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai tribes helped to decide the matter, placing the new site roughly 20 miles east in what would one day be called the Mission Valley, a lush vale of glacial moraine and stunning views.
MacArthur set forth quickly, leaving Fort Flathead in the reliable hands of McDonald, and began work right away. The following spring, with snow still in the mountains, McDonald and his family arrived at the partly constructed post and Angus took up his pen. ‘Here there was begun by MacArthur, and finished by me, the last post established by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the territories of the United States.’ Initially the post was named Connen, after the Scottish River, but local dialects quickly softened the word to Fort Connah.”

Next time, I hope to go to the rendezvous earlier, stay the whole day, eat the goodies they have for sale, and absorb even more of that historical ambience.

You can find out more details about the Fort Connah Rendezvous on the Fort Connah Resoration Society’s website or by visiting the Crown of the Continent’s Website.

 

How to get there from Missoula:  Mileage: 58.2 miles; Drive Time: 1 hour 9 minutes.

Directions to Fort Connah from Missoula, MT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

****************

See the archive of all of Maggie Plummer’s Blogs.

 

****************

Maggie Plummer is a writer and editor who lives in Polson with her black lab Peaches. She likes to write about anything and everything. In fact, Maggie has just published her first novel about an unusual topic – 1650s Irish slavery in the Caribbean. Entitled Spirited Away – A Novel of the Stolen Irish, the book is available on Amazon.com in trade paperback and Kindle editions. Maggie’s author page.