Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Reed and Bowles

The Reed and Bowles Trading Post outside Lewistown is a little-known gem well worth a visit. The oldest standing building in the area, the post originally stood about a mile and a half southeast of its present location. It was part of a short-lived post called Fort Sherman intended to serve a large Crow reservation, but by 1874 the plans for the reservation had fallen through. Construction of the Carroll Trail, a freighting route between Carroll on the Missouri River and Helena, prompted Alonzo S. Reed and John Bowles—a notorious pair—to purchase the post, dismantle it, and move it to its present site along Spring Creek.

Photo courtesy Montana State Historic Preservation Office
The post served traffic along the trail between 1875 and 1880 and catered to the many tribes passing through. Major Reed—so called from his brief stint as Milk River Indian agent from which he was fired—was the kingpin and Bowles was his assistant. Reed reputedly settled disputes with gunfire and planted his victims in the burial ground across the river. Bowles supposedly even sold the bones of his father-in-law, the Crow leader Long Horse, to an Irish ornithologist. The pair was well known for brutality toward their wives, drunken sprees, and trading liquor with the Indians, a violation of federal law. Reed and Bowles sold a wicked brew of ethanol laced with plug tobacco and red pepper. During the five years the post operated, visitors included American naturalist George Bird Grinnell, trader Pike Landusky, “Liver Eating” Johnson, and the Nez Perces, who stopped there briefly to rest in 1877 during their tragic flight from the U.S. Army.

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