Fort Colville

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For Fort Colville (US Army), see Fort Colville (US Army).
Fort Colvile
Fur Trade Outpost
Indian camp at Fort Colvile by Paul Kane.
Constructed: 1825
Company built: Hudson's Bay Company
Location: Kettle Falls, Washington
Continent: North America
Later Ownership: none
Abandoned: 1870

The trade center Fort Colvile (also Fort Colville) was built by the Hudson's Bay Company 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 Hudson's Bay Company, 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 Hudson Bay. The HBC considered Fort Colvile second in importance only to Fort Vancouver, near the mouth of the Columbia.

Under the Treaty of 1818, the United Kingdom of 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 1870, 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 Colville 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.[2]


It replaced Spokane House as a regional trading center, due to the latter being deemed to be too far from the Columbia River.[3] 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 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]


During the 1820s, yearly purchases of furs rarely exceeded 20 blankets being sold.[4] Increased amounts of animal hides were gathered by Fort Colville started with the "Flat Head brigade", which joined the Bitterroot Salish on their annual migrations past the Rocky Mountains.[4]

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[5] Additional employees were sent to erect a palisade and establish the mill during the Winter.[6]

The staff number for Fort Colville fluctuated with the seasons. Operations commencing in the Spring required upwards of 30 employees during the 1830s.[5] Usually only five men were stationed there throughout Winter,[7] and if number was above that, McLoughlin would reassign the extra staff.[8] Spokane Garry was considered a prospective employee at the Fort until McLoughlin rejected the proposition.[9]

Agricultural operations at Fort Colville were prominent, eventually supplying other interior posts with wheat, peas, flint corn and potatoes. 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.[10]

As Fort Colvile was south of this, 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. 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.

Managers of the fort[edit]

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 Estabishment of Fort Colvile. The Washington Historical Quarterly 16, No. 2 (1925), pp. 102-107
  2. ^ Currents and Undercurrents:, An Administrative History of Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, National Park Service
  3. ^ John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company establishes Fort Spokane in 1812 Essay 5101
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ a b McLoughlin and Barker (1948), p. 95
  6. ^ McLoughlin and Barker (1948), p. 68
  7. ^ McLoughlin and Barker (1948), p. 193
  8. ^ McLoughlin and Barker (1948), p. 281
  9. ^ McLoughlin and Barker (1948), p. 293
  10. ^ McLoughlin and Barker (1948), pp. 131-132
  11. ^ a b c d e f g 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.
  12. ^ Watson, 2010, p. 455
  13. ^ a b Watson, 2010, pp. 638-639
  14. ^ 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, 1963, Glendale, California, The Arthur H. Clark Company.
  15. ^ Anderson, Nancy Marguerite, The Pathfinder, 2011, Victoria, British Columbia, Heritage House Publishing Company, Ltd.
  16. ^ Watson, 2010, p. 205