4000 Buffalo Robes

   By Carol Mobley
   The old west wasn’t that long ago. Montana Territory was established in 1864 and became a state in 1889, only 129 years ago. Personal letters and other documents tell the story of the taming of Montana Territory. Living conditions were harsh and many people lived in fear of Native Americans.
   One such personal letter was recently found. It was a letter from Chas G Fish, Agency Clerk at Ft. Belknap M.T. (Montana Territory), to his friend Albert Frost, Attorney in Wisconsin. The letter is written in the late 1870’s, most likely after Sitting Bull fled to Canada after the Battle of Little Big Horn. W.L. Lincoln was the Indian Agent at Fort Belknap. Thomas O’Hanlon was the agent of T.C. Power & Bro. at Ft Belknap, M.T in 1878.    Here is the letter, consolidated for content:
   Friend Albert, Yours of Dec 14th received some days ago and I can assure you I was glad to hear from you for as you say we are exiles in the full sum of the word to have been without mail for six weeks at a time during the winter but of late we have received mail often.
   I will give prices of a few articles as sold at Fort Belknap; Sugar 30c per lb, Carbon Oil 1.00 per gal, Flour 10.00 per cnt, Prints 25c per yard, Oats 6c per pound, Potatoes 17c per pound…. All Indian Tradership is a very good business……. O’Hanlon the Trader at Belknap has now about 4000 Buffalo Robes and other pelts of all kinds. He tells me his clean-up for the year’s work will amount to about $8000 how is that for business. I have helped him some but can’t say that I like to trade with Indians would rather dish up Uncle Sam Grub.    Montana’s buffalo population was the last to be decimated by hunting. Bison by the thousands were killed and skinned and the rest left to rot on the plains. By 1884 less than 100 robes were shipped from Miles City-Glendive area, which had shipped 40,000 the prior season. (Extermination of the Bison)
   The miners arrived from the Bear Paw Mines yesterday. They brought in some very fine looking specimens but all not positive about their containing gold. There are a great many Indians in this vicinity all Tribes represented. …. don’t know what they are going to do for the game is about all killed or driven off. W.L. received a dispatch requesting to go or send a man to Sitting Bulls camp to learn his, Sitting Bulls intentions the coming season. As yet we have not been able to get a man who would risk it. W.L. has sent for an old Trapper to make the trip.
   After the Battle at Little Big Horn in 1876, Sitting Bull fled to Canada where he remained for five years. It was during the spring of 1878 that Sitting Bull was said to have formed an alliance with other tribes to retaliate against the whites. Rumors were spreading that Indian attacks were imminent.
   The new Fort is about to be built which will settle the Indian troubles in this country. I believe they named it Fort Assiniboine in honor of the Assiniboine of this Reservation. The Crow Indians have been attached to this agency which will increase W.L.s pay.
   I am most Respectfully Your Chas G Fish
   In 1877 General Phil Sheridan proposed a fort be built to ward off possible attacks. Construction of the Fort began in 1879 and was completed in 1881. It was named Fort Assiniboine and was in operation until 1911. Most buildings were razed however tours of the remains are still available through the summer months.
   The Denver Postcard & Paper Show will be held Friday and Saturday May 4-5 at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. The show has been expanded and will include a wide range of collectibles including books, bottles, photographs, postcards, stamps, artwork and many other treasures. For more information go to www.denverpostcardshow.com or call Bill or Carol Mobley at 303-761-3755. We hope to see you at the show hunting for treasures!

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