Fort Owen State Monument - Stevensville, MT
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member T0SHEA
N 46° 31.233 W 114° 05.813
11T E 722672 N 5155981
Quick Description: The original site of St. Mary's Mission, what little remains of Fort Owen has become Fort Owen State Park, a historic site and museum detailing the story of the first St. Mary's Mission and of Fort Owen itself.
Location: Montana, United States
Date Posted: 7/6/2017 4:50:29 PM
Waymark Code: WMW3TJ
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member ZenPanda
Views: 0

Long Description:
Fort Owen State Park is one of the smallest in Montana, being located in what amounts to a corral on an active cattle ranch, Fort Owen Ranch. The site of the original St. Mary's Mission, this was the first non native settlement in the state of Montana, later giving rise to the town of Stevensville, Montana's first town. Montana's oldest continuously occupied settlement, Fort Owen was the site of the first sawmill, flour mill, cattle herd, irrigation and public school in Montana.


The story of St. Mary's Mission begins in 1823, when twelve Iroquois, employed as trappers by the Hudson's Bay Company, remained with the Salish through the winter of 1823-24. Exposed to Christianity 200 years previous, they told the Salish stories of Christianity and of the "Black Robes", the missionaries who taught them. The Salish proved to be an interested audience and, between 1831 and 1839 they sent four delegations to St. Louis in an attempt to obtain a Black Robe of their own.

On September 24, 1841, Father Pierre Jean DeSmet, together with his fellow Jesuit missionaries, Fathers Gregory Mengarini and Nicolas Point, and three Lay Brothers arrived in the Bitterroot valley with their belongings and supplies in three carts and a wagon, the first vehicles to enter the area. They established the first white settlement in what was to become Montana, on the east bank of the Bitterroot river, immediately west of the present town of Stevensville.

The fathers built two chapels, residences and outbuildings, and began farming, planting wheat, oats, potatoes and garden crops. From Fort Vancouver they brought into Montana the first cattle, swine and poultry. A third chapel was under construction by 1846 but soon trouble with the Blackfeet forced the closure of the mission, the entirety being sold in November 1850 to John Owen, a former army sutler, for $250.00.

It was sixteen years later (1866) when Father Joseph Giorda, Superior for the Rocky Mountain area, called back Father Ravalli and Brother William Claessens and re-established St. Mary's Mission about a mile south of Fort Owen. Brother Claessens built a little chapel, the fourth he had built for St. Mary's, to which he attached a study, dining room, kitchen and a story and a half barn. Father Giorda made the "new" St. Mary's the Jesuit mission headquarters for the Rocky Mountain province. In 1879 an addition to the front of the building doubled the size of the chapel. (The entire Mission complex has been restored to that date - the peak of its beauty.)

The mission served the Salish people until their forced removal in 1891, during that time teaching them methods of farming and gardening to aid in their survival following the demise of the buffalo.


Beginning about 1857 John Owen built a fort here which he used as a trading post. He operated the post until suffering a mental breakdown in 1872, dying in Pennsylvania in 1889. Though the post continued in use as a trading post for some years after, it was eventually turned into a cattle ranch. In 1937 a group of citizens purchased one acre of land surrounding the fort for the purpose of establishing a historic site. In 1956 the land was donated to the state to become Fort Owen State Park. The park also became a state monument at that time.

Italicized sections above are from St. Mary's Mission, Inc.

Fort Owen State Monument

Fort Owen's log and adobe walls witnessed dramatic changes as the Bitterroot Valley emerged from remote wilderness to settled agricultural community. The Jesuit fathers who had established St. Mary's Mission nearby in 1841 closed their doors in 1850, and trader John Owen purchased the property. Owen operated and expanded St. Mary's mills, cultivated the fields, enlarged the fort and kept a well-stocked trade room thereby transforming the mission compound into a vibrant trading post complex. A man of many talents, Owen also served as agent to the Flathead Nation from 1856 to 1862, and for a time the fort was agency headquarters. Owen and his Shoshoni wife, Nancy, created a refined and comfortable haven in the vast timberland, extending gracious hospitality to Indians, traders, trappers, missionaries, settlers and travelers. With the 1860s came gold-seekers and a fresh clientele, but the newly-completed Mullan Road by-passed Fort Owen and trading dwindled. Upon Nancy's death in 1868, Owen's mental health deteriorated. In 1872 Fort Owen was sold at sheriff's sale to Washington J. McCormick, who operated the forts mills until 1889. In 1937, the Fort Owen site was donated to the State of Montana, and the donors sponsored stabilization and partial reconstruction of its sole remain-ing building, the East Barracks. Archaeological investigations initiated in 1957 by the University of Montana continued through 1980, exposing the fort's walls and foundations. Since 1971, the Stevensville Historical Soci-ety has been instrumental in interpretive reconstruction, continued stabili-zation and maintenance of this noteworthy site.
From the plaque at the site


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Describe the area and history:
There are the few remains of the fort, nothing of the mission, the whole surrounded by a working cattle ranch.


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