Fort Bonneville Myth
article discusses a question that bothered me every
time I drove by the Fort
Bonneville historical marker on the Horse
Creek Road: Why would anyone build a
fortified trading post there? This eventually led to
the question: Did a Fort Bonneville exist on the
Wyoming Green River during the Rocky Mountain Fur
Benjamin L. E. Bonneville and Joseph Rutherford
Walker crossed South Pass with twenty wagons and one
hundred and ten men on July 24, 1832. On a two-year
leave from the army, Captain Bonneville and Walker
led the first wagon train over South
Pass on what became the Mormon
South Pass over the Continental Divide
on Ferris' Life in the Rocky Mountains, and
Irving's The Adventures of Captain Bonneville,
three days later, July 27, 1832, Bonneville camped
on the south side of Green River across from the
Horse Creek meadows. This time period allows three
days to travel over ninety miles across rough
semi-arid country with no wagon roads...on the Oregon
trail wagons averaged about eighty-five
miles a week on an established road.
Horse Creek Meadows
Irving, The Adventures of Captain Bonneville,
described Bonneville’s Green River camp:
it would be necessary to remain some time in this
neighborhood, that both men and horses might
repose, and recruit their strength; and as it was
a region full of danger, Captain Bonneville
fortified his camp with breastworks of logs and
pre-eminent historian Dr. Leroy Hafen stated:
erected a rude fortification of logs and pickets
that came to be called Fort Bonneville.
Chittenden had this to say about Fort Bonneville, he
Bonneville or Bonneville's Folly are names applied
to a rude stockade which Captain Bonneville built
on the right bank of Green River, five miles above
the mouth of Horse Creek in early August, 1832.
Though apparently commenced with a view of making
it a trading post it was abandoned as soon as
built and was never of any consequence whatever in
days after arriving on at the Green River camp,
Bonneville outlined a plan to build a substantial
trading post. Joseph Walker objected to a fortified
trading post and, according to Gilbert, left to
locate a group of free trappers in the Green River
area. Walker returned with several trappers on
August 12, 1832.
free trappers informed Bonneville of the severe
winters in the Green River Valley and advised
against building a fort there.
free trappers told Bonneville the Salmon River area
had milder winters and was better beaver country
than the Green River Valley. Convinced by the
veracity of the trappers, Bonneville commenced
preparations to move to the Salmon River. Irving
Bonneville now made his arrangements for the
autumn and the winter. The nature of the country
through which he was about to travel rendered it
impossible to proceed with wagons. He had more
goods and supplies of various kinds, than were
required for present purposes, or than could be
conveniently transported on horseback;
therefore, by a few confidential men, he made
caches, or secret pits, during the night, when all
the rest of the camp were asleep, and in these
deposited the superfluous effects, including the
statement about the caches by Irving is
questionable. A few men could not dig a hole big
enough to cache twenty wagons in one night.
Bonneville undoubtedly cached equipment in this
area, but the cache location has eluded treasure
seekers and archeological investigators.
spending just over four weeks at the Green River
camp, Captain Bonneville left on August 22, 1832,
for the Salmon River. From the time Bonneville
arrived, July 27th, until he decided to leave,
August 12th, does not give Bonneville enough time to
build an elaborate fort as pictured on the Fort
Sign, described by archeologists,
or Warren Ferris. The Bonneville trappers arrived on
the Salmon River in September 1832.
the 1833 Horse Creek rendezvous, Warren A. Ferris
described a fort he attributed to Captain
Bonneville. Ferris wrote:
fort presents a square enclosure, surrounded by
posts or pickets firmly set in the ground, of a
foot or more in diameter, planted close to each
other, and about fifteen feet in length. At two of
the corners, diagonally opposite to each other,
block houses of un-hewn logs are so constructed
and situated, as to defend the square outside of
the pickets, and hinder the approach of an enemy
from any quarter. The prairie in the vicinity of
the fort is covered with fine grass, and the whole
together seems well calculated for the security
both of men and horses.
the circumstance of a great deal of labor having
been expended in its construction, and the works
shortly after their completion deserted, it is
frequently called "Fort Nonsense."
addition to a physical description of Fort
Bonneville, Ferris described Indians trading from a
fifty or sixty lodges of Snakes lay encamped about
the fort, and were daily exchanging their skins
and robes, for munitions, knives, ornaments, etc.,
with the whites, who kept a quantity of goods
opened for the purpose of trading in one of the
block houses, constituting a part of the fort.
Fort Bonneville Historical Sign Stockade Picture
detailed description of Fort Bonneville and Indians
trading from a blockhouse lacks support from his
contemporaries. Three men at the 1833 rendezvous
referred to Bonneville's camp site. Nathaniel
Wyeth mentioned a Mr. Bonneville’s fort. Zenas
Leonard referred to the camp of Bowville
[Bonneville]. Charles Larpenteur
stated there were still some of Capt. Bonneville's
men in a small stockade. Neither Leonard, Larpenteur,
nor Wyeth mentioned Indians trading at a
picket-walled bastioned fort, or a blacksmith shop.
Campbell attended the 1833 rendezvous with the
Sublette Campbell trade goods for the Rocky Mountain
we were at Green River, I met Bonneville, Dripps
and then there was our company, making three
companies. We were located a mile apart for the
purpose of not having our animals mingle.
does not mention a fort in connection with
Bonneville. Since he had just completed (fall 1832) Fort
William on the Missouri River, this is
difficult to believe. In a letter to his brother he
have never built a fort? Then pray Heaven you
never may; for of all the trouble and annoyance I
have ever experienced, that gives the most.
someone with little regard for building a fort, he
would certainly mention an elaborate fort as
described by Ferris.
Ferris' description of Fort Bonneville, he states,
"posts or pickets firmly set in the ground, of
a foot or more in diameter, planted close to each
other, and about fifteen feet in length".
It would take a considerable amount of hewing
to make straight fifteen foot posts out of
cottonwood trees. The closest pine posts, which fit
Ferris description, are twenty miles away on the
North Fork of Horse Creek. A comparison between
cottonwood and pine posts/poles can be made at
cottonwood-log cabin on the grounds of the Museum of
the Mountain Man in Pinedale, Wyoming, or from a log
pen described by William Gray, A History of
Oregon 1792 – 1849’s, at the 1836
Green River rendezvous. Gray noted:
space between the logs [cottonwoods] were
sufficient to admit all the light required to do
business in this primitive store.
construction of a Fort Bonneville can be compared in
terms of construction time to two other posts. These
two forts are the Missouri River Fort William (1832)
and Fort Hall (1834) on the Portneuf River in Idaho.
Larpenteur, who was with Campbell at the 1833
rendezvous, described the construction of Fort
William. Larpenteur wrote:
the necessity of having safer quarters, we went to
work [September 4, 1834] with all our might every
day, and Sunday too; and by the 15th of November
got into our comfortable quarters…
will here describe the construction of Fort
William, which was after the usual formation of
trading posts. It was 150 feet front and 130 deep.
The stockade was of cottonwood logs, called
pickets, 18 feet in length, hewn on three sides
and planted three feet in the ground. The boss'
house stood back, opposite the front door; it
consisted of a double cabin, having two rooms of
18x20 feet, with a passage between them 12 feet
wide. There was a store and warehouse 40 feet in
length and 18 feet in width; two rooms for the
men's quarters 16x18 feet, a carpenter's shop,
blacksmith's shop, ice house, meat house, and two
splendid bastions. The whole was completed by
Christmas of 1833 …
Larpenteur’s detailed account, cottonwood trees
squared on three sides were used for pickets at Fort
William. The fort was livable in seventy-two days
and completed forty days later. Thirty men
spent close to four months building Fort William.
Russell described the building of Fort Hall:
the 18th [July] we commenced the Fort which was a
stockade 80 ft square built of Cotton wood trees
set on end sunk 2 1/2 feet in the ground and
standing about 15 feet above with two bastions 8
ft square at the opposite angles. On the 4th of
August the Fort was completed; And on the 5th the
"Stars and Stripes" were unfurled to the
breeze at Sunrise in the center of a savage and
uncivilized country over an American trading Post.
Kirk Townsend substantiated Russell’s description
of Fort Hall.
the fort, affairs look prosperous: the stockade is
finished; two bastions have been erected, and the
work is singularly good, considering the scarcity
of proper building tools. The house will now soon
be habitable, and the structure can then be
completed at leisure by men who will be left here.
the Russell and Townsend descriptions, it is
difficult to determine how much, beyond the picketed
enclosure, existed in the seventeen-day period,
however, three months later Osborne Russell
the meantime we were employed building small log
houses and making other nessary [necessary]
preparations for the approaching winter…
on the construction time of Fort William and Fort
Hall, Captain Bonneville lacked the necessary time
to build a picket-walled bastioned fort with a
living area as described by Ferris and a blacksmith
shop described by archeologists in a 1989
study at the Fort Bonneville Monument.
had 110 men with him, but the limiting factor in
building a fort with cottonwood pickets squared on
three sides is not the number of men, but the number
of shovels, picks, crowbars, adze, and axes. As an
example, with five each of the tools mentioned, only
twenty-five men could cut, trim trees, square three
sides, dig postholes, and set the posts at any one
description of Fort Bonneville provided by Warren
Ferris fits a majority of the early frontier
military posts. Larpenteur describes Fort William as
being after the usual formation of trading posts
and, with the exception of the blockhouse over the
entrance, Alfred Miller's painting of Fort
Laramie is a typical western fort.
book attributed to Warren A. Ferris, Life in the
Rocky Mountains, was edited and complied by Paul
C. Phillips in 1940. As will be shown later, Life
in the Rocky Mountains was based on magazine and
newspaper articles...not Warren Ferris' Journal.
Ferris' description of Fort Bonneville is not the
only questionable descriptions attributed to Ferris.
Life in the Rocky Mountains contains a wide
variety of erroneous descriptions.
remained about ten days in the northern point of
Cache Valley, in a small cove frequently called
Ogden’s Hole, in compliment to a gentleman of
that name of the Hudson Bay Company, who paid it a
visit some years since.
Hole is south of Cache Valley...not north. From the
southern end of Cache Valley to Ogden’s Hole is
about fifteen miles. The rough dirt road between
Avon (5000 ft.) and Liberty (5100 ft.) reaches an
elevation of 6500 feet crossing the mountains
separating the two valleys.
spends a page and a half describing Star Valley,
Wyoming, where I was born and live. For someone who
has rode and packed in this area most of his life,
it is difficult to understand, or follow, the
descriptions attributed to Ferris. The biggest error
is describing salt deposits along the streams
emptying into Salt River.
beautiful valley fifteen miles long, and six to
eight broad, watered by several small streams
which unite and form "Salt River," so
called from the quantities of salt, in a
chrystalized form, found upon most of its
are large salt deposits to the west of the valley,
but there is no salt in Salt River, or its
tributaries. Salt River heads on Mount Wagner, and
the streams emptying into Salt River are fresh water
mountain streams. If the branches of Salt River
contained quantities of salt as suggested in Life
in the Rocky Mountains, this area would not have
been a prime beaver area during the fur trade era,
or now, regarded as one of the finest fly fishing
streams in the West.
the major rivers in the Green River area, Ferris
[Sandy River] has its source in the south-eastern
point of the Wind Mountains, where also the Sweet
Water, [North] Platte, and Wind River of the
Bighorn, take their rise.
description of the four rivers attributed to Ferris,
the only river to head on the southeastern end of
the Wind River Mountains is the Sweetwater River. If
the Sandy River headed on the southeastern point of
the Wind River Mountains, it would flow into the
North Platte River, as does the Sweetwater River
instead of the Green River. The Wind River heads
east of Togwotee Pass between the Absaroka Mountains
and the Wind River Mountains. Wind River flows
through the Wind River Valley east of the Wind River
Mountains. The North Platte River heads in
Colorado's North Park.
to Phillips, Ferris wrote:
a weary march, on the twenty-first, we reached
Green River, a fine, clear, deep and rapid stream,
one hundred and fifty yards wide, which takes its
rise in the Wind Mountains, with the sources of
Lewis River [Snake] and the Yellow Stone…
River does head above the Green River lakes in the
Wind River Mountains and flows into the Colorado
River. Snake River heads in Fox Park on the
Yellowstone Plateau west of the Continental Divide
and flows into the Columbia River. The Yellowstone
heads on Younts Peak east of the Continental Divide
in the Absaroka Mountains and flows into the
Green River Lakes
on some excellent articles published by Warren A.
Ferris, it is difficult to believe Ferris had such a
poor understanding of the major rivers of the west
as suggested by the quotes attributed
to Ferris in the 1940 edition of Life
in the Rocky Mountains.
Ferris left the mountains in 1835. He returned to
the family home in Buffalo, New York where he wrote
and submitted his journal for publication in 1836.
The publisher rejected the manuscript and returned
it to Ferris' family in Buffalo, New York. In a
letter to his brother, Charles, on November 26, 1837
from Nacogdoches, Texas, Ferris wrote:
our journal if you can get it don’t have it
published. I have changed my mind but keep it. I
should like to look over it sometime.”
brings up the question, if Phillip's Life in the
Rocky Mountains is not based on Ferris' journal
what is it based on? Warren Ferris' brother
Charles Ferris become an editor of the Western
Literary Messenger in 1842. Charles for
one year and then Jesse Stone published extracts
from Warren Ferris' rejected manuscript in a series
of weekly articles for the Western Literary
Messenger between July 13, 1842 to May 4, 1844.
is no evidence to show Warren Ferris knew about, or
had anything to do with, the publication of the
articles in the Western Literary Messenger by
his brother Charles. Paul C. Phillips editor of
the 1940 edition of Life in the Rocky Mountains
correspondence of Warren during this period shows
no consciousness of this fact, and it is probable
that Charles undertook it solely on his own
responsibility and that he made some revisions to
material for the book, Life in the Rocky
Mountains, Paul C. Phillips edited was taken,
not from Ferris' unpublished journal, but from the Western
Literary Messenger, Ferris family letters, and
newspaper articles in the Democratic
Intelligencer and the Dallas Herald of
Dallas, Texas. Phillips, noted:
text of the Ferris writings as it appears in this
volume is transcribed from the original
publications of the Western Literary Messenger and
the Dallas Herald.
condensing, editing, and rewriting for magazine
articles no one knows what was edited out of,
or added to, Ferris' original manuscript.
regards to the map of the Rocky Mountain Region in
the Ferris manuscript, Paul C. Phillips stated:
Ferris "Map" shows that in 1836 its
maker knew the Rocky Mountain region of the United
States so well that he could picture the river
systems, its lakes, its landmarks and its routes
Section of the 1836 Ferris Map
the glowing remarks by Phillips, the Ferris
map shows several major discrepancies errors on the
river systems in addition to those all ready pointed
Ferris traveled up the Hoback River, and yet his
map does not show a Hoback River...the stream
draining this area that empties into Snake River
is not named. The source of this streams comes
from the northeast, not the south as does the
The map shows the South Platte heading in the same
general area as the North Fork of the Platte...the
South Fork of the Platte heads in the Colorado
Bayou Salade and joins the North Fork near
Julesburg, Colorado. From the map it appears the
South Fork of the Platte is flowing South instead
Ferris's map shows a Fort Nonsense, but a map
drawn by Captain Bonneville, the supposed builder
of Fort Nonsense, does not.
logical questions is did Ferris acquire his
information on the river systems after leaving the
mountains, or is someone else the maker of the fur
trade map praised by Phillips in the preface to Life
in the Rocky Mountains? The Ferris map, which
was supposedly submitted with the manuscript, was
misplaces and not found until in the 1930's.
source of information for a supposed Fort Bonneville
comes from an archeological study in 1989.A.
Dudley Gardner, David E. Johnson, and David Vlcek
conducted an archeological investigation at the Fort
Bonneville Monument site in 1989. The investigation
involved a proton magnetometer survey on July 7, and
field excavations from July 31 through August 8,
regards to the location of the present-day Fort
Bonneville Monument, Dr. Gowans stated in Rocky
the stone marker and the historical sign, are now
located on the old site of Fort Bonneville.
Fort Bonneville Monument
a paper presented at the 55th Annual Plains
Anthropological Conference, Symposium on Geophysical
Prospection Methods in the Great Plains: New
Advances and Applications, November 19-22, 1997,
Boulder, Colorado by David Vlcek BLM Pinedale
Resource Area and William Current, Vlcek noted:
results at Ft. Bonneville were disappointing. We
benefitted from Dr. George Frison's unpublished
test excavations and placed the magnetometer block
to overlap the fort's southeastern
(uninvestigated) exterior wall. The wall was not
present in our excavation units. Magnetometer
anomaly testing, conducted by the senior author,
identified only rodent burrows, not wall features.
magnetometer study also failed to locate the
twenty wagons and other goods cached by
Captain Bonneville in 1832, which according to a
post-fur trade historian Bil Gilbert were cached
inside Fort Nonsense.
his 1989, report on Archaeological Investigations at
Fort Bonneville, A. Dudley Gardner wrote:
remaining 594 artifacts, as well as the bone and
the melted glass, represent activities which took
place during Bonneville’s occupation of the post
for a short period between 1832 and 1835.
Subsequent use of the structures during the
trapper rendezvous of 1836, 1837, 1839, and 1840
is possible, and even likely. While the features
are more than likely associated with
Bonneville’s occupation, the archaeological
remains recovered are not sufficiently sensitive
to differentiate between Bonneville’s occupation
and any subsequent short-term rendezvous related
activities occurring in the years immediately
following Bonneville’s departure.
Gardner’s statement on Captain Bonneville is
without merit. Captain Bonneville arrived at the 1833
rendezvous on July 12 and left on
July 25, 1833. The 1833 rendezvous is the only Horse
Creek rendezvous Captain Bonneville attended.
uncovered by the archeologists included: plate glass
fragments, 18.98 pounds of melted glass globules,
clinkers, percussion pistol caps, twenty-two poorly
formed metal arrow points, buffalo bones, metal
fasteners, a mule shoe, horseshoe/mule shoe nails,
files, a chisel, tacks, leather fragments, wood
fragments, iron wagon brace, wagon wrench, spring
fragment, an item possibly identified as a bridle,
and miscellaneous bolts and nuts.
on the artifacts recovered at the archeological
site, Dr. Gardner wrote:
was found that the occupation of Fort Bonneville
resulted in a highly compacted floor across the
entire stockade compound. Artifacts were primarily
found above this floor.
excavations indicate that trade items were
manufactured and possibly repaired at Fort
Bonneville’s blacksmith shop.
slag found at Fort Bonneville appears as melted
glass. Since the glass was not cross-sectioned and
microscopically analyzed, it is impossible to say
whether this is slag or melted glass.
average, the Green River rendezvous lasted two to
three weeks. This does not allow much time to
accomplish any repairs done at a hypothetical Fort
Bonneville blacksmith shop, especially forge
welding. Several tools are required for forge
welding: tongs, a vice, hammers, and an anvil...none
of these tools were found at the Fort Bonneville
Gardner further stated:
building of a blacksmith shop drew people to the
fort to obtain a needed service. Brazing was one
of the activities carried out at the Fort
Bonneville blacksmith shop. More important, the
blacksmith could manufacture tools and repair guns
as well as provide iron.
is total speculation by Dr. Gardner without
supporting evidence. Between 1836 and 1840,
forty-five wagons and thirty-seven two-wheeled carts
traveled over South Pass to the Horse Creek
rendezvous. In Dr. Gowans’ Rocky Mountain
Rendezvous, there is not one reference to glass,
or strap metal, in the rendezvous caravans to the
1833, 1835, 1836, 1837, 1839, or 1840 rendezvous, or
to a blacksmith shop on Horse Creek.
participants of the 1833, 1835, 1836, 1837, 1839,
and 1840 Green
River Rendezvous that left journals do
not support the information attributed to Ferris by
the editor of Life in the Rocky Mountains. At
the 1836 Rendezvous, William H. Gray, who was with
the Whitman Spaulding missionary party, described a
fur trade building in his book, A History
of Oregon 1792 – 1849’s. Gray locates this
building along a three mile stretch of the
Green River where the river runs west to east.
from a square log pen 18 by 18, with no doors,
except two logs that had been cut so as to leave a
space about four feet from the ground two feet
wide and six feet long, designed for an entrance,
as a also a place to hand out goods and take in
furs. It was covered with poles, brush on top of
the poles; in case of rain.
a little distance from the store the camps of the
fur company in which might be seen the
pack-saddles and equipage of the mules in piles,
in piles to suit the tastes of the men having them
in charge. The trading hut was little distance
from the main branch of Green River, so situated
that the company’s mules and horses could all be
driven between the store and river, the tents and
men on either side, the store in front, forming a
camp that could be defended against an attack of
Indians, in case they should attempt anything of
fur trade literature does not provide a builder for
the Green River storage shed described by Gray.
Based on conjecture, Joseph
Walker is the logical builder. Walker and
six men accompanied by Shoshone Indians arrived in
early June at the 1833 rendezvous site. Walker
opened the caches and started trading with the
Shoshone.28 With fifteen or so packs of furs Walker
brought with him, the opened caches, and the furs he
traded for, a dry storage area would be required.
The six men, who accompanied Walker, had ample time
to build a storage shed for the pelts and trade
goods before the festivities of the rendezvous
started in early July.
History of Oregon 1792 – 1849’s, provides a
detailed description of the square log pen and the
placement of the various fur trade camps to defend
against an Indian attack...to the mountain man
anything to get behind constituted a fort i.e, logs,
packsaddle, saddles, dirt bank, etc. Gray
description of the Green River camp makes no mention
of a four-year-old picketed-bastioned fort as
described by Ferris. William Gray wrote:
of the fur company camp or store were most of the
camps of hunters and trappers, east of it, close
to the river was the missionary camp.
tents of the missionary camp contained the wives of
Dr. Marcus Whitman and Henry Spaulding. On the way
to establish missions in the Northwest, Narcissa
Whitman and Eliza Spaulding were the
first white women to cross South Pass and attend a
mountain man rendezvous.
Whitman-Spaulding party arrived at the 1836
rendezvous with two wagon and left with the smaller
wagon. From the 1836 rendezvous, the missionary
party traveled to the Oregon
Country with a group of Hudson’s Bay
Company trappers under John McLeod and Thomas
McKay. William Gray noted:
Chief Hudson’s Bay Trader, John McLeod, informed
the missionaries that it was not the wish of the
company to have these trappers or mountain men to
go to the Columbia River area to settle because
they would cause difficulty with the Indians. He
also made them understand if they needed manual
labor or men to help put up their houses and
improvements, the company would send men to help
missionaries had brought with them all of the
supplies necessary to exist in an area two
thousand miles from the closest source of
supplies. Having a blacksmith shop, plow, seeds,
clothing, and supplies to last for two years.
at the missionary camp were sorted. All goods
supposed unnecessary, or that could be replaced,
such as irons for plows, blacksmith tools, useless
kettles, etc, etc. disposed of. All articles left,
the party were careful to learn, could be had at
Fort Vancouver of the Hudson’s Bay Company or at
Methodist Mission at reasonable prices.
Jacob Miller attended the 1837 Rendezvous with Sir
William Drummond Stewart. Miller made several
sketches of the 1837 Green River rendezvous. About
the young painter, Dr. Gowans wrote:
the sixteen-year history of the rendezvous,
neither mountain man, traveler, missionary, nor
visitor left a more detailed description of the
wilderness experience than did Alfred Jacob
1837 Horse Creek Rendezvous - Alfred Jacob Miller
would be hard to disagree with Dr. Gowans assessment
of Alfred Jacob Miller. If a Fort Bonneville existed
in 1833, why five years later did Miller not paint a
picture of a Fort Bonneville as he did Fort Laramie,
especially if mountain men and Indians were trading
out of a blacksmith shop as suggested by
Fort Laramie - Alfred Jacob Miller
William Drummond Stewart,
or Incidents of Life and Adventure in the Rocky
referred to a Green River storehouse. Stewart
implied the storehouse was a separate structure from
the nearby-dilapidated ruins built by whites. The
dilapidated ruins referred to by Stewart was likely
the log barricade built by Bonneville as described
by Irving, Hafen, and Chittenden.
for the Green River Valley, the Pierre Chouteau, Jr.
and Company moved the 1838
rendezvous to site of the 1830 rendezvous
at the junction of the Wind and Popo Agie rivers.
The change in the rendezvous site was to escape
trading pressure from the Hudson's Bay Company.
Headed for the 1838 rendezvous, Osborne Russell
reached Horse Creek where he recorded in his
rode up to an old log building which was formerly
used as a store house during the Rendezvous where
I discovered a piece of paper fastened upon the
wall which informed me that we should find the
Whites at the forks of Wind river.
1830 - 1838 Rendezvous Site
Russell is probably referring to the storehouse
described by Grey. A building or
structure in the Green River Valley does not become
old, or dilapidated, in a few years. Part of the
original homestead cabin built in the early 1900’s
by Dr. John D. Montrose is less than a half
mile west of the Fort Bonneville Monument.
Corner of the original cabin -
pertinent question in regards to the mythical Fort
Bonneville is location
of the present day monument. Dr. Grace Hebard, a
history professor at the University of Wyoming,
determined the location through field
investigations and a series of letters with John D.
Montrose homestead the area surrounding the proposed
Fort Bonneville in 1903. In a letter from Dr.
Montrose to Dr. Hebard dated December 1, 1913:
with your request of Nov. 19. concerning old Fort
Bonneville I must tell you that there is very
little evidence left of its ever having been here.
When I came here, about 13 years ago there were
ends of decaying posts in the ground in the form
of a square about 12 ft. There is a
schoolhouse within 20 ft of the place now and
although it is protected by bare sagebrush, with
the children and the cattle it is doubtful whether
you could find anything of it now.
Wyoming Oregon Trail Commission visited the site of
the old fort, June 9, 1915.
pick, irrigating shovel and crowbar the old rotten
stumps of the stockade were found buried three or
four feet in the ground.
the winter of 1914-15, Dr. J. W. Montrose, of
Daniel, [had] snaked on the snow and up the frozen
river a native boulder which he hauled near the
supposed site of the old fort.
H. G. Nickerson and Secretary Grace R. Hebard of the
Wyoming Oregon Trail Commission dedicated the Fort
Bonneville Monument on August 9, 1915, with
eighty-five people in attendance.
Hebard to Dr. James K. Breckenridge, St. Louis,
Missouri, Sept. 29, 1915.
my official capacity I have been about the state
this summer, particularly on a pilgrimage to find
the location of Old Fort Bonneville, which I
located and established beyond a question of a
doubt, and we placed a monument on the site with
appropriate ceremonies, a monument made from a
boulder from that locality, on which we chiseled
the inscription with our own hands with chisels
and mallets we had taken with us.
Fort Bonneville Monument
Hebard to Dr. Montrose March 20, 1917.
have come across this description of
Bonneville’s Fort and I am wondering if you
would be kind enough to tell me the distance from
where we located the rotten stumps north to the
Green River, and if so would you see how near this
description coincides with the locality [where the
monument was placed]….
to Hebard April 6, 1917:
enjoyed the description from Gray’s which I am
returning. I[t] coincides perfectly with the
to Montrose April 14, 1917:
you very much for your information as contained in
your letter of the 6th instant relative to telling
of the account given by Gray in his History of
Oregon on the site of Fort Bonneville in ’36,
when Whitman and Spaulding were there and the
location of the stockade as marked in 1915. This,
I believe, is all the proof that we need ever have
to establish the exact location of that stockade
and I am sure I still feel under deep obligation
to you for your part in this….
Wyoming Oregon Trail Commission dedication ceremony placed
the rock monument over the log pen described
by William Gray—not Fort Bonneville as described
in the book, Life in the Rocky Mountains,
edited by Paul C. Phillips.
the 1989 archeological investigation, a new
historical marker sign was placed at the Fort
Bonneville Monument site for the Wyoming Centennial
Fort Bonneville Historical Sign
is only a couple of sentences on this sign
substantiated by historical facts...the rest is
speculation and flawed assumptions. Despite the statement
on the Fort Bonneville Historical Marker, none of
the artifacts found at the archeological excavation
site can be traced to Captain Bonneville, or his
men. Mr. David Vlcek noted that artifacts taken from
the Fort Bonneville excavation site, and artifacts
given to the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale,
could not be positively linked to the existence of a
Fort Bonneville. This was confirmed in a
conversation with Laurie Hartwig, Director of the
Mountain Man Museum in Pinedale, Wyoming
plausible explanation for the artifacts is the
excess goods, including blacksmith
tools and pieces of iron, left by Dr.
Whitman, a schoolhouse
with glass windows, clinkers from a
coal-burning stove, and children playing outside.
School children rode horses or traveled in a covered
sleigh pulled by a team of horses to school which
would account for many of the horse related
review of the question
asked at the start of the article, there is no
evidence for the existence for a Fort Bonneville:
Dr. Gardner's conclusions lack support from
rendezvous participants. Not one missionary,
naturalist, or mountain man mention the repair of
a wagon, cart, trap, gun, or having any other type
of blacksmith work done at a Horse Creek
blacksmith shop. Dr. F. A. Wislizenus. A journey
to the Rocky Mountains in 1839, left a detailed
account of the 1839 rendezvous. The 1840
rendezvous was attended by Father De Smet whose
account is in Dr. Gowans’ Rocky Mountain
Rendezvous. Neither Dr. Wislizenus nor Father De
Smet mention a blacksmith shop, or a Fort
Bonneville, in the Green River Valley.
Warren Angus Ferris, Life in the Rocky
Mountains, is the only mountain man that
attended a Green River Rendezvous to leave a
physical description of a Fort Bonneville, or uses
the term Fort Nonsense. With the exception of
Warren A. Ferris' description of Fort Bonneville,
there is no evidence in contemporary fur trade
literature to support the existence of a Fort
Bonneville. Osborne Russell, Zenas Leonard, Robert
Newell, Joe Meek, Robert Campbell, Charles
Larpenteur, William H. Gray, Nathaniel Wyeth,
Alfred Jacob Miller, Sir William Drummond Stewart,
John Townsend, Dr. F. A. Wislizenus, and Father De
Smet attended various mountain man rendezvous on
the Horse Creek meadows. Not one journal,
biography, or book by Ferris' contemporaries mention
a Fort Bonneville, a Fort Nonsense, or a
The existence of a Fort Bonneville, as described
by Ferris, is not supported by Captain
Bonneville's manuscript, letters, or maps:
does not mention a Fort Bonneville in the
manuscript he sold to Washington Irving for one
thousand dollars. In a letter to General Macomb
asking for an extension on his military leave,
Bonneville describes other forts in the
West...but does not mention a Fort Bonneville.
Dropped from the army rolls for over extending
his leave, Bonneville wrote to Secretary Lewis
Cass, Secretary of War, seeking reinstatement.
In the letter, Bonneville did not justify his
plea for reinstatement with any reference to
building a fortified trading post west of South
Pass in the center of the Rocky Mountain Fur
of the evidence presented it would appear Fort
Bonneville (Fort Nonsense or Bonneville's
Folly) is the creation of post-fur trade historians
and archeologists...not mountain men of the Rocky
Mountain Fur Trade Era.
Fort Bonneville article was written by O.
Ned Eddins of Afton, Wyoming. Permission
is given for material from this site to be used for
school research papers.
Eddins, Ned. (article name) Thefurtrapper.com.
Afton, Wyoming. 2002.