Yellowstone County MTGenWeb

Yellowstone County History

One Hundred Years of Men, Horses & Wagons



After William Clark’s journey through the local region there was great anticipation about the wonders and wealth of the land. In the beginnings, the early surveyors/explorers wrote about the poorness of the land, and its worthlessness. Soon to change when wealth of all sorts started to surface; furs, silver, gold, farming and industrial activities. As the early adventurers stated to inspect the land, they left trails of their journeys; mostly following age-old paths that were abounding for a long time before they were traveled by the adventurers. This segment starts with Manuel Lisa and his first trip into the local land in 1807. Before he established a foothold into the promising fur trade that would exist within the region, he enlisted a small group of men to follow him back to where the L&C Expedition noted an abundance of fur bearing animals, the beaver the most prominent.


Manuel Lisa & His 1807-1810 Travel Routes


When the L&C expedition returned in 1806, he met with them and learned about the vast wealth in furs that lay in the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase near the Three Forks from William Clark. Manuel Lisa immediately established a trading partnership to garner that wealth. In April 1807 he first contacted a small group of men interested in this new opportunity. This was the firm of “Lisa, Menard & Morrison”, George Druillard[1], a member of the upcoming expedition, was a principle aid to Lisa at the request of Morrison & Menard, and hired to look after their interests. The partners were:


Benito Vasquez (2nd in Command)

John Potts

Peter Weiser (Wiser)

Andrew Henry

William Morrison (Remained in St Louis)

Pierre Menard (Remained in St Louis)


In the same year President Jefferson named Merewether Lewis as Governor of Louisiana Territory, and William Clark as Brigadier General of the Territorial Militia. This was quite a promotion, as William Clark was only a 2nd Lt when he participated in the trek to the Pacific Ocean and back. The President held his rank in secret, and all thought he was a Captain.


Lisa purchased two keelboats plus $16,000 worth of supplies and led some of these partners, along with trappers and others (estimated as being about 50-60 men) up river by boat. The names of engages haven’t been located, but some from the L&C Expedition and four actual engages were:


George Drouillard (not engage – but attached to watch interests of investors)

 Helped develop relations with Indians & assist in guiding. In 1808 provided details of the 1807 fort’s location to William Clark, who penned a map of the site’s location and trail to the Platte River Spanish settlements.

John Colter (not engage – but attached to assist in developing relations with Indians & and guide duties)

In 1809 returned to St Louis, sold his land grant from L&C Expedition, and signed on with Andrew Henry to assist in guiding, etc.) Note: Andrew Henry was member of Lisa’s 2nd Fur Trapping Company called “the St Louis Fur Company”. During 1808-1809, Colter trapped the area around the Stinking Water (Shoshoni) River.

John Potts (not engage – member of trapping firm)

On July 6, 1808 at Fort Raymond, signed a $424.50 note for trapping supplies along with Peter Weiser and Forest Hancock, to Manuel Lisa. In 1810 he was at The Fort on the Three Forks with Andrew Henry where he met Colter. He was killed soon after by Blackfoot Indians. This was when Colter escaped from same Indians & made his way back to the Big Horn fort. His estate was then sued by the trapping firm for $1,000.00 for collection of debts owed for supplies.)

            Peter Weiser (not engage – but attached as interested firm member)

In July 1808 was at Fort Raymond with Potts & Forest Hancock. Between the years 1808-1810 he was with Andrew Henry at The Fort of the Three Forks and on Snake River.

            Paul Primeau (engage – Joined the group.)

 In 1807 borrowed $292.05 for supplies from Lisa and Drouillard. He repaid debt in 1808.

            Antoine Bissonette (engage)

He deserted along the trip up river, stealing supplies from the fur trappers, so as to make it easier for him to return. Lisa sent Drouillard to get him. He was shot, taken back upstream. Lisa placed him in a “boat” and sent him down to ST Louis for treatment. He died Enroute. Later Drouillard was tried for murder, but cleared by the courts.

            …..Bouche (engage)

Lazy lout, refused to work on fort construction.

            Forest Hancock (engage)


The river was especially cruel to him, lots of rushing water, wind against the direction of travel, and the water was flowing about four miles per hour; making the journey very difficult. He initially planned to go to the Three Forks area via the Missouri River where they would construct a fort (trading post[2]), trade goods with Indians, as well as do their own trapping so as to eliminate the most expensive portion of the fur trade costs.  $12,649 worth of their supplies was purchased from G Gillespie & Company of Michilimackinac through a local trader named Myers Michael. He started out on this venture, lagging about 19 days behind John Jacob Astor’s fur brigade that was headed west.  He vowed to overtake Astor’s party. Lisa passed the Astor party, and continued on, covering 1,200 miles on the rivers in sixty-one days. He had excursions with Arikaras, Mandans and Assiniboins before reaching the Yellowstone River. At the mouth of the Osage River, Antoine Bissonette, one of Lisa’s engages, deserted. Lisa ordered a search for him and commanded that he be brought back. Drouillard overtook and shot him when he tried to escape after being caught, wounding him severely. Lisa put the wounded man in a boat and sent him back to St. Charles, doing all that was possible for his comfort; but he died on the way. When Lisa and Drouillard returned the following year, 1808, Drouillard was tried for murder before J. B. Lucas, presiding judge, and Auguste Chouteau (associate of Lisa’s venture in 1809). The jury found him not guilty[3]. The main reason was that Bissonette had stolen several packets of food and supplies from the expedition and stashed them on-shore at various places, indicating he was planning this escape all along.


En Route, they met John Colter at the mouth of the Platte River. He was traveling down river from the Mandan Village. Lisa invited John to join the group; and he assisted in guiding them into the region. From there Lisa passed through the country of the Sioux without trouble, but was stopped by that most treacherous of the Missouri tribes, the Arikaras. He found between two and three hundred warriors awaiting his approach, for news always traveled among these Indians faster than boats ascended the river. They evidently meant trouble, and probably intended to prevent Lisa's further advance. They fired a volley across his bow at the place where they had decided that he should land. There was no way to ignore their imperious command, and Lisa put to shore. Immediately upon touching the beach he ordered that no Indians should get in his boat, and the chief stationed a guard to keep off the crowd. The women then appeared with bags of corn with which to open trade; but an Indian rushed forward and cut the bags with his knife, whereupon the women took to flight. Whether this was a premeditated signal for a general onslaught is not clear, but if so, the purpose was foiled by Lisa's watchfulness and preparation. They had failed to throw him off his guard. Instantly calling his men to arms and training his two swivels upon the shore, he gave such evidence of a purpose to open fire immediately that the Indians retreated in confusion. The chiefs then came forward holding their pipes before them in token of pacific intentions. Lisa permitted them to approach and they apologized for the incident, characteristically throwing the blame of it upon some irresponsible person who they said was a bad man. Lisa accepted this hollow explanation without being in the least deceived by it. He quickly finished his business at the villages and resumed his voyage.


Colter directed them up the Yellowstone, and not the Missouri as Lisa had previously planned. Lisa desired to go to the three forks because the L&C Expedition stated that the location was rich in Beaver and fine furs. They arrived at the Big Horn and spent one night there before continuing on to Three Forks, where Lisa planned to build a fort. Apparently Colter convinced Lisa to abandon his idea to construct a fort at this site, and instead build one at the Big Horn, where friendly Crows lived.


Note: There is some confusion here: some believe that Lisa never went to Three Forks at this time, but only stopped at the Big Horn and constructed the fort immediately. This may or may not be true. Lisa’s original intent was to trade with the Blackfeet, and not the Crows.


Returning to (or arriving at) the Big Horn River in September they constructed a temporary two-room log fort at the confluence, completing it (and the fort itself) in October 1807.[4] The area had an abundance of wood, some coal deposits for heating, and a good supply of water. Most all the members helped construct the shelter, with the exception of Bouche, who would not participate, refusing to make pegs for the roofing timbers. Throughout all the time he was with Lisa, this man was unruly and considered a slacker, and had left a huge liquor bill for Lisa to pay when he returned to St Louis. From Lisa’s deposition given in St Louis on May 18, 1811, it appears that he had his men construct a two-room structure for shelter, and then expanded it into a fort. Drouillard made a sketch of the fort’s location on 5 August 1808 stating it was “established in October 1807.” It was located in the angle between the two rivers (southwest corner). Note that some researchers state it was on the southeast junction; but that belies the facts. In 1838 MH Stansbury completed a map of the Oregon Territory, on which the Bureau of Topographical Engineers were commissioned to define all of the Trading Posts and Forts connected with the fur trade in that territory. Lisa’s post on the Big Horn was clearly denoted as “Manuel’s Fort”, and it rested on the southwest juncture of the two rivers. Richard Oglesby, in his “Manuel Lisa, and the Opening of the Missouri Fur Trade”, provided a map that also shows the fort to be located on the southwest junction of the two rivers. He called it Fort Raymond. This is the primary source for that name. He also stated the fort was generally called Manuel’s Fort.  Chittenden, the earlier researcher, called it Manuel’s Fort.


The fort became known much later under several confusing names: Fort Raymond, Fort Manuel Lisa, Fort Manuel, Manuel’s Fort, Fort Lisa, Fort Ramon, or Fort Remon, with some claims that it was named after his son Raymond, using Oglesby (1961) as the originator of the name “Fort Raymond”. There are no records of the fort’s dimensions. The river has shifted upstream, and all traces of its location have been washed away. Other fort locations on the east bank have survived.


Colter upon his return to the Big Horn didn’t directly assist in its construction. Lisa asked that he and George Drouillard[5] locate the Indians and tell them that he is at the Big Horn confluence and wants to trade. This is when Colter traveled about 500-1000 miles throughout the southern regions (Colter’s Hell and Yellowstone Park), returning to the fort in the spring of 1808. Prior to this time the Crows only prepared robes for their immediate needs, never more. With the demand of trade, each lodge quickly prepared many extra ones. Drouillard made two trips south into the Big Horn Basin area looking for Spanish settlements as well as Indians. George Drewyer (Drouillard) penned a sketch of the fort’s location in his logbook, which also included a trail map to the Spanish Villages on the Platte that he evidently traveled in search of the Spanish Settlements, some two weeks distant by horseback. That trail later became known as “the Bad Pass Trail” by trappers in the 1830’s. This trail led directly south from the fort, passing by a large sand-stone rock bearing Lisa & Colter names & dates (1807 & 1810) located north of HWY 10 on the west side of the Big Horn River, about ¼ mile south of the old fort’s location. This map hung in the Bureau of Indian Affairs offices until January 1925, when it was transferred to the Library of Congress, and simply labeled “Big Horn River, made by George Drewyer-1808.”



This map consists of the fort location sketch in the “southwest angle between the Yellowstone and the Big Horn Rivers, plus a page from the trapper’s accounts. William Clark is said to have used this map to create an overall representation of the Indian Country in 1813. Clark didn’t complete his map[6], and the Yellowstone regions are omitted. However, the map sketch was prepared by Drouilllard, and the notations were made by William Clark.


There is a trail leading south from the fort, alongside of the west bank of the Big Horn River to Spanish settlements located on the North Platte River. This was noted as being a two-week journey by horseback. This is the Bad Pass Trail.


Note: Colter left no written record of his travels, but did tell others of his journey. He traveled with a 30-# pack and rifle – at times getting Indian guides to assist in his trek. His precise route is unknown, but apparently across the Big Horn Basin and upper areas of Wind River. He was the first white man reported to visit Jackson Hole. He climbed Teton Pass enroute to Pierre’s Hole. Some of the other men in Lisa’s party went to Three Forks in the fall of 1808, but found the “Blackfeet” very resistant. In the spring of 1809 Benito Vasquez closed the fort and with Colter and the others they headed for the Mandan villages on the Missouri. With them they had 15 beaver skins and 10 buffalo robes. They arrived there on 22 September 1809. Lisa running up-river with a new supply of provisions and 150 men in 15 keelboats met them. George Drouillard was with them.[7]


Lisa left the Big Horn fort in July 1808 and traveled to St Louis where he established the St Louis Missouri Fur Company.




First Location Notice of Lisa’s 1807 Fort. (See Trails Records)






Cleve Kimmel

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[1] Spelling of George Druillard’s name was as noted in the 1901 South Dakota’s Historical Society, formed for the preservation of area history. Notes by Charles E. de Land. (Also Drouillard and Drewyer)

[2] This fort was later constructed at the Three Forks site

[3] The American Fur Trade of the Far West, pg 115, Hiram Chittenden 1902

[4] Many researchers refer to the construction as being completed in the spring of 1808, but no evidence of that has been located.

[5] After Lewis & Clark, by Robert M Utley

[6] Reference Library of Congress Map #CT000904.

[7] # 7 Ibid page 18

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Katy Hestand
Yellowstone County Coordinator

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