Fort Colvile

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Coordinates: 48°37′42″N 118°5′31″W / 48.62833°N 118.09194°W / 48.62833; -118.09194

Fort Colvile
Fur Trade Outpost
Indian camp at Fort Colvile by Paul Kane.
Company built:Hudson's Bay Company
Location:Kettle Falls, Washington
Continent:North America
Later Ownership:none

The trade center Fort Colvile (also Fort Colville) was built by the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) at Kettle Falls on the Columbia River in 1825 and operated in the Columbia fur district of the company. Named for Andrew Colville,[1] a London governor of the HBC, the fort was a few miles west of the present site of Colville, Washington. It was an important stop on the York Factory Express trade route to London via the Hudson Bay. The HBC for some time considered Fort Colvile second in importance only to Fort Vancouver, near the mouth of the Columbia, until the foundation of Fort Victoria.

Under the Treaty of 1818, the Great Britain and the United States of America both claimed rights to the Oregon Country. This contentious dispute for ownership of the land was ended by the Oregon Treaty of 1846. The boundary between British North America and the United States was extended to the Pacific Ocean on the 49th Parallel, with all of Vancouver Island considered British. During the gold rushes of the 1850s and 1860s, Fort Colvile in 1860 especially became an important centre for mining activity and supplies. Abandoned in June 1871,[2] some buildings stood until they burned in 1910.

The construction of Grand Coulee Dam resulted in the site being flooded in 1940, as was Kettle Falls. When Lake Roosevelt was drawn down for construction of Grand Coulee Dam's Powerhouse #3 in the late 1960s and early 1970, Fort Colvile and Kettle Falls were revealed. After archaeological work was performed by Washington State University and the University of Idaho, the Fort Colvile site was again inundated by Lake Roosevelt. In 1974, Fort Colvile was added to the National Register of Historic Places for its historic significance.[3]


It replaced Spokane House as a regional trading center, due to the latter being deemed to be too far from the Columbia River.[4] Governor Simpson considered the disuse of Spokane House to likely offend Spokane elders, and ordered for a dispersement of gifts among them.[1] The removal of the company property at Spokane House was moved to Fort Colvile in March 1826.[1] Simpson also gave instructions to Chief Factor John McLoughlin for "every possible exertion be used to be lay up an abundant stock of Fish and other provisions" due to limited capacity to send freight from Fort Vancouver.[1] Additionally Simpson stated that a station on Kettle Falls would be "a more desirable situation in regard to Farming, fish, provisions generally as also in respect to Trade..." than the Spokane House.[5]


During the 1820s, yearly purchases of furs rarely exceeded 20 blankets being sold.[6] Increased amounts of animal hides were gathered by Fort Colvile started with the "Flat Head brigade", which joined the Bitterroot Salish on their annual migrations past the Rocky Mountains.[6] A skirmish in 1829 between the Bitterroot Salish and inhabitants of Columbia Lake caused fears among HBC employees about the defenseless state of Fort Colvile[7] Additional employees were sent to erect a palisade and establish the mill during the Winter.[8]

The staff number for Fort Colvile fluctuated with the seasons. Operations commencing in the Spring required upwards of 30 employees during the 1830s.[7] Usually only five men were stationed there throughout Winter,[9] and if number was above that, McLoughlin would reassign the extra staff.[10] Spokane Garry was considered a prospective employee at the Fort until McLoughlin rejected the proposition.[11] ABCFM Missionaries established Tshimakain Mission in 1838 and developed ties to officers of Fort Colvile, then the closest white settlement in the area. After the Whitman Massacre, the missionary families of Elkanah Walker and Cushing Eells fled their station for the protection of the HBC trading post. Alex McLeod, born at the fort in 1854 recalled that "The trading post proper was a square enclosure. The store and warehouses were on the north side and Chief Trader McDonald's house was on the east side. The married employees, like my father, lived outside the inclosed post yard on the south and west sides."[12]

Agricultural operations at Fort Colvile were prominent, eventually supplying other interior posts with wheat, peas, flint corn and potatoes. The prairie the station was located on was deemed an "island of fertility" by visiting artist Paul Kane.[13] At its foundation 24 bushels of potatoes were sown, but over half was eaten by rodents.[1] The farm was able to produce enough crops to feed its staff and Fort Nez Perces in 1830. The harvest wasn't large enough to support the brigade of fur trappers head to the New Caledonia district, requiring shipments from Fort Vancouver.[14] 20 Native and White men labored on the farms in 1838, about two thirds of the total number of men kept at trade post.[15] The potato harvests had increased greatly in size compared to the initial sowing, in 1838 it was over 7,000 bushels.[16] Charles Wilkes of the United States Exploring Expedition found that farming was the primary focus of the establishment "for the whole of the northern posts depend upon Colville for supplies of provisions."[17] Salmon was easily procured when the seasonal runs were commenced. One pioneer recalled that Kettle Falls men would "put large wicker baskets below the falls and raised them up three times a day, always filled with fish."[12]

Later years[edit]

After the signing of the Oregon Treaty of 1846, Fort Colvile was south of the 49th parallel and therefore within American claimed land. The Hudson's Bay Company founded Fort Shepherd, just north of the new boundary, as a surrogate location secure on British territory. They continued some operations at Fort Colvile for a few years longer. While traveling through in 1853, Washington Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens described Fort Colvile as:

The buildings consist of a dwelling house, three or four store-houses, and some smaller buildings, used as blacksmith shops, etc., all of one story and constructed of squared logs. The whole was once surrounded by a stockade, forming a square of about 70 yards on each side. This has been removed, except on the north side, where it encloses a narrow yard containing offices. One bastion remains. About 30 yards in the rear of this square are the cattle yards, hay sheds, etc., enclosing a space of 40 by 60 yards, roughly fenced in, and the sheds covered with bark. On the left of the front are seven huts, occupied by the lower employes [sic] of the company. They are of rude construction, and much decayed. On the right of the square, in the rear, at a distance of a few hundred yards, are three more buildings, used for storing produce.[18]

In 1859 the Palliser Expedition reunited in Fort Colvile and proceeded down the Columbia River, after having explored much of what is now western Canada, from the Great Lakes to Lake Okanagan. The mill maintained at the fort was sold in 1865.[2] Early settlers surrounding Colvile were often French-Canadians formerly in the employ of the HBC.[2] At social occasions held at their former station, "would drink whisky [sic] and brandy and sing old songs or tell tales of hunting experiences."[12] Such outings were found to be composed of "the lighthearted trapper with his gaudy moccasins and leggings, through all shades of colour to the dusky hue of the Indians".[2]


Manager Position Tenure
John W. Dease Chief Trader 1825-1829[19]
Francis Heron Chief Trader 1829-1831[19]
Francis Ermatinger Clerk 1831-1832[19]
Francis Heron Chief Trader 1833-1835[19]
Archibald McDonald Chief Trader 1835-1842[19]
Archibald McDonald Chief Factor 1842-1844[19]
Francis Ermatinger Chief Trader 1844-1846[19]
Paul Fraser Chief Trader 1845-1846[19]
Peter Skene Ogden Chief Factor 1846-1849[19]
John Lee Lewes Chief Trader 1846-1848[19][20]
Alexander C. Anderson Chief Trader 1849-1853[19][21]
Augustus Pelly Chief Trader 1853-1854[19]
George Blenkinsop Chief Trader 1857-1859[22]
Angus McDonald Clerk 1856-1871[19]
J. W. McKay Chief Trader 1871[19]

See also[edit]

Map of the route of the York Factory Express, 1820s to 1840s. Modern political boundaries shown.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Lewis, S. William. Information concerning the Establishment of Fort Colvile. The Washington Historical Quarterly 16, No. 2 (1925), pp. 102-107
  2. ^ a b c d Barman, Jean and Bruce M. Watson. Fort Colvile's Fur Trade Families and the Dynamics of Race in the Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 90, No. 3 (1999), 140-153.
  3. ^ Currents and Undercurrents:, An Administrative History of Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, National Park Service
  4. ^ John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company establishes Fort Spokane in 1812 Essay 5101
  5. ^ Gibson, James R. Farming the Frontier, the Agricultural Opening of the Oregon Country 1786-1846. Vancouver, B.C.: University of British Columbia Press. 1985, p. 43.
  6. ^ a b McLoughlin, John and Burt Brown Barker. Letters of Dr. John McLoughlin, written at Fort Vancouver 1829-1832. Portland: Binfords & Mort. 1948, p. 68
  7. ^ a b McLoughlin and Barker (1948), p. 95
  8. ^ McLoughlin and Barker (1948), p. 68
  9. ^ McLoughlin and Barker (1948), p. 193
  10. ^ McLoughlin and Barker (1948), p. 281
  11. ^ McLoughlin and Barker (1948), p. 293
  12. ^ a b c Work Projects Administration. Told by the Pioneers, Volume 1. Olympia: Washington Pioneer Project, 1937.
  13. ^ Kane, Paul. Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts. 1859, p. 306
  14. ^ McLoughlin and Barker (1948), pp. 131-132
  15. ^ Gibson, James R. Farming the Frontier, the Agricultural Opening of the Oregon Country 1786-1846. Vancouver, B.C.: University of British Columbia Press. 1985, p. 45.
  16. ^ Gibson (1985), p. 45.
  17. ^ Wilkes, Charles. Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, Volume IV, New York City: G. P. Putnam and Co., 1856, p. 455.
  18. ^ Reports of explorations and surveys, to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Vol. 1. Washington D.C.: Severely Tucker. 1855, p. 420.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Watson, Bruce McIntyre. Lives Lived West of the Divide: A Biographical Dictionary of Fur Traders Working West of the Rockies, 1793-1858. Kelowna, B.C.: Centre for Social, Spatial and Economic Justice of the University of British Columbia. 2010, p. 1061. ISBN 978-0-9810212-7-0.
  20. ^ Drury, Clifford M. First White Women Over the Rockies Diaries, Letters, and Biographical Sketches of the Six Women of the Oregon Mission who made the Overland Journey in 1836 and 1838 Vol II Mrs. Elkanah Walker and Mrs. Cushing Eells. Glendale, CA: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1963.
  21. ^ Anderson, Nancy Marguerite, The Pathfinder, 2011, Victoria, British Columbia, Heritage House Publishing Company, Ltd.
  22. ^ Watson (2010), p. 205.