John Owen papers, 1850-1871

Overview of the Collection

Owen, John, 1818-1889
John Owen papers
1850-1871 (inclusive)
.75 linear feet of shelf space
Collection Number
MC 44 (collection)
John Owen (1818-1889), a pioneer fur trader in the Northwest, built Fort Owen in the Bitterroot Valley, Montana Territory, and served as a special agent for the Flathead Indians. Collection contains diaries and journals (1850-1871); a combined register of births, deaths, and marriages of Fort Owen residents; a letterpress book (1858-1859); an account book (1850-1860) for trade at Fort Owen, which also contains accounts (1876-1889) for some other firm; and a bill of sale (1850) for the land on which the St. Mary's Mission was built.
Montana Historical Society, Library & Archives
Montana Historical Society Research Center Archives
225 North Roberts
PO Box 201201
Helena MT
Telephone: 4064442681
Fax: 4064445297
Access Restrictions

Collection open for research.

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

A native of Pennsylvania, born in 1818, John Owen first came to what is now Montana as a sutler for Colonel Loring's Oregon-bound column. In 1850, he purchased the site of St. Mary's Mission from Jesuit missionaries, and there built his trading post, Fort Owen. Owen operated his post as a trading center for white trappers and Indians of the area, and his fort also served as a way station to an increasing influx of settlers. Fort Owen contained the first commercial grist mill in the area and served other important functions. In 1856, because of his special relationship with the Flathead Indians, Owen was appointed special agent to that tribe and its affiliates. He held this position until 1862. Owen's mind began to fail in the early 1870s, and he was hospitalized in Helena until 1877, when he was transferred to the care of relatives in Philadelphia. He died there on July 12, 1889.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

This collection contains sixteen diaries, detailing John Owen's life and his many excursions throughout the Northwest (1850-1871). Also, there are a register of births, deaths, and marriages; (1858-1860); copied outgoing letters (1858-1859); and an account book for trade at Fort Owen (1850-1860). This last volume also was used for mercantile and farm accounts (1876-1889), possibly by the Fort's subsequent owner, Washington J. McCormick.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

Researchers must use collection in accordance with the policies of the Montana Historical Society. The Society does not necessarily hold copyright to all materials in the collection. In some cases permission for use may require additional authorization from the copyright owners. For more information contact an archivist.

Preferred Citation

Item description and date. Collection Title. Collection Number. Box and Folder numbers. Montana Historical Society Research Center, Archives, Helena, Montana.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


Arranged by series

Location of Collection


Acquisition Information

Acquisition information available upon request

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection

Biographical Materials Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
1 / 1
Letters of information re John Owen [from Mary Winslett; library staff]

Incoming Correspondence Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
1 / 2
J.W. Denver; Phillip H. Sheridan

Outgoing Correspondence Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
1 / 3
"Fort Owen Register and Letter Book 1858 and 1859"; miscellaneous
1858-1860, 1869

Miscellaneous Correspondence Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
1 / 4
U.S. Deptartment of Interior to Benjamin F. Potts re John Owen land claim

Diaries Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
1 / 5
"Journey from Fort Owen via Fort Hall to Walla Walla in 1851"; "Diary and A/c Book of Ft. Owen in 1851 and 1852"; "Diary of a Journey from Ft. Owen to the Dalles in 1852"
1 / 6
"Journey from Ft. Owen to Salmon River & Return in 1854"; "Diary of a Journey from the Dalles to Ft. Owen in 1854"; "Fort Owen Journal 1854-1855"
1 / 7
"Fort Owen Diary for 1856"; "Fort Owen Journal 1857 and 1858"; "Diary of a trip from Walla Walla to Fort Owen in 1857.--Also of return trip to Walla Walla in 1858"
1 / 8
"Diary of a Journey to Ft. Benton in 1858"; "Fort Owen Journal 1860-1861"; "Fort Owen Diary, M.T. 1862, 1863 & part of 1865"
1 / 9
"Diary of a Journey from Fort Owen to Walla Walla in 1863, etc. etc."; "Diary of a Journey from the North Plate [Platte] to Montana in 1864"
2 / 1
"Fort Owen diary for 1865, 1866 & 1867"; untitled diary

Financial Records Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
2 / 2
"Fort Owen a/c Book"
1850-1860, 1876-1889

Legal Documents Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
2 / 3
"Application for Admission of Maj. Jno. Owen, Insane, to the Territorial Hospital, Lewis & Clarke Co."
2 / 4
Bill of sale for land on which Fort Owen was built

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Frontier and pioneer life--Montana
  • Fur trade--Montana
  • Overland journeys to Montana
  • Trading posts--Montana
  • Vital statistics--Montana

Personal Names

  • Owen, John, 1818-1889 (creator)

Geographical Names

  • Fort Owen (Mont.)
  • St. Mary's Mission (Mont.)