Excerpts from the Journals of
Thomas W. Harris
Bitterroot Valley, Montana, 1860-1868

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TOM HARRIS was my great-great-great grandfather. When he was just 23, he bade goodbye to his mother and siblings in Missouri and went west on the Oregon Trail.

  The year was 1850. We don't know his intended destination. At some point along the Trail he met "Major" John Owen, a former Army suttler. Owen was the in the process of establishing western Montana's first trading post, in the Bitterroot Valley, a crossroads for the Salish, Nez Perce, Shoshoni and Blackfeet tribes. The Valley had seen few whites, though, other than a handful of Catholic missionaries, since the Lewis and Clark expedition. Owen began his venture by purchasing the former mission of Father Pierre DeSmet, at what is now Stevensville, MT.

  Tom was hired as Owen's full-time farmer, the first in the state of Montana. Owen also utilized Tom's services at the post, and on purchasing expeditions to the few established towns and Hudson Bay Company settlements in what are now Idaho, Oregon and Washington. It was probably on Tom's first such trip, to The Dalles in the spring of 1851, that he met his wife Lisette Ranier. Their first child was born at Fort Owen on March 3, 1852.

  Ft. Owen barely survived the Indian wars of the 1850's and was even abandoned at one time. My great-great-grandmother Lucinda Harris Fulkerson was born in the fort in 1857. By the 1860's more farmers were arriving and the fort became the nucleus of Stevensville, Montana's first town.

Northwest US
Insert shows dates of original settlements. The first three were fur trading posts.

May 1860

Thurs 24 Warm and rainy. Wheat begins to look well. To day making shed in front of house. Irvine went home this morning.

***Thomas Harris is universally credited as being the first full-time farmer in Montana, as his first task at the fort was to establish a farm for sustenance and trade. Caleb Irvine (1825-1891) of Tennessee was one of the original settlers at Ft. Owen. He fought in the Mexican War and was an Army lieutenant posted in Oregon in 1849. On meeting John Owen in 1851 at the Dalles, he put up $600 to help found the trading post, and was occasionally left in charge when John Owen went on trips. He had two boys by an Indian wife, in 1854 and 1856, before she died in 1859. He farmed 20 acres of oats, wheat and potatoes near Corvallis, and later had a farm on Three Mile Creek. From 1861 to 1865 he prospected for gold at Gold Creek, Beaverhead, Alder Gulch, Virginia City and Bannack. In 1866 he married an Englishwoman, Lydia Lamb. In his later life he was a probate judge and justice of the peace in Anaconda, Butte and Deer Lodge.

Frid 25 To day clere and warm. Potatoes coming up and a few onions, the last planted. To day I finished shed in front of house and made table and shelves in milk house. This evening received two letters from home, one from brother Ben, the other from Brother Adelbert and I was truly gratified to know they were well and doing well at home. There letters was dated at Fort Riley, Nov. 9th & 10th, 1859.

**Tom's original home was in Woodford County, Kentucky, where he was born on August 20, 1827. His father Lewis Harris died by 1842. His mother Lucinda (nee Berry) moved with her seven children to Missouri sometime before 1850. Lucinda was herself the 14th of the 18 children of Benjamin Berry (b. 21 Feb 1755, Virginia), a wealthy slave-owner in Woodford County.

Sat 26 To day cool south wind and part of day clowdy. This evening a light shower of rain. To day I have not felt well, having caught a cold. So I have spent most of day reading Irvine's life of Washington.

Sund 27 To day clere and pleasant. Irvine down from above. To day [Chief] Victor drove his cows down for Lisette to milk and among them was one of mine which I got of Grama. Saw with her calf branded and marking with said Chief's brand & mark. The cow has my brand plane on the hip. To day have been reading Irvine's life of Washington.

**"Down from above" refers to the fact that Irvine was living upstream along the Bitterroot River, near Corvallis, although Corvallis is technically south of Three Mile Creek. Victor was Chief of the Flathead (Salish) tribe. In 1857 the Flatheads had 4,000 horses and 1,000 cattle. Owen, Harris and many others were involved in trading horses and cattle with the Flathead, and trading fresh horses and cattle to the emigrants on the Oregon Trail. They took the worn-out but valuable cattle back to the Valley to recuperate and improve their stock. Thomas Harris sketched his brand in another entry in the journal:

Mond 28 To day warm and pleasant. Indians moved camp for Camash ground. To day irrigated garden. Irvine still here.

Tues 29 Warm and looks like rain. To day irrigating. Wheat & Potatoes begin to look well.

Wed 30 This morning a good warm rain and this evening looks like we might have more. I hope we will as the ground is very dry. Irvine went home this morning.

Thur 31 Warm & clowdy. This evening west wind. To day watering of wheat. Most of onions not up yet.

June 1860

Tues 12 This morning a big white frost but did no harm. Irvine and myself have been to Hells Gate and back to day by way of high water trail. Hells Gate River is very high. We started for Ogdens but was afraid to cross the river in a Small Bull Boat. One year ago to day I come near being drowned in the Bitter Root, but by good luck escaped myself but lost all my clothing saddles, bedding, lodge, pistol and everything. So in future when I cross water that I can not touch bottom it will be in case of great necessity and in good boat.

***Michael Ogden, half-breed son of Hudson Bay Company's Peter Skene Ogden, for whom Ogden, Utah was later named. Michael was one of the head fur traders for HBC, and was the factor at Fort Connah from 1853 to 1861, when he left to develop the farm he'd started in 1856 in the Flathead Vallley. Fort Connah gained in significance when HBC closed Fort Hall, Idaho in 1856, due to Indian trouble. Although Ft. Owen competed with HBC for trade in western Montana, Ogden and Owen were friends and had made journeys to Fort Colville in 1858 and 1859. Ogden later had a fall from a horse, struck his head and lost his mind....and forgot where he had hidden a fortune in gold.

Wedns 13 Warm and has been raining quite hard since noon and is still raining and looks very much like it might rain all knight. I hope it will. To day set out sixty cabbage plants.

Thurs. 14 Warm & Clowdy. Rained a little this morning. Irvine went home this morning. Myself and wife took a ride on Burnt fork to day to see the Indians' wheat. It looks well tho I saw none that looked any better than mine.

***Burnt Fork Creek yielded some gold when Samuel M. Caldwell panned there in 1852. Bitterroot Valley farmers built a road along this creek in 1865, as a shorter route for hauling their produce to the gold miners' camps.

Frid. 15 Clowdy & showery all day. Last knight a hard rain and looks as tho it might rain again to knight. To day I transplanted some Beets. The river is falling fast. It has now fell some two feete or more in the last four days.

Sat 16 Clowdy all day with some rain this morning. Last evening it rained very hard for about a half hour with some Sharp thunder and Lightning. Irvine down.

Sund 17 Clear and warm. Wife and children all off berrying. I have spent most of day reading the Life of General Marion. Irvine gone home.

Mon 18 This morning clare and warm. This evening clowdy with a good shower of rain. Today ground the last of my wheat. Seven bushels. I have now about five hundred pounds of flour on hand. This evening I set out fifty six Cabbage plants.

October 1860

Sat 20 Warm & Clear to day. Lisette and Nancy gone to Millers, will stay all knight.

***Nancy was John Owen's Shoshone wife.

***Lisette, born in 1829, was probably the daughter of a French-Canadian fur trapper, who was either French or mixed-blood or full Iroqouis, and who worked for Hudson Bay Company (HBC). Many of the HBC's French-Canadian trappers were "civilized" Iroquois whose forebears had adopted the Christian religion and taken Christian (French) names during France's occupation of Quebec in the 1600's. Family history, from both Harris and Fulkerson descendants, states she was French-Canadian (Indian)/Umatilla. An 1857 entry in John Owen's journal stated all the women at Fort Owen were full-blooded Indians.

***Family information about Lisette varies. Different accounts say she was born in Oregon, Idaho or Utah. None of these places were states at the time, and boundaries changed by hundreds of miles as territories and states were formed. The HBC did establish an outpost at Ogden, Utah by 1825 and at least four of the trappers' annual "rendezvous" were in Utah. Lisette is believed to have been born about 1829, based on later census entries. Fort Hall was established in 1834, but was not an HBC post until 1836.
 Harris and Fulkerson descendants share similar stories that Lisette was connected to the early Salt Lake City settlement in the late 1840's. A Harris legend is that her father was shot in his tent and that she was adopted by the brother of Brigham Young. Such adoptions of Native American children, especially orphans and those rescued from the slave trade, were well-documented and numerous in early Salt Lake history. However, her contacts with the Mormon settlers must have been brief, as they arrived in Utah in 1847 and she was already in Montana by 1851. Two other Raniers, 12-year-old Charles and 10-year-old Joseph - possibly her younger brothers - are listed on the 1860 census as living with Tom and Lisette. Another theory is that the man shot in her tent was her husband, and Charles and Joseph were her two sons - adopted as babies by the Mormons but rejoining her by 1860. In a later entry in this journal, Tom takes a ride with "Charley." Lisette died on 15 Feb 1880 of "consumption and dropsy" at Stevensville, MT. Per BLM records, a Joseph REYNIER purchased 80 acres in Missoula County on 21 Sep 1904 (doc. # 6617: Section 6, Twp 14, Range 20).

***It is known that the Umatillas regularly traveled from their home on the Columbia, along an old Indian road that passed Fort Hall, to trade with the Shoshone along the Green River (Utah/Wyoming) and Wind River (Wyoming), and later traded with trappers and emigrants on the Oregon Trail. Lisette's mother was likely a Umatilla maiden who, like many other Indian women in the area, opted for the relative prosperity of life with a trapper.

***There were some Millers living on Burnt Fork Creek, and some others further north in the Flathead Valley in 1860.

Sun 21 Clear & warm. Wife and Cindy still at Millers and Cindy Sick.

Mon 22 Clear & warm. This morning went to Millers and brought wife & Cindy home. She is better. Grimmisau cutting wood.

***Loui Grimizau was the adobe-maker for the fort, able to turn out 500 to 700 bricks a day. He arrived in 1857 with his Snake Indian wife named Sarah and two children. She died in 1859.

Tues 23 Hauled 2 loads of wood. 2 cords in each.

Wed 24 Clear & Pleasant. This morning went to woods for wood but broke wagon tongue. This evening went for fort to make tounge & then went out and killed three Ducks.

Wed 25 To day Clowdy. Put in my wagon toung & this evening I hauled in my flour from mill & sold to Mr. Owen 1006 pounds at 15 cts per pound. Major Owen gone to Jocko.

***Jocko Agency was in the Flathead Valley. John Owen was special agent to the Flatheads from 1856 to 1862, by appointment by Governor Stevens. He in turn made Tom Harris an Indian Department farmer in 1862, at a salary of $1,000 per year. The Flatheads were friendly and posed few problems for the settlers, although they apparently provoked a number of battles with their better-armed neighbors, the Blackfeet, over buffalo hunting territory and as a result had a continuing decline in the male population of their tribe.

***It was the Blackfeet who stole horses from the fort's corral in 1852, killed a man named Dodson within sight of Fort Owen and harassed Owen into abandoning his fort in 1853. Owen's business had also dropped off by 75% that year. Owen and his party, presumably including Tom and Lisette, started off for Oregon. They had gone as far as Spokane when they encountered a U.S. Army survey party that was on its way to the Bitterroot Valley. Owen decided to return to the fort, for now he had both military protection and a new group of customers.

*** Owen and Tom Harris and their families went on an expedition across the Bitterroots and into Washington in April 1858. Later that year, during their return trip, they had just departed the HBC outpost at Colville when the Indian War of 1858 erupted. Owen's party included the contingent from the fort, 25 pack animals, 40 other livestock, four Flathead packers, a black cook, and an HBC half-breed interpreter named George Monteur, contracted to guide them from the Spokane River to Walla Walla. Not long after leaving Colville they learned that hostile Indians had defeated a US military force in nearby Whitman County. Somewhere between Colville and Lake Pend d'Oreille, along the current Washington-Idaho border, they were captured by some Spokane and Kalispell warriors. Monteur was influential in negotiating their release after a long smoke and parley with the Indians. Owen's ledger entries for this period show expenditures made on Tom's account in Portland and The Dalles, plus a large cattle sale made by Tom and his partner Fred Burr.

Fri 26 Today hauled three loads of wood. Warm & clear. J. Mullan arrived today from Walla Walla.

***Army Captain John Mullan had been in the Bitterroot area since October 1853, conducting surveys and weather observations and constructing a military road from Fort Benton, on the Missouri River, to Walla Walla. The road became known as Mullan's Road after it was marked with the simple 'MR' signs that actually meant 'military road'. Most of the route is now traced by railroad tracks and Interstate 90. Mullan had completed a primitive road to Walla Walla on October 12, 1860, but continued to make improvements over the next two years. Tom Harris visited Mullan's camp to trade on numerous occasions, including a time when Mullan was at Grass Valley, where a wagon train had also camped for protection, and Tom was surprised to see "seven live white women and a baby."

Sat 27 Clowdy & Cold. Snowing on mountains. Hauled 2 loads of wood.

Sun 28 Cold & Clowdy. To day took dinner early. F.B. Owen at Fort. Major still at Agency Jocko.

***Frank B. Owen was John Owen's brother and the co-founder of the fort. He left in 1857, returned to the area in 1860 for a short time, traded elsewhere in the Rockies for a number of years, returned again to prospect for gold in 1866, and had a store in Stevensville in 1869. Tom Harris' second son, born in 1862, was named Frank Bernard Harris.

Mon 29 This morning about an inch of snow on the ground and looks very much like winter. To day hauled three loads of wood. This evening Major Owen returned from the Jocko. Doctor Atkinson with him.

***Dr. Monroe Atkinson was a physician turned gold prospector. He was reported as having no taste for medicine, but did vaccinate the children at the fort when there was an epidemic of smallpox. He stayed in the Bitterroot area until 1862, and then headed for the Gold Creek mining camp.

Tue 30 Clear & warm. To day hauled 4 loads of wood.

Wed 31 Clear & pleasant. Cold knights. To day hauled two loads of wood.

Nov [1860]

Click to see larger picture
Old hearth
Fort Owen
Thur 1st Cold & Clowdy. Snowing on mountains. To day hauled 3 loads of wood.

Fri 2nd Clear & Pleasant. To day hauled 2 loads of wood. One to Fort & one home.

***Tom Harris began his home at Three Mile Creek in 1858. It was the first home in the area constructed with nails instead of wooden pegs. He diverted well water into the house, which may have made it the first house in the Pacific Northwest with indoor running water. He began cultivating fruit trees in 1859, another Montana first. In 1871 he built a schoolhouse in his back yard by the creek. This was called Three Mile School, and was later known as Lone Rock School.

***After the turn of the century the small community had a large inn, which burned down and was replaced by a dance hall, a Lutheran church, and a golf course. Apple orchards (Macintosh Red) dotted the area during the Valley's short-lived agricultural boom. There was never a post office at Three Mile Creek.

January 1864

Mon 25th [A Vigilance party, intent on ridding the area of highwaymen and road agents, arrived with a prisoner at] the Fort to night. They say they have hung four at Hell Gate and were after the 5th one. Say they feel sure he was caught and hung this morning. The names of the men hung are as follows Skinner, John Cooper, Alic Carter & Geore Sheens. The fifth one not yet caught Robt Zackry.

***Cyrus Skinner had been a troublemaker. In 1862 he almost killed the man who four months later discovered gold in Montana, when the man refused to give him a bottle of whiskey. By 1864 he was a member of the infamous Henry Plummer gang, which was a main target of the Montana vigilantes. By the way, Robert Zachary was hung at Hell Gate on 25 January 1864.

Tues 26th This morning the Vigilance party left with their prisoner. We went about two miles below the Fort and left him Swinging to a Pine Limb. This they say is the twentieth man they have hung within the last two months and if Zackry is caught he is twenty one.

***The prisoner whose hanging is described here was not identified, probably because he did not have the benefit of trial before his execution. According to other records, this was William "Whiskey Bill" Graves, who was documented as being hung near Fort Owen on 26 January 1864.

May 1864

NOTE: On May 26, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed an enabling act creating Montana Territory.

November 1865

Sun 5th Clear & pleasant. To day Mr. Tipton & myself went to Fort and back. No news.

***M.W. Tipton was a young Kentuckian who served with "forthrightness and honor" as an Indian Department farmer at Jocko in 1860-62 and had his own farm at Grass Valley beginning about 1863.

Mon 6th Clear & pleasant. To day I went to mill & Back. Men husking corn.

Tues 7th Clear & pleasant. To day Myself & brother loaded Mr. Slack with 250 bushels of Potatoes on freight at five cents per pound to Gold Creek. This evening Mr. Pattee up from Hell Gate for one hundred bushels of Potatoes bought of Bro Ben.

***John M. Slack had a farm at Corvallis, and was single in 1864. David Pattee was a mill wright. He arrived at the Fort in 1856. In 1857 he rebuilt the grist mill and saw mill, and took an Indian wife. In 1858 he established his farm near Hell Gate, in Pattee's Canyon, just south of present Missoula. He grew wheat and hauled it to the Fort's grist mill. He was elected Missoula County treasurer in 1865, and married Tom's sister, 18-year-old Emma, shortly after her arrival from Missouri in the summer of 1865. Eight-year-old Lucinda was one of the bridesmaids.

Wed 8th Clear & pleasant. To day I started four wagons loaded with Potatoes for Gold Creek & will start myself tomorrow with four more loaded with flour & other vegetables.

***The Gold Creek mining camp was 50+ miles east via the Burnt Fork Creek road.

April 1866

Wed 11th Clowdy & rain. To day I planted 12 twelve large beds of Onions. Becides set out a lot on Onions for ...[illegible].

Thu 12th Clowdy rain & blustry. To day Stewart plowing. Mr. Valient & myself planting Onions & not done yet. The work is so very tedious.

***Stewart was a young hired hand. Valient is unknown. He may have been another hired hand.

Fri 13th Clear & pleasant. To day Maj. Owen demanded of me his band of horses, which I refuse to give up until the ranch charges are paid. So he sent for them gets them by a writ of repleavy, and are to be kept by the Sheriff until the District Court is held which will probably be next June.

Sat 14th Clear & pleasant. Sent Mr. Stewart to Mr. Roberds for a load of hay. Maj Owen horses in the correll. Will turn them over to the Sheriff in the morning.

***In July 1866 the District Court ruled in favor of Owen, allegedly because Owen's witnesses lied about the affair.

June 1867

Thur 6th Clowdy & very cold. North wind with several squalls of snow. To day my wife & the children went up to Girds Creek to see Cinda & will not be back before Sunday.

***Gird's Creek, east of Hamilton, was named for Augustus K. Gird who had a farm there. He went on a trading expedition to Walla Walla in 1859, for which John Owen paid him $25.00, was an Indian Agent in 1860 for $40.00 a month, and in 1861 started his own trade by hauling vegetables to the new settlement at Deer Lodge. Gird was a highly regarded scout for General Howard in the Nez Perce War of 1877, but for some reason was shot dead by an Army major in the fall of 1877. Cinda was staying with someone at Gird's Creek, possibly the Ms. Gent mentioned in July 1867, or possibly with the Chaffins mentioned in February 1868.

Fri 7th Clowdy & rain. Rained last night & until noon to day.

Sat 8th Still Clowdy & rain. The Boys working in the garden. I am again crippled up with Rhumatism in my hips & back.

Sun 9th Scattering Clowd & still a little rain with north wind. This evening my wife & the children got home from Girds Creek. Say Cinda is well and is learning very fast. To day Charley & I found one of my Cows with a young Calf which I feared was lost for good.

***His first two children, Tom and Lucinda, attended school at Fort Owen (first school in Montana) and later went to live with family or neighbors in order to attend school or further their education. It is probable that Lisette never attended school, and thus could not teach them at home. An incident arose in 1862 at the Fort school. The hired teacher, a Mr. Robinson, "was discharged for taking improper liberties with the daughter of Tom Harris, and a month later was drowned in Hell Gate River."

July 1867

Wed 3rd Clowdy & still threatens rain but can't make it out. This evening Ms. Gent pays a us a visit with Cinda, Josephine & her two boys.

***No information found concerning anyone named Gent. Maybe a teacher??

Thur 4th Clowdy & rain. To day we had a good 4 of July dinner. I killed a fat mutton yesterday evening and had a nice rost to day with green Peas becides sundry other nice nick nacks.

***Tom Harris reportedly brought the first herd of sheep into Montana in 1857, probably from Walla Walla.

Fri 5th Clowdy with a little rain the morning. This morning after the horses left the Correll my whole band was Stolen becides about 15 others belonging to other ranches by Snake Indians. To day we followed them & got back some 19 of mine. The balance all gone, I fear for good. I am out yet myself about 20 head.

February 1868

Mon 17th Clear & quite warm. Since sun set, clowdy & looks like rain.

Tue 18th Clowdy & quite warm. The thermometer at 40 all day. The boys cutting & hauling poles.

[No entries for 19th or 20th]

Fri 21st Clowdy & quite warm. Frost nearly all out of the ground to day. I got back from Girds Creek. Cinda & Tom are well and learning very fast. I bought 2 yoke of Oxen of Amos Chaffin, one yoke at 165$, the other 170 dollars. They are No. 1 cattle.

***Anthony Chaffin was postmaster at Gird's Creek in 1870-1871. Other Chaffins farming in the Valley in 1864 included Ben, Elijah, Milton and Newton, who fought at the Battle of the Big Hole during the Nez Perce War in 1877. Amos must have been a relative.

Sat 22nd Clowdy & quite warm. Drizly rain all day.

Sun 23rd Clowdy & warm. Frost still going out of the ground very fast.

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Two Fulkersons
in front of
Fort Owen