Fort Hall began as a fur trading post in 1834. It was located on the Snake River in what is now Bannock County, about 11 miles west of the town of Fort Hall. It served trappers, then Oregon Trail emigrants, and finally stagecoaches and freighters until it was largely destroyed by a flood in 1863, the year Idaho became a territory.
In May 1870, the US began to build a military fort not far from Blackfoot where Lincoln Creek—a warm water stream—flows into the Blackfoot River, some 40 miles east of the original fur trading site. Its purpose was to “maintain proper control” of some 1200 Indians who then resided on the reservation.
The post, situated on 640 acres, was surrounded by grassy fields, providing ample grazing. There were few trees in the area and none really suited for construction, so the bulk of the timber was shipped in from Truckee River, California, with the remainder of the sawed lumber coming from Corrine, Utah.
If you picture a fort as, well, fortified, you don’t have Fort Hall in mind. Without walls, perimeter wooden buildings arranged around a parade ground defined the installation. Most of the major buildings were put up in 1871.
The fort included a hospital, a commissary building, officer’s quarters, a company barrack, married soldier’s quarters, a guard house, a kitchen, and a mess hall. Ancillary buildings included a blacksmith shop, a carpenter shop, two stables, two granaries, a wagon shed, a harness shop, a saddler’s shop, an icehouse, and a barber shop. Of particular interest to my family was the post bakery, where Emma Bennett (soon to be Emma Just) baked bread for the soldiers.
The military Fort Hall lasted until 1883 when the army abandoned it. The federal government transferred the land to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for use as a residential Indian school. Such schools, which attempted to immerse the indigenous children in white culture, were notoriously brutal. The school on the grounds of the old military fort was as bad as any. Students were torn from their families and forced to attend. Funding was low, so little actual teaching took place. Packed together in unsafe and unsanitary conditions the students were prone to disease. A scarlet fever epidemic in 1891 killed ten of them. There were at least two suicides at the school.
The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 brought an end to the boarding schools and their policies of forced assimilation. As a result of that act the Lincoln Creek Day School, just a couple of miles from the Fort Hall site, was opened in 1937. It and a couple of other day schools on the reservation were a huge improvement over the boarding school. Kids returned to their families every afternoon. The day school operated only until 1944 when reservation students began attending local public schools.
Both the military Fort Hall site and the Lincoln Creek Day School are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. No buildings from the fort remain on the site. In recent years much work has been done on the nearby school to turn it into a community center for that part of the reservation.