The Hudson’s Bay
Company built Fort Colville on the south bank of the Columbia at Kettle Falls
five years after merging with its rival North West Company in 1821. In the
merger, the Bay Company acquired Fort Spokane at the junction of the Spokane
and Little Spokane rivers 60 miles south. The North West Company built Fort
Spokane in 1810.
Simpson, the Bay Company’s governor of the Northern Department of Rupert Land,
which included the Columbia drainage, personally selected the site of Fort
Colville and negotiated with local Indians to locate it there. While he found
Fort Spokane “delightfully situated,” he was a penny-pincher and decided that
the Colville location, adjacent to the Columbia, would reduce the expense of
delivering furs and goods and had better potential for farming.
this, Simpson followed the advice of Alexander Kennedy, his chief Factor at
Fort Spokane, who wrote in his annual report for 1822 that the fort was
difficult to supply and that that Indians “monopolized” the salmon fishing.
visited Spokane House on October 28, 1824, and later ordered it moved to the
Kettle Falls site. Simpson named the new fort after Andrew Colville, a Bay
Company director. The move was completed in the spring of 1826.
Colville quickly grew in importance in the Bay Company’s operations. The farm
was particularly successful, as Simpson hoped it would be. Wheat initially did
poorly, but later thrived, as did vegetables and livestock. By 1828 Fort
Colville supplied all of the interior Columbia River Basin posts of the Bay
Company, allowing Simpson to reduce the number of men employed in transporting
goods from Fort George, at Astoria or
Fort Vancouver to the
interior. Between 1826 and 1830 more than 15,000 beaver pelts were
processed through the forest, but their numbers steadily declined — in part due
to the company’s decision to trap as many as possible to discourage competition
from Americans. Resolution of the international border in 1846 — Fort Colville
now was in America — and the steady decline of the fur trade, coupled with the
unrest of the Indian wars in the 1850s, the company gradually shifted its
operations north into Canada. The United States Army established its own Fort
Colville in 1859 about 14 miles south of the Bay Company’s post, initially to
provide escorts to parties that were surveying the international boundary.